“The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us” Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This quote is at the bottom of The Rev. Lowell Michelson May 2009 newsletter article. I find it incredibly ironic. Why? Because The Rev. Lowell Michelson is the ELCA pastor who will one day give an account for the soul of Dr. George Tiller.
I could begin this post by deploring violence, let alone murder, as the way to resolve a situation. Indeed, “The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). I could say what my mother always did, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” But I begin with, “Why should we be on the defensive?” A man who made a living doing violence to others (the unborn) died by the violence of another. That’s nothing new under the sun. When one murderer murders another murderer people very rarely rush to condemn him. One gang member kills another gang member and we flip the channel or turn the newspaper page. “O that again.”
If the Pro-Abortion Guttmacher Institute is right, there are 1,032 abortions of babies past the 24th week each year. If the Center for Disease Control is right, there are an additional 18,200 abortions between 20 and 24 weeks gestation each year. This means Dr. Tiller as one of only 3 late term abortion “providers” was responsible for 6,410 dead babies a year. Over the 20 years of his “practice,” he put to death 128,213 babies. Using the Guttmacher Institute’s percentages for partial birth abortions, Dr. Tiller 217 times held a warm, heart throbbing baby in one hand and with the other hand plunged an instrument into the baby’s head to evacuate the contents. Because what he did was legal doesn’t mean it wasn’t monstrous.
Here we come back to Hitler and Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is a hero of liberal Lutherans because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was caught and put to death. What Hitler was doing in Germany had the sanction of the German government and law at the time. In the Nuremberg Trials the principle that there is such a thing as a crime against humanity was used to convict Nazis. Even though they did nothing against the laws of their nation, they had committed crimes against humanity. So did Dr. Tiller. But while liberals praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to assassinate Hitler, they condemn the assassination of Dr. Tiller. To be consistent, those who praise Bonhoeffer should praise Dr. Tiller’s assassin.
I praise neither. In fact, in a previous blog I noted the slippery slope one confessional Lutheran pastor was starting down when he said “’Those who espouse quietism in the face of despotism must look elsewhere than the mature Luther’” (CTQ, January 2009, fn. 70, p. 88, in my blog “Bonhoeffer, Hitler, and Holocaust”). Individuals may not act for God when it comes to “bearing the sword.” It’s only the State that doesn’t bear the sword in vain. It’s only the State that can be “God’s servant” when imposing the death penalty. When individual bear the sword in their own name it’s not only “in vain” but to their eternal peril even in the cases of monstrous rulers or doctors.
Pastors in particular are called to act for God in retaining and forgiving sins. Whatever sins they retain they are retained; whatever sins they forgive they are forgiven. Dr. Tiller’s ELCA pastor did not act for God in his case. He didn’t condemn his sin but communed and confirmed him in it. The LCMS pastor that excommunicated Dr. Tiller for his impenitent sin of murdering the unborn did act for God. So did the LCMS pastors assigned as chaplains to the Nazi defendants at Nuremberg. The Lutheran Witness several years ago had their accounts. They preached law and Gospel to these monsters as those who know the monstrosity of their own sins.
There’s one thing left to say. Can you imagine year after year communing with Dr. Tiller? If you’re in a LCMS congregation that practices open Communion or is open to all Lutherans, you don’t have to imagine, you did. His sin was your sin. The sin of the ELCA that judges abortion to be a tragic choice is still your sin. The Jesus the ELCA preaches accepts impenitent abortionists. He doesn’t free people from sins but frees people to remain in them.
Most people think the big issue confronting the ELCA this summer is whether to ordain practicing homosexuals. Since they have no problem communing practicing abortionists, what is their dilemma? Having trashed the 5th Commandment, what’s one more?