Scott Roeder’s Religion

Amanda Robb, who is a niece of Dr. Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider murdered by an anti-abortion zealot in 1998, has a new investigative report in Ms. magazine demonstrating how Scott Roeder, who killed Dr. George Tiller at church last year, did not act alone.

It’s crucial to read the whole thing, but in a nutshell, through jailhouse interviews and other sources Robb documents how Roeder crossed paths and received help from groups like Army of God (which explicitly supports killing abortion providers) and Operation Rescue, which is less explicit. Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman issued a statement after Tiller’s death condemning the violence and claiming that his group “has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal means” to end abortion.

Army of God, Robb reports, has a manual which asserts, “Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed [Gen: 9-6]… we are forced to take up arms against you.”

Operation Rescue, which moved its headquarters to Witchita for the sole purpose of targeting Tiller at his clinic, home, and church, provided aid and inspiration to Roeder, according to Robb:

Roeder first stalked Tiller at his Wichita church, Reformation Lutheran, in 2002, the year Operation Rescue moved there. Operation Rescue had already begun demonstrating at the church, and on the group’s website Newman had announced plans to gather at Tiller’s clinic, church and home.

Also that year, Roeder says he went to lunch with Newman and asked him about using violence to stop abortion.

Robb: What did you say to him?

Roeder: Oh, something like if an abortionist—I don’t even know if it was specifically Tiller…was shot, would it be justified? … And [Newman] said, “If it were, it wouldn’t upset me.”

According to Roeder’s trial testimony, he became an active and regular participant in Operation Rescue events. He told me he has donation receipts, event T-shirts and a signed copy of Newman’s 2001 book, Their Blood Cries Out, to prove it. During an Operation Rescue event at Dr. Tiller’s clinic in 2007, Roeder posted on the Operation Rescue website:

“Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp. Sometime soon, would it be feasible to bring as many people as possible to attend Tillers [sic] church (inside not just outside) …”

Moreover, when Roeder was apprehended for Dr. Tiller’s murder, news cameras photographed a piece of paper on the dashboard of Roeder’s car: It contained the phone number of Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor, who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb abortion clinics in 1988. Roeder also told me that Sullenger was present at the lunch with Newman where they discussed “justifiable” homicide, and that Newman had given Roeder the autographed copy of his book just three months before Roeder killed Tiller when Roeder visited Operation Rescue headquarters. Sullenger was there as well, Roeder said.

Newman denied knowing Roeder, or ever meeting him. Yet his book, as Robb points out, is premised on the notion of “bloodguilt,” that those who allow abortion are guilty and deserving of God’s punishment. In one section, he cites Deuteronomy 21 for the statement that “God’s order of law requires that the person directly responsible for murder should pay with his life, lest the land and its inhabitants be brought under the heavy hand of the Lord.” He cites this passage to show why Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh deserved the death penalty, but he then segues to a lamentation that “there is nothing being done today to expunge the bloodguilt for the babies being murdered in abortion mills.” Elsewhere, in an appendix titled “Bible Study,” in a section claiming that the “shedding of innocent blood is murder,” Newman writes, “the death penalty for murder is not to be repealed,” (citing Numbers 35:29-30) and “all killing is not murder.” Capital punishment, self-defense, and just warfare, he maintains, are not murder.

Newman was honored earlier this year at the annual Blogs for Life, and spoke at an event at the Family Research Council.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email