Dr. Tiller’s Crucifixion and Resurrection


I am drinking my morning coffee. Shortly, I will head to morning service at the Unitarian Church.  I wonder what Dr. Tiller’s Sunday morning was like, that Sunday one year ago when he was gunned down in his church.

A couple months ago, I had honor of addressing a group of abortion providers. The topic was “Resurrecting Our Moral Center.”  I do not think it was coincidental that less than a year after Tiller’s murder, we were talking about resurrection. God, how much we miss him.

In that talk, I said that I did not think that the abortion providing community’s moral center needed to be resurrected. It had never died. I knew it had not died because if it had, the providers who have continued to serve women, the providers who have increased their gestational limits to take the patients St. George would have served, would not have done and continued to do what they do: provide women abortions and, in particular, provide later-term abortions.

After I gave that talk, I was discussing this idea of resurrection with a leading feminist theologian with whom I have been blessed to study. I told her how sad I was that this community of people so clearly grounded in a profound ethic of love and compassion felt that their “moral center” had died, so sad that they could not articulate what I see so vividly: a beaming moral and spiritual core that radiates through the community’s service to women.

And then she said to me “but there WAS a crucifixion. Because crucifixion is about the State executing an individual who is too powerful, too destabilizing to the oppressive status quo. If there was a crucifixion, then the community does need a resurrection. The community needs to remember that all that Dr. Tiller was, all he did, DID NOT die in his assassination.”

For many of us, particularly those involved in medicine and science, religious (particularly Christian) terms like resurrection, crucifixion, and God make us queasy and for good reason, reasons I will not rehash here. But the fact of the matter was they did not make Tiller queasy. George Tiller had faith.

Dr. Tiller also had a God box.  As I understand it, when there was an issue he could not figure out, he would right it down and put it in The God Box.  “A man has got to know his limitations” repeated Tiller.  God is a tricky term/concept, but in my most cynical moments, that “thing” to which the word “God” points helps me to check my hubristic tendencies, to check the ego-inflating, savior-striving habits to which many of us liberal professionals too easily succumb. Another Tillerism: “Ego trips are expensive.”

Tiller was able to do what many of us liberals have not: harness profound spiritual and religious power, providing abortions later than almost all of his colleagues.  I find it difficult to believe that his deep grounding in a spiritual/religious tradition was unconnected to the radically compassionate nature of his work.

“There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives humans knowledge which is power; religion gives humans wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

George Tiller was murdered in his church, in his (liberal) religious community. He called his work a reproductive ministry. And while terrorists tragically ended his life, they did not end the work to which he (and all those working at Women’s Health Care Services) dedicated their life.  Tiller finds good company among the ancient prophets who spoke truth to power, who kept on keeping-on with the faith that one day justice shall “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”

Our moral center never died. And, with each abortion delivered in compassion and care, George Tiller, Barnett Slepian, Shannon Lowey, Leanne Nichols, John Britton, and David Gunn are resurrected.

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