Evidence that (Might) Demand a Verdict

May 07, 2007

There has been a lot of controversy and online chatter over the weekend about whether or not the Southern Baptist Convention's current second vice-president Wiley Drake signed a declaration a few years ago that supported James Kopp, a man who killed an abortion doctor (for some background see my previous post). Drake has denied signing the declaration and said that "anyone who says I did is telling a lie." This claim added to the intense online discussions (some examples include Wade Burleson, Art Rogers, BaptistLife, and BigDaddyWeave). Today, Ethics Daily has an article about Drake's denial.

So what is the truth? Did he or didn't he? Unfortunately, it seems that no one will be able to prove one way or another. As Ethics Daily reported, Steve Wetzel, who runs the Missionaries to the Unborn website where the declaration first appeared, told them he could not confirm either way who sent him the email with Drake's name and statement. It might have been Drake or it might have been someone else. Wetzel gave me a similar response when I emailed him about this issue. He also told me that he does not still have the server that had this data so he is unable to look it up and see what the email address was. Thus, it seems we cannot know for sure either way.

With that in mind, however, let me explore some points that might help us figure out what happened here. These conclusions are based on my first-hand conversations and some digging around that I have done. This is extremely long, but the more I looked into it the more I thought it was important to lay everything out. First, I am going to offer six reasons why I suspect that Drake might have actually signed the declaration. Then, I will offer four reasons why I think Drake did not intend to support a man who killed an abortion doctor.

Despite his denial, Drake may have actually signed the declaration. Here are six reasons that should at least make one cautious about simply accepting his claim.

1. The declaration in question was nearly 4 1/2 years ago. It was up on the Missionaries to the Unborn website at least by January 29, 2003 (as found on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine). It seems quite plausible that someone as active in various causes as Drake is might not remember every item they had signed onto 4 1/2 years ago. In fact, when I spoke with Drake about all of this, he was not even remembering all of the names he heard in conversations over the last couple of days.

2. Drake's theory as to how his name got put on the declaration is nothing but a wild conspiracy-theory suggestion. He issued a second statement after his initial denial. In it he offered, "Why would someone tell such a dumb lie? The only motive I can think of is that a few are fearful that God's people, not the machine, might re-elect me to 2nd V. P. again." Drake's timeline is a little off. His name went online as early as January of 2003 (as noted in reason #1), but he was not elected to the SBC office until June of 2006. That is pretty impressive if someone wanted to defeat Drake in his reelection effort in June of 2007 by posting something in January of 2003! When Drake offered this claim in my conversation with him, I pointed out that it had been online in January of 2003. He was surprised to learn that and at his request I sent him the link to the website where he could see that.

3. Although Wetzel cannot confirm that Drake signed the declaration, he did express to me that he doubted part of Drake's claims. In his denial, Drake claimed, "Until a friend called me about this I had never heard of nor did I know who James Kopp is." Wetzel did not believe that. He wrote to me: "To me, what was strange was his saying he did not even know who James Kopp was - when Kopp was in the headlines all over this nation. That is what struck me as strange." Drake has been very involved in the pro-life movement, so it does seem odd that he never heard of Kopp since Kopp's case was pretty big news. It could be that Drake simply forgot about Kopp since it has been a few years (which leads back to reason #1).

4. Drake appears to be quite connected with the group that created this declaration. Drake is mentioned or even quoted in five different articles in the www.mttu.com domain, which is the website of the Missionaries to the Unborn (see them here, here, here, here, and here). Thus, it seems that Drake is involved with those who created and signed the declaration. Also, a couple of these articles connect Drake with Bob Ferguson (including photos of Drake). As Ethics Daily points out, Ferguson also signed the declaration.

5. On Drake's online radio show this morning, he called and interviewed Troy Newman, the head of the pro-life group Operation Rescue. During the conversation, both Newman and Drake referenced the late Ferguson (Drake called him "our good friend Bob Ferguson"). Interestingly, Kopp was from California and then was involved in the efforts of Operation Rescue during the time it was led by Randall Terry. Another person active in Operation Rescue, Shelley Shannon, shot abortion doctor George Tiller. And Newman spoke out against the execution of Paul Hill (another man who killed an abortion doctor) and said of Hill: "He stands in our eyes as little more than a political prisoner." Additionally, Ferguson (whose nickname was "Frog") wrote on the Operation Rescue website, "Not everyone is called to be a Paul Hill, James Kopp or Shelley Shannon type defender. But some are." In Drake's denial, he stated, "Killing a doctor that is a baby killer is never right. Two wrongs do not make murder right." If so, why did he praise and have on his show a man who has supported such actions (especially right after the controversy about signing the Kopp declaration)?

6. Finally, it is important to consider Drake's past words and actions. When I interviewed him last year for an Ethics Daily article I wrote about his connections with the Moonies, his answers were not entirely accurate. Although he apologized publicly back in 2001 for his Moonie connections I reported that he actually continued to be a part of their events. When I interviewed him, he at first denied he had done any other events. When I told him I had evidence he was at three events he claimed it might have been one but no more. One of the three Moonie newspaper articles about his involvement after the apology even had a photo of him at the event.

With all of that I am quite suspious of Drake's denial. However, here are four reasons why I believe that he did not intend to support a man that had killed an abortion doctor.

1. As Wetzel told me:

One must keep in mind that this declaration was created prior to Kopp's first trial, and his admission of guilt to a Buffalo newspaper. Everything pointed to Jim Kopp being railroaded by the government (e.g. suddenly finding a buried rifle in the ground one year after the fact). Thus the creation of this online document was to simply say, "We are not throwing you under the bus brother like other Christians are doing. We will stand by you and not pre-judge you." That was the motivation behind the declaration, and why people signed onto it. Once Kopp made his pre-trial admission of guilt to a Buffalo newspaper, the declaration became moot as he threw himself under the bus.
Wetzel added, "Kopp stunned everyone by admitting he did it. Rather than continue the process, I simply deleted the declaration, as it no longer had meaning." Thus, it is important to recognize that if Drake did sign the declaration, he was not necessarily supporting someone for killing an abortion doctor. There may have been some other reasons for signing on at that time. Obviously anyone who supports Kopp today would not have that excuse.

2. Drake has affirmed that he does not support violence to stop abortion. As he said in his denial, "Killing a doctor that is a baby killer is never right. Two wrongs do not make murder right." Drake reiterated his belief on this point in my conversation with him. As he told me, "For somebody to murder a doctor because he's murdering babies is wrong." Drake also pointed out that his name is no longer listed on the declaration, but said he did not email the group about removing it (instead he said his name "miraculously disappeared now" and was "mysteriously gone").

3. Just because Drake associates with those who have supported this type of violence (see reason #5 in the above list), that does not necessarily mean that he supports it. In fact, Drake seemed surprised when I told him about some of the comments and connections of Ferguson and Newman. Guilt-by-association attacks are illogical. As Drake told me, "I do not agree with everything Troy Newman says or does. But I do agree with him that he's against killing babies. And I do agree with Operation Rescue." Drake added that if Newman did support those who were violent that he would "disassociate myself from that, but I'm not going to disassociate myself from people just because we don't agree on certain things." He compared it to how he will associate with Southern Baptist pastors who drink alcohol even though he is a teetotaler.

4. Drake remains adamant that he never intended to support a man who killed an abortion doctor. He told me, "I would never sign anything like that." Drake is a clearly passionate man who cares very deeply about helping people and leading people to God. He told me some about his church and ministry and it is obvious his desire is to make a difference. I felt we had a good conversation and we even shared a couple of laughs about this whole mess. He comes across as very sincere in his pro-life conviction and that he would never support or condone the killing of an abortion doctor.

Although we may never know the truth in this case, I do think some have been too quick to jump to conclusions (on both sides, and myself included). We must be sure to dig deeper and carefully discern the issues. I know the above lists may seem to contradict each other. I believe Drake when he says he would never support the killing of an abortion doctor. However, I suspect he may have actually signed this particular declaration without intending to support a killer. It does not make sense that someone else would add his name. Additionally, he has been working with some of those who were part of the declaration and its formation. It is possible that he signed onto something based on their asking him to and that he did not realize exactly what the situation was. And it is quite possible that he has forgotten about it because we all forget stuff. This should be a good reminder to all of us to be careful to stay clear and open about our beliefs. While Drake is correct that people should not use guilt-by-association attempts to link him to these claims, we must make sure that we are not "stumbling blocks" to others (Drake should especially be careful since many of the other Southern Baptist leaders drove out other Southern Baptists based on false guilt-by-association attacks).

Although I a little doubtful of some of Drake's claims, I do truly hope that he did not sign the declaration. Regardless if he did or did not sign it, I do believe that he is not supportive of its message. As a result, I hope that people will not use this as a reason to not vote for him this summer. But I do hope that he is not elected again because I disagree with the direction he has pushed for in the SBC. From his Disney boycott to his attacks on public schools to his attacks on the Baptist World Alliance, Drake has been drawing more and more lines to exclude more and more people.