The murder of Dr. George Tiller is a human tragedy.
If the perpetrator of this violence proves to be someone who was acting in the name of the pro-life movement, as appears to be the case, everyone in the pro-life community must swiftly and soundly repudiate him and his actions.
Murdering someone is a grotesque and bizarre way to emphasize one's commitment to the sanctity of human life. People who truly believe in the sanctity of human life believe in the sanctity of the lives of abortion providers as well as the unborn babies who are aborted.
After a spate of violence against abortion providers in the early 1990s, as president of the then-Christian Life Commission, I convened a group of Southern Baptist ethicists and theologians who issued a statement in September 1994, which has become known as the Nashville Declaration of Conscience, that condemned the killing of abortion providers.
The document underscores the fact that each human life is sacred, noting that every "human being is made in the image of God."
"For this reason, each human life bears divinely granted and immeasurable value. Human beings are not free to take the lives of others, for those lives belong to God, their Creator," reads the declaration.
The statement recounts that there are legitimate forms of Christian response to the evil that is abortion and each of those responses fall far short of violence:
"Most Christians who believe, as we do, that the overwhelming majority of abortions are morally unjustifiable acts of killing, rightly feel the need to offer significant moral response. Indeed, millions of American Christians even today are engaged in activities that constitute such a response; most of these activities, in our view, are fully and morally justifiable and quite constructive. They are aimed at saving lives, and are directed at each of the participants in the abortion decision."
Despite the fact that some have already used the media to try and paint the entire pro-life movement with the bloody brush of this heinous crime, in truth it is an extraordinarily tiny and maniacal minority that will condone Dr. Tiller's murder.
As the 1994 declaration reads:
"We reject the argument that killing an abortion doctor is an act of violent civil disobedience made necessary by the gravity of the moral evil of abortion on demand. It is our conviction that no act of lethal force can be properly ascribed to the rubric of civil disobedience. …the killing of abortion doctors is not a morally justifiable or permissible Christian response to abortion. We utterly reject such conduct as inconsistent with Scripture."
Particularly as citizens in a democracy, we must remember the government is ordained of God (Romans 13). It is His expectation that we submit to and obey those He has allowed to be in authority over us. Morally justifiable responses to abortion do not include violence against individuals or their property.
In December 1994, for an issue of First Things, I wrote,
"Pro-life Americans must take the moral high ground and vigorously oppose vigilante violence against abortion doctors or anyone else. We must tirelessly provide alternatives to abortion, engage the legal system, and affirm the overwhelming majority of physicians who refuse to perform abortions. So long as American democracy remains a legitimate form of government, with provisions for redress, reform, and nonviolent protest, we must remain "wise as serpents, harmless as doves."
Clearly the killing of abortion providers is unbiblical, unchristian and un-American. Such callous disregard for human beings brutalizes everyone.
For people to take the law into their hands in this fashion and to attempt to be judge, jury and executioner of a fellow human being is reprehensible.
Let's be clear about this. The struggle here is not between "pro-life" and "pro-choice" – it is between civilization and barbarism. The murder of Dr. Tiller is an act of domestic terrorism and should be condemned by every civilized person in our nation.
It is incumbent upon us to pray for Dr. Tiller's family and all those who were forced to witness the terrible act of violence in a house of worship. The perpetrator of this violence should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.