The January 22, 1998, Lifewatch Service of Worshipheld at
Simpson Memorial Chapel in The United Methodist Building in Washington DCwas
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 Bobbiconfessed 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 newsbecause 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 girlall 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 Josephsisters 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 Godthe Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirithas won, is winning, and will win the victory. For the true God is not
abstract at all. He is here right now in the Spiritin 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. Outlerone 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
[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 Stateswith 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 institutionsnamely, the Women's Division of the General Board of Global
Ministries and the General Board of Church and Societyto 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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Gartonthe author of Who Broke the Baby?, the
conference director of Women of Hope, and its keynote speakersaid: "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 conferenceWomen 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.
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 anythingadultery, perjury, shopliftingcould 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
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 Wolfand by Rev. Thom
White Wolf Fassett.
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...
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.
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,
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!
22, a breakfastheld at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church of Durham NC, and
attended by more than one hundred peoplecelebrated 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 &
an interesting place these daysand 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 excommunicatedthat 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
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,
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