The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


June 1, 2009

Doctor shot Sunday morning at ELCA church

George Tiller, 67, one of few doctors who perform late term abortions in this country, was shot and killed while ushering on Pentecost Sunday at Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita, Kan.
Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, was sitting in the church basement with the choir when a gunman entered the narthex and shot Tiller. Worshipers told the "Wichita Eagle" they heard a “pop” but thought it might be a balloon bursting or special effects from the percussionist. The church was packed partly because it was new member Sunday and a baptism was scheduled.

The suspect, identified as Scott P. Roeder, 51, was apprehended later Sunday afternoon and was expected to be charged today with murder and aggravated assault toward two ushers who tried to apprehend him.

Tiller’s family issued this statement through lawyers: “Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today’s event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us an for George’s family and patients. This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.”

Family and friends gathered at Reformation Lutheran Sunday evening. Lowell Michelson, a pastor of Reformation, told the local newspaper that part of the message was “love is stronger than hate.”

“I think the way that folks gathered around Jeanne tonight in large numbers speaks volumes not only about the support and encouragement we get from Jesus Christ, but also the way the Holy Spirit works,” Michelson said.

Both Tiller and Women’s Health Care Services, where he worked, have long been the focus of protests by abortion opponents. He was shot and wounded in both arms in 1993, the clinic was bombed in 1986 and vandalized just last month.  

“I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church service this morning,” said President Obama in a statement. “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”

In at media statement on the church's Web site, Pastors Michelson and Kristen Neitzel, said, "... Our congregation strives to be a safe place for all people. We deplore the violence that took place within the walls of our church. Further, we reject any notion that violence against another human being is an acceptable way to resolve differences over any issue. We must always strive to engage in peaceful discussion. Our faith calls us to this. Our humanity demands it.

"In the wake of this tragic event, our deepest concern is for the family of George Tiller. We ask the community to join us in prayer for them as they face the difficult days ahead. Our hearts ache with them. We also ask that the family’s privacy be respected.

Members of Reformation Lutheran Church have been deeply affected by this tragedy. To address their needs, we are assembling a team of crisis intervention specialists."

"It is unconscionable that Dr. Tiller, who was serving as an usher and welcoming people to worship, should be brutally murdered," said Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, in a statement released Monday afternoon. "In the wake of his death we pray that the Holy Spirit will comfort his family and all who mourn. We pray for the courage to be peacemakers, rejecting violence as a means of resolving differences. We trust God's promise that neither death nor life nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)"


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