Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Do I Preach About the Killing of George Tiller?

This week I've been deeply bothered by the killing of Dr. George Tiller at his church last Sunday morning in Wichita, KS. If the press reports are to be believed, the chief suspect, now in custody, if he did commit the murder, did so in large part due to his own ideological understanding of abortion as murder and that Tiller's actions would bring judgment from God upon our nation. This perspective is informed by a particular understanding of Christianity, one that says violence is acceptable if it accomplishes the will of God--in this case according to its own logic, the will of God would be protecting the innocent lives of unborn babies.

This logic is of course the same logic used by Islamic terrorists and other terrorists who use religion to justify violent acts. The idea that Christianity--the religion that should follow the example of the non-violent Christ--would be twisted to justify violence is abhorrent to me.

I've titled my sermon for this Sunday, "A Rejection of Christian Terrorism" and obviously I'm preaching to the choir, because no one at my church (or at most churches) would claim Tiller's murder was in any way Christian. I debated about not preaching on it, but I decided that sometimes a thing needs to be said even if everyone in the room agrees with it. There should be plenty of sermons this week denouncing this murderous act, but there probably won't be, so I should at least offer mine.

This raises the dilemma, of course, of how to talk about a subject that includes an issue as utterly radioactive like abortion? Given that the current discussion over abortion is dominated by the extremes and practically any statement can instantly provoke an emotional response on the part of the listener that cuts off dialogue, the risks are high for misunderstanding. Because of the emotional nature of the issues surrounding abortion, I have no real interest in wading into it--I'm not sure how one can do that in a 15-20 minute sermon any way and hope to do the issues any kind of justice.

My aim is to reject a mindset that uses Christianity to justify violence--especially what I consider to be terrorism. I believe this rejection must also include language used by both sides that demeans and dismisses the views on opposing sides and the people who hold them. How do I make that point without sounding like I'm crying, "Can't we all just get along?"

My main point is that a Christian approach to any difficult issue must--in order to be truly Christian--involve self-sacrifice, humility, forgiveness, grace and non-violence. How do I make that point about such an emotional event with so many landmines laying about?

So, I put the call out here for any suggestions, thoughts or recommended reading as I prepare for Sunday--oh yeah, prayers are good too.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. I have read a few thoughtful pieces this week--one of which is by one of my church members, Andrew Kar, on his blog at, another is at Religion Dispatches, and finally there is a great op-ed by Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Frances Schaeffer in the Baltimore Sun, where he accepts the blame for his part in the sowing of hate speech by the Religious Right. Other suggestions are welcome.


lneely said...

That you're willing to take to the pulpit an explicit condemnation of Christian terrorism is admirable, perhaps even courageous at some level. While it's good to be sensitive, it's better to have the cojones to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. Look no further than Christ, himself, who said, woe to you, hypocrites!

My opinion, of course. ;p

Andrew said...

Since Roe v Wade, now known to be based on flawed science, 4 abotion doctors have been murdered.

And since that time, 45,000,000 unborn humans have been killed...many of them viable.

That is violence on a scale that exceeds the Holocaust.

Christianity should not be used to justify murder of abortion doctors.

And it should not be used to justify murder of the unborn.

If you are not sure when life begins, you no more answer it with going ahead and killing than you would go a head and shoot if you were not sure something in the bushes, during a hunting trip, was a human or a wolf.