BUENA PARK, Calif. — While most pro-life leaders condemned the May 31 murder of a controversial abortion provider inside his Wichita, Kan., church, one former Southern Baptist Convention official called it an answer to prayer.
"I am glad George Tiller is dead," Wiley Drake, the SBC's former second vice president, said on his Crusade Radio program June 1.
Tiller, one of only a few doctors in America who still performed a controversial late-term procedure termed "partial-birth" abortion by critics, was gunned down in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church just after the morning worship service began. He was serving as an usher for the congregation, where he was a long-time member.
Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., called Tiller "a brutal, murdering monster" and said he is "grateful to God" that the physician is no longer around.
"There may be a lot who would say, 'Oh that is mean. You shouldn't be that way,'" Drake said. "Well, no, it's an answer to prayer."
Drake said he prayed nearly 10 years for the salvation of Tiller, medical director of the Women's Health Care Services clinic and an outspoken advocate for abortion rights. About a year ago, Drake said, he switched to what he called "imprecatory prayer."
"I said to the Lord, 'Lord I pray back to you the Psalms, where it says that they are to become widowers and their children are to become orphans and so forth.' And we began calling for those imprecatory prayers, because he had obviously turned his back on God again and again and again," Drake said.
Drake called Tiller "a reprobate" and a "brutal, arrogant murderer" who "bragged on his own Web site how many babies he had killed."
"Would you have rejoiced when Adolf Hitler died during the war?" Drake asked. "Or would you have said, 'Oh that is terrible for him to be killed'? No, I would have said, 'Amen, praise the Lord, hallelujah, I'm glad he's dead.'"
"This man, George Tiller, was far greater in his atrocities than Adolf Hitler," Drake said. "So I am happy. I am glad that he is dead. Now I am sad that he went to hell, because he had a choice just like everybody else did. He could have chosen Jesus Christ and when he died went to heaven. But he chose the devil. He chose to neglect, he chose to reject Jesus Christ. And therefore on Sunday morning when he breathed his last breath there in the Lutheran church, he breathed his last breath, and he slipped into the presence of the devil. And I have a strange hunch and a strange feeling that there is a special, superheated, super-hot place in hell for people like George Tiller."
Drake, who served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006-2007, made headlines in 2007 for issuing a call for similar "imprecatory prayer" — prayers from the Bible urging divine wrath on the enemies of God — against leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. That was after AU asked the Internal Revenue Service to review whether Drake violated tax law when he used church letterhead and his radio program to endorse Mike Huckabee for president. The IRS investigated and cleared Drake of any wrongdoing last year.
Drake also made news during his term as an officer of the nation's second-largest faith group when the Southern Poverty Law Center found his name on an Army of God Web site endorsing a "Declaration of Support for James Kopp."
Kopp was convicted in 2003 of second-degree murder for the 1998 sniper killing of Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician/gynecologist who performed legal abortions at a clinic in Buffalo, N.Y.
Drake said in 2007 that he never signed any such document and claimed he had never heard of Kopp until the controversy. Drake said "killing a doctor that is a baby killer is never right," because "two wrongs do not make murder right."
Steve Wetzel, who posted the statement originally on a Web site called Missionaries to the Unborn, said there was some confusion, because some people sent e-mails supporting Kopp believing he was innocent and being railroaded by the government and were later shocked when he confessed to the crime.
Law-enforcement officials arrested Scott Roeder, 51, of Merriam, Kan., shortly after the murder. He reportedly had been a vocal opponent of abortion rights, and relatives and his former wife described him as mentally disturbed in several news reports June 1 and 2.
The SBC's top ethicist condemned Tiller's murder. "Murdering someone is a grotesque and bizarre way to emphasize one's commitment to the sanctity of human life. People who truly believe in the sanctity of human life believe in the sanctity of the lives of abortion providers as well as the unborn babies who are aborted," Richard Land, head of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a June 1 Baptist Press release. "Clearly the killing of abortion providers is unbiblical, unchristian and un-American. Such callous disregard for human beings brutalizes everyone."
During his June 1 radio show, Drake tried unsuccessfully to call several leaders in the anti-abortion movement before managing to contact Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.
"We're so close to the situation here in Wichita, and out of deference for the family that is grieving, no matter how brutal he was, he never really deserved to be treated like that," Newman said of Tiller.
"It just defies the pro-life ethic to take human life," Newman said. "The pro-life ethic is that we honor and cherish human life, from the moment of conception to natural death. The only thing that can interrupt that would be a judicial decree by the magistrate, and it didn't happen in this case. This is vigilantism, where one man became judge, jury and executioner. It's horrible."
Drake said he agreed that it was wrong for Tiller's killer to take the law into his own hands, "but people ask me, 'Are you happy that he's dead?'"
Drake told listeners he found parallels between Tiller's church and a story from World War II about a church that would overhear Jews being taken to the death camps in passing trains. During one service, he said, the pastor asked people to sing louder so they couldn't hear the screams of people on their way to Hitler's ovens.
"That was a Lutheran church," Drake said. "Now here was another Adolf Hitler scenario. Here was George Tiller brutally murdering babies nearby.... He began to attend, to give some validity to his life I guess, a Lutheran church. And instead of the Lutheran church saying, 'We don't want you' or 'You need to repent and turn to Jesus,' they said 'Sing louder,' because he was singing louder about putting more money into the offering plate. He was putting thousands of dollars into the Lutheran church and they said 'Sing louder.'"
"I for one am a happy camper," Drake said. "I am glad."
Tiller's church posted a statement on its Web site deploring the violence that had taken place in its facility and asking for prayers for the church and Tiller's family.
The statement also condemned "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 this time of uncertainty, we stand firm in the promises of Jesus Christ: forgiveness, hope, love, and new life, even from death. We pray for healing and peace to be restored. We offer our thanks for the many prayers of support from across the country. Your words of encouragement are a blessing to the people of Reformation Lutheran Church and Wichita."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press. ABP Managing Editor Robert Maru contributed to this story.