In your spare time this weekend, consider taking a few minutes to read Devin Friedman's lengthy GQ piece that gives the background leading up to the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller. Scott Roeder was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder for shooting Tiller. Tiller was an usher at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Kansas where he was handing out bulletins to people before he was shot on May 31, 2009. Friedman's piece is very engaging and well written, and you feel like you get into the two men's heads a little bit. I was fairly pleased with how the author conducted numerous interviews and gives us many, many details to show various dimensions of the story. For example, I don't remember the last piece I read that explicitly detailed what happens during a late-term abortion. I don't exactly search for that in stories, but in this context, it's helpful to get the full picture.
With the title "Savior vs. Savior," I had high hopes that we might learn something about their respective religions. Unfortunately, while the story offers bits and pieces about Roeder's and Tiller's faith, the writer clearly decided at some point of his reporting process that religion was just a minor detail. This is the gist of what we read about Tiller's church attendance.
George Tiller became a parishioner at Reformation Lutheran because he no longer felt welcome at his old church. There'd been some controversy within the Reformation congregation about whether or not to accept him. Over the years, as he showed up every Sunday, there had been some attrition. But everyone was now pretty galvanized. The ushers identified and dealt with any demonstrators who showed up.
The article never really explains Tiller's faith at all, though. Similarly, the author mentions briefly in footnotes and once in the story that Roeder was interested in Messianic Judaism and described a conversion experience.
He started watching The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. At the end of the show, Pat Robertson would ask you to accept Jesus. And one morning when Pat Robertson asked, Scott got down on the floor and tried to pray, though he wasn't sure he knew how. That was how he was born again. For the first time in a long, long while, he felt some hope, saw some light, and it was easy to move toward that from where he was.
This is how he was born again? Did Roeder use those words? More details, please.
He found the truth in lots of places. There was a period he sent money to a preacher down in Texas who would sell you a "miracle link" cloth that would connect you up with a miracle if you sent it back to him to put on his altar. He was exposed on TV as a fraud by Diane Sawyer.
This is interesting, but I'm wondering what this meant for Roeder's faith? Did he become disillusioned after this period? What got him interested in Messianic Judaism? Does he consider himself a Christian, born again ... or something? So we have some vague ideas about Roeder's faith but nothing concrete.
NPR's Neal Conan interviewed Friedman for "Talk of the Nation," where Friedman talks about how Roeder was not in the mainstream of Christianity. "Eventually he becomes what's called a, uh, a Messianic Jew, I think." Perhaps his pauses suggest he considered it minor in his reporting. "He had troubled with the mainstream of that religion and so he sort of cobbled his theories together with some friends who were a little bit more fringe." Here's more from the interview:
Conan: You mentioned he was a member of something called messianic Jewish faith, not something I have much familiarity with it and from your description not something that's closely we would regard as mainstream Jewry.
Friedman: No, it's a Christian sort of basis. It's like basically you're a Christian but you believe that you should follow the laws of the Old Testament and by following those laws you're considering yourself a Jew who believes in Christ. That's the only way the savior is going to come back.
If an NPR reporter doesn't know what a Messianic Jew is, GQ readers probably don't either. Perhaps the reporter could have added a clearer explanation in the story. Later in the NPR interview, a caller also inquired about Roeder's religion.
Caller: How much of an influence Roeder's religious philosophy factored into his decision? ... Was that the deciding factor in him becoming a murderer?
Friedman: In my opinion and in talking to him, I think that his beliefs informed his religion rather than the other way around. Coming to Kansas, I expected this monolithic community where everyone had the same beliefs religiously and they were on the same page and that's where they went from. Really people were from all over the spectrum religiously. A lot of people I met who knew Scott from protesting vehemently disagreed with his religious views and basically thought he was totally wrong.
Caller: You're saying that his beliefs just led him to find what he was looking for specifically within that religious context?
Friedman: Yeah, if I had to look for a motivating factor for this murder, he talked a lot about the information he gathered on the Internet.
Say that again? He expected a monolithic religious community?
Oh dear. Religion may not have been the motivating factor in Tiller's work or Roeder's decision to kill, but it deserves to be explored more in a basic profile, much less a 9,000-word piece.