June 2003—A quarterly news letter for United Methodists


Contents

bullet GUEST COLUMN: MR. ANDRUSKO ANSWERS
bullet HOLY ABORTION
bullet HOW UNITED METHODISM FORMS AND DEFORMS
bullet YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
bullet BOOK ORDER FORM
bullet SEND LIFEWATCH TO A FRIEND!
bullet Our Mission

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 my wife.

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 fun.

PTS: How long have you been a member of The United Methodist Church?

"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 boomers.

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 from.

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 pregnancy centers.

"[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 here.

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?

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 Church.

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 direction.

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 [2000]) 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 teaching.

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 abortion.

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 moral truth.

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

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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: subscribe@priestsforlife.org.

 

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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.”

 

Lifewatch is 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: cindy@lifewatch.org Web site: www.lifewatch.org

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