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 the Unborn.
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 and protection 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-life movement.
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 next day.
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 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 shotgun fire.
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?