Jewish Journal

Dr. George Tiller had been excommunicated

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 11, 2009 | 4:27 pm

There have been a lot of stories about Dr. George Tiller since the late-term abortion doc was gunned down in the lobby of his church last Sunday. “Free abortion to honor George Tiller” is one headline sure to grab your attention. But a story you won’t see in any mainstream paper or on television or really anywhere beside the GetReligion blog is that Tiller, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran in America, had previously been excommunicated from the far more conservative (politically and theologically) Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Mollie Hemingway writes:

What none of these stories have explained is that Tiller had previously been excommunicated by a Lutheran congregation on account of his lack of repentance about and refusal to stop his occupation. That Lutheran congregation was a member of my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Excommunication doesn’t happen terribly frequently in this day and age but it’s not unheard of. I don’t know any of the specifics about his past congregation or what led to the discipline and anticipated learning more about it when it was covered by the mainstream media. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.

When the news broke, I had many people who know that I’m Lutheran ask how it was possible that his church had not disciplined him or otherwise encouraged him to stop performing abortions. I had hoped that there would be stories exploring Tiller’s religious beliefs and church membership and that the stories would explain the difference between the ELCA and the LCMS. There is obviously quite a difference between a church body that would discipline a practicing abortion doctor and one that would welcome him in membership.

While we did get some stories about his religious views, none of them seemed to have any clue about his religious history. Note, for instance, this piece from the Salt Lake Tribune that was written Religion News Service’s Lindsay Perna and Tiffany Stanley:

Dr. George Tiller’s murder last Sunday morning in the lobby of his Lutheran church counters the secular image of a late-term abortion provider, pinning him more as a churchgoing “martyr” than a godless murderer.

Shot and killed while passing out bulletins in the lobby of his Wichita, Kan., church as his wife sat in the choir, Tiller is already challenging popular perceptions of both abortion providers and the abortion-rights movement.

“It shows a dimension of the movement that a lot of people don’t know about,” said the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “This man was castigated for what he did — but he was a faithful member of the Lutheran church and that gives a different view of him and his work.”

Veazey sees the face of Tiller as more of “a martyr in the same sense that Dr. [Martin Luther] King was.”

The story goes on to quote various people about how Tiller’s church membership changes the dynamics of the abortion debate. How can they not mention that he was previously excommunicated for his abortion work? It’s such an interesting and significant part of the story! That’s just a huge hole.

To be sure, religious folks fall on all sides—not just both sides—of the abortion debate. Christians too. But the ELCA and the LCMS are two very different denominations. And Tiller’s church membership really doesn’t do anything to change the arguments for and against a woman’s right to kill a fetus and whether that unborn child constitutes a living human being.

What is curious is the way pro-choice religious leaders are trying to draw connections between George Tiller and Martin Luther King Jr. And Dr. King’s niece, who happens to be a pro-life activist, and also happens to be a pastor, is none too happy about the exploitation of her uncle’s name:

“For LeRoy Carhart to mention the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked through peaceful and non-violent means, in the same breath with that of George Tiller, whose work ended peace and brought violence to babies in the womb, is offensive beyond belief,” Dr. Alveda King, pastoral associate of Priests for Life, said in a statement. “The analogy is just wrong.”

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