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Sunday, May 31, 2009

And this is what 'Religious Terrorism' looks like

Dr. George Tiller, one of the few physicians in the nation to perform late-term abortions, was shot to death this morning as was serving as an usher in his Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas.

You can read the entire story here, but by the time you read this, it will be all over the news and there will be other, varied sources.

The heart of the story, for me, anyway, is that this is no longer a debate over when life begins. This is about the logical end of the illogical arguments about reproductive choice, including late term abortion.

I was delighted to read that every one of the media reports I read used the term "late term abortion" instead of the non-existent medical term "partial birth abortion" - an inflammatory term concocted by opponents of reproductive choice for women.

Why, is it, do you suppose, that the media has intentionally lowered the flame on the rhetoric? Do you suppose they FINALLY get it: that, by using - quoting - this kind of language, they are actually participating in the lexicon of inflammatory hate-speech which naturally leads to violent, hate crimes such as this?

Dr. Tiller has been the target of protests and demonstrations and yes, violent attempts on his life before. In 1993, he was shot in both arms and in 1985, his clinic was bombed. His clinic was heavily secured and he often traveled with body guards, but reports are that none were present in church this morning - the Sunday of Pentecost.

It is also reported that Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller's safety was in jeopardy. However, local police said they knew of no threats connected to the shooting.

In early May, Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate vandalism at his clinic, including cut wires to surveillance cameras and damage to the roof that sent rainwater pouring into the building.

The religious anti-abortion groups also claim to have no knowledge of or connection to the vandalism or shooting.

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's president, said in a statement. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning."

Right. Of course. What is 'peaceful' to one is license for another to escalate and redouble their efforts to control what is a woman's decision - a painful decision we pray she is able to make with the assistance of her physician and the support and love of her family - including the man who partnered the pregnancy.

But let's also be clear: Mr. Newman and other anti-abortion groups also fear that the killing could create a backlash just as they are scrutinizing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, whose views on abortion rights are not publicly known.

I'm sure the Holy Spirit is weeping right along with Jesus and the Author of Life.

The gunman has apparently been apprehended. The only thing known about him at this point is that he is 51 years old. We will certainly learn more in the days and weeks to come.

We know the profile to know enough, however. He probably considers himself a 'good Christian' and a 'good American' who was 'on a mission to save the unborn'. It will be whispered in the very fundamentalist religious circles that decry the violence that he is a hero and a martyr. I mean, why else would you shoot and kill a man IN HIS OWN CHURCH - unless you think yours is a 'godly mission'?

Let's be very, very clear: This is what religious terrorism looks like.

It looks like "natural law" masquerading as the law of the land.

It looks like misogyny which hides behind sanction from religious institution.

It looks like inflammatory language which inspires acts of violence.

It looks like a 51 year old man dressed up in misguided theology and ideology.

It looks like death.

THIS is murder - not the painful decision for abortion. Even late-term abortion.

Please remember in your prayers the family of Dr. George Tiller who grieves his tragic, senseless death.

Pray also for his murderer, that he may one day know the truth of the words of God: "Therefore, choose life."

Still no word on the motives or further identity of the murderer, but there is this very thoughtful piece from Cristina Page in The Huffington Post, who notes that this is not an isolated incident.


Seeing Eye Chick said...

I have a variety of observations about this.

1. You notice that the Gun Toting, Clinic Bombing fanatics are always male. They never have to contend with an unwanted pregnancy, with reproductive hormonal issues, with rape, or the kind of negative sexual labeling that only women deal with. The lack of compassion and understanding, even the presence of unconditional positive regard and the suspension of judgement bespeaks of a chasm that isn't bridged, not because it can't be [at least on a social level}, but because the desire isnt there. Mysogyny is a many splendored thing.

2. You never see Feminists returning fire, inspite of the fact that they and their supporters are the targets. For all Feminists and pro-Choice people are labeled the culture of death and extremist, how often have you heard of a Feminist doing the following:
Sending envelopes that allegedly contain anthrax to Anti-Choicers,
Threatening to shoot or bomb areas where anti-choicers congregate, including their churches?
Picketing anti-choicers at the OBGYN or other health services,
harassing anti Choicers at their private residence, while simultaneously annoying their neighbors with graphic photos of people shot or bombed or otherwise injured by anti-Choice forces.

3. How can a person define themselves a Christian and then justify their faith in the act of this crime within the walls of a church? Are they then stating that not all churches are equally houses of God? There was a time when even the worst crimininals could and did find sanctuary and redemption in churches. I guess those days are effectively over.

And finally:

I-as a proChoice woman wouldnt dream of going into a church and telling the congregation or the hierarchy that they must accept women who have had an abortion, who use birth control, participate in pre-marital sex, or any kind of behavior these folks might find in opposition to their church teachings. The memberhip/leaderhip have the right to create their own pre-requisites for membership as per their doctrinal teachings.

That being said.

Is is too much to ask that they return the favor? I dont share their faith. I have no intention of joining their church. I choose to live my life as per my faith, which is not theirs.

Why is it okay for them to define every person by their religious beliefs, and then punish those people they feel fall short. Whereas the rest of us, have to conform with those beleifs, or suffer some kind of punishment which could include but is not limited to maiming or death?

Hello Taliban?

I dont believe Operation Rescue. I beleive that Operation Rescue and similar organizations are fronts for Domestic Terrorist operations and cells who seek to intimidate women and other Pro-Choice Supporters. I believe they are all criminals and I would be thrilled beyond belief to see an indepth investigation as per the Patriot Act, to weed out, identify, charge and prosecute those found to be guilty directly of Domestic Terror acts, but also those who have either supported it directly or indirectly by turning a blind eye, using hate speech to feed the flames and incite violence, or otherwise provide material or moral support to these Un American, Anti-Patriotic, Evil, Practitioners of Judgement and Hate.

Fr Craig said...

E - I am stiunned. I grew up and live in Kansas most of my lifel I have followed George's persecution closely. I think every abortion is a tragedy, but the government has no business deciding how a woman makes this painful decision. I thought George was a an incredibly brave man, and i've seen the stupid, petty and mysonginsit abuse he braved. May God have mercy on the killer, as much, I am embrarrased to say it, hate to say so...

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SEC = well said, my sister. Well said.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fr. Craig, thanks for your post. I'm sorry for your - our - loss.

Two Auntees said...

I am heart sick to hear of the murder of Dr. Tiller. I worked in and managed family planning clinics for a number of years. When you hear of the violence against a colleague, it is chilling.

I counseled hundreds of women about unplanned pregnancies over my career. I never saw but one woman in all that time who did not struggle with that decision. It is heart rending to see the struggle they go through.

Dr. Tiller was obviously a very brave man. My sympathies go to his family and friends.

May Dr. Tiller rest in peace. May his murderer have his heart changed.

JCF said...

Amen and amen, Lizbeth.

May Dr. Tiller rest in peace, and rise in glory!

[And may GC re-endorse the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights in his memory]

Michael Jordan said...

Hi Dr. Kaeton--I disagree with you on many issues, including whether or not fetuses deserve the full protection of the law. But I condemn this killing and find it unconscionable.

I just had one question for you--why do you say this killing is "the logical end of the illogical arguments about reproductive choice?" I guess I don't understand how my position logically results in murder. Thanks!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Michael. Thanks for stopping by. I don't know what your arguments are to support your position against abortion, but I do know this: Your arguments can have their own logic and still be disagreed with.

Indeed, I do believe my arguments supporting the choice of a woman for or against abortion are logical but you obviously disagree with me.

What I am talking about is the illogical arguments that are a strange mixture of fundamentalist theology and ideology. It's the same logic that fuels all religious extremists - including, as someone pointed out - the Taliban.

I'm sure you're not a religious extremist. The proof of that is this conversation - we can agree to disagree.

If you begin to tell me that your arguments are logical, there for I MUST agree with you, you have, in my opinion, taken a place on the slippery slope that either leads to the place where this poor bloke ended up, or gives him tacit approval to do what he did.

Hope that's helpful to you.

Suzer said...

I tried to leave a comment earlier, and can't yet quite sum up my thoughts on this, except to say how very shocked and saddened I am by this. I have already read some of the reaction from the "other side" -- restrained glee might describe their state of mind at the moment. Their violent rhetoric continues.

Many, many prayers for the family and friends of Dr. Tiller, and may God have mercy on the one who planned this murder.

I pray that abortion would be an unnecessary choice in this world, but until we see more support of women and children in our society, that will not happen. Until that time, doctors will face threats and intimidation and even death from folks who prefer to be judge and jury (and executioner), rather than provide the services women really need to either prevent pregnancy in the first place, provide health and financial care to bring an unwanted child to term for adoption, or provide the same resources plus education and child care for women who might otherwise choose to keep their babies.

God have mercy on us all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Suzer. I had to think about this for a while, too. I must confess that it was the rantings of a young, male 'orthodox' clergy person which convinced me I had to write it.

Glad you were able to weigh in.

Suzer said...

I should have said "who planned and carried out this murder," to be more exact.

I wonder how many desperate, pregnant mothers the clergy person who motivated you to write this has taken under his wing, offered to provide health care and child care, offered to provide education for both mother and child, offered to handle court costs and pay for time spent away from work in court so a young mother can get child support from an unwilling father? Etc., etc., etc. As you know, you and I differ a bit in our opinions on this subject, however I remain steadfastly pro-choice. I often wonder if the "other side" has considered actually offering -- REALLY offering -- the financial and other assistance a woman would need to carry a child to term (either for adoption or to raise herself, with or without a father who may or may not be willing). If he put his money where his mouth is, he might see the very difficult place a woman finds herself in when confronted with an unwanted pregnancy.

You've written many eloquent and detailed posts about the subject, discussing many of the gray areas a woman faces when considering the awful choice of abortion. Suffice it to say, some will continue to see this in black and white, as they continue to view the entire world in such terms.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, and in a nutshell, this is about vigilante justice.

One of my deepest beliefs about America and the principles it is founded upon is that we are free to believe and associate as we so choose. We are free to be "controversial." We are free to be "different." We are free to differ politically. We sure don't do everything right, but I like to believe the fact that we at least TRY as a society speaks volumes.

To gun a man down in church is beyond creepy. Period.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Preach it sister!

This is murder. High time the anti Moderns come to term with that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I've been listening to BBC this morning which has not yet made a reference to this event. I suppose I'm going to have to listen to CNBC or something to get the details. Or, perhaps, NYT's will have some information. Even so, it's just horrible.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Elizabeth, I have linked to this on my blog. Hope it is OK!

Seeing Eye Chick said...

Thanks Elizabeth for being the voice of reason. Sometimes, I get very angry at all Christians everywhere. And I know that is not fair or just that I get to that place. That its more emotion than logic. If not for people like you, who show a saner side to the Body of Christ, I might never stop to reflect on that and question my emotional reaction the way I should. It's hard being a NonChristian of any kind in this country. It was worse under the Bush Administration because he encouraged this insanity in a million different ways. I want it to get better. I want people to get along and really listen to each other. When situations such as this "Hit" because that is what it is {not vigilante Justice--but a Hit} take place it's easy to get lost in that and to generalize. When you are not the Dominiant Culture, and you feel targeted everyday by people who wear the cross the way some would wear an Uzi, that is how a nonChristian begin to see all Christians. The Cross is no longer about Redemption--not even theoretically, but instead it reverts to it's original Roman symbolism. A torture device used to make examples of political dissidents. It's not about the blood of the lamb, but instead it is a warning--what these people want to do to you--the nonbeliever.

If the act against this doctor were about Justice, then the shooter would have magically stopped the victimization of Women that ends in unwanted pregnancy. He would have stopped rape, he would have stopped domestic violence, assault, coercion, and would have instead brought the Kingdom of Heaven here to earth, so that no more women would have to struggle to feed their kids or clothe them or to send them to school or to protect them from her boyfriend--all the horror stories you hear about troubled mothers, or potential moms-to-be.

This hit wasnt about justice. This shooting was about control. It was a rape of a different kind. He raped a church and a congregation, he raped a family, by violating the sanctity of sacred ground. And he did it all to try and institute control at the basest level which is to say, that he wants control at the end of a gun or a knife--by threat of violence, and not through the devotional gift of love or respect.

His cross is a torture device, his relationship with your God is one based on fear, and if others do not emulate that, then his faith and fear is invalidated and he feels threatened and out of control.

This is what you fight every moment you present Christianity as something other, something kinder and not hatefilled or insane. Never underestimate the power or importance of your demeanor in this matter of faith.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely, Göran. Thanks for the courtesy of letting me know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, SEC, you are really eloquent on this subject. I am so glad you have decided to leave your thoughts here. Thank you.

Bill said...

The saddest thing to me is that this isn’t surprising at all. People will, of course, say they are stunned; but I really don’t think so. It’s just one more case of violence in a violent society. When you think about it, what is one more murder, rape or beating in a world that hasn’t seen a respite from either personal or institutionalized violence in our long sad history?

You still have people trying to roll back Roe V. Wade with a return to the good old days of coat hanger abortions. You still have gays being beaten and killed by young thugs in serious doubt of their own sexuality. You still have a government that until very recently condoned the use of torture. We are still involved in foreign wars that are killing our young men and women on a daily basis. You still have poverty and malnutrition in our cities and the rural stretches of our country. And, people are stunned??? Please, embrace reality. Nobody should be stunned.

My money happens to be on a 50 yr old white male who believes that Jesus is his personal savior and killed the good doctor to stop the killing. I am by no means a “profiler”, but let’s wait and see. Thank God I’m way over 60 and not considered one of the usual suspects.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

SEC, I hope you are not misinterpeting me here.

My point is: In my POV vs. a vigilante's POV, "justice" is relative. To the vigilante, it IS about justice, a form of justice in his or her mind, the idea that someone who is a lightning rod in a particular issue that must die for whatever "crimes of humanity" he or she thinks the person committed.

But in a nation of laws, this is not acceptable. I don't care if the venue is reproductive rights, racial issues, GLBT issues, or flying saucers from outer space.

I would argue this is not "religious terrorism," it's not "reproductive rights terrorism," it's just plain terrorism, as dangerous and bold as Al-Qaida or Timothy McVeigh.

To break it down into "subsets of terrorism" in my mind cheapens the reality of another kind of terrorism. The fact that the victim of this terrorism is an abortion clinic doctor actually diffuses the focus, in my mind. People hear the word "Abortion," they are going to bristle up and want to argue THAT issue (no matter what side they are on) rather than that this is an act of terrorism within the borders of the U.S.

It's not that we shouldn't be discussing reproductive rights in this country (happens all the time) but the way we talk about these hot-button issues is so polarized, so strident, so vitriolic, that it may prevent us from treating this as what it is--an act of terrorism.

In this country, taking the law into your own hands and killing someone for a "cause" is a crime that should be dealt with in the harshest terms in our society, IMO.

I fear the rhetoric produced will merely embolden others if we don't look at this with terrorist eyes. Who's next? A person who runs a fertility clinic with frozen embryos? A pharmacist who fills birth control prescriptions?

Truthfully, I fear this kind of stuff more than I fear foreign born terrorists.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SEC - your point is well made and well taken. Terrorism is terrorism - whether domestic or foreign born. But just as you - and I - distinguish, for purposes of conversation, terrorism that comes from within as opposed to without, so the distinguishing between the various 'places' where terrorism is experienced is - well, for me, at least - just that: to identify the specific places of manifestation.

In the final analysis, it's all about terrorism, which is all about hatred, which is all about intolerance, which is all about fear - no matter where it's found.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Christina Page of the Huffington Post has a brilliant piece about how this is not an isolated incident:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Additionally, Elizabeth, I find myself becoming incredibly angry at the comments coming over from the Randall Terry side of the street, the Faux News pundits, etc. They are masters of the big "BUT."

"Oh, we would never condone this, BUT..." and then they call people murderers, child rapists, criminals, whatnot.

The older I get I realize the childhood rhyme was probably wrong. We're probably better off some days with sticks/stones vs. words.

jerseyjo said...

Elizabeth and friends --

Many thanks for speaking these words this morning, today. I needed to hear them and to be among friends.

These terrorist Christians in name but not in acts lack the courage of Dr. Tiller and the heroic and ompassionate others who daily serve and who sacrifice much.

The last time I spent with my cousin Bart we spoke of the harassment, the constant abuse, the hate, and the threats with which he and his family lived. But like Dr. Tiller and his family, Bart and the rest continued to provide care and compassion to women and families in times of great stress and need. Inded, Bart's funeral was full of women, children, and families whose lives he touched. Their lives and service are gifts to us all.

And compassionate service is indeed the fruit of spiritual practice.

I pray for Dr. Tiller and his family, for those who provide care for those in need, for the women and their loved ones who daily confront these challenges, and for those whose conscience and beliefs bring them to different positions and choices on these difficult issues. And,of course, I pray for us all, that we will continue to do the work of God for all the people of God.

Joan Slepian

Bill said...

Kirkepiscatoid said... “I would argue this is not "religious terrorism," it's not "reproductive rights terrorism," it's just plain terrorism, as dangerous and bold as Al-Qaida or Timothy McVeigh.”

I tend to think of “terrorism” in a broader sense. I see it in terms of quasi-military groups trying to orchestrate change through fear. Were Sam Adam’s thugs guilty of terrorism or patriotism. My answer, is both. I’m not saying that the word is used incorrectly here but I am leaning toward another term, “Hate Crime”, which, in my mind anyway, lends itself to the actions of a single person. But even with that, the legalists can’t even define what a “hate crime” is. What if I take a dislike to “Red Sox” fans (entirely plausible) and start a program to “depopulate the surplus population”; is that a hate crime?

Ok, having said all that, I agree with you. Let us consider terrorism and hate crimes to be the same for purposes of this discussion. As soon as we start to classify “terrorism” (or hate crimes) the next step is to quantify it. Soon we’ll be listing every terrorist and terrorist activity on a sliding scale. When we do that, we are only one step away from understanding some but not others. Is a fire bombing worse in North Ireland or Palestine? Is murdering passengers on a cruise ship as bad as shooting someone in church? Is dragging some queer behind a pick-up truck ok; because according to the Bible, he is an abomination after all?

Did I hear someone say “crazy talk”? Guess again. Our whole criminal justice system both charges and punishments are all based on some form of sliding scale. And when it comes to capital crimes as in somebody died, if we sentence somebody to life imprisonment without parole for murder, does it really make anybody feel any better if we sentence the perpetrator of a hate crime murder to two life sentences. We get so tangled up in our own words and so focused on our own cleverness that we tend to forget the obvious. My friend just complained that she lost her internet connection and didn’t know what the weather outside was like. I asked her if she had thought of going to the window.

IT said...

And Bill was spot on about one thing, the shooter was a 50ish white guy....

Sobering day.

I believe that people can disagree strongly on this subject, not only about the act of abortion, but about the state's role in it. But one thing should be crystal clear:

If the life of an 8-celled blastocyst is precious beyond measure, so is the life of an adult man with a family. You cannot be a murderer and claim the term "pro-life" because if you choose to take a life, you have proven you are not "pro".

So much of religious tyranny in this society is based on telling other people that THEY should "shoulder the cross", that THEY should live hard lives because, well, that's the will of God. And so seldom does it apply to them....because I'll betcha that those raging the loudest would sneak their sweet daughters off to a discreet clinic in a minute if they had to.

IT said...

One more thing--SEC's comment on the "tyranny of the cross" struck me.

BP and I were at a wedding this weekend in the midwest, seeing some of her family for the first time together. The family know about us, of course, and were warmly welcoming, but we were well aware that said welcome might not extend throughout the guest list.

BP said to me, "I see a lot of people wearing crosses here, and it makes me nervous and cautious around them. And the thing is, I'm wearing a cross too."

I think it is the saddest thing i've heard her say in a while.

(BP wears a cross most of the time.)

IT said...

At least someone on the other side gets it that disagreement does not justify murder.

"If anyone has an urge to kill someone at an abortion clinic, they should shoot me. ... It's madness. It discredits the right-to-life movement. Murder is murder. It's madness. You cannot prevent killing by killing." - John Cardinal O'Connor.

Jim said...

I blogged my first reaction. We should not look down on Lemmings. Their life patterns make more sense than ours.


walter said...

The birth of a child is the dramatic answer to death: let us pay attention. Here it is not said that the birth of a child is the panacea to the suffering and frustration of life, the lives that is of the ones that are tenderly awaiting his/her birth. This point is an essential point to be able, if interested, to hear Dr Paul and Howard Thurman as I hear them.

Then we may elaborate the insight of Shauna. Carrying her pregnency she seems to embrace Paul in the understanding that maybe the birth of a child contemplated theologically starts at the moment of conception considering that what she is sharing is still in her womb.

So again, the birth of a child is the dramatic answer to death. I believe that from now on when we will think of 'dramatic', it will be easier for us to elaborate through the vicissitudes of our lives with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now elaborating one of the favorite term of my friend Libby ('focus' that is) I am not going to focus on the political issues on abortion. As a monastic theologian and writer I say, to whom may be interested, to become aware with me of what may become the responsibilities awakened when pro-choice decisions are not judged neither justified.

Walter Vitale, Buffalo Shepherd

JCF said...


I well remember the murder of your cousin: may he rest in peace, and rise in glory.


I just had one question for you--why do you say this killing is "the logical end of the illogical arguments about reproductive choice?" I guess I don't understand how my position logically results in murder. Thanks!

Mike, I speak ONLY for myself (not our gracious host, Elizabeth), but I'll try to answer, anyway.

To do this, I have to bring in another hot-button issue re Life&Death: Capital Punishment.

The problem is in the ideological construction, "innocent human life."

Now I recognize, that many Christians (esp. Roman Catholics) who would deny abortion, also oppose the death penalty...

...but many more Christians don't (that is, they can get passionate-to-violent in their opposition to abortion, while also SUPPORTING the death penalty).

And it comes back that concept: "innocent human life"

Now, as a Christian, I don't believe there's any such thing as "innocent human life".

No, it our ability to make choices (which is to say, to make WRONG choices), which makes us human. It is this awareness of our choices---and their consequences---which makes us human beings "in the Image and Likeness of God" (as God knew, that to make us, was to make us likely to go off the rails! ;-))

I believe ALL human life is sacred . . . right down to the worse mass murderer, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, whatever. (Hence, I oppose capital punishment)

But I also don't believe that merely having Homo sapiens DNA, makes us human.

No sentience, no moral choice---no ability to steal a cookie, or pitch a fit in a public place (Terrible Twos, anyone? ;-p)---no humanity.

Don't get me wrong: I think it's terrific to privilege all kinds of non-sentient life-forms: Homo sapiens from birth, endangered species, Great Apes, Whales&Dolphins (and dogs, just because I love 'em!)

But we've confused rights (which adhere to those w/ choice---those able to say "Give me my rights, dammit!"), with privilege.

With this messed up notion of "What is a Human?" (imagining some non-existent "innocent human being", when that's actually an oxymoron!), is it any wonder, then, that the DISTURBED (like Dr. Tiller's alleged killer) get this notion that "If you're not innocent---like an abortionist---then you're not really "human" (in any way I must respect)".

Very few anti-choice persons would ever take up arms, of course. But how many would rely on the arms of the police (in a nation that had outlawed abortion)? Or that those who died by the coathanger, deserved (will deserve) it?

It all comes back to the intrinsic violence of denying choice to sentient beings (whereas, however unfortunate/traumatic/icky is the destruction of non-sentient beings, it can't be morally impermissable in the same way: I now know I've p*ssed off animal righters, too ;-/).

Just my 2 . . . um, 3c.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I just made an Update of the latest developments RE the suspect's close relations to "Operation Rescue" on my Blog!