In Defense of Others

A Biblical Analysis and Apologetic on the Use of Force to Save Human Life

Cathy Ramey

Advocates For Life Publications
Portland, Oregon

In Defense of Others

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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 human life.

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' as those in the Christian camp claim then why is there this great confusion over the rightness or wrongness of using force in their defense?"

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?

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.

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 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.

"Shots Fired!"

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 David Gunn.

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 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.

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?

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 given area.

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 case.

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 done.

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 "the Unborn" 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 9:6-10).

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.

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 punish.

Justifiable force?

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 death camps.

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 "work."

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 person.