June 2004—A quarterly news
letter for United Methodists
THE TRULY RIGHT THING TO DO
A version of this testimony was distributed by Lifewatch at the 2004 General
Conference in Pittsburgh.
"I know the ‘devastating damage’ (The Book of
Discipline, Par. 161J) of abortion, both personally and professionally."
It was 1983. That is all I can remember about the date. We were sitting in
the waiting room of the Women’s Clinic in Roanoke, VA. I was there with my
girlfriend, because it was the right thing to do. I had paid for half the
abortion, because it was the right thing to do. I had been sexually active,
because it felt like the right thing to do.
So why had that little voice kept saying, "This feels like the wrong thing to
This event shaped all my future opinions on the topic of abortion, which I
kept to myself. Never would you have seen me engaged in a heated discussion on
abortion in college, in seminary, or in the church. No way! The few times I was
backed into a corner, out came the official stand from The Book of Discipline’s
Social Principles, with one addition: God is able to forgive anything. I
believed that applied to everyone but me.
Later, in 2001, while I was serving a two-congregation charge on the Eastern
Shore of Virginia, God called me to an extended fast from solid food. I asked
God to reveal anything in my life that separated us. It was a life-changing
experience, as God showed me how I remained in bondage to guilt and shame for
things in my past. These were chains that I had forged and chose to wear. But
then I received the assurance that God had forgiven me. God delivered me from my
My newly found freedom led me to the local crisis pregnancy center and to its
director, who had a caring heart for United Methodist pastors. It was the
beginning of a fruitful relationship between the center and one of my
God also called me to preach a series of sermons on the topic of abortion.
With much fear and trembling, I obeyed. The first two weeks were spent comparing
the Biblical view with that of the culture. Then on week three, I shared my
personal experience with the congregation. That Sunday, as I walked into the
pulpit, a group of about twenty teenagers from the local United Methodist camp
were sitting there. Many questions raced through my mind, but I found the Holy
Spirit urging me to preach the sermon as it was written.
After the service, as the youth filed past me at the door, many would not
even speak. Then I noticed two of them had stayed back until everyone else left
the sanctuary. These young women told me of a friend back home who was pregnant
and considering abortion. They described the agony of having no words of hope to
give her—until now. They thanked me and left. As they left, I realized that God
had indeed called me to speak out that day—not to be liked but to bring hope to
those in need.
I know the "devastating damage" (The Book of Discipline, Par. 161J) of
abortion, both personally and professionally. Abortion, which was intended to
help and free women, has instead brought pain and misery into the lives of many
people, female and male. As followers of Jesus Christ, and as The United
Methodist Church, we must offer them more than a quick fix: we can and must love
—The Reverend John A. Bright/Epworth United Methodist Church/4144 W.
Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike/Thaxton, VA 24174/(540)586-4203
ONE CREATOR OF ALL PEOPLE
"And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the
whole creation...’" (Mark 16:15, RSV)
These words of Chief Red Jacket of the Seneca people, spoken in 1805, carry
much truth: "Brothers, the Great Spirit has made us all. But He has made a great
difference between His white and red children. He has given us a different
complexion and different customs."
Chief Red Jacket’s words continue to speak to many issues of history and our
time. Within his words is the assumption that the same Creator creates all
people. This was a religious starting point for many of the Native Americans on
the North American continent. However, history tells us that this was not always
the assumption granted, by those who came to settle, to the Native Americans.
This is not stated to negate the many acts of courage, faith, and nobility
that were demonstrated by both sides. Nor is it an attempt to belittle the acts
of violence and even atrocities committed on both sides. For both sides acted in
human ways: they demonstrated the best and the worst that are within us.
What was Chief Red Jacket’s point? Was he not pointing us to an assumption by
which bridges over differences can be crossed and all human life celebrated?
One of the defining seeds of disunity, and eventually violence, among God’s
people is the disagreement over whether a person is truly a person. It is
amazing how history seems to repeat itself.
For many in the earliest decades of United States history, the "red man" was
a savage. Therefore, he was considered something less than human. This meant
acts of violence against Native American humanity could be condoned by some of
the settlers, even by some Christian settlers of the day. After all, they
reasoned, Biblical truths which applied to themselves did not necessarily apply
to those who were not fully human.
Later, during times of slavery, the "negro" was thought by some to be
something less than human. This meant acts of violence against African-American
humanity could be condoned by slaveholders and others, even by some Christians
of the day. After all, they reasoned, Biblical truths which applied to
themselves did not necessarily apply to those who were not fully human.
Today, we continue to struggle with the same question. By many, the unborn
"fetus" is understood to be something less than a person, something less than a
born baby. Therefore, acts of violence toward the unborn and the pregnant mother
are condoned by many, even by Christian people of our day. And the growing
number of women and men suffering from various forms of Post-Abortion Syndrome
must be added to the tragedy of abortion.
When, O God, who is most fully revealed in your Son, Jesus Christ, will we
simply hear the good news that you are the Creator of all, including all human
life? Therefore, the gift of each life is precious. The gift of each life is
worthy of celebration and praise. This basic truth about the human family, by
God’s grace, can unite us as nothing else can.
—The Reverend John Ruiz (New Matamoras-Salem Hall-Brownsville United
Methodist Charge/P.O. Box 362/New Matamoras, OH 45767) is the author of A
Message of Life and Love: Proclaiming Good News from a Johannine Perspective
(Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE, 2001), which is available from
www.Cokesbury.com or www.BarnesandNoble.com.
A BRIEF REPORT ON PITTSBURGH
"[Bishop Minor] writes about ‘a sense of
anxiety in the atmosphere…’"
From April 27 through May 7, The United Methodist Church’s 2004 General
Conference was in session in Pittsburgh, PA. Therefore, one would expect
Lifewatch to provide a report on legislation, pertaining to abortion and
homosexuality, that was approved and rejected by General Conference. Sure
enough, such a report can be found below.
First, however, step back and consider the larger picture.
The polity (or government) of The United Methodist Church is modeled on the
federal government of the United States. As any junior-high student knows, our
nation’s federal government has three branches—the executive branch, the
judicial branch, and the legislative branch. Likewise, The United Methodist
Church has three branches—executive, judicial, and legislative. Our
denomination’s executive branch is led by the Council of Bishops. At the top of
our denomination’s judicial branch is the Judicial Council. And the legislative
branch of our denomination is guided by the General Conference. At Pittsburgh,
the most powerful bodies of all three branches of United Methodist
government—the Council of Bishops, the Judicial Council, and the General
Conference—were present and active. Each branch, in turn, receives attention
THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS
Even before the Pittsburgh assembly officially convened, the executives of
the denomination were at work. On April 26, Bishop Ruediger Minor, the president
of the Council of Bishops, released a letter addressed to "United Methodist
Sisters and Brothers." Writing for the Council, Bp. Minor’s letter attempted to
create an optimal atmosphere for the General Conference to do its legislative
work. Remember the pressing problem on the minds of most Conference delegates:
the church-trial acquittal of The Reverend Karen Dammann, an admitted homosexual
living in a gay union, in the Pacific Northwest Conference. Therefore, Bp.
Minor’s letter could be understood as an attempt to quiet the ecclesiastical
storm that was gathering. Unfortunately, the letter did nothing but heighten the
sense of crisis in the denomination.
Bp. Minor’s letter is notable for three reasons. First, the letter is filled
with psychological jargon. He writes about "a sense of anxiety in the
atmosphere," about people being "concerned," about "stress," and about "fear."
To be sure, much of this psychological stuff was in the air of General
Conference. But were not the denominational issues that were generating such
psychological responses more important than the psychological responses
themselves? And could the letter have been more indicative of the psychology of
the bishops than the psychology of the General Conference?
Second, the letter is episcopally centered: that is, its focus is on the
Council of Bishops. It explains: how the bishops think about themselves ("we
consider ourselves to be family"), how the bishops behave toward each other ("we
love each other, we listen to each other, and sometimes, we vigorously disagree
with each other"), how the bishops respect each other ("we do not question the
integrity of our colleagues..."), what the bishops know ("we have learned that
honest struggle is a part of love"), where the bishops are ("we are united in
our commitment to Jesus Christ...to practice and advocate unity...to uphold
The Book of Discipline...in our conviction that the critical issues will not
be ultimately resolved with legislation..."), and what the bishops have done
("we have spent many hours in dialogue..."). In the midst of a moment of truth
in The United Methodist Church, why did the bishop’s letter focus so heavily on
the bishops themselves?
And third, the letter confesses that "[o]n some issues, including human
sexuality, we are not of one opinion." Here are bishops of the Church of Jesus
Christ stating that they are "not of one opinion." But bishops are supposed to
have teaching, Christian teaching, Church teaching, apostolic teaching—not
opinions! Bishops might be wise to leave opinions to those engaged in parlor
conversations and editorial writing. At the same time, bishops might be wise to
stick with the teaching which they have received from the Church’s faith, and
which they are consecrated and charged to convey.
"The Council’s refusal to lead is harming the
very church it is committed
For these three reasons—the psychological emphasis, the concentration on the
bishops, and the placing of opinion over teaching—Bp. Minor’s letter failed the
General Conference. For some reason, the Council of Bishops, acting as the
executive branch of the church, continues not to lead The United Methodist
Church through the current challenges. The Council’s refusal to lead is harming
the very church it is committed to serve.
THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL
While the bishops were overly and overtly timid, the Judicial Council proved
itself to be rather decisive.
On April 28, General Conference directed the Council to rule on two legal
claims that had led to the acquittal of Rev. Dammann. On May 1, the Judicial
Council read its decisions to the Conference: it ruled that being a self-avowed
practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for United Methodist clergy; and
that Paragraph 304.3 is an "unambiguous" declaration against homosexual practice
and that, as such, it is church law.
Immediately following the reading of the Judicial Council’s ruling, the
General Conference charged the Judicial Council to: (1) apply the most recent
Judicial Council ruling to the Dammann verdict, and (2) determine the "meaning,
application, and effect of Paragraph 304.3...regarding whether a bishop may or
may not appoint a pastor who had been found by a trial court to be a self-avowed
practicing homosexual." On May 4, the Judicial Council ruled that (1) it had no
jurisdiction to review the verdict of the Dammann church trial, and (2) a bishop
shall not appoint a pastor who has been determined by trial court to be a
self-avowed practicing homosexual.
Though these rulings did not immediately overturn the Dammann church-trial
acquittal, they were strong decisions by the Judicial Council. They set the
stage for the Pacific Northwest Conference to discipline, appropriately and
lovingly, Rev. Dammann and help The United Methodist Church maintain its
orthodox position on homosexuality.
THE GENERAL CONFERENCE
Of particular interest to most United Methodists across the church was how
General Conference 2004 would legislate on Paragraph 161G, which is The Book
of Discipline’s Social Principle on homosexuality. It adopted this language:
"The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and
considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Also, to "[w]e
affirm that God’s grace is available to all," it added: "and we will seek to
live together in Christian community." Before adopting this final language, the
Conference voted down the following sentence that had been proposed by the
Church and Society Legislative Committee: "We recognize that Christians disagree
on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching."
Also, General Conference passed legislation that clarified chargeable
offenses for pastors to include: "(a) immorality, including but not limited to,
not being celibate in singleness or not being faithful in a heterosexual
marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be
incompatible with Christian teaching, including but not limited to: being a
self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate
homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies." (Paragraph 2702)
It also affirmed civil laws that define marriage as the union of a man and a
woman. In addition, it rejected adding this sentence to a Social Principle on
civil liberties: "We support the right of same-gender couples to receive the
same protections and benefits provided by state and national governments that
come through civil marriages between men and women." And it turned down a
proposal that would have allowed the various regions of the denomination to
decide whether or not to permit gay clergy.
With regard to abortion, the news from General Conference was mixed. To
The Book of Discipline’s Paragraph 161J, which states United Methodism’s
ambiguous teaching on abortion, General Conference added this helpful sentence:
"We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service
agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See Paragraph
161K.)" This was another step, though a very short step, in the pro-life
direction. On another positive note, General Conference did, for the first time,
recognize the damage that abortion brings; you will read more about that in our
September 2004 issue. Unfortunately, the Conference affirmed support for the
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a pro-choice coalition; to
United Methodists dedicated to the Gospel of Life and Christian unity, General
Conference’s blessing of RCRC was incomprehensible.
"The way out of the crisis within The United
Methodist Church is to be found in the most unlikely of places: in
the Council of Bishops and in the teaching office of each bishop."
How could General Conference be so strong on keeping The United Methodist
Church orthodox with regard to church teaching on homosexuality, yet so
unwilling to alter the denomination’s pro-choice teaching and affiliations on
abortion? Perhaps two reasons stand out. First, General Conference is
organizationally conservative. It usually conserves positions it has adopted
during previous sessions. Changes are, more often than not, accomplished quite
gradually. And second, General Conference delegates were probably fatigued by
the politics surrounding the issue of homosexuality. Because this Conference was
mainly about homosexuality, it was not going to open up yet another difficult,
moral matter like abortion to debate at length. For these reasons, United
Methodism stayed with its truthful teaching on homosexuality and with its
ambiguous teaching on abortion.
THE CRISIS AND THE CHALLENGE
During the second week of General Conference, informal meetings between
evangelical-orthodox leaders and liberal-progressive leaders took place. Not
surprisingly, these meetings surfaced and probed the moral-theological
denominational divide, which is most powerfully presented by the conflict over
homosexuality, and its intractability. During the conversations, a document,
which proposed a process through which the two sides would "amicably separate,"
emerged from the evangelical-orthodox participants. Though the document was not
officially presented at General Conference, it rocked the Conference delegates
and provoked an official response from the Conference itself. On May 7, General
Conference responded to the idea of an amicable separation of the denomination
by overwhelmingly passing this resolution on church unity: "As United
Methodists, we remain in covenant with one another, even in the midst of
disagreement, and reaffirm our commitment to work together for our common
mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world."
It has been commented that The United Methodist Church is the most American
of churches. United Methodism’s three branches of government—executive,
judicial, and legislative—confirm that comment. Furthermore, United Methodism
often reflects what is going on in American culture. Currently in American
society, a culture war rages. It is between conservatives and liberals,
Democrats and Republicans, traditionalists and anti-traditionalists. However the
sides are named, they are locked in furious competition throughout the society.
It appears that this culture war in the general society entered The United
Methodist Church a couple of decades ago, and it is now threatening to divide
Is there a way out of this ecclesiastical mess? Perhaps there is. But the way
out will not be provided by the Judicial Council handing down proper decisions,
though good legal reasoning will certainly not harm the denomination. And the
way out of possible separation will not happen because General Conference passes
this petition or that, though wise legislation can be good for the church. And
the way out of our moral-theological struggle will not be insured by repeating
pious platitudes or by arranging feel-good experiences or by attempting
organizational-management schemes. The way out of the crisis within The
United Methodist Church is to be found in the most unlikely of places: in the
Council of Bishops and in the teaching office of each bishop. The Council of
Bishops and the bishops are charged by Christ, by the Gospel, by the Church
catholic, by The United Methodist Church, and by The Book of Discipline
to teach truth to the church; and from truthful teaching comes unity in the
truth and good order in the truth. When the Council of Bishops teaches the truth
of the Christian covenant by which The United Methodist Church exists, when each
bishop confidently asserts the truth of the Christian covenant throughout
his/her assigned area, then and only then will the crisis facing United
Methodism lift and be transformed into a time of renewal.
The crisis within The United Methodist Church is not our denomination’s
struggle over homosexuality. Homosexuality is currently the presenting issue of
the crisis, but not the crisis itself. Rather, the crisis in United Methodism is
the collapse of substantive, truthful, episcopal teaching throughout the
denomination. For when the bishops do not teach truthfully, a thousand
different, conflicting, and confusing voices fill the denominational public
square; then teaching in the church becomes more a matter of politics than of
Until the teaching office of the Council of Bishops and each bishop is
rediscovered and reasserted, the crisis within United Methodism will persist,
and the separation will threaten. If/when that teaching office—which makes
possible the teaching of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’s
faith—is rediscovered and reasserted by our bishops, The United Methodist Church
will be renewed in the unity, ministry, and mission she has been given by Jesus
THE MARCH FOR WOMEN’S LIVES AND THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
"‘On April 25, 2004 a March for Women’s Lives
will take place in Washington, DC, and GBCS has signed on as a
co-sponsor along with the Women’s Division, GBGM.’"
The March for Women’s Lives took place in Washington, DC on April 25, 2004.
This March was first, last, and throughout about the politics for abortion. That
is a factual, not evaluative, statement. Therefore, the March is best understood
as a political event that developed and transpired in a political context.
The last, large pro-choice march in Washington, DC occurred in April of 1992.
Since 1992, the states have enacted hundreds of pro-life laws—e.g., laws
regarding waiting periods before abortions, parental notification and/or
consent, and abortion-clinic regulation. During the same time, President Bush
has withheld funding from international family planning organizations that offer
abortion counseling and from the United Nations Population Fund, and signed the
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. (Washington
It could be argued that these political advances were possible because
American public opinion on abortion is moving in the pro-life direction. Take,
for example, the UCLA survey of college freshmen: in 1992 it found 67% of
college freshmen thought abortion should be legal, while in 2003 only 55% were
discovered to think this way. Also, younger leaders in the activist pro-choice
community seem to maintain a more nuanced, less strident, position on abortion.
Due to input from pro-choice activists under 30, the name of the April 25th
event was changed, to be softened, a couple of times: from the "Choice March" to
the "Freedom of Choice March" to the "March for Women’s Lives" (Washington
These developments have created a widespread panic in the pro-choice
community. "We are horrified about the backward steps our [pro-choice] policies
are taking, not only at the federal level but at the state level," worried
Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority. "We feel like we must do something
dramatic, because our issues are not in focus, especially with these
international crises, and we have got to get them back in focus." The
presumptive Democratic candidate for president, Senator John Kerry, joined the
pro-choice chorus of concern just before the March: "More than 30 years after
Roe versus Wade became the law of the land, it has never been more at risk
than it is today." (Washington Post, 4/25/04)
As a result of these political realities, the March for Women’s Lives was
planned. Major pro-choice institutions—including the American Civil Liberties
Union, the Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National
Organization for Women, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of
America—sponsored the event. Over 1,400 groups—including the Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice (RCRC)—co-sponsored this political effort.
UNITED METHODIST BOARDS SIGN UP
Affiliated with RCRC and perhaps because of RCRC, the General Board of Church
and Society (GBCS) and the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global
Ministries (WD/GBGM), both of The United Methodist Church, became co-sponsors of
the March for Women’s Lives. James Winkler, the General Secretary of GBCS,
composed a January 16th email to describe and explain GBCS’s co-sponsorship. In
part, Winkler wrote: "On April 25, 2004 a March for Women’s Lives will take
place in Washington, DC, and GBCS has signed on as a co-sponsor along with the
Women’s Division, GBGM. Our Social Principles and various statements in the
Book of Resolutions, e.g., 264, 181, and 179[,] support our involvement with
this event. As a co-sponsor, we will promote and participate in the March,
provide information on our Website and work in coalition with other
organizations on the planning and implementation of the March. GBCS is
contributing no funding from apportionments for this event..." [WD/GBGM, on the
other hand, did contribute some money to the March.]
"The four primary sponsoring groups [are]: Feminist Majority, NARAL
Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood
Federation of America. The March is not narrowly focused on the ‘right to
choose’ issue, although that is included. Rather, it has a broad focus
addressing the need for additional resources and advocacy to lift women from
poverty, to provide access to services including health, education and economic
[services]—all of which prevent abortions, [and] infant and mother mortality[;]
and improve the quality of life."
Because of a secretarial error, Winkler’s email was sent only to the staff of
GBCS in January 2004. Not until March 2004 was it finally sent to the clergy and
lay members of GBCS. Among some of the members, the news of GBCS co-sponsorship
of the March caused some serious dismay. They were concerned because, by
co-sponsoring the March, GBCS would be supporting what The United Methodist
Church officially rejects—specifically, abortion as a means of birth control and
partial-birth abortion (with exceptions). Understandably, a strong suggestion
was made that GBCS withdraw from co-sponsorship of the March. However, GBCS
remained a co-sponsor, as did WD/GBGM.
THE MARCH FOR WOMEN’S LIVES
In his January 16th email, Mr. Winkler had maintained that the March would
cover many issues of concern to women. The Women’s Division of GBGM maintained a
similar position. (Newscope, 4/30/04) And the United Methodist Church’s
magazine, Christian Social Action, reinforced this claim: "The [M]arch is
a broad stand for many of the issues that threaten women, including poverty,
access to health care services, education and family planning." (March/April
Despite these pre-March opinions of United Methodist officialdom, RCRC
maintained clarity about the primacy of abortion in the March: "The purpose of
the March...is to demonstrate overwhelming majority support for women’s right to
choose safe, legal, abortion, birth control, and women’s right to
self-determination." (RCRC Website) Indeed, said RCRC, "[w]e are pro-choice
because of our faiths—and so we will start the March with prayers and
meditations on women’s sacred choices." (RCRC Website) And after the March had
ended, Washington Post reporters stated that "[t]he dominant themes of
the day were two. Again and again, March participants vowed that abortion was
here to stay. And that Bush had to go." (4/26/04)
"We are pro-choice because of our faiths—and
so we will start the March with prayers and meditations on women’s
According to unofficial estimates of the DC police, the March attracted
500,000-800,000 participants. (March organizers proposed 1,150,000.) Many
children, youth, and young adults took part. It was estimated by organizers that
one-third of the participants were college age or younger.
The massive crowd assembled on the Mall at mid-morning. After listening to
countless brief speeches for a couple of hours, the gathering marched past the
White House (twice), up Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill, and then to the
Mall’s east end. At the conclusion of the March, more speeches were delivered
from a large stage in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Huge screens and
booming speakers carried the speeches, before and after the marching, so all
could see and hear.
Let there be no confusion: the March for Women’s Lives was about the politics
for abortion. That is, the March was a political demonstration for abortion
rights. The speeches, songs, signs and slogans, and chants made that abundantly
The pre-March speeches were delivered from a stage that boasted a "March for
Women’s Lives" banner above and a "Choice, Justice, Access, and Health" banner
down the side. Speakers were the founders and directors of many and various
pro-choice organizations, celebrities, entertainers, and others. Generally,
their comments were brief, but they were offered with plenty of shouting, fists
jabbing the air, and scorn directed toward the Religious Right, the White House,
the US House of Representatives, and the US Senate.
Kate Clinton served as the master of ceremonies. She kept things moving along
and the crowd in good spirits. At the end of the pre-March speeches, she
identified herself as a "faith-based comedienne" and a lesbian. Throughout the
day’s events, homosexuality was proudly asserted and worn as a distinguishing
Actress Cybill Shepard stated that this was her third pro-choice march. Then
she spoke, in no uncertain terms, against "---------- anti-choice fanatics..."
She also noted, "The anti-choice advocates are hypocrites...and they make me
Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice referred to the "sacred
space" of the March, and stirred the approval of the crowd by contending that
the 65 million Roman Catholics in the United States are overwhelmingly
Novelist Richard North Patterson, perhaps one of the most articulate of the
many speakers, restated the conventional wisdom of the day that "the right to
choose has never been more in danger."
A representative of the National Abortion Federation asked the masses to
applaud those who actually perform abortions and provide related services. The
crowd responded vigorously.
A speaker from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force declared that the
"Queer Movement" and choice movement are "sister movements." After all, she
continued, both assert the right to "use bodies without interference from
government," both have the same enemies (the "forces of intolerance"), and both
believe that "limited choice is not real choice."
Picking up the theme of the separation of church and state, and extending it
to morality and politics, Nancy Northrup claimed that government is never a
moral teacher, and the "White House is not a Sunday School."
While the music of the day was entertaining, the songs’ lyrics served
pro-choice political purposes. Many of them contained haunting refrains, such
as: "Have you been to jail for justice? Let me shake your hand."
Holly Near sang "We Are a Gentle, Angry People." She ended the number by
changing the words and singing: "We are gentle, loving people; and we are
singing for our lives." (emphasis added)
To end the pre-March, Sandy Rap sang about the alleged first victim of the
elimination of Medicaid-paid abortions. Her refrain energized the masses to
march: "Get your laws off me. I’m not your property. Don’t plan my family. I’ll
plan my own. I don’t want to be in your theocracy. Remember liberty. Remember
SOME SIGNS AND SLOGANS
In massive political demonstrations, signs and slogans are crucially
important. During the March for Women’s Lives, thousands of signs were held,
carried, and waved. Then many were left behind as litter. All the more amazing
were the many hills of colorful, crisp signs that were piled up throughout the
Mall and not used during the day.
The signs and slogans of the March advanced the pro-choice and the anti-Bush
agendas. Here is a sample: "Choice = Freedom;" "My Body, My Choice;" "My Body Is
My Sovereign Territory;" "My Body Is Not Public Property: No Trespassing"
(provided by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America [PPFA], which in 2002
provided over 227,000 abortions and received $767 million in income); "Stop the
War on Choice" (PPFA); "Stand Up for Choice" (PPFA); "Keep Abortion Safe and
Legal;" "Abortion on Demand without Apology;" "Pro-Child/Pro-Choice";
"Pro-Choice/Pro-Family/Pro-Environment;" "Pro-Faith/Pro-Family/Pro-Choice" (RCRC);
"Roe, Roe, Roe the Vote;" "Against Abortion? Don’t Have One;" "Reproductive
Justice for All;" "No Body of Rules to Rule the Body;" "Queer Rights Are
Reproductive Rights;" "Gay Marriage Is a Civil Right;" "Christian Right =
American Taliban;" "DNC Democrats: March in April, Vote in November;" "Stop
Bitching, Start the Revolution;" "Abortion Rights and Welfare Rights/Support
Every Woman’s Choices/Access and Equality;" "WWWD: What Would Wellstone Do?;"
"Mumble/Grumble/Complain/Wallow/Hope/Despair/ Worry/Vote" (on a T-shirt);
"Re-Defeat Bush in 2004;" "See us march/Hear us roar/We won’t give Bush/another
4;" "Mr. Bush, if your mother chose abortion, more than 800 American soldiers
and over 10,000 Iraqi civilians would be alive today! Abortions save lives;" "I
was ----ed by Bush, and must abort;" and "Your fascist patriarchy is killing
"A sidewalk vendor, hawking his goods, pitched
to the marchers: ‘You like freedom of choice. Here, have your choice
of ice cream.’"
Toward the end of the March along Pennsylvania Avenue, there were the signs
shaped like women’s panties with pro-choice and anti-Bush messages. Obviously,
this was political theater.
Let it be mentioned, last of all, that "the banner of the UM Women’s
Division" identified 50 to 100 marchers as they paraded through the streets of
Washington. Why did they carry this sign into the March? "According to Julie A.
Taylor, executive secretary with the Women’s Division, ‘it’s important for the
church to be a visible presence in this march so that we can say, "We’re a safe
sanctuary for you if you need counseling, to help with your decision, or to be a
supportive shoulder for you in your time of struggle."’" (Newscope,
Political litanies began at the pre-March rally. A speaker on stage would
shout: "What are we marching for?" And the crowd would reply: "Women’s right to
Then while marching, someone in the crowd would yell: "Whose choice?" And
those who could hear the question would reply: "Our choice!"
Another went like this. Question: "What do you want?" Answer: "Choice!"
Question: "When do you want it?" Answer: "Now!"
Then came the old standby: "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. George Bush has got to go."
At times, the marchers ventured onto theological terrain. For example, "Keep
your rosaries off my ovaries." And "I asked God, she’s pro-choice."
When the marchers approached the Ronald Reagan and International Trade Center
Building, on the Pennsylvania Avenue side, signs that read "Warning: Dangerous
Fanatics Ahead" appeared. Translation: pro-life demonstrators were ahead.
Notable among them were the African-American men who held up gigantic
photographs, from the Center for Bio-ethical Reform, that graphically pictured
human-rights horrors through the years: lynchings in America, Pearl Harbor, the
Holocaust, the 9/11 attack on New York City, and, of course, the tiny, bloodied
victims of abortion. These documentary photos were accompanied by preaching from
an African-American. As the crowd moved through this area, it chanted: "Pro-life
is a lie. You don’t care if women die." Chanting loudly, the marchers
intentionally drowned out the preaching. There were several people who held
pro-life signs, most of which were inoffensive. One such person had his sign hit
by a pro-choice marcher. Walking past several priests wearing Roman collars, a
marcher yelled that "the Catholic Church abuses boys;" and those who heard this
comment laughed in amusement. Then "Leaving Fanatic Zone: Maintain Freedom"
signs appeared, and the political tensions eased a bit.
A sidewalk vendor, hawking his goods, pitched to the marchers: "You like
freedom of choice. Here, have your choice of ice cream." Perhaps the vendor was
subtly questioning the moral reasoning of his customers.
THE POST-MARCH ASSEMBLY
At the end of the March, there was another massive assembly. Event planners
pleaded for help in picking up the heavy litter on the Mall and for donations to
help cover the demonstration’s costs. Then there was Whoopi Goldberg, with coat
hanger in hand. A musical interlude included a golden oldie originally by
Buffalo Springfield; the crowd sang the refrain: "Stop, children. What’s that
sound? Everybody look what’s going down." Since the crowd was fatigued from its
participation in "the biggest march in the history of the universe," it needed a
break; so a speaker lifted her blouse to expose her bra. The crowd roared in
approval. The "Religious Right" was renamed the "Ridiculous Right." Dr. George
Tiller, a Wichita doctor who routinely performs late-term abortions, was called
a "saint." Julian Bond, leader of the NAACP, argued that reproductive freedom is
a basic civil right; and he tied together Brown versus the Topeka Board of
Education, civil-rights legislation, and Roe versus Wade. Mr. Bond
also noted that the day’s speakers had been "urged to be non-partisan." If that
was the case, most speakers neglected this instruction.
Then, to conclude, the politicians appeared. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
(D-NY) said: "If you care about changing the direction of this country, it’s up
to you. And you have to be willing to be a good citizen, to stand up for our
rights, to stand up for our Constitution, and to show up at the polls in
November to elect John Kerry president of the United States." Sen. Clinton
extended the pro-choice, anti-Bush agenda of the March to include a pro-Kerry
Finally, late Sunday afternoon, the March for Women’s Lives ended, and the
participants headed home.
THE RELIGIOUS COMPONENT
"This report has intentionally omitted the
coarser, cruder parts of the March. Needless to say, foul words,
gestures, and images were not rare."
As noted earlier, the March for Women’s Lives was primarily political in
nature. It was also quite secular. That is, it made few references to the one,
true God who is the judge of nations and empires. To be sure, there were some
references to "spirituality," but they usually concerned the god who only helps
people to feel good about themselves. And there was that circle of people
holding hands, dancing, and repeating, "We bring a new way to walk the earth."
The secular assumptions of the event were also on display in its scheduling: the
March began on a Sunday morning during the Season of Easter. It was as if the
organizers of the March were saying that Sabbath observance, for Christians,
does not matter. Its secularity was also suggested by the vulgar and obscene
elements of the March. As Hank Stuever of the Washington Post put it,
"This was a big multi-generational Vagina Monologue, starring everyone. The vibe
of the day-long rally was at once good-humored and yet deadly serious. It was
aggressive and even occasionally profane..." (4/26/04). This report has
intentionally omitted the coarser, cruder parts of the March. Needless to say,
foul words, gestures, and images were not rare.
To make the March for Women’s Lives—a pro-choice political event with secular
assumptions—acceptable to religious Americans, it needed religious and moral
legitimation. This legitimation, for those who need it, was provided by the
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Before the March began, RCRC held on the Mall a Service of Worship, which it
called a Prayerfully Pro-Choice Interfaith Worship Service. This service was
co-sponsored by the Clergy Advisory Board of Planned Parenthood, the Religious
Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, and White Fire Women
Spiritual Leaders. It included Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant,
and Sikh participants. Despite the diverse theological traditions represented on
the stage, the service’s hymns, litanies, prayers, and speeches seemed to move
the person, particularly the woman, into the center of the universe and to place
God in the position of supporting the self at the center.
For example, The Reverend Mark Pawlowski, a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor
and member of the Clergy Advisory Board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of
America, read the following: "I believe God stands with women as they end
pregnancies, just as God stands with women who deliver babies and with women who
give those babies to adoptive parents. God does not choose God’s allegiances,
God stands with all of us, regardless of where we stand. The challenge is to
stand where we are with integrity, compassion, and wisdom. When women choose to
have abortions, they are acting with integrity, aware of compassion, and
realization of their own wisdom. To doubt the integrity, compassion, or wisdom
of women is to insult women and offend God. At times it is and will be difficult
to support women in their experiences of pregnancy, but if we are to be faithful
to God and Christ, we must stand beside women and support them in lives of their
The REJOICE Choir, a community choir, opened the service. Ms. Genie Bank,
President of the WD/GBGM, helped lead the service, as did The Reverend Ignacio
Castuera. Rev. Castuera pastors St. John’s United Methodist Church in the Watts
section of Los Angeles and is the first National Chaplain for the Planned
Parenthood Federation of America. Proudly wearing his pink, Planned Parenthood
T-shirt ("Stand Up for Choice"), Rev. Castuera departed from his prepared
remarks and asserted that "religion is something we do all the time," a common
theme in United Methodist life. And the service concluded with the song "We Are
a Gentle, Angry People," which was to be heard again later in the day.
Immediately before the Service of Worship, the National Council of Jewish
Women (NCJW) held an event, which featured Rabbi Balfour Brickner, on the RCRC
stage. The rabbi launched into a diatribe against the Bush Administration and
the Religious Right. He declared that today’s battle for choice is part of the
larger culture struggle, which is against "plain, damn-fool ignorance." He also
posited that the "Religious and Secular Right are fundamentally wrong."
Lamenting that his political enemies reduce morality to sexual concerns, he
asserted that it is truly immoral to: invade Iraq, impose Pax Americana, amend
the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages, neglect environmental concerns,
and deny women health care.
Though these religious events could be theologically critiqued at some
length, and though they were not well attended, they helped to legitimate the
March for Women’s Lives. In other words, referring to the RCRC Service of
Worship, a United Methodist writing for Christian Social Action, could
cast the March in a more attractive light for Aunt Sarah, a United Methodist
living in northeast Texas.
A CONCLUDING COMMENTARY
"The March was about the politics for
abortion, for all abortion, without limits, without qualifications,
without restrictions...There was absolutely no public questioning of
abortion, any abortion."
To be sure, this reporter attended the March for Women’s Lives with certain
theological, moral, and political assumptions in play. However, at the same
time, his basic goal was to observe the March and offer an accurate report of
his observations. That is what I have attempted to do above.
Now, to my conclusions. The March for Women’s Lives was primarily a political
event. It was initiated because of political realities. It was driven by
political energy. And it was directed toward political ends. The March was about
the politics for abortion, for all abortion, without limits, without
qualifications, without restrictions. The Socialist Worker put it best: "Abortion
Rights: No restrictions/No concessions/No apologies."
(4/23/04) Therefore, the marchers would be happy to have taxpayer-funded
abortion at home and abroad. Not once, not one time, on the Mall on April 25th,
did this reporter hear abortion depicted as a tragic necessity. There was
absolutely no public questioning of abortion, any abortion.
This makes the March for Women’s Lives far more politically pro-choice than
The United Methodist Church. Paragraph 161J of The Book of Discipline
*"Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to
*"We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we
unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection."
*"We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction
(partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the
physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is
available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life."
*"[A] decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and
prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and
other appropriate counsel."
These statements from The Book of Discipline put The United Methodist
Church against the politically pro-choice position pushed by the March for
Women’s Lives—which would not question any abortion, for any reason, and which
is predominantly secular. Though United Methodism opposes the March’s politics
for abortion, The United Methodist Church’s GBCS and the WD/GBGM co-sponsored
the March, assisted in legitimating the March, and advanced the goals of the
March. Neglecting The United Methodist Church’s teaching on abortion, GBCS and
WD/GBGM soiled our church’s public witness.
This should not have happened. And this should never happen again. The United
Methodist Church’s name and witness are not for hire. The Church’s witness for
life and love and loyalty is too great and too good to be dragged into the
political theater for abortion that took place on April 25th.
On the way out of Washington late in the afternoon on the 25th, I stopped by
The United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. On the building’s front door was
displayed a sign provided by the United Church of Christ. It read: "God is still
speaking, and so are we. Protect women’s lives." Well, it is all true. God is
indeed still speaking—if we have ears to hear. And we, too, are speaking—by the
grace of God. And we should indeed protect women’s lives. But one caveat is
necessary: with God’s help, we can best help protect women’s lives by helping
women protect the lives of their unborn children. Women’s lives are not best
protected by helping them end the lives of the tiny women and tiny men in their
wombs. The Church’s God-given mission is to protect—not legitimate the
elimination—of innocent, human life. (PTS)
YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
Mrs. Cindy Evans’ mailing address is 1564 Skyview Drive/Holts Summit, MO
65043. Thanks for making note of it.
Due to technical difficulties, actually computer problems, Lifewatch
recently lost some information. If you (or someone you know) asked to be added
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probably need to make that request to Mrs. Cindy Evans a second time. Sorry
about the confusion and the resulting inconvenience to you.
As you plan for your 2005 church budget this summer and fall, please
remember Lifewatch. Your contributions are especially important due to increased
costs associated with our witness at General Conference and with the setting up
of a new office. Many thanks for remembering the ministry of Lifewatch, which is
dedicated to advancing the Gospel of Life within The United Methodist Church.
Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for
Reproductive Choice (Wipf and Stock, 2003), by Michael J. Gorman and Ann
Loar Brooks, is an outstanding book on RCRC, the Oldline Protestant
denominations (including The United Methodist Church), and abortion. It has been
available in print for nearly a year. Now it is available on CD. The Reverend
Kirk vander Swaagh, a New York City pastor who serves on the National Pro-Life
Religious Council, is the reader; and he reads very well. For your copy of
Holy Abortion? on CD, please send a $15.00 check to: Lifewatch/1564 Skyview
Drive/Holts Summit, MO 65043.
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.
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JOIN US ON THE FIRST TUESDAY OF EACH MONTH IN PRAYING AND FASTING FOR
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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."
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