Reformation Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Wichita, Kan., meets in an attractive brick building in a quiet neighborhood. Chartered in 1952, the church offers a variety of activities and ministries for all ages, including Church Women United, Best Times of Life, Golfers for God, Boy Scouts, and VBS. The church adheres to a liturgical calendar and states as its mission "living as God's people in the world." Until the last Sunday in May, it was a postcard of mid-American values and lifestyle-except for the occasional band of protestors, mostly outside but sometimes in.
On May 31, Reformation Lutheran joined the sad fraternity of churches that have seen bloodshed within their walls. But this was no random spray of gunfire: The victim was targeted and murdered quite efficiently with one bullet, while handing out bulletins in the lobby. No one else was injured as the alleged perpetrator made his escape in a blue Taurus, only to be arrested about two hours later.
The victim was Dr. George Tiller, age 67, one of the few physicians who perform late-term, or "partial-birth" abortions. The death toll at Tiller's clinic, Women's Health Care Services, is probably around 60,000, including many unborn children who would have been viable outside the womb. Tiller has long been a lightning rod for pro-life advocates and organizations, attracting criticism, excoriation, peaceful protest, unlawful vandalism, and legal charges. In 1993 pro-life crusader Rachelle Shannon shot him in both arms (but the wounds were minor and he was back at work the next day). Only last month, Women's Heath Care Services was vandalized at the cost of thousands of dollars. Tiller has employed a bodyguard for years, but the bodyguard was not in attendance on May 31.
The suspect, 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kan., has no official connection to any group or movement, though he has posted messages on pro-life and anti-government websites. His ex-wife describes him as "very religious, in an Old Testament, eyefor-an-eye way." All evidence indicates he acted alone. But abortion advocates were soon pointing fingers at critics of Tiller, such as Bill O'Reilly and the American Life League, claiming that loaded terms like "Killer Tiller," "holocaust," and "blood on his hands" helped to inflame the murderer. Even though O'Reilly and every reputable pro-life organization condemned the murder in the strongest terms, they did not escape criticism. "Doctor's Killer, Some Say, Is Not Alone in the Blame," slyly suggested a New York Times headline.
A rash of candlelight vigils and outpouring of testimonials witnessed to Tiller the kindly father and grandfather, faithful husband, pillar of his church, and courageous defender of women who supposedly had nowhere else to turn. But there's a reason why so few doctors perform late-term abortions: Few have the stomach for a procedure that involves delivering a viable infant feet-first and then crushing its head. Though he claimed to persevere in his controversial profession as a matter of principle, Tiller also made a lot of money from his practice, many thousands of which he donated to the campaigns of politicians who defended him (including the former Kansas governor, now Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius).
During the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests in Wichita, abortion opponents chanted, "Tell the truth! Tell the truth!" to mainstream-media reporters. The murder of George Tiller will most likely vault him into martyrdom and obscure the truth even more. It's a paradigm of what a tangled web the issue has become: tragic for both abortionists and their critics, and most of all for the millions of unborn who will never see the light of day.