03/1/98 -- A quarterly news letter for United Methodists



The January 22, 1998, Lifewatch Service of Worship—held at Simpson Memorial Chapel in The United Methodist Building in Washington DC—was splendidly ordered and led by The Reverend Paul R Crikelair, pastor of the Goodwill United Methodist Church of Elverson, PA. As always, this service included both Word and Sacked. The sermon of the service was preached by The Reverend Marc Rogers, pastor of the Womb United Methodist churches in Texas. Based on Luke 1 :26-38, Rev. Rogers' strong sermon was entitled "Bobbi & Kenny/Mary & Joseph."

Rev. Rogers opened his sermon by recounting the sad and alarming story of Amy Grosser and Brian Peterson, the two privileged college students who apparently killed their newborn son and left his tiny body in the dumpster of a Comfort Inn. (Since the story of Amy and Brian became public knowledge, there have been other such incidents, other babies discarded in Texas dumpsters, another baby thrown away in a toilet at a New Jersey prom.) Rogers recalled that Mary and Joseph, another couple from another time and another place, lacking all the comforts of an inn, gladly welcomed the birth of Mary's first born Son.

The Texas pastor then gave an account of the birth of septuplets, seven children, to Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey of Carlisle, IA. These births, we should note, occurred at Iowa Methodist Hospital. He preached: "What really happened here was and is a miracle of God. Like Mary and Joseph, Bobbi and Kenny are ordinary, working-class people. Bobbi is a stay-at-home Mom and seamstress, and Kenny works as a billing clerk at the local General Motors dealership in Carlisle. And like Mary and Joseph, God has used these ordinary, extraordinary people to reveal His purpose and power in the world, to reveal His nature as the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

"This faithfulness-this trust, this openness and obedience to God's power and purpose in their lives— is the crucial decision Bobbi and Kenny, and their family and church, made from the beginning. It is as if each of them made the decision that Mary had made, when she said to God: 'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord let it be to me according to your word' (Luke 1:38, RSV). It is as if each of them believed and acted upon the word that Mary had received from the angel of the Lord, that 'with God nothing will be impossible"' (1:37).

Dr. Paula Mahone-one of the high-risk, pregnancy specialists who attended to Bobbi—confessed after the delivery of the seven children: "You know, a lot of people believe that God is abstract. But He is not abstract at all."

The Heart of Our Struggle

With Dr. Mahone's words in mind, Rev. Rogers continued: "I realized, upon reflection, that this is the heart of our struggle over abortion, for ours is a struggle between two understandings of God, or really a struggle between an understanding of a god and an of God.

"One is a god who is abstract, indeed who is the god of abstractions. A unitarian, rationalistic god. A god with no name, or with any name. A distant, dead, dry deistic god. A god of rights without responsibilities. A god of law without justice. A god of the right to choose in the abstract without consideration of or responsibility for the concrete consequences of those choices. A god not of natural law, but of positive or invented law. A god not of divine revelation, but of human imagination or human 're-imagination' . . .

"The worship of this false god, the god of abstraction, is killing us, literally. Killing not only unborn children, but killing our denomination and our nation. This is the god of the 'culture of death.' The rhetoric of choice, as it surrounds abortion, is part of a liturgy that partakes in the pure worship of abstraction. It can only succeed if the subsequent question of the concrete consequence of that choice is never asked or considered.

"That is why, unlike every other surgical procedure, partial-birth abortion has not been filmed and shown, for our information and edification, on PBS or the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel. It is why photographs or sonograms of abortions, while they are happening, do not appear in our newspapers or magazines, or on the evening news—because they would confront us with the concrete reality of the choice that is being made. The god of rights in the abstract, the god of choice in the abstract, the god of law in the abstract must be served. And this service is paid by ignoring the concrete reality of abortions

Over against the false god of abstraction, Rogers witnessed to the time God who became concrete: "God was a fetus, an infant, a toddler, a child, a youth, an adult. God was a human person in every way, in space and time, in flesh and blood, in history and nature. We remember Him today in bread and wine, in Body and Blood, for the true God is not the god of the abstract He is the God of the concrete. The true God is not the god of the philosophers, or of the lawyers and judges who follow them. The true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Mary and Joseph, the God of Jesus Christ. The true God is the God who loves baby boy Grossberg, who loves and offers forgiveness to Amy and Brian and to all of us who rebel against his love and destroy His gift of life, who loves the seven McCaughey children and their parents

Believing te Word of God

"As Christians who worship the one true God, we do indeed have a 'love affair with the fetus,' as one of our fellow United Methodists, imagining she was criticizing us, has said. We have a love affair with the fetus because our story, the story of Mary and Joseph, tells us that God was a fetus, conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb. Because God was a fetus, a fetus conceived and carned in the womb of a poor, pregnant, unmarried girl—all unborn children, regardless of the social and economic circumstances of their parents, are blessed through Him. And as God the Son taught us, as we treat them, the least of those among us, so also we treat Him.

Rev. Rogers concluded confessionally (in both senses of the word): "I would have to say that I am so often discouraged, so often angry, so often embittered, when I see the power of abstraction over the mind of our church and our culture and our country.. When I see the god of abstraction, the god of double-mindedness and dishonesty, being paid such obeisance by our leaders and elites.

"But I know these feelings come from a lack of trusting, prayerful faith. They came from a reliance upon, and the inevitable shortage of, the world's meager resources, and my own meager power. I need to look at Bobbi and Kenny, and Mary and Joseph—sisters and brothers who literally faced impossible odds in bringing Gods life into the world. Who instead of relying on themselves or on the world, chose to believe the Word of the Lord. Who chose to believe that, with God, nothing is impossible. Who chose to believe that, with God, all thing possible

"For the true God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—has won, is winning, and will win the victory. For the true God is not abstract at all. He is here right now in the Spirit—in the Church, in you, in me. He is here right now to give us life, His life, the life which will triumph over death, and will win the complete victory over the culture of death, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

Three years prior to the United States Supreme Court handing down its historic 1973 abortion decisions, which eliminated all state law against abortion, The United Methodist Church began to view abortion as a "choice." The late Professor Albert C. Outler–one of the greatest of all Methodist theologians, and therefore known to some as "St. Albert" described the 1970 United Methodist position on abortion in this way: "What we do know is that the General Conference at St. Louis in 1970 decreed that abortion should no longer be deemed a crime but rather a convenience [Daily Christian Advocate. p. 146]: That states remove the regulation of abortion from the criminal code, planing it instead under regulations relating to other procedures of standard medical practice. Abortion would be available only upon request of the person most directly concerned."'

Dr. Outler went on to evaluate, in the frankest of terms, United Methodism's 1970 action on abortion: "This remarkably simplistic solution to a profoundly complicated human concern (moral, psychological, medical, social) thus became the official United Methodist position. As such it was a notable political triumph for our General Board of Christian Social Concerns [later known as the General Board of Church and Society] and a signal instance of bureaucratic manipulation of parliamentary due process...

[Without radical reform of the consultative process by which The United Methodist Church] pretends to determine serious moral and political questions, we shall go on becoming more and more a part of the problem (namely the literal demoralization of modern society) and less apart of its Christian solution." (The Christian Advocate [September 16, 1971], pp. 7 and 18, emphasis in the original).

Three Years After

Three years after certain United Methodist leaders had manipulated the legislative processes of our denomination on the matter of abortion, the United States Supreme Court judicially usurped the issue of abortion from the nation's democratic processes and unilaterally made abortion available on demand throughout the land. Since 1973, over 37 million abortions have been performed in the United States—with the religious legitimization of The United Methodist Church.

That legitimization has come in many different forms. For starters, the General Conferences of The United Methodist Church, since 1970, have maintained an essentially pro-choice position on abortion. Furthermore, United Methodism has allowed two of its institutions—namely, the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society—to help organize, and then affiliate with, the pro-choice political lobby called the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, which is now known as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The mission of RCRC is, more or less, to defend and to advance an abortion-on-demand agenda in American politics. In addition, The United Methodist Church's official position on abortion is so radically and solidly pro-choice that several of our denomination's most visible leaders have publicly supported President Clinton's two vetoes of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which has twice passed both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate by wide margins. Never, not once, since 1970 has the General Conference or the Council of Bishops seriously questioned or challenged abortion on demand in American society. Even when the Council of Bishops authored its "Children and Poverty: An Episcopal Initiative," it remained strangely silent about the assault against unborn children that is conducted in clinics and hospitals, the assault that is called abortion.

Even though The United Methodist Church Maintains an officially pro choice position on abortion, many (if not most) United Methodist laity favor a much more pro-life position. In addition, many (if not most) United Methodist clergy are more pro-life than pro-choice. To be sure, this is a curious situation: a denomination which is "officially" pro-choice is, in fact, much more pro-life.

This rather odd state of affairs is maintained, in part, by the official legislation in question. The United Methodist Church's current legislative statement on abortion Paragraph 65J of the 1996 Book of Discipline's "Social Principles"—attempts to appeal to all positions on abortion. To garner the broadest support, the statement speaks out of both sides of its mouth. That is, it uses both pro-life and pro-choice language, without resolving the basic conflicts. As such, in the end, Paragraph 65J carries a fundamentally pro-choice bottom line.

Regarding United Methodism's position on abortion over the past twenty-eight years, it is crucial to note that the denomination has accommodated itself, has bent its ecclesial knee, to elite American culture. Rather than be instructed by the Bible as authoritatively interpreted by Church Tradition, rather than join in historic and ecumenical Christianity's preaching and teaching for life, rather than offer protective Christian love to both the unborn child and mother, United Methodist leaders have steadfastly continued to understand abortion as a private matter, as a convenience (as Outler put it), as a "choice." In so doing, United Methodist leaders have, on the matter of abortion, exchanged the faith of the apostles for the opinions of elite culture.

Let the aforementioned manipulations not be reasons for despair. Let them not be reasons for resignation. Rather, let them be reasons for hope. For manipulations cannot be maintained over the long haul. Nor can ambiguities and contradictions be sustained indefinitely. In time, in God's good time, the truth about life and abortion will be acknowledged and told in The United Methodist Church. Therefore, sister and brother United Methodists, remain faithful in knowing and trusting, and speaking and living, the Gospel of life.heart.gif (1031 bytes)


This following letter arrived at the end of December. It should be read by the entire Lifewatch Community as an ecumenical blessing.

December 22, 1997

Dear Pastor Stallsworth:

Thank you so much for sending the synopsis of our United Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue contained indoor December 1997 issue of Lifewatch.

May the Lord continue to bless you and be with you in all your good work Especially we all have a challenge these days of calling for reverence and respect for all of life, most importantly human life.

Have a blessed Christmas and a joyful new year!

Once again, thank you so much

Sincerely your brother in Christ,

William S. Skylstad
Bishop of Spokane
Catholic Diocese of Spokane


heart.gif (1031 bytes)The 1998 Lifewatch Service of Worship, the Lifewatch Reception, and the Annual Lifewatch Board Meting took place on January 22nd, just as planned in The United Methodist Building in Washington, DC. The staff of the General Board of Church and Society, led by Dena L. Southerland, was very accommodating throughout the day. Therefore, Lifewatch wishes to thank, in this public way, Church and Society for the hospitality.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Lifewatch has a new look. As you have noticed, our type is larger and some key quotations have been pulled and emphasized. We hope that these changes will make this quarterly newsletter more reader friendly.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Lifewatch's home page address is: http://lifewatch.org. We wish to thank Rev. John Warrener of Albany, GA, for his outstanding and faithful work in creating our Web site.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)The National Pro-Life Religious Council, the ecumenical pro-life outfit to which Lifewatch belongs, is planning a national pastors conference for next fall (October 21-23, to be exact). Meeting at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, VA, just outside Washington, DC, the conference will educate, encourage, and empower pastors (and lay leaders) to lead their congregations in the Gospel's ministry for life. This conference will feature internationally recognized church leaders as speakers and seminar-like workshops. Start planning now to attend this event, which promises to be a ministry-transforming conference. More information later.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Women of Hope: Engaging the 21st Century will be a pro life, ecumenical conference for women. It intends to equip women to be leaders in their homes, churches, and communities on family and life issues. Dr. Jean Garton—the author of Who Broke the Baby?, the conference director of Women of Hope, and its keynote speaker—said: "It is women who are most affected by abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. It is women who are most involved in caring for elderly parents and in making end-of-life decisions. It is women who are the primary educators of children and providers of nursing care. It is women who are most directly involved in crisis-pregnancy work and in post-abortion counseling." Hence, this conference—Women of Hope. It will take place in Kansas City on March 13-14. For more information, call immediately Jeanne Mackay at (913)894-0940/home or (913)-390-5050/work.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Frederica Mathewes-Green always has interesting and instructive things to say on the radio (NPR) and to write for the printed page. The following is taken from Citizen (July 28, 1997) and The Human Life Review (Fall 1997): "Defending 'choice' tends to force its partisans to take one of two paths. They must either:

1) denigrate the fetus more loudly, denying its nght to live; or 2) recognize its value, then flame abortion as a regfflable event." Here, Mathewes-Green is right on target.

Then she moves on to mention Naomi Wolf's "landmark 1995 essay in The New Republic." In her essay Ms. Wolf argued that, for those who are pro-choice, abortion is most persuasively advanceed as "anecessary evil" and best dealt with in "the context of a paradigm of sin and redemption."

Again, Mathewes-Green "Leaving aside [Wolf's] non-Christian understand of atonement [hers] is clearly a giant step toward honesty. The flaw remains, however, that anything—adultery, perjury, shoplifting–could be excused by this formula (i.e., I subjectively deem a questionable deed to be a 'necessary evil' in my situation, [but] I promise I'll feel sorry after and I'll do something to make up for it)."

These comments are pertinent to the Lifewatch community because some key United Methodist leaders are pro-choice. And these pro-choice Methodist leaders often use the abortion-is-a-necessary-evil argument, stated or unstated, to sustain their case. The Reverend Thom White Woff Fassett, of our General Board of Church and Society, is one such leader (see Lifewatch, 12/1/97). As Frederica Mathewes-Green demonstrates, this moral reasoning, which is employed by Rev. Fassett and others is deeply flawed.

Regarding moral reasoning on abortion, The United Methodist Church could and should do better than the reasoning offered by Naomi Wolf—and by Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Our Council of Bishops begins its ''Children and Poverty" with this hard hitting statement: "Child sacrifice has been taboo among the world's great religions for at least three thousand years, yet today children are being sacrificed to the gods of consumerism, violence, and neglect." But then the bishops' initiative does not once mention abortion. Talk about episcopal oversight...

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Bishop Cadell Tennis, who is retiring after eleven years as Delaware's Episcopal bishop, supported abortion rights in the past. But not now. In a sermon given at Delaware's Episcopal Convention last spring, Bp. Tennis said that he can no longer advocate abortion rights. Bp. Tennis declared: "I am troubled by a society which will not be responsible for its sexuality. Increasingly, we are using abortion as a means of birth control. This is intolerable.

"We are asserting so-called rights to deny life to the ultimately vulnerable. I can no longer stand apart from the unborn and the unwanted." (Lifedate Sumner 1997, and Choose Life, May/June 1997.)

Would that a United Methodist bishop or two or ree would undergo the same change of mind and heart.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)While we are hearing from bishops, here is a strong word from Archbishop Francis George of Chicago: 'The abortion issue poisons our national political life. Catholics cannot in good conscience avoid its centrality in their political decision-making. Abortion is no more a single issue than was slavery. It is instead a defining issue, one which shapes the future ofthe nation. The present legal policy of aboxtion on demand, which permits even the killing of partially born infants, weakens the social contact that has kept this country together. To cooperate willingly in evil is morally wrong, and our pesent laws make us all at least passive cooperators in the crime of abortion" (Catholic Sentinel, 2/1/96, emphasis added).

heart.gif (1031 bytes)"The Shady Grove UMC and Oak Grove UMC hold a Baby Shower for Jesus on the Fourth Sunday of Advent each year. The congregation bring baby clothes, blankets, bottles, furniture, car-seats, and cash, which are given to the Troy (AL) Sav-a-Life." This is reported by The Reverend Dave Kirby, the pastor of the Shady Grove and Oak Grove churches. Keep up the good work at the Shady Grove and Oak Grove churches!

heart.gif (1031 bytes)On January 22, a breakfast—held at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church of Durham NC, and attended by more than one hundred people—celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Called a "Breakfast of Champions,'' this event featured Rep. David Price (DNC), who consisiy casts pro-choice votes in Congress, as a guest speaker. This event, at a United Methodist church, contradicts historic and ecumenical Christianity, which has advanced through the ages and now advances protection for the unborn child and mother. It is a great sadness when one of United Methodism's congregations collaborates with those who protect the so called "rights" of the strong to assault the weak. It is a great sadness when one of our congregations collaborates with the culture of death. (Raleigh's News & Observer, 1/23/98)

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Nebraska is an interesting place these days—and not just for reasons pertaining to college football. In that fair midwestern state, both the Roman Catholic Church and The United Metbodist Church have recently been involved in matters of church discipline

On the Catholic side, in 1996 Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewilz, of the Diocese of Lincoln, enacted "extrasynodal legislation" which forbids his charges to belong to certain organizations which advance anti-Catholic agendas. Among the forbidden organizations are Catholics for a Free Choice, the Hemlock Society, and Planned Parenthood.. Nebraska Catholics who refuse to heed this "formal canonical warning" can be excommunicated—that is, denied Holy Communion.

On the-United Methodist side, Bishop Joel N. Martinez, of the Lincoln Area, suspended for more than sixty days (with salary) Rev. Jimmy Creech, the senior pastor of First Church of Omaha, for conducting a September 1997 covenaring ceremony for two lesbian members of his congregation. The Creech case will be tried in church court this month.

These are two strong and hopeful reminders that life in Christ and His Body, the Church, is not just a matter of personal preference or individual choice. Life in Christ, which includes life in the Church, involves a life together aimed toward holiness.

heart.gif (1031 bytes)Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was a speaker at a Duke University Health System seminar in February. Entitled "Healthy Heart, Healthy Life: A Focus on Women," the seminar featured Dr. Elders' talk on "stress management for women." Perhaps the greatest means of stress relief for many women would be the offer of choices, real choices, that would allow and encourage them to avoid abortion. We hope such stress relief made it into Dr. Elders' talk. Given Dr. Elders' public record on abortion, we are probably hoping against all odds. (Raleigh's News & Observer, 1/29/98)


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