WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Before Paul Hill's scheduled execution Wednesday for the murder of an abortion doctor and his driver, he called himself a martyr. Theologically speaking, he was right and he was wrong.
The English word, martyr, derives from the Greek term for witness. By what he did, Hill indisputably testified against the horror of abortion. He bore witness against the legalized slaughter of by now 30 million fetuses since Roe v. Wade - but not for God, not for the Gospel, not for Christ.
Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, was cock-sure to receive "a great reward in heaven. I am looking forward to glory," he said, "I don't feel remorse."
To quote St. Paul, Hill's "zeal is not based on knowledge" (Romans 10:2). As an ex-clergyman he should have known better. He should have recognized this statement as self-righteous, and from this he should have extrapolated that it was incompatible with the Christian message.
According to the Gospel, man does not get "a great reward in heaven" for any deed - not even for good works, much less for murder. Surely, Hill must have learned in seminary Paul's words whose rediscovery in the 16th century kicked off the Protestant Reformation:
"Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:22-24).
By his own admittance, Hill was unrepentant. "If I had not acted the way I did, I could not look myself in the mirror," he said - a horrifying remark to make hours before facing one's creator. It is false theology, just as false as that of abolitionist John Brown, as the Rev. Gerald R. McDermott, an evangelical Episcopal theologian, has pointed out.
Like Brown, the anti-abortionist Hill had a righteous cause. Like Brown, he blew it by resorting to terrorism. He might have thought of himself a martyr of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer stripe, but he was wrong. In truth, he was closer to Osama bin Laden.
True, Bonhoeffer and those other Christians in the resistance against Adolf Hitler were prepared to kill the tyrant. But they never thought of themselves as being righteous before God because of their conspiracy.
Bonhoeffer said that reason persuaded them to rid Germany of this evil. However, he was quick to add that they would still have to submit to God's judgment and grace. For reason, though God-given, is under sin. Therefore, whatever is done reasonably still falls short of the will of God and requires his forgiveness.
There is a tragic tendency both on the left and on the far right of contemporary American Protestantism to gloss over this basic theological insight. It is tragic because it invites emulators to bypass the kind of knowledge Paul is talking about.
Others will act under the illusion of being rewarded in the hereafter with glory for a bloody deed. And doubtless, they, too, will see themselves as valiant warriors against wickedness, mini-Bonhoeffers of sorts.
The trouble is that in this age of mushy thinking wallowing in false and dishonest analogies has become a favorite pastime. But there is nothing analogous between Nazi Germany and the United States, except of course for the wanton destruction of millions of innocent lives.
Germany was a tyranny then, America is not. In Germany, Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators thought that only by shedding the despot's blood could this state of affairs be rectified. In America, all you have to do is to vote for the right people, a privilege Germans in World War II no longer had.
This places a heavy burden on the sovereign in a democracy -- the people. Theologically, it also puts hundreds of thousands of priests and pastors on the spot - those who are at heart pro-life, but dare not address the abortion issue for fear of offending those women in their pews who have had the fruit of their womb killed.
In Orwellian newspeak they call abortion clinics "women's health centers," evidently not realizing that they are thus providing a niche for wannabe avengers such as Paul Hill. Instead of preaching the biblical worldview into the world, which is their calling, they leave the field to fanatics, whose warped worldview is not Christian, regardless of what they say, and who then enforce it with shotguns.
As two great heroes of the resistance against genuine tyrannies - Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - have pointed out, the dearth of civil courage is one of the great dilemmas of the contemporary world. Civil courage means speaking up, not shooting people down.
That's the difference between Bonhoeffer's and Hill's martyrdom. Bonhoeffer, the theologian, knew what he was doing and humbly went to his knees. Hill, the zealot without knowledge, went to his execution with a grin he may have died to regret.