Scott Roeder, meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Perhaps the two of you have never met.
As your trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller begins in earnest, you would do well to meet the premier American Christian leader of the 20th century. Whereas you believe that your murder of Dr. Tiller is morally justifiable as an act of defending the pre-born, Dr. King stared evil and violence squarely in the eye and chose a higher path. He and his colleagues withstood fire hoses, attack dogs, bombs, knives, and guns, and yet chose not to respond in kind. You have chosen the path of hatred; he chose the path of love.
Now mind you, I hear your pain. My soul aches deeply every day at the fact that more than 1,200,000 children each year will not see their own birth in this country. While you have chosen to kill as a tactic, many others and I seek to serve mothers in crisis and their pre-born children in ways that offer them hope and love. I am deeply disturbed that the most dangerous place in a child's life in America is in her own mother's warm womb. Ending abortion is the right thing to do. That is a noble goal.
However, how we end abortion says as much about us as the fact that we seek to bring an end to this moral evil. There is a good reason why virtually every pro-life group in America has denounced your actions and the use of violence in the battle to end abortion. Very simply, you are wrong and so are your actions.
As a Christian, your faith should teach you that truth and love will have the final word. As Dr. King himself stated, “That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” A Christian keeps an eye toward the eternal, not merely toward the temporal. Christians know who wins in the end. Therefore, the Christian faith is rooted in the basic hope that only good ultimately conquers evil. Killing in the name of life is not only logically inconsistent, it is also morally wrong.
As a member of the self-named “Army of God,” you and your group have arrogated to yourselves something that rightly belongs to the God you claim to serve, namely the taking or ending of human life. You have twisted the meaning of pro-life by endorsing death. The irony is obvious to everyone but you.
Worse still, your group has assumed the divine right to take life in order to serve the cause of saving life. For centuries, Christians have articulated the rare occasions when the use of violence is morally defensible. Dr. King and other Christian leaders embraced the “just war theory” delineated and refined by thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, and others. Such just war cases are characterized by traits not present in your own “war.” For example, only legitimate national governments acting as moral agents have the authority to declare war. This moral conviction knows that vigilante justice, like that embodied in your own army, breeds hatred, fear, and anarchy, rather than true peace and true justice. You have taken unto yourselves the roles of both God as the ultimate taker of life and of temporal political government as the moral agent of war. In doing so, you represent the ever-present human urge to decide what is right and wrong without answering to others, including the Church.
In addition, Christian thinkers hold that war should be used as a last resort, enacted only after all other measures have been exhausted. In a liberal democracy like our own, there are multiple lawful measures and acts of civil disobedience available to those of us who value all human life, even those with whom we vigorously disagree. In choosing to resort to violence and murder, you have stepped out of Christian thinking and into the realm of self-authority.
Mr. Roeder, your “Army of God” invokes the faith with great gusto but also with great disregard for the teachings of the man you claim to follow, Jesus. In the face of violence, even in the face of his own torture and death, Jesus turned the other cheek. As He was being arrested, He instructed His own followers not to retaliate. In the end, it is this very example of non-violence that carried the day in the moral leadership of Dr. King. He and his leadership invested monumental amounts of time to train their “soldiers” not to retaliate. To take the higher moral ground. To change hearts rather than end lives.
While I mourn with you the deaths of pre-born children, I rejoice in the fact that the pro-life movement is gaining strength and public opinion as evidenced in recent polls showing slow movement back toward the valuing of human life. I rejoice that your actions stand out for their rarity. Your murderous act was the first death of an abortion doctor in America since 1998. Despite you, America faces no epidemic of anti-abortion violence. In fact, it is interesting to note that the same number of pro-life demonstrators were killed last year as abortion doctors - one. James Pouillon's death stands as a reminder that violence on either side of this issue solves nothing. It only leaves more dead bodies.
Finally, I encourage you to use your time in prison well. A recommended reading list would include Dr. King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus. Both of these pieces will aid you in understanding non-violence not as a passive or lazy response but as one that has the capacity to change the minds and hearts of America.
Please know that many of us will be praying for you, but more importantly for the lives of children in America, the born and the unborn. The disgrace of your murder cannot erase the moral horror that is perpetrated in this country each day.
Grace and Peace,
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