In Defense of Others
A Biblical Analysis and Apologetic on the Use of Force
to Save Human Life
Advocates For Life Publications
In Defense of Others
There is an inconsistency reflected in the Christian and prolife community's
response every time any type of forceful defense has been made to save those
babies threatened by abortion. Personal experiences in the prolife realm have
informed me that there are private perspectives in which individuals admit
honestly to themselves and close others that they have no strong feelings of
revulsion over the idea of an abortion establishment engulfed in flames. Yet,
publicly there are thunderous proclamations, made by these same individuals,
to condemn the actions of one who would light a match in defense of innocent
To the interested onlooker, there arises an important question. "If the Unborn(1)
are really being ‘murdered’ by these perpetrators of abortion, and if the Unborn
are 'fully human' ¾ as those in the Christian camp claim ¾ then why is there
this great confusion over the rightness or wrongness of using force in their
Certainly we allow great latitude in the use of violence or force for self-defense
and the defense of other innocent Born persons at risk from an unjust
aggressor, so why not for the Unborn?(2)
Perhaps it is Pensacola Florida's destiny to be the locus of this debate.
Unquestionably, she has a history of unique and inflamed opposition to
abortion that has been without parallel in any other single American city. 80
Pensacola, it has been said, may one day be the Selma, Alabama of the
Abortion Abolitionist Movement.
On June 24, 1984, she had her first taste of truly active intervention and
protest against abortion. A bomb exploded at the Ladies Center, one of the
city's three abortion facilities.
On Christmas day, 1984 two of the city's abortion facilities burst into flames
leaving one facility with several thousand dollars in damage and the other
burned nearly to the ground. "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" the bombers proclaimed.
Fourteen years of debate over abortion, with right-to-lifers claiming that
abortion is the murder of an Unborn child, had built up to that moment.
The subsequent trials of four young Christians made national news and is still a
subject of conversation decades later. While visiting Florida I learned that under
the murmur of condemnation there is a sense of grudging respect for those
young bombers. Pastors and prolife leaders told me of the events, often smiling
at the remembrance of a disabled abortion facility. At the same time several of
them stated that I should not make public their personal views in which they
could not condemn the bombers. The young abortion industry Abolitionists
might be said to have done something that others applaud but only in secret.
Pensacola has also been witness to less "volatile" or “violent” uses of force. In
March of 1986, a small woman by the name of Joan Andrews participated in an
effort to blockade the smooth functioning of the Ladies Center abortion facility.
Andrews joined five others in a "treatment room"(3) sit-in that brought police
rushing to the rescue ¾ to save a facility whose primary purpose was to take
the lives of innocent Unborn infants.
Police arrested the would-be rescuers and charged Andrews in particular with
trespassing with the intent to damage property. She stubbornly held on to the
cord of a suction aspiration machine used to kill Unborn babies in the first
trimester. According to testimony, she sought to disable the machine for the
day by freeing the cord from its attachment at the base. Her effort was
unsuccessful. She was also charged with assault for allegedly bumping against
a facility staffer on her way into the "treatment room" as the sit-in began.
After being found "guilty as charged" on all counts, Joan Andrews was
sentenced to five long years in a state institution for her crimes against the laws
of men. She served approximately two and a half years, most of that in solitary
confinement before being released. But prior to her release, her imprisonment
focused the attention of much of the prolife movement upon the quiet military
retirement town of Pensacola.
On March 10, 1993, Pensacola and her battle with abortion hit the news again;
this time internationally as headlines blared that an abortionist was dead; shot
three times by a man associated with the “right-to-life” movement. Only the
day before firing bullets into his back, Michael Griffin had stood among the
Pentecostal congregation of his local church to pray for the soul of abortionist
A day later Griffin, a 31-year-old chemical plant worker, was observed at the
scene of the shooting even as onlookers wondered whether they had just heard
the unlikely sound of a gun going off or perhaps, instead, a car simply
backfiring several times.
Picketers watched as Michael Griffin purposefully walked from the rear of the
abortion facility to the front. Not pausing to acknowledge those on the
sidewalk, eyewitnesses testified at his trial that he approached a police officer
that had been called to monitor the group that was demonstrating. Tapping on
the officer's shoulder, Griffin requested an ambulance for the abortionist who
he claimed he had just shot at the back of the building.
An Escambia County Jail officer reported that in an interview with his wife less
than 48 hours after his arrest, she overheard Michael Griffin say, "I killed him
because of my beliefs and convictions, and if I spend the rest of my life in jail it
will be worth it to save one baby." A letter to a friend, handwritten and signed
by Griffin from the jail, seems to be an open acknowledgment of the act.
Again, there is the statement that the consequences would be bearable if only
one baby survives being killed by an abortionist.
A Movement Divided
The recoil of Griffin's gun was felt far and wide. With the force of a bullet the
prolife movement was suddenly pulled apart in a debate over the morality of
doing harm to an abortionist in order to save the life of an innocent child.
Newspapers carried heated commentaries from people who saw lethal force as
the natural conclusion to "anti-abortion rhetoric" in which doctors were
frequently called "murderers" and photos of small dismembered bodies were
paraded around on picket signs outside of abortion facilities.
Added to the entire secular debate there were indignant proclamations supplied
by anti-abortion luminaries who espoused a Seamless Garment philosophy. In
their opinion, all life ¾ even guilty life ¾ was to be an object of protection by
the prolife movement establishment.
Surprising to me, some of those who spoke loudest to condemn Michael Griffin
were leaders who had joked privately about the possibility of a violent demise
of an abortionist or the destruction of an abortion facility. Prior to the act, one
might have assumed they would welcome such exceptional forms of rescue for
To the horror of some in the Abortion Abolitionists who were not overly
appalled at the action taken by Michael Griffin, there were even those who
suggested that a committed prolifer would serve the movement best by placing
his own body in the path of a bullet intended for an abortionist. In a display of
what Bonhoeffer might refer to as contemptible pietism,(4) these individuals
appeared to have concluded that it was better for innocent Unborn babies to
continue dying, than that the anti-abortion movement should bear the stigma
of having a body count of its own.
To many pro-abortionists, the condemnation of Griffin by prolifers of stature
was a victory on the part of the abortion lobby. It was the pinch of incense
necessary to truly validate the legitimacy of abortion. By saying that Michael
Griffin had "sinned," Christians were implying that the abortionist (even as a
murderer of Unborn children) had a higher degree of value to his born life than
did a developing in utero child.
But others objected to the strong condemnation of Griffin and his act to save
“even one baby.” Many Abortion Abolitionists eventually signed on to a
statement in his defense. The Declaration, drawn up by a Pensacola
Presbyterian minister, would hammer home the message of the prolife
movement, that children in the womb are fully human and deserving
of the same right to life ¾ and protection ¾ that is afforded the
born. Ultimately, the statement asked for the acquittal of Michael Griffin.(5)
Less than six months later the furor over force to stop abortionists had reached
a standstill. Anti-abortion movement leaders had come to a polite and quiet
compromise. There were those who argued that the shooting was morally
justifiable and those who publicly condemned it, but any real commitment to a
position was postponed. After all, it was the only abortionist casualty in over
twenty years of legal abortion. Even those who commended him for forcefully
protecting Unborn children saw Michael Griffin as an aberration in the right-to-
On August 19, 1993, just when it appeared that the anti-abortion
movement might resume picketing and protesting as usual, a Southern Oregon
woman traveled all the way to Wichita, Kansas to shoot notorious third-
trimester abortionist George Tiller. Rachelle ("Shelley") Shannon fired five shots
through the window of a sport-utility vehicle to wound Tiller in both arms.
After the shooting she ran from the scene but was arrested while dutifully
returning her rental car. Meanwhile, Tiller returned to killing babies the very
On July 29, 1994, just under a year after Shelley Shannon wounded George
Tiller, ordained Presbyterian minister Paul Hill ¾ author of the Declaration
endorsing Griffin's acquittal and a similar statement on Shelley Shannon's
behalf ¾ let buckshot fly, again in Pensacola, into the bodies of John Britton
and James Barrett. Britton was an abortionist about to "go to work," and Barrett
was his gun-toting bodyguard.
Barrett's wife, June, was wounded in one of her arms by the first round of
shotgun fire. Her husband was killed immediately and Mrs. Barrett, now
bleeding, crouched down to the floor of the pick-up truck in which they were
riding. At the same time she heard abortionist Britton asking for the
whereabouts of a gun. Only seconds later he too was slain in a second round of
In the wake of these three events,(6) Christians are called to critically examine
the use of force-potentially lethal force-to stop acts of abortion. In light of
Scriptural injunctives such as "Thou shalt not kill," (Exod. 20:13) how is it that
any Christian could accord these acts of violence merit as "righteous," and
"Godly?" By saying that Michael Griffin, Shelley Shannon, and Paul Hill were
justified in their actions, are we in reality at risk of condoning murder?
An Aside on Violence
That question will be answered but first there is need to establish a
fundamental biblical perspective on the terms used to describe the shootings,
particularly the word “violence.”
Words are morally neutral, i.e., they do not intrinsically describe a moral good
or a moral evil. The word violence describes a radical change in order, one
state of being disrupted and/or replaced suddenly with another.
The explosion of a volcano is a form of violence since the order of plant and
animal life and mountain boundaries are radically changed. But while violent,
the volcanic eruption itself is not a willful evil (Exo 19:18). When police shoot
and kill a fleeing suspect that too is violence, yet God and society allow and
even require that some forms of violence are to be tolerated and not defined as
morally wrong (Gen 9:6; Exo 21:16). When a dam is built it corrupts the flow
of water to allow that lands are not flooded every year during the rainy season.
Such an obstruction does violence to the rivers’ natural flow, but in most cases
the dam is intended to bring about a good for the people and animals in the
Since Scripture first establishes a thorough foundation for God’s order and then
demonstrates man’s violation of that order, “violence” is largely connected in
Scripture with the idea of a moral wrong. But a more thorough examination
makes it certain that the word alone does not define a moral wrong in every
Lamentations 2:6 speaks of the Lord himself as one who has done violence to
His temple (see Jer 7:4, 14-15). And when biblical naysayers reject God or the
Old Testament, they often protest that He was or is “so violent.” They are right
in that He continually insists upon preserving something of His own order,
disrupting the man made order. Man’s rebellion will always mean the unequal
exercise of power on God’s part. Light and dark cannot peacefully coexist. The
end of earth’s history is all about God’s decision to act violently to restore an
ideal order of His own choosing.
Before arriving at a decision of moral rightness or wrongness, it is essential to
check our response to emotionally charged words. In the case of “violence,” the
question that must be raised is not “How does this make me feel,” but “What
order is being upheld or destroyed?” Are abortionists morally innocent or
guilty under God’s order? Does His order make an exception for the sort of
killing they are engaged in?
Self-defense/defense of others
Returning now to the sixth commandment injunction against killing, it is
imperative to understand the defensive nature of the actions taken by Griffin,
Shannon and Hill. A defensive action is one aimed at preventing a wrong
which is going to be committed rather than punishing for a wrong already
There are no biblical exceptions to justify murder of the Unborn. All three
abortionists (David Gunn, George Tiller, and John Britton) are known
murderers in the biblical sense, and all three were scheduled to kill again. They
had advertised heavily, committed finances to enabling the killing through use
of facilities and staff, and they were known for killing habitually. The actions of
the shooters, I argue, amounted to nothing more than providing a defense for
innocent peoples ¾ the Unborn ¾ who were going to be killed by an unjust
aggressor. The temptation is to see this as a more complex issue; an act of
hatred, revolution, vengeance, judicial punishment (which the mother would
rightfully be accorded also), etc., when, in fact, it is incredibly simple. There
were children who were going to be killed, and someone came to their defense
to try and prevent their deaths.
Immediately after the shooting of David Gunn in March of 1993, pastors and
prolife leaders were asked to pronounce a verdict upon the shooter. While all of
the courts were restrained in convicting Griffin until after a trial of sorts was
held, the weight of an immediate decision as to the rightness or wrongness of
the deed was foisted upon the Church.
It can be argued that the media and abortion industry, in demanding
immediate accountability from the Church, knew their foe. The Church, after
failing for two decades to mount a significant defense for the lives of Unborn
children, was largely unprepared. She who had not seen the need for great
arousal on behalf of the completely innocent Unborn was even more reluctant
to rise up on behalf of anyone who had the "death by gunshot wound" of a
Born person accounted to him.
Put on the spot, without sincere biblical review, the Church, by and large,
pronounced Michael Griffin was “Guilty.”
Guilty of what? . . . . . Guilty of murder.
Universally, news stories carried a condemnation of the man that included the
faint seasoning of Scripture. "The Bible says, 'Thou shalt not kill,'" Christians
were quoted as saying. "Murdering an abortionist is wrong," we were told,
"because we're to love our enemies" and “turn the other cheek.”
"Thou shalt not kill"
The word "kill" (ratsach) in the Sixth Commandment is one of seven Hebrew
words in the Old Testament (OT) used to describe the taking of life in one way
or another. It is important to define the specific meaning of this word to
determine if this Law was actually violated by Griffin, Shannon, and Hill.
Ratsach appears 47 times in the OT. It is never used in the context of legitimate
war, or in the case of self-defense (Exod. 22:2), accidental killing (Deut. 19:5),
or in the execution of a person who has forfeited his life by "shedding man's
blood" (Gen. 9:6). It is also not used in the text describing how Moses slew the
Egyptian taskmaster (Exod. 2:12). All of these Scriptures use a different word
not found in the Sixth Commandment. And clearly Scripture supports certain
kinds of killing as viscerally regrettable but right nevertheless. In fact, there are
times in Scripture when God commanded the killing of individuals even outside
the context of war (Exod. 21:12-17,29; Lev. 20:1-5; Deut. 17:2-7; 2 Kings
The word ratsach does refer to killing for revenge (Num. 35:27, 30) though
there was given a specific criminal dispensation for the next of kin who was
officially recognized as an "avenger of blood." In general though, it was not the
right of just anyone to exact punishment upon another individual. (7)
Ratsach also refers to the premeditated killing of an innocent person (II Kings
6:32), and it should be noted that even those who are endowed with the
authority to govern are not allowed to violate the prohibition against taking the
life of an innocent person. When the king's own messenger would have taken
the life of Elisha the prophet, this man of God exhorted his companions to bar
the door against his would-be killer (cite above).
In fact, though the actual deed was to be done by the messenger, it was King
Joram who Elisha designated to be ratsach when he said, "Don't you see how
this murderer [King Joram] is sending someone to cut off my head?" Elisha's
obligation to submit to the king in this event was negated when the king
changed hats from a righteous ruler to a murderous and immoral fool.
Therefore, when the Word says, "It is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the
Lord" (Rom. 12:19), there is a direct connection and precaution aimed at both
individuals and governors against usurping the role of God that relates directly
to this Sixth Commandment. Only two verses later there is a designation as to
whom God has delegated authority to in order to avenge wrongs done in the
past (Rom. 13:1). The government then, and not the individual, has the right
to punish for past offenses. But even here, government, to maintain its
legitimacy (Prov. 16:12), is entrusted to act justly by punishing those who are
wicked and rewarding the righteous. The specific standards to determine who is
wicked and who is righteous is clearly articulated throughout Scripture.
Likewise, there is a similar pattern in Scripture that condemns those, like
abortionists, who "lie in wait for someone's blood" (Prov. 1:11), and it is
specified that "The Lord hates...hands that shed innocent blood" (Prov. 6:17).(8)
They are, in fact, the very ones that a righteous and legitimate ruler would seek
To determine that Michael Griffin, Shelley Shannon, and Paul Hill have violated
or sought to violate the Sixth Commandment, we must examine two issues; 1)
Did they usurp the government's authority by attempting to punish for killings
(ratsach) done by these abortionists in the past, or were they engaged in
preventing the deaths of children yet to be killed? And 2) do abortionists Gunn,
Tiller, and Britton qualify as "innocent blood" in the biblical sense within the
context of these shootings?
1 Unborn is capitalized in the same way that Black, Jewish, Hispanic, and Christian are capitalized, since
it represents an identifiable class of people. The adjective of Born may also at times be capitalized
when intended to represent the broad class of people who have survived the zygotic through
gestational periods of growth.
2 “Unjust Aggressor” refers to any action taken to harm another in violation of God’s Divine order.
3 Just as Germany sought euphemisms to cover the killing of innocent people, so too do those
participating in medical-killing today. The “treatment” results in death for the Unborn child in these
4 Bonhoeffer rejected the personal pietism of Barth; a pietism which displayed greater interest in
polishing ones soul for the appearance of holiness, over acting as a real person of faith who is willing to
risk himself for God and his neighbor. “It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have
faith…One must abandon any attempt to make something of oneself…. In so doing we throw ourselves
completely into the arms of God.” [Bonhoeffer, E Metaxas, a letter to Eberhard Bethge]
5 "We the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent
human life, including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life
of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an Unborn child.
"We assert that if Michael Griffin did in fact kill David Gunn, his use of lethal force was justifiable
provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of Unborn children. Therefore, he
ought to be acquitted of the charges against him."
6 Another incident outside the confines of the United States occurred on Tuesday, November 8, 1994
when Canadian abortionist Garson Romalis was shot by an unknown assailant. It was assumed to be an
anti-abortionist who wounded him in an effort to keep the killer of in utero children away from his
7 By way of distinction we will use another example of "violence" out of the annals of contemporary
reactions to abortion. Abortion has spawned a use of force on the international front as well.
China, with its one-child policy, mandated that the wife of a young army officer undergo an abortion
when found to be pregnant with the couple's second child. She surrendered to the government-
enforced law to undergo the unnatural birth of her baby by dismemberment; she died as well. On
September 20, 1994, Chinese army Lieutenant Tian Mingjian reacted to his wife's forced abortion by
going on a rampage that left 14 dead and 80 injured.
By biblical standards, the actions of Tian Mingjian may constitute murder (ratsach). There is no
indication that he was motivated by anything more than vengeance for a wrong done in the past. His
wife and child were beyond his ability to intervene, and there is no indication that those who were
shot or injured had any direct connection to the murder of his wife and child.
8 The “hands” are used idiomatically, called a Synecdoche, in ancient Hebrew to represent the entire
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