I recently read about the trial of Scott Roeder, a man accused of killing abortion doctor George Tiller in his church on May 31. Much like others who have taken acts of vengeance upon doctors who perform abortions, Roeder acted upon what he claims to be his evangelical Christian beliefs. The report reads as follows:
When defense attorneys asked about his belief regarding abortion in the case of rape, Roeder said, “I do not believe that is justified. You are taking the life of the innocent. You’re punishing the innocent life for the sin of the father. Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Asked about incest, he said his beliefs were the same. “It isn’t our duty to take life, it’s our heavenly father’s,” he said.
Ironic isn’t it? “It’s not our duty to take life, it’s our heavenly father’s;” yet he himself took a life. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Yet given the comment above, he might have meant that any innocent life cannot be taken. If this is the case, Roeder reflects the common evangelical religious belief that life can be taken…innocent life cannot. The result of this belief is the common defiance of abortion and the vehement support of capital punishment. This perspective may make sense from a political and American point of view, but is it consistent from the Christian point of view?
In terms of Old Testament Law, murder of any kind is forbidden. “You shall not murder,” says one of the Ten Commandments (and Charlton Heston). Yet Roeder might have been reading follow up verses like in Exodus 21:12: “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death,” or 21:14, “But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” These laws were put in place at the beginnings of a society. It was the initial step of order and civility. But this capital punishment could not have been dished out by anyone who felt the itch…there were people and procedures to do that as well, although to us they might seem a bit barbaric. So it seems as though the dividing line between murder and capital punishment, at least in the eyes of the biblical society and ours today, is who the punishment is being carried out by. If killing is a societal response to the breaking of the law, then it is capital punishment; if carried out by hands of an individual, it is murder. As it turns out, Roeder was violating the very principle he was attempting to protect. Such is the irony of killing abortion doctors.
Of course, I did say that Roeder’s beliefs were evangelical Christian, and so far I haven’t even mentioned Jesus. That is because Christ seemed to have flipped the script on people’s view of how God wants us to respond. Here’s what we find in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
I think Jesus is proving a point here. Everyone has said something as common as “You fool.” So in terms of God, we’re all in the same boat…we’re all in need of God’s grace equally. And so dishing out judgment is not our job. It doesn’t mean that we refrain from determining what is wrong or right, but judgment is God’s task. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” says Matthew 7:1.
Now, in terms of abortion…all of the people that I know who are Pro-Choice are also against killing and murder. It is simply their belief that life begins outside the womb. The opposite (and mostly Christian) response is that life begins at conception. If someone can determine when life begins, then they can also define when life ends -and therefore determine what murder is and is not. I myself do not know when life officially begins, and for that reason I am against abortion generally speaking. In the chance that I might be wrong…it’s simply not worth risking. Now I’m making this determination with the recognition that abortion is more complex than people sometimes make it. I cannot know the confusion and fears of a young, single mother; and I certainly have not faced the difficult decision of what to do in the case of rape or the threat of a mother’s life.
And so I pray for these mothers, fathers, and family in these incredibly difficult circumstances; and I also pray for Scott Roeder. May he receive clarity about his decision to take a life; and may God grant him grace too.