Over at the Inhabitatio Dei blog, there has been a discussion of the political/ethical issues raised in the recent murder of the abortion provider, Dr. Tiller. The discussion has centered primarily on when, if ever, people ought to stand up and oppose their government -- the assertion being that if abortion truly is the murder of millions of innocent lives, then it can be argued that most pro-life supporters really aren't radical enough. That got me thinking.
My own approach in assessing situations like this tends to be heavily influenced by Kierkegaard's "suspension of the ethical." In other words, the decision to kill Dr. Tiller (assuming, of course, a genuine ethical dilemma for his murderer, rather than a response out of vengeance or insanity... keep this in mind) is somewhat similar to Abraham's dilemma: Do I obey God and commit this crime in order to save innocent lives, or do I obey the ethical imperative (instituted by God as well): Do not murder?
This, of course, leads to at least two other vital questions. One, how does the person know that God is actually commanding him/her to kill? Two, is the person ready to face the consequences for their actions? Because, as SK so vividly describes in "Fear and Trembling," suspending the ethical will most likely result in one becoming a universal pariah. This second question, I think, is actually the more important of the two.
What I mean is this: Let's begin with the assumption -- and, to be fair, there is considerable reason to believe that the Bible does NOT advocate such a thing, though that discussion is for another day -- that we have a mandate in Scripture to protect innocent life, even if it means killing an evil person to save innocent lives. If so, then it reasonable to conclude that God may reveal to a person that they ought to kill someone. After all, according to a prima facie interpretation, God told people in the Old Testament to kill all the time. Here, I say - and I realize this may sound terribly cruel and wrong - do it!
If you really believe that God is asking do to this thing to stave off genocide, don't shrink back. Do what you must. But - and this is important! - don't try to get away with it, either! The fact that Dr. Tiller's killer attempted to escape the scene, and is now attempting to defend his actions, shows that he was never completely committed to the act. There is reason to doubt that his act was, in fact, a genuine suspension of the ethical. This is precisely why he is guilty. If he was truly following God's command and suspending the ethical, he would refuse to defend his actions (indeed, he cannot!) and accept his fate - even if it means death - as the retaliation expected from the ethical system that he chose to suspend.
Further, as the discussion referenced above suggests, if abortion is indeed a genocide, as pro-life advocates claim, then they ought to be bold enough to stand beside the one who has heard from God, even if it means their own persecution or punishment. The fact that most pro-life supporters have not stood by Dr. Tiller's killer indicates that either they 1) don't really believe the murderer has heard from God, 2) don't take the abortion problem seriously enough, or 3) think there is another, better way to deal with the abortion problem.
I would guess that most pro-life people opt for option 3. The question then becomes, what is this better option? Here is where "the rubber meets the road," in my estimation. If we are unwilling to accept the radical horror that comes with the potential suspension of the ethical, then perhaps we who are pro-life (and, yes, I am pro-life) ought to also admit that our own motives are conflicted at best, and not be so quick to ascribe evil motives to those on the other side of the abortion issue.
It seems clear, in situations like the Tiller murder, that there is a level of inconsistency within the pro-life position. If we oppose government-sponsored murder, how can we not rise up against it? Is it really possible to consistently oppose genocide using non-violent means? Some have done a better job of articulating this than others. But I think there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. There needs to be more consistency if the pro-life message is going to resonate with those who see abortion as their best alternative. If we aren't consistent, why would we expect more from anyone else? This, I think, is one of the lessons of the horrible tragedy of Dr. Tiller's murder.