June 2003—A quarterly news letter
for United Methodists
GUEST COLUMN: MR. ANDRUSKO ANSWERS
Mr. Dave Andrusko is the editor of the National Right to Life News,
the monthly newspaper of record of the pro-life movement in the United
States. A United Methodist, Mr. Andrusko writes excellent, pro-life
editorials that engage and instruct, that propose truth and encourage
compassion. To subscribe to NRL News, write a $16 check made
payable to NRL News, and send it to: NRL News/512-10th
Street, NW/Washington, DC 20004. Also, you can call (202)-626-8800, ext.
128, and use your credit card. Our heartfelt thanks to Ms. Carole
Stalnaker for transcribing the interview tape. --PTS
"The ferocity with which the leadership went after pro-life people was
hard to believe."
PTS: Dave, tell us about yourself—about your family of origin, your
current family, and your vocation as a journalist.
DA: I am a product of south Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was raised in
a Lutheran church. My mom and dad were working-class Democrats. My dad was
a truck driver, and my mom was a part-time billing clerk. I was the oldest
of seven children. I am now married to Lisa Andrusko, who is the author of
the annual National Right to Life Convention Handbook. We have four
children and live in a place called Woodbridge, Virginia, between
Washington, DC, and Richmond. We attend the United Methodist church in
Woodbridge. As to my vocation... Well, Moses had 40 years in the
wilderness. I had about 10. My burning-bush experience was, interestingly
enough, Christian music. It brought me back to the faith of my youth,
which prepared me for the day I met my wife to be. Once I met her, a life
that had been totally disorganized for years and years found order like
filings attracted to a magnet. One thing led to another. She worked for
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, and I worked there as a volunteer.
An editorial opening occurred here at the National Right to Life News,
and God, in His providence, said, "All right, I will put you right here
where you ought to be." And the next thing you know I am here in DC with
PTS: Dave, tell us about your collegiate schooling. Were you
trained to be a journalist?
DA: My undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota was in
education. I graduated at age 22, not mature enough to be a teacher, among
other things. After a few years out in the world, I went back to graduate
school and studied for a degree in what was then called "urban
journalism." It was a fad at the time. I took a lot of classes and worked
for what was then one of the top two college newspapers in the country,
The University of Minnesota Daily, and a flock of local newspapers. By
the time I ended my studies, I had written hundreds and hundreds of
articles for all those publications. I would get back from City Hall at
4:00 in the afternoon and have a story done by 5:00, so I learned about
deadline pressures on the job.
PTS: So, your degree in urban journalism was a master’s degree?
DA: I never finished my master’s. I came within two classes of
finishing the degree, then I moved to Washington, DC. And along the way I
was also a campaign manager for a local alderman. I became involved, night
and day, 18 hours a day, in, of all things, the politics of the first or
second most left-wing, radical, pro-abortion Democratic Party in the
country, the Minneapolis Democratic Party, which is called the Democratic
Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota.
PTS: Dave, tell us about your political work. Did you and your wife
work to change the Democratic Party in its pro-abortion commitment, or did
you just take that for granted and leave that issue alone?
DA: To answer that question fully would take a lot of time. But the
gist of it is this: my number one priority, in addressing the life issue,
was to make sure that I stayed politically alive. The ferocity with which
the leadership went after pro-life people was hard to believe. Outside
Minneapolis, in those days, there were lots and lots of pro-lifers in
Minnesota. But in the city, my party was almost monolithically
pro-abortion. I worked around the margins to try and soften and contain.
My real involvement was keeping militant, pro-abortion Democrats from
getting our party’s endorsement and working to get open primaries where a
pro-life candidate would have a chance against a pro-abortion candidate.
With the help of dedicated pro-lifers, we were able to pull off some
absolutely astonishing legislative moves. It is amazing what you can do if
you understand the system.
PTS: You worked to offset the pro-abortion, pro-choice side?
DA: In very small ways, in an occasional legislative race. The
trick, of course, was to make sure the city Democratic Party was not so
monolithically, absolutely pro-abortion that it would neutralize the
pro-life sentiment outside the city. It was a real battle, but a lot of
PTS: How long have you been a member of The United Methodist
"People are quite capable of coming to their own conclusions and being absolutely immune to the position of their pastor…"
DA: I have been a member of the Old Bridge United Methodist Church
in Woodbridge for about six years now.
PTS: What attracted you to this United Methodist congregation?
DA: We were attracted to this church for the same reason I suspect
a lot of church shoppers are: dissatisfaction with the rigidity of the
previous church we had attended, which was not a United Methodist church.
That was the negative part. The push. The pull was the fact that the
pastor of this church was a very charismatic, very interesting fellow who
preached great sermons, who preached the Word. The church also had, at
that point in time, a regular program for kids, which is what gets most
PTS: Did your pastor preach on the life issues or not?
DA: No. However, our congregation is located in an area of Virginia
which is, relatively speaking, quite politically conservative, which is
very atypical of many mainline, run-of-the-mill United Methodist churches.
We are close to a Marine base, Quantico. And of course lots of people from
Woodbridge work at the Pentagon, so it is a much more conservative
congregation than I think a lot of United Methodist churches are. I teach
an adult Sunday School class, but I do not use my Sunday School class to
proselytize my point of view. That is an unwise thing to do, in my
opinion. Even so, over the years, people from the church have talked to me
about the issue and have become active members in the local right-to-life
organization in our area.
PTS: Several from your congregation have, of their own volition,
chosen to become pro-life participants.
DA: I do not want this sound too much like 1970’s "lifestyle
evangelism," but I think there is an awful lot to be said for the fact
that when people understand that pro-lifers do not have horns, that you
are reasonable, that your pro-life convictions are seamlessly integrated
into your view of what it means to be a human being and a Christian, they
can understand that this point of view simply makes sense. They decide
that this pro-life guy is part of something that they would not find bad
to be a part of as well.
PTS: Good statement. But, Dave, I would like to explore something.
You were willing to attend a United Methodist congregation in which the
pastor was basically silent on abortion. At the same time, you were the
editor of the leading political, pro-life newspaper in the nation. Did
that require a kind of split personality on your part? Or were you just
practicing tolerance in a high degree?
DA: There are two separate issues here. First, were he to have been
preaching a pro-abortion line or a soft-on-abortion line, then of course I
would have had either to go and talk directly to him or to leave. One or
the other. And second, there are lots of ways to do things for life in The
United Methodist Church. For example, I made sure that the delegate from
our church who went to the Virginia Annual Conference was staunchly
pro-life. Also, the alternate delegate was pro-life. In addition, as a
pro-lifer, I went down to Annual Conference and worked the corners, worked
the halls, and talked to people. So there are opportunities in the
congregation and beyond that allow me to make it clear where I am coming
PTS: I am going to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here. When your
pastor was quiet on the abortion issue, that meant that it was CBS News
and the Washington Post and the general Hollywood elite who formed
the ethos of your congregation on the abortion question. I mean, when we
pastors are silent on abortion, then the mass media forms our people. The
elite, mass media are going to have their say anyway. But when we pastors
are quiet on this issue, that just gives a blank check to the mass media
to advance their thinking on abortion among our people. I am surprised
that your pastor’s silence did not make you more edgy than you were.
DA: It has been my experience, in 57 years on this earth, that
people are not the shapeless lumps of clay that we tend to think they are.
They are not just little robots at the mercy of CBS News and the
Washington Post. People are quite capable of coming to their own
conclusions and being absolutely immune to the position of their pastor,
for example, if he becomes suddenly pro-abortion. They are quite capable
of making up their own minds. After all, as we both know, the people in
the pews are often much more pro-life than their pastors are. Maybe it was
because my pastor preached an ethic of responsibility, of interdependence,
of taking care of the powerless and the unprivileged, that I found his
sermons captivating. Also, I used his own sermon material in conversations
about abortion with him and his assistant and others.
Again, there are always two ways to do things. You can say, "Well, my
pastor did not say this about abortion." Or you can work with him. Being a
good liberal at heart, he might have felt either that he should not be
talking about abortion at all or that he should not be taking a stand on
abortion at odds with the position of the larger denomination. I explained
to him, on more than one occasion, that you can read The United Methodist
Church’s position on abortion a little bit more ambivalently than perhaps
he did. But he never did anything overtly to promote the cause of
abortion. And in many personal situations and in outside ministries, he
subtly did many things which were very helpful—including supporting crisis
"[T]his culture is becoming more and more receptive to
the pro-life message..."
PTS: One thing that I have noticed in many United Methodist
churches is that if the pastor is silent on the matter of abortion,
squeamish about it and therefore silent, that can tend to radicalize the
pro-life people in the pews. They become not more thoughtful about it,
like you were, but rather they become impatient and angry and aggressive
against that particular pastor. You can understand the dynamics in play
DA: I would think that would be true, no matter what the issue. We
tend to forget that, although our issue, abortion, is the paramount issue,
it is not the paramount issue to everybody in the congregation. There are
other people, within that same church, who are angry at the pastor for not
speaking out on another issue. I have a great deal of empathy for the
position that pastors are in. This is why so many pastors do not speak
about anything controversial: because, for example, if you say what
pro-life people want to hear, they will love you; but others will go after
you. Therefore, pastors try not to say anything at all. That is why I
appreciate the subtlety with which my pastor handled that issue and other
related issues. And I think—yeah, you are right—people do get angry at
their pastor. But the challenge for the pro-life United Methodist is that
you do what you can with what you have, and that you move your pastor and
your congregation in the direction that you want. In a state of impatience
and anger, you just create an equal and opposite reaction from other
people and polarize the church, which, I believe, is the wrong way to go.
PTS: What features within United Methodism, naturally, on their
own, lead people to become more pro-life?
DA: I claim no expertise on United Methodism. But what is
interesting about The United Methodist Church, as you well know, is the
tremendous history of and emphasis on social action. On feeding the
hungry, on ministering to those who have nothing. The typical United
Methodist church will have a ministry to the homeless locally and will
support ministries and missionaries around the world. And what is the
principle? The principle is that if people are naked, you clothe them. If
they are homeless, you find them shelter. If they are in jail, you go and
visit them. And for someone like me, who has argued for 25 years now, that
if you just think about the unborn child for more than two seconds, you
will see that little one as the most homeless of all, the most powerless
of all, the one who is most at our mercy. It is not difficult to make that
case. To make people then move in the pro-life direction is another
question. But United Methodists can actually figure it out quite quickly.
You will either get a real strong response, such as, "This is different."
Or oftentimes, in my experience, you will find people who say, "You know,
there is something to that."
PTS: How do you respond when someone refers to The United Methodist
Church as a "pro-choice denomination?"
DA: Like so many mainline denominations, The United Methodist
Church has an official policy on abortion, Paragraph 161J in The Book
of Discipline, which certainly can be read as, and has been
interpreted as, supporting many pro-abortion initiatives. The official
policy is wrapped up in all those fuzzy buzz words which, at one level,
sound almost pro-life. But in the end, the denominational elites manage to
wind up supporting, almost inevitably, pro-abortion initiatives. There are
some good ingredients in the denominational policy on abortion, but they
are encased in a cake with all kinds of bad things. You need to clear away
all the bad stuff and get down to the core truths and virtues that United
Methodism stands for. United Methodism’s core truths and virtues are
absolutely compatible with a vigorous outreach to the crisis pregnancy
centers, with pro-life educational and legislative initiatives, and also
with the general notion that the unborn child is someone who naturally
should be the protected subject of any concerned United Methodist.
PTS: Any last word to us?
DA: If you do this pro-life work for a long time, as both you and I
have, you realize that there are two main temptations. There is the
temptation to become impatient on the one hand, or, on the other hand, to
become so willing to settle for so little that you look at the status quo
and simply say, "As long as it does not get any worse, I can live with
it." Those are temptations we can fall into. But what is important is an
objective assessment of where we are within The United Methodist Church
and within the culture as a whole. You could list a hundred things, which
I have done, especially in the last couple of years, showing or
demonstrating or proving that this culture is becoming more and more
receptive to the pro-life message—both because of its inherent beauty and
because of the inherent ugliness of its opposite, support for abortion. I
just wrote a News and Views article today about a parental-notification
bill passing the House in New Hampshire. Even as recently as two years
ago, that was unthinkable. But now the unthinkable is becoming the
possible, and the possible will become the reality. Will it be tomorrow?
No. But again, we are here for the long term. I am not trying to co-opt
God for my account, but I think the principles established in the Sermon
on the Mount make it clear to Christians, in particular, that pro-abortion
is not where we can ever be.
PTS: I think it is fascinating, Dave, that over the years The
United Methodist Church really has been decidedly pro-choice. And yet,
there are many United Methodists, practicing their vocations in the world,
who are decidedly pro-life. You are one good example of that. George W.
Bush, President of the United States, would be another outstanding
example. He is very articulately pro-life, while he belongs to a
denomination that is at present pro-choice.
DA: But using President Bush as an example, you do not have to
speak about abortion 12 hours a day, seven days a week. You need to speak
out when it is right, when it can be helpful to what you believe in. And
you can be there when it counts. And the President has always been there
when it counts. The things that he says, the messages that he delivers,
and the personal witness that he is, as a human being, are very strongly
helpful to the pro-life movement. I have said this many times: President
Bush is the essence of the man meeting the moment. If I sat down and
listed the qualities that I would look for in a man who could help change
the culture of death and nurture the culture of life at this point in
time, it would be hard for me to describe a better man than the man we now
have in the White House. God richly blessed this nation when we elected
George Bush as President.
PTS: Dave, thank you very much for the interview this afternoon. I
am deeply grateful for your time, and I believe that the entire Lifewatch
community will be grateful for and edified by what you have said. Again,
our thanks to you.
DA: My pleasure, and your publication, Lifewatch, is a
must-read for my office.
Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
by Michael J. Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks, is now available from Lifewatch
If memory serves correctly, on Good Friday 1990, a review copy of
Confessing Conscience: Churched Women on Abortion (Abingdon, 1990) was
delivered by the postman to our home, then in New Jersey. A hurried
reading revealed the book’s generally, though not uniformly, pro-choice
perspective on abortion. That day registered as a low point in this
pastor’s participation in the ordained ministry of The United Methodist
Thirteen years later, during Holy Week 2003, another book—Holy
Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice (Wipf and Stock, 2003) by Michael J. Gorman and
Ann Loar Brooks—arrived in our mailbox. The date of its delivery
registered as one of the high points in this pastor’s participation in the
ordained ministry of The United Methodist Church.
For over thirty years this book, Holy Abortion?, or one like it,
has needed to be written. Why? Because for over thirty years The United
Methodist Church has been officially associated with the Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), its predecessor organization the
Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), and their radical
pro-abortion ideology. At long last, finally!, Holy Abortion? tells
the truth about RCRC and its pro-abortion program.
In Holy Abortion?, Dr. Gorman and Ms. Brooks do not fight RCRC’s
pro-abortion propaganda with propaganda of their own. Rather, they use
sophisticated, extensively footnoted scholarship to make their points and
their arguments. Above all, this brief book of 77 pages, which is actually
an extended essay, is a worthy work of theological analysis.
RCRC Is Not Us
"…Gorman and Brooks simply let RCRC speak for itself."
After outlining RCRC’s mission statement, vision, activities, history,
literature, and funding, the book uncovers six, basic themes in RCRC’s
work. Using tens of quotations from RCRC materials, Gorman and Brooks
simply let RCRC speak for itself. According to the quoted materials,
Gorman and Brooks discover that RCRC believes in and advances: (1) "[an]
absolute, God-given sexual freedom, including abortion rights;" (2) "the
isolated woman or teen as sovereign moral agent;" (3) "the trivialization
of the moral status of unborn human life;" (4) "the legitimacy of abortion
as birth control;" (5) "the holiness of abortion;" and (6) "a pro-choice
God, attested in Scripture, who blesses all decisions."
Then Gorman and Brooks prove—yes, prove—that RCRC’s theological and
ethical positions contradict the theological and moral positions of its
affiliated mainline Protestant denominations—including The United
Methodist Church. After quoting in full Paragraph 161J, on abortion, from
The Book of Discipline (2000), Gorman and Brooks state: "The United
Methodist Church, then, in contrast to RCRC, affirms its reluctance to
approve abortion, its belief in ‘the sanctity of unborn human life,’ and
the necessity of assistance in decision making. It explicitly rejects
abortion as birth control and places restrictions on its being considered
at all (‘tragic conflicts of life with life’). Partial-birth abortion is
permitted only in extreme cases."
Drawing from the Church’s just-war tradition, they continue: "Although
The United Methodist Church’s statement does not explicitly use the words
‘last resort,’ it echoes this aspect of the just-war tradition in several
ways. The statement uses the language of reluctance, speaks of ‘tragic
conflicts,’ mentions ‘conditions that may warrant abortion,’ and at
various points offers actual criteria for unacceptable and possibly
acceptable abortion. Also, the phrase ‘In continuity with past Christian
tradition’ suggests an analogy to the just-war tradition (which The United
Methodist Church also accepts only with serious hesitation) and suggests a
cautious, tradition-guided approach to abortion that differs significantly
from the typical American (and RCRC) approach that focuses on individual
rights. Moreover, the church states that the quest for what conditions
might (and therefore might not) justify abortion is not over, and that
government regulations are insufficient to satisfy that quest. Finally,
the denomination’s rejection of partial-birth abortion not only differs
from RCRC’s position; it also reveals the influence of a philosophy of
last-resort: only under certain extreme conditions is it permitted.
"Furthermore, on the subject of sex, the Discipline says that
‘[a]lthough all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married,
sexual relations are only clearly affirmed in the marriage bond.’ This,
too, is in stark contrast to RCRC’s position.
"In sum, then, The United Methodist Church rejects RCRC’s approval of
unfettered sexual relations and abortion as birth control; it sanctifies
what RCRC trivializes (unborn human life); and it insists on the Christian
tradition as the context for decision making. Although this position
hardly rules out all abortions, it clearly does not reflect RCRC’s
theology or ethics." (p. 36)
Withdrawing from RCRC Is Not Enough
Dr. Gorman and Ms. Brooks are not content to establish that The United
Methodist Church and other mainline Protestant churches do not support the
theology and ethics of RCRC. They also demonstrate that the Great
Tradition of the Church catholic maintains consistent teaching that
protects the unborn child and mother from abortion. This consistent
teaching—which is derived from Scripture, from the Church Fathers, from
Karl Barth, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and from the leading theologians of
our time—pushes The United Methodist Church and other mainline Protestant
bodies toward a more pro-life position than they have held.
Again, Gorman and Brooks contend that The United Methodist Church and
others have every theological and ethical reason to pull out of the
pro-abortion Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. But also they
propose that more is required. That is, they urge United Methodists and
other mainline Protestants to bring their pro-choice denominations into
line with the Church’s historic teaching on life and abortion. Those are
noble goals, which are grounded in and motivated by the Gospel of Jesus
Christ. And they are at the center of the mission of Lifewatch.
Holy Abortion? is an argument in the highest sense of the word.
That is, this book attempts to persuade. This book strives to persuade
mainline Protestants to reject, on theological and ethical grounds, the
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and its pro-abortion lobbying.
And it aims to persuade mainline Protestants, on theological and ethical
grounds, to become more decidedly protective of the unborn child and
mother. In mainline Protestant denominations where disinterested
fence-sitting on the matter of abortion has been the rule, this book is
sure to stir some serious thinking and some serious reconsideration. That
is its ultimate purpose.
By writing Holy Abortion?, Michael J. Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks
have provided a great gift to the mainline Protestant churches in the
United States. Their gift is theological scholarship. More than that,
their gift is faithful service to the truth. Furthermore, by authoring
Holy Abortion?, Gorman and Brooks have
lived in obedience to their baptismal vows—to "accept the freedom and
power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever
forms they present themselves;" to "confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages,
nations, and races;" and to "remain faithful members of Christ’s holy
Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world."
By the grace of God, Holy Abortion? will move its readers to
live in the same obedience. And by the providence of God, Holy
Abortion? will assist The United Methodist Church and other churches
to strive toward the same obedience.
To obtain a copy of this important work, use the book coupon in this
newsletter to place your order. And as you place your order and as you
read this book, thank God that it has finally been written. (PTS)
HOW UNITED METHODISM FORMS AND DEFORMS
For over thirty years, The United Methodist Church has taken a
pro-choice position on life and abortion. That is, for over thirty years,
the official teaching of The United Methodist Church—which is stated in
the Social Principles’ paragraph on abortion in The Book of Discipline—has
been, more or less, pro-choice. That said, a qualification should be
added: the most recent sessions of General Conference have amended the
Discipline’s paragraph on abortion in marginally pro-life ways;
therefore, the paragraph has become increasingly ambiguous. Even so, over
the years, the abortion paragraph has remained pro-choice enough to allow
United Methodist institutions—namely, the General Board of Church and
Society (GBCS) and the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global
Ministries (GBGM)—to affiliate with the pro-abortion Religious Coalition
for Abortion Rights (RCAR), which now calls itself the Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). Again, the Discipline’s paragraph
on abortion, though over the years gradually becoming more pro-life, has
permitted United Methodist institutions to participate in RCAR/RCRC, an
organization that is dedicated to promoting a pro-abortion, political
agenda in the churches and society.
A majority of United Methodist laity and clergy is probably unaware of
this fact. A minority of United Methodist laity and clergy knows about and
supports our denomination’s pro-choice position. And another, apparently
growing, minority of United Methodist laity and clergy, of which the
Lifewatch community is a part, knows about, is embarrassed by, and opposes
our denomination’s pro-choice position on abortion.
A couple of questions naturally arise. Are there traditions and
practices within United Methodism that lead toward a more pro-life
position on abortion? And are there traditions and practices within United
Methodism that keep our denomination stuck in a pro-choice rut? The answer
to both questions is Yes. Some specific traditions and practices, that lie
behind each Yes, are listed below.
Pro-life Influences within United Methodism
Recognized or not, several aspects of United Methodism point its laity
and clergy in a pro-life direction. To be more specific, United
Methodism’s Wesleyan quadrilateral, sacramental life, social teaching,
emphasis on the God-given dignity of all people, outreach ministries to
"the least of these" (Matthew 25), ecumenical commitment, and
distinguished theologians naturally bend the church in a pro-life
● United Methodists employ the Wesleyan quadrilateral—with its
resources of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience—to discern
Christian truth. When the primacy of Scripture is taken seriously, and
when Scripture is interpreted with the assistance of Church tradition,
reason, and experience, United Methodists are led to the Church’s
historic, ecumenical teaching on life and abortion. This happens, in large
part, because Christian tradition, which is built upon Scripture, has,
through the ages, been consistently protective of the unborn child and
mother, and strongly opposed to abortion. Again, faithful use of the
Wesleyan quadrilateral leads United Methodist laity and clergy toward
teaching and ministry that is protective of the unborn child and mother,
and that is opposed to abortion.
● United Methodism’s high view of the Sacraments, Holy Baptism
and Holy Communion, means that we never forget that God, in Christ and
through the Spirit, gathers and sustains the Church. Baptism and Communion
make us one with Jesus Christ, and they make us one with each other in
Christ and under the Headship of Christ. Therefore, Baptism and Communion
draw us out of the radical individualism on which pro-choice ideology and
action rely. Baptism and Communion change us, charge us, and empower us,
as The United Methodist Church and as United Methodist Christians, to
protect and love both the unborn child and mother.
● The United Methodist Church has "Social Principles" in The
Book of Discipline. "They are intended to be instructive and
persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit." (Preface, Social
Principles, Discipline, p. 95) By maintaining the Social Principles
in the Discipline, United Methodists witness to the world that we
have social teaching. That is, we do not turn all moral, social,
political, and economic issues into matters for purely individual
decision-making or choice. For example, when it comes to racism, The
United Methodist Church does not favor individual choice; quite the
contrary, the church strongly opposes such discrimination ("Rights of
Racial and Ethnic Persons," Paragraph 162A, Discipline). Likewise,
on a whole range of societal issues, United Methodists have Social
Principles for teaching and guiding the whole church. To be sure, our
denomination’s current Social Principles’ paragraph on abortion (Paragraph
161J, The Book of Discipline ) is highly ambiguous and
therefore deeply flawed. Nevertheless, the simple fact that we have church
teaching on abortion suggests that, as a church, we do not treat abortion
as just another matter for purely individual choice. On abortion, The
United Methodist Church has church teaching, even if it is insufficient
● Throughout our history, Methodists have cherished the God-given
dignity of the human person. Employing other words to convey the same
idea, the Social Principles assert "our belief in the inestimable worth of
each individual" (Preamble, Discipline, p. 96). Furthermore, they
state: "Primary for us is the gospel understanding that all persons are
important—because they are human beings created by God and loved through
and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance."
(Paragraph 161, p. 98) Because United Methodism esteems each and every
person, the denomination is naturally led to esteem the person at the
earliest stages of development—in the womb of his/her mother.
● Historically and presently, Methodists have been and are committed
to countless ministries that reach out to the poor and the powerless
of society. John Wesley infused social concern and ministries into the
Methodist people, and that Wesleyan infusion has never dissipated. Because
of this missional motivation, United Methodism has developed thousands and
thousands of ministries to lift up the down-and-out at home and around the
world. Therefore, United Methodists are in ministry to and with poor
people, the hungry, refugees, children at risk, the elderly who are
chronically ill and/or dying, people harmed by natural disasters, and many
others. Therefore, given its strong tradition of social ministry, The
United Methodist Church, as a denomination and as congregations, could
and should reach out and minister to the pregnant woman tempted by
● To be United Methodist is to be ecumenical. Therefore, United
Methodists, following our ecumenical genes, always and everywhere seek
visible unity with other Christians. This ecumenical drive within United
Methodism extends to all Christians—other Oldline Protestants, Evangelical
Protestants, Charismatic/Pentecostal Protestants, the Orthodox, and Roman
Catholics. In our time, this necessitates at least being in conversation
with the teachings of John Paul II. Through such dialogue, we will learn
from the Pope, who consistently and faithfully teaches the Gospel of Life,
which is strongly protective of the unborn child and mother. Again,
because of our ecumenical commitments, United Methodists will pay some
attention to Roman Catholic teaching. And paying some attention to Roman
Catholic teaching, we are bound to learn much about pro-life matters from
John Paul II.
● United Methodism has been and is blessed with many excellent
theologians. For example, Albert Outler and Paul Ramsey, of the last
generation, still instruct us today through their writings. Stanley
Hauerwas, Richard B. Hays, Thomas C. Oden, Geoffrey Wainwright, Sondra
Wheeler, and William H. Willimon are some of the brightest lights in
Protestant theological circles today. And they are teaching, directly or
subtly, the The United Methodist Church and other churches to be more
protective of the unborn child and mother, and less pro-choice.
United Methodism’s Pro-choice Tendencies
While there are definite pro-life currents with United Methodism today,
there are also strong pro-choice traditions and practices. Our pro-choice
tendencies come from a mistaken view of the Church, a desire for peace in
the church at any price, and an unwillingness to accept the existence of
● Too often United Methodists fall into the notion that the Church
is simply a "Big Tent." Certainly, the Democratic Party and the
Republican Party are political Big Tents that include all kinds of
coalitions and interest groups; and they should be. And certainly, The
United Methodist Church is a large and diversified body of Christians with
all kinds of groups and movements. But that does not mean that The United
Methodist Church should be radically open to all kinds of doctrinal and
moral teaching. After all, our church has constitutionally protected
doctrines, and our church has established moral teaching. Some ideas that
circulate freely in our society are opposed by United Methodist doctrine
and morals. Nevertheless, those with a Big-Tent ecclesiology (that is,
theological understanding of the Church), are radically open to the
ideologies of our time—including the pro-choice ideology.
● Many United Methodists—especially many of our bishops—believe that
the absence of conflict, or the appearance of no conflict, is the greatest
good that our church can achieve. This is understandable. No
reasonable United Methodist enjoys argument, debate, and conflict all the
time. Furthermore, it is a demanding task to fight like Christians: to
speak the truth in love to other Christians who think differently, and to
listen in love to them. However, there are times in the Church’s life that
speaking the truth in love, even when it causes conflict, is necessary for
the sake of the Gospel and the churches’ witness to the Gospel. The lives
of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Reinhold Niebuhr,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Mother Teresa remind us that conflict, for the
sake of the Gospel and the witness of the Church, is sometimes necessary
and good. To seek peace by silencing conflict, when a reasonable argument
among Christians is required, is a disservice to the Gospel of Jesus
Christ. Furthermore, peace that marginalizes those who need to carry on a
significant argument does nothing but radicalize those who would argue.
All of this is to say that repressing argument about life and abortion, in
a pro-choice denomination like The United Methodist Church, maintains a
pro-choice status quo.
● United Methodism seems unwilling to recognize the existence of
moral truth. Because of good intentions, because of a desire for
pastoral compassion, because of a perceived need to display absolute
openness to all people, we are overly reluctant to speak in terms of moral
truth. However, as there is Truth (Jesus Christ), there is also objective
truth (no matter what our feelings or opinions about it might be). And as
there is objective truth, there is also objective moral truth. That is to
say, some moral claims are always true, and some are always false. For
example, racism is evil. That is objective moral truth. And holy war is
evil. That is moral truth. Greed is evil. And abortion is evil. Those are
moral truths. But we United Methodists have become hesitant to think,
speak, and act in such morally decisive and definitive ways. Our
reluctance, in The United Methodist Church, to claim and be claimed by the
moral truth that is a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led to a
continuing pro-choice, denominational position on abortion.
The Challenge We Face
So, then, what must we United Methodists in the Lifewatch community do?
We must continue, by the grace of God, being faithful United Methodist
Christians. We must rely on those foundational, United Methodist
traditions and practices that lead us to be protective of the unborn child
and mother. There is no need for desperation. There is no need for
fanaticism. But there is a need for faithfulness—steady, faithful witness
to the faith of the universal Church, which includes protection of the
unborn child and mother and opposition to abortion. And remember, a large
part of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His Church, including The United
Methodist Church, is patience. (PTS)
YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
Please note that Mrs. Ruth Brown, our Lifewatch Administrator in
Alabama, has a new e-mail address. The new address is
might make a note of this new address.
Father Frank Pavone heads up Priests for Life in the Roman Catholic
Church. He is also the recently elected president of the National Pro-Life
Religious Council, to which Lifewatch belongs. As you might well imagine,
Fr. Pavone offers outstanding commentary on the Gospel of Life. If you
would like to subscribe by e-mail to his biweekly columns, simply write:
JOIN US ON THE FIRST TUESDAY OF EACH MONTH IN PRAYING AND FASTING FOR
LIFEWATCH’S CONTINUING MINISTRY.
Out of obedience to Jesus Christ, the Taskforce of
United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality (TUMAS) “will work to
create in church and society esteem for human life at its most
vulnerable, specifically for the unborn child and for the woman who
contemplates abortion.” Therefore, TUMAS’s first goal is “to win the
hearts and minds of United Methodists, to engage in
abortion-prevention through theological, pastoral, and social
emphases that support human life.”
published by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and
Sexuality, a network of United Methodist clergy, laity, and
churches. It is sent, free of charge, to interested readers. Editor,
Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth: 111 Hodges St., Morehead City NC 28557
(252)726-2175.Administrator, Mrs. Ruth Brown: 512 Florence Street,
Dothan AL 36301 (334)794-8543/E-mail:
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