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Monday, June 1, 2009

Mixed Messages from Pastor Hickey on George Tiller Murder

I'm having some difficulty discerning true meanings in some of the blog coverage of the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Todd Epp of South Dakota Watch/Middle Border Sun criticizes Pastor Steve Hickey of Voices Carry for "rejoicing" (Epp's word) in the murder. I review Pastor Hickey's original post: he pretty clearly expresses relief that Dr. Tiller is dead, and he says some odd things about us lefties deluding ourselves "into thinking Tiller is receiving heaven's reward right now" (bit of a stretch to make American liberal atheists like me sound like Muslim radicals, Steve). But he also salts his post with enough contradictory language about feeling sick about the murder that it's hard to tell what Hickey means. He says vengeance is the Lord's, not ours, but he expresses eagerness to witness the punishment he imagines God meting out on Tiller. he says the killing was "misguided and far more harmful to the cause than helpful," but he sees pro-choice activists who write offensive statements as more misguided than the man who shot Dr. Tiller in his church. And Hickey ends his post with this Biblical justification for murder:

...the Bible says in this case it'd be better for Tiller to have had a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the depth of the sea that to have done what he did in this life... [Pastor Steve Hickey, "Today Tiller the Killer, Now a Martyr for Molech, Not God," Voices Carry, 2009.05.31].

There is enough language in both directions that one could argue both ways: in places, Pastor Hickey sounds like he is justifying and celebrating the murder, but in others he sounds like he is condemning it... although that condemnation sometimes seems to reflect more concern about the damage the murder will do to his political movement than the sin of the murder itself. But Pastor Hickey and his supproters can quite rightly make the legalistic argument that he nowhere says he "rejoices" in the shooting.

KELO appears to side with caution and Pastor Hickey on this one. For perhaps the first time in its nearly two-year association with the independent South Dakota blogosphere, KELO has pulled a post. Mr. Epp's criticism of Pastor Hickey remains at his home site, but it has disappeared from Mr. Epp's corner of the KELO Issues blog list.

I won't cry First Amendment foul here. Those of us granted the privilege to post on KELO understand the rules perfectly well: KELO can nuke anything we write, for whatever reason, just as KELO (like any other media outlet, and any blogger) is free to choose what news it covers and what angles it chooses to play up or ignore.

But then I turn to Pastor Hickey's follow-up, which seems to play the same verbal shell game that got Mr. Epp's dander up and his post banned:

Also, earlier this evening a friend of mine dropped an interesting historical parallel into the fray that I believe to be right on the money. It made me think there is a little deja vu down there in Kansas tonight.

The historical parallel is to John Brown, who hacked pro-slavery Kansas farmers to death with swords.

President Lincoln called John Brown a "misguided fanatic." Historian David S. Reynolds hailed him as the man who "killed slavery, sparked the civil war, and seeded civil rights." Historian Ken Chowder said John Brown was "at certain times, a great man", but also "the father of American terrorism." Probably all of the above is accurate.

Misguided... killed slavery... great man... father of American terrorism...
"probably... accurate." Pastor Hickey waits until the very bottom of the article, after reposting the full text of the celebratory "John Brown's Body," to say "Tiller's killer is no hero" and deserves no songs to be sung about him... although Hickey offers no explanation of what distinguishes John Brown's celebrated murderousness from yesterday's killing on sacred ground.

Pardon me if I scratch my head a little. I will agree that the issue is very complex... but must also conclude from the language in Pastor Hickey's article that he is trying to play both sides. He wants to introduce the John-Brown-hero meme, but he wants to be able to disavow it. Perhaps that's enough cover to get KELO to ban the debate... but Pastor Hickey lays enough verbal land mines to warrant Mr. Epp's criticism.

There is one telling passage in the blog post Pastor Hickey says is "right on the money":

No rational person would consider Brown a positive figure in history….but he did prove something. The issue of slavery was one of life and death. It was not political. It was not governmental. It was much, much deeper than that, and there was no common ground high enough for both sides to stand and feel good about their compromises. It could not be negotiated. It had to be settled [emphasis mine, thoughts Randy Bohlender's, "Thoughts on the Killing of George Tiller," RandyBohlender.com, 2009.06.01].

The first part I emphasize actually encourages me: perhaps Mr. Bohlender and Pastor Hickey are agreeing with me that we need to take the abortion debate out of politics, get the government out of women's medical decisions, and address abortion at the personal and community level.

The second part I emphasize makes me nervous: No negotiation, no settlement... those sound like fighting words to me. If abortion protestors do retreat from politics, I hope they will follow Christ and Gandhi and not John Brown in their efforts to remake society. I only worry that Pastor Hickey's equivocal language does not sufficiently condemn the latter and embrace the former.

Update 2009.06.02 09:35 CDT: Even Sibby manages to be more direct in his condemnation: "Tiller Murder Is Not Pro-Life."


  1. Great analysis, Cory. One thing though -- Hickey actually asserts that *I* am more misguided than the person who shot Tiller because I believe Tiller was a hero and truly pro-life. I don't think that's at all 'offensive' and I do think it shows Hickey's true colors when it comes to this murder. If he feels that seeing a health care provider as a hero who saves lives is more misguided than going into a church and shooting another human being, he must not think that killing someone is particularly bad. And it is that kind of rhetoric that encourages mentally unstable people to carry out these kinds of acts. I applaud Todd for not letting him off the hook on this one. I'm a strong believer in the first amendment, but people need to be held accountable for the words they say and write. Hickey's double talk is an attempt to say what he really means (i.e. he believes this murder was justified and he's glad it happened) without having to take responsibility for it.

  2. I don't see a mixed message but since you do I'll be more clear.

    You are incorrect that I cited some biblical justification for murder (the millstone text you cite is about God's dealing those who harm children). Like Todd, you put words in my mouth that are the polar opposite of what I'm actually saying. I'm trying to be patient and give you guys some slack knowing that I'm dealing with Biblical illiteracy here. I continue to be amazed that my words and ideas are as a foreign language to you.

    There is no Biblical justification for murder-- in the case of Tiller killing third term babies or in the case of a man killing Tiller. It's all unequivocally wrong.

    Not sure how to explain more clearly to you the obvious parallels I was trying to draw out in the John Brown thing. They line up pretty closely. The difference I drew is that I hope we don't make a hero out of Tiller's killer as happened in the case of John Brown.

    I regret that Tiller was aborted. It was immoral and wrong. Is that clear enough?

  3. Did someone just write "there's no biblical justification for killing?"...let's see...that Old Testament is just chock full of God's wrath...against Philistine Children...and let's not forget there's one passage that is used constantly by religious bigots against gays that says they should be killed. The Bible has been used to justify all sorts of mayhem. Throw away your bibles. It's a nasty, hate-filled book that has come to no good. Then read anything by Zane Grey, Norman Mailer or Ernest Hemingway...Hermann Hesse....many others. Morality is grown, not ordered.

  4. No. "Tiller was aborted" is not clear enough. It's not even logical. Tiller was not aborted; he was murdered. You keep mixing the political messages to allow yourself to say certain dangerous words and simultaneously deny that you said them.

    "Don't see a mixed message"?! You tell us it's probably accurate to consider domestic terrorist John Brown a "great man." You tell us the historical parallel between Brown and Tiller's murderer is "right on the money." You hearken back to your school days singing "John Brown's Body," reprint the entire song, then only at the bottom mention that you hope no one writes songs about Tiller's murderer.

    Your message is completely mixed, couched in language that lets future killers pick out the justificatory messages they want and lets you pick out the excuses you need when we call you on it.

  5. Why aren't the talking heads referring to the incident as Christian terrorism???

    This was obviously committed over religious beliefs. If a Muslim had done this wouldn't we be screaming about religious jihad???

  6. In addition to the millstone text, I think Hickey's quote from Matthew that "those who live by the sword will die by the sword" shows pretty clearly that Steve thinks Dr. Tiller "deserved" to be killed.

    At the end of the day, if I think someone *deserves* something (good or bad), I'm usually happy when they get it. It's no wonder, then, that even when Steve claims to be upset about this, juxtaposing those claims with messages about "getting what he deserved" and "being aborted" leaves the reader with doubts about how genuinely upset Hickey really is.

  7. Anonymous Angie - Who are you to judge my sincerity? Who makes you judge? You, one who is callous to the core toward women hurt by abortion. Your heart is icy hard and you have no basis for judging me from your roost of anonymity. You have a log in your eye. Any crocidile tears in you toward the families who lost daughters to Tiller's butchery or are they just casualties in your Holy War against precious human life in its most vulnerable forms? Never one drip of compassion toward women on your lousy angry love-starved blog. If it weren't for your fixation on me/Leslee you'd have nothing anyone would come back there to read.

    BTW - You butchered the "die by the sword" text revealing you have no idea what it means or what I meant by it.

    Barry - shut up about that which you know nothing about, namely The Bible. Good grief. Every word in your rant betrays to total lack of understanding to what is there.

    Cory - YES, Tiller was aborted. Abortion is to terminate the life of a human being. You can abort a space mission before it reaches it's destination, you can abort a human life at any point from conception to natural death. And, hello, abortion is murder no matter what phase of life a human being is at. And again, I regret that Tiller was aborted.

    I would much rather him have had more years and more time for a change of heart. Imagine if God was able to do to him what God did to my friend Dr. Patti Giebink. He would have been able to truly expose the horrific and unconsciounable reality of abortion in America.

  8. Wow. Ladies and gentlemen, take note of Steve's sanctimonious scolding of me questioning his sincerity....wherein he questions my sincerity, and does a helluva lot more than that. Hypocrisy, thy name is Hickey.

    Who are you to judge me? It seems you're the one with a log in your eye. You talk a lot about compassion for women....apparently that only extends to the ones with whom you agree.

  9. She's not anonymous: she's a longstanding blogger at DakotaWomen.

    Pastor Hickey, you can't keep trotting out the argument that everyone who disagrees with you is Biblically illiterate. I see no evidence that Barry has not read the Bible.

    And your message keeps getting mixed. No one calls murder "abortion" in any situation other than situations when one is trying to cloud the point with politics. The word games continue.

  10. Wow Hickey, do you honestly believe that your biblical interpretations are the only and correct readings? Has god been secretly slipping you the meanings? Does he only talk to you or could you get him to shoot me a line too?

    The problem with religion is that it explicitly forbids rationality. Having faith means believing without proof. After someone starts down this path of thinking they can rationalize away anything. Murder, rape, etc, are all fair game because all that matters is their personal belief. Religion enabled this murder.

  11. Cory - abort IS a very important word to use in this situation. It's the taking of human life without judge, jury or medical necessity. Tiller did it for a living and it happened to Tiller himself. Sad. We've got to stop playing God with human life.

    I'll tone down the comments about Biblical illiteracy but certainly you can appreciate the fact at has been my world for 25 years and how seeing people thrash it with evident superficial understanding is an irriation to me.

    Angie IS anonymous on the blogosphere - and I can guess her reasons for staying so. Whatever. She's a noise in the dark.

    Tony - to state there is no reason in religion is just plain ignorance. Sorry. A far greater leap of faith is necessary to buy into evolution than to accept the Christian faith as true.

    And, no, I'm comfortable with a very broad spectrum when it comes to Biblical interpretation. You apparently have no idea the doctrinal freedom we enjoy at CATG.

  12. Bob Schwartz6/02/2009 4:35 PM

    Tony - to state there is no reason in religion is just plain ignorance. Sorry. A far greater leap of faith is necessary to buy into evolution than to accept the Christian faith as true.So you are saying pastor Hickey that believing in scientific evidence in regards to evolution that fills libraries is a greater leap of faith than believing in one book written when a belief in any kind of science could get you burned at the stake? Just wondering...

  13. Bob. I've been out of town for a only a day now but did somebody prove the theory of evolution while I was gone? Libraries of evidence? The only evidence I know of is evidence that proves it's a real enormous stretch of a theory at this point. Chance built upon chance upon chance times one billion chances. Yep, that's solid evidence and reasoning. Geesh.

    We are teaching kids they are just the next accident of an unguided process. No wonder human life is thrown in dumpsters. What a shame kids aren't being taught they are God's dream, conceived in his mind long before their parents met and their lives manifest in the womb. We have no inherent value apart from the touch of God on our lives.

    Right now I'm at the U of Texas Medical CEnter for 2 days of tests and biopsies. The doc I spent the day with commented a hour ago about what a delight is was to spend today talking with me about God and science. She said she never considered before how we are God's handiwork. My brother is a scientist who finds God's fingerprint every day under a microscope. It's humbling to begin to grasp God's brillance in the created order and the arrogance of evolutionary theory. God must just LOL.

    And one book. Hmm. Do you not realize that there are libraries full of books validating what's in that One Book, scientifically, historically and geo-politically, archeologically, socially, etc. etc. etc. And this one book, wow, has provided the Law basis for every civilized society since.

    Once again I'm off the topic I blog to talk about and in the past few days I've said far more than I should have in tones I'm not proud of but I guess we all have bad days and so peace to all of you... including Angie.


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