MRS. RUTH BROWN:
A LIFE FOR LIFE, BECAUSE OF CHRIST
"Many in the Lifewatch
community have been blessed by her ministry…"
For over eleven years, Mrs. Ruth S. Brown has been essential to, and a
main agent in, the ministry of Lifewatch (or the Taskforce of United
Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality). Operating out of an office in her
Dothan, AL home, she served first as the Director of Lifewatch. Later,
when travel became nearly impossible for her, she became the Administrator
of Lifewatch. At the end of December 2003, she will retire from her
official Lifewatch duties. The retirement of Mrs. Ruth Brown from
Lifewatch presents an uncommon opportunity to celebrate a ministry for
life selflessly offered.
Mrs. Brown is a devout United Methodist Christian. As a follower of
Jesus Christ, she lovingly lives out her vocations in the Church and in
the world. As a member and officer of Dothan’s Cloverdale United Methodist
Church, a member and officer of the United Methodist Women, a wife, a
mother, a grandmother, and a banking executive, she has tended and tends
to her ecclesiastical and worldly responsibilities with thoughtful,
But then came the United States Supreme Court’s 1973 decisions which,
in effect, established abortion on demand as the law of the land. On
abortion, The United Methodist Church’s leadership was heading in the same
direction as the Court. At some point soon after the Court’s decisions,
Mrs. Brown was awakened to the problem of abortion in American society.
Mrs. Brown also learned of how The United Methodist Church was
accommodating herself to the pro-choice culture legalized by the Supreme
Court. Responding to Christ’s call, Mrs. Brown became active as the
founding Director of Sav-A-Life, a crisis pregnancy center in Dothan. Then
she began participating in the Lifewatch network, became the Director of
Lifewatch, and presented a paper at The Durham Declaration Conference in
Over her years with Lifewatch, Mrs. Ruth Brown has been an outstanding
servant of the Gospel of Life. She has given undivided attention, prompt
service, encouragement, friendship, and wise counsel to hundreds of United
Methodists and others committed to the protection of innocent, human life.
Many in the Lifewatch community have been blessed by her ministry with a
personal touch, which is always loving and always truthful.
Mrs. Ruth Brown has been, is, and always will be a wonderful colleague.
This is because she has been, is, and always will be a true sister in
Christ. Her person-to-person skills are unexcelled. Her written word is
clear, concise, and often powerful. Her administrative labors are
completed in timely and exacting ways. Through it all, Mrs. Brown is a
virtuous woman, a woman of her word.
Soon, Mrs. Brown will be stepping down from her work with Lifewatch.
Not surprisingly, she is doing so in the interests of the dignity of human
life: she requires additional time so that she can offer merciful ministry
to her beloved, elderly mother in need.
Mrs. Ruth Brown will be greatly missed by Lifewatch, by all of us, but
especially by this pastor. However, let us not concentrate on our loss,
tempting as that may be. Instead, let us thank God for this woman, for her
mighty faith and marvelous ministry, for her life lived for the Gospel of
Ruth, continue faithful. (PTS)
THE EVOLUTION OF OUR SOCIAL PRINCIPLE ON ABORTION
|"…[F]rom 1972 until
2000, the paragraph becomes increasingly protective of the unborn
child and mother.
In what follows, the most significant changes in The United Methodist
Church’s paragraph on abortion are indicated in rough form. Please note
how, with each successive edition of The Book of Discipline from
1972 until 2000, the paragraph becomes increasingly protective of the
unborn child and mother.
"Birth and Death. —The beginning of life and the ending of
life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals
have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now
have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals
will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us
reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the
sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating
damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past
Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that
may justify abortion.  
We call all Christians to a searching and
prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion.
  We support the removal of abortion from the criminal code, placing it
instead under laws relating to other procedures of standard medical
practice.  A decision concerning abortion should be made only after
thorough and thoughtful  consideration by the parties involved, with
medical and pastoral counsel ..." (The Book of Discipline, 1972,
Par. 72D) (The 1968 Social Principles neither suggest nor mention
abortion. However, Par. 96.III.A does state: "We believe that planned
parenthood, practiced with respect for human life, fulfills rather than
violates the will of God...")
 This rather misleading heading is replaced with "Abortion."
(The Book of Discipline, 1976, Par. 71E) To call a deed what it
is—in this case, to call abortion abortion—is always a moral achievement.
 This sentence is deleted, due to the United States Supreme Court’s
1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, and the
following statements are inserted: "We support the legal option of
abortion under proper medical procedures. Nevertheless, governmental laws
and regulations do not necessarily provide all the guidance required by
the informed Christian conscience." (The Book of Discipline, 1976,
 The phrase "thorough and thoughtful" is deleted and replaced with
"thoughtful and prayerful." (The Book of Discipline, 1980, Par.
 The phrase "medical and pastoral counsel" is deleted and replaced
with "medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel." (The Book of
Discipline, 1980, Par. 71G)
 This sentence continues with an added phrase: "and in such cases
support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures." (The
Book of Discipline, 1984, Par. 72G)
 Here, this sentence is added: "We cannot affirm abortion as an
acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a
means of gender selection." (The Book of Discipline, 1988, Par.
 These sentences are added: "We call for the Church to provide
nurturing ministries to those persons who terminate a pregnancy. We
encourage the Church to provide nurturing ministries to those who give
birth." (The Book of Discipline, 1992, Par. 71H)
 These two sentences are edited and broadened: "We commit our Church
to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a
pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who
give birth." (The Book of Discipline, 1996, Par. 65J)
 Here, this sentence is added: "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." (The Book of
Discipline, 2000, Par. 161J)
The United Methodist Church’s current statement on abortion, which is
found at Par. 161J in The Book of Discipline (2000), describes a
pro-choice- with-qualifications position. And it is pro-choice enough to
permit parts of The United Methodist Church (namely, the General Board of
Church and Society and the Women’s Division/General Board of Global
Ministries) to affiliate with the decisively pro-abortion Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). Lifewatch believes that, with
regard to life and abortion, General Conference 2004 has the opportunity
to take two very significant steps: first, to withdraw United Methodism
and its general boards from the pro-abortion RCRC; and second, to edit
lightly Par. 161J so that United Methodism becomes presumptively
protective of the unborn child and mother, and thereby rejoins historic,
ecumenical Christianity. (PTS)
A Wake-Up Call
United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call* (Information Project for
United Methodists, Kingston, NY), by Leon Howell, has just been released.
Written from a decidedly left-of-center perspective, this book offers a
review and critique of various "conservative renewal groups" within The
United Methodist Church—including the Confessing Movement, Good News, the
Institute on Religion and Democracy, Lifewatch, and others.
A paragraph from the book’s preface cuts to the chase and claims: "The
ultimate goal of these groups is to control The United Methodist Church.
Their strategy is to attain top leadership positions in the denomination.
One tactic they use is spreading misleading and inflammatory charges about
groups and individuals to United Methodists across the country. They
indulge in character assassination and seek to drive the church apart by
the use of wedge issues, calculated to cause dissension and division.
Their desire is to impose not to dialogue" (p. 4, emphasis added). Not
surprisingly, the aim of the book is to deny the renewal groups their
alleged goal of taking over the church.
We will leave it to others in other places to answer the somewhat
overheated charges and insinuations, one by one, of this book. We would,
however, like to comment on the above underlined sentence, which states
the book’s foundational assumption.
From the standpoint of United Methodism @ Risk, indeed from the
standpoint of liberal Protestantism in America today, there are two and
only two theological positions that are currently available to United
Methodists. The first position, the liberal-Protestant position, desires
"dialogue" more than anything else. How disappointing that liberalism has
moved from justice for the weak to dialogue for the privileged. According
to liberal Protestantism, dialogue is the theologically and morally
superior position for United Methodists of our day. This position, call it
liberal Methodism, assumes that every doctrinal and moral issue in the
denomination should be open to continual and endless dialogue. (While
claiming that dialogue is always in order, more than a few denominational
leaders do not make much room for dialogue when the chips are down. For
example, when the Coalition’s war against the Iraqi government was in the
daily news, many United Methodist leaders were making strong, anti-war
statements that allowed little or no room for substantive dialogue.) If
followed all the way down, the dialogical position, in which all churchly
matters are up for discussion, would lead to something that might be
called the Church of Choice. Lacking agreed-upon doctrine, morals, and
liturgy, the Church of Choice would be satisfied with turning most
everything over to individual preference. (A serious hypocrisy within the
Church of Choice model is that it is actually quite authoritarian in
practice: it rules any and all authoritative Church teaching out of order.
That is, the Church of Choice model makes authoritative Church teaching
just another option among other available options.) The book under
consideration argues that the United Methodist version of the Church of
Choice is at risk. On this point, the book is probably correct.
The second position, according to liberal Protestantism, involves the
willingness of some to "impose" their teaching on United Methodists and on
The United Methodist Church. That is, the "conservative renewal groups"
seek to impose by political means their will, regarding doctrine and
morals, on the greater denomination. This option, according to the
liberal-Protestant side, is at least "authoritarian" and perhaps even
"fundamentalist" in its style and substance. Furthermore, it is allegedly
rather mean-spirited, unthinking, and rigid.
Yes, the above descriptions of these two positions are caricatures. But
they attempt to capture the vision that inspires liberal Protestantism to
promote dialogue and to demote imposition, that romanticizes liberal
Methodism and demonizes evangelical-orthodox Methodism.
Beyond Dialogue and Imposition
Those of us in the Lifewatch community and many in the other
"conservative renewal groups" are convinced that there is another option,
another position, beyond the options of dialogue and imposition. We firmly
believe that to be the way of proposal. In other words, wishing to push
beyond a dialogue in which all perspectives are assumed to be acceptable
and beyond a political imposition of theological will, we United
Methodists are dedicated to proposing the truth of the universal Church’s
faith. The Church’s faith is a gift received from God through Scripture,
through the Holy Spirit, through the Church, and through the Church’s
Great Tradition. The faith of the Church is not ours to manipulate, add
to, or subtract from. The faith of the Church is not ours to dilute or
otherwise change, for the sake of increased acceptability by the general
culture. Nor is it ours to force, by means of intimidation or power
politics, on others. Rather, the faith of the Church is ours to propose.
To propose is to witness, to offer, to persuade. To propose is to
attempt to serve the truth. To propose Christian truth, one assumes that
not all perspectives are doctrinally and morally equivalent. And to
propose Christian truth, one assumes that faithful service of the truth is
more important than political victories in the conferences, annual and
general, of the denomination.
"…truth is more
important than political victories ..."
Specifically, with regard to the Gospel of Life (which is most
certainly the Church’s historic, ecumenical faith), Lifewatch has
attempted to propose the truth about life and abortion in and to The
United Methodist Church for over 15 years. To be sure, at times our
proposals have been stronger and more truthful. At other times our
proposals have been less solid, too polemical, and less persuasive than
they should have been. That is to say, our proposing of the Church’s truth
about life and abortion has been far from perfect. Even so, though we at
Lifewatch have fallen short of the mark, our lofty goal has remained to
propose the truth, to speak the Christian truth in love about life and
abortion, within our beloved church. After we have proposed the Christian
truth about life and abortion, others will do with our proposal what they
will—engage it or ignore it, agree with it or disagree with it, vote for
it or vote against it, be motivated to act in its behalf or be motivated
to act against it. But despite the varied responses that our proposal
evokes, Lifewatch will have done its part: and that is to propose, as
faithfully and as lovingly and as consistently as possible, the Gospel of
Life within The United Methodist Church.
When there is "no place for truth" (David Wells), or when there is only
a very limited place for truth, within The United Methodist Church, as
liberal-Protestant thinking on the Church contends, the only available
modes of operation become endless dialogue and political imposition. But
when a place for truth is granted in our church, the mode of operation
becomes proposing reflections on the truth and responding to those
The Church cannot casually assume there is no Christian truth. And the
Church cannot ruthlessly impose Christian truth. But the Church (including
her laity, clergy, and bishops) can and should propose and serve the
truth—with humility, with steadfastness, and with good cheer. Only
after proposing the truth, let the Church dialogue and/or let the
Church vote. For whether recognized or not, the Church, including The
United Methodist Church, is first, last, and always ruled and run by
truth. And in theological and personal terms, the truth’s name is Jesus
* United Methodism @ Risk: New book, old diatribes
"THE OLD GRAY LADY" TREMBLES
By the way, "the old gray lady" is an old nickname for The New York
Times. This nickname was obviously coined before the advent of color
in the Times.
For almost twenty years now, your scribe has read The New York Times
on a nearly daily basis. (Attempting to observe the Sabbath as an aspiring
Wesleyan, I have neglected and now neglect the Sunday edition.) This habit
of reading the Times, be it good or bad or indifferent, began
during our years in New Jersey and New York; then the Times was
purchased from the box at the Edison train depot. Upon returning to North
Carolina, we maintained a mail subscription to the newspaper for over a
decade. And when the mail delivery became too erratic—have you ever tried
to read, in one evening, three issues of the Times that arrived
earlier that day?—we resorted to reading the daily at night at
Reading The New York Times can be a pleasure. Despite its sadly
predictable political and cultural slant, the newspaper contains countless
interesting and provocative articles. (For example, even its obituaries
can be fascinating.) Professor Albert Outler, the great Methodist
theologian, thought along the same lines. There was a time in Outler’s
life when he had some time to burn. So he obtained stacks of this
particular newspaper, methodically read through them (how else for a
Methodist?), and clipped and filed articles to which he might refer in his
future preaching, teaching, and writing. Evidently, reading the Times,
for Outler, was better than watching movies.
Needless to say, The New York Times, during most of its century
and a half, has possessed and exercised a tremendous amount of
journalistic, political, and cultural power in American society. For
generations, what the Times printed set the agenda for many other
newspapers across the nation, for radio news, and for network television’s
news. Boasting "All the News That’s Fit to Print" on page one of each
issue, the Times was the self-confident, left-of-center voice of
elite opinion in our society. Its news articles, its editorials, and most
of its guest editorials maintained a party line that was not often broken.
For example, regarding the issue of abortion, the Times was always
pro-choice, if not pro-abortion. Therefore, when the United States House
of Representatives passed the partial-birth abortion ban in June, the
Times editorialized on "‘Partial-Birth’ Mendacity, Again" (6/4/03).
All of this is to suggest that The New York Times has played an
essential role in sustaining the legitimacy of the abortion liberty in
American law, politics, and culture. The Times, with all its
prestige and all its power, has aggressively supported Roe v. Wade
from January 1973 until the present. During these three decades, the
Times has misrepresented Roe by routinely asserting that it
legalized abortion only "during the first trimester of pregnancy."
Furthermore, discussing abortion, it has used the language of rights and
laws, not the language of rights and wrongs. And in the eyes of the
Times, there are those who are "pro-choice," and there are those who
are "anti-abortion." The term "pro-life" is not to be found in the
vocabulary or in the pages of the Times. Unfortunately, the
Times probably plays a major role in informing and forming many
denominational executives of The United Methodist Church in New York City
and Washington, DC on the issue of abortion.
But now The New York Times is experiencing some major, internal
troubles. In April of this year, Mr. Jayson Blair, a Times
reporter, was discovered to have filed many "falsified and erroneous
stories" (Shelley Emling, The News & Observer, 6/13/03). So Mr.
Blair was gone. Then Mr. Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at
the Times, resigned because of his habit of running unattributed
reports as his own. Then the scandal deepened: the resignations of Mr.
Howell Raines, the executive editor of the newspaper, and Mr. Gerald Boyd,
its managing editor, which were related to the Blair and Bragg problems,
were received in mid-June.
To many, this might seem like "a tempest in a teapot." If it does, the
tempest is indeed rough and tumble, and the teapot is relatively large.
For this journalistic scandal, coupled with declining sales of the
Times, could well be leading to a major shake-up at this national
newspaper of record.
We should not jump to conclusions and dream that The New York Times
will, in the months to come, become pro-life in its political and social
positions. But we might well hope, with regard to life and abortion, that
it will begin reporting with more honesty and with a bit more objectivity,
and that it will bring more diversity to its editorial page.
The Bible, as Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, has more than a little to
say about the pride of humanity. Human pride, the Bible makes clear, leads
to an arrogance that can neglect its critics, and then become slothful and
reckless. This applies to institutions as well as individuals. When
institutions or individuals pridefully bracket or subvert the truth, in
the service of a political or cultural agenda, the truth will inevitably
snap back sooner or later. Then a fall of some kind will follow, and an
opportunity for humility and truth-telling will arise.
While The New York Times trembles, a time for a little more
truth, even about abortion, might be at hand. But the operative word is
YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
As the first article of this issue indicates, on January 1st of next
year, Lifewatch will be in need of a new Administrator. This
position averages 30 hours per week, and it pays a small, monthly stipend.
If you sense God’s call to the ministry of Lifewatch within The United
Methodist Church and would like to apply for this position, please send
your resume to: Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth/111 Hodges Street/Morehead City,
NC 28557. Consider November 1st the deadline for application. Thank you,
in advance, for your attention and response.
Please consider placing a contribution to the ministry of Lifewatch
in your 2004 congregation’s general budget. Since next year’s
budget is now (or should be...) under construction, please call your
pastor or a committee chair to suggest and encourage a congregational gift
to Lifewatch. Many, many thanks for your attention and response.
Throughout the annual conferences of United Methodism, many
Services of Repentance and Reconciliation, regarding racism, have
recently been held. In a decade or a century, if our Lord tarries, will
similar services, with regard to abortion, take place? We do not know. But
we do know that it took a long time for Methodism to teach consistently
that slavery, according to the Church’s faith, was wrong and deserving of
elimination. "At the [American Methodist-] founding Christmas Conference
the anti-slavery plank of the discipline was written into the rules. And
early on it became a badge of virtue among converted Methodist
slaveholders to free one’s slaves. But as the bulk of [Methodist]
membership, little by little shifted south, the commitment fell to the
tempting compromise of mainline convenience. A committee was formed. By
1816, it was compelled to report to General Conference: ‘The committee to
whom was referred the business of slavery beg leave to report, that they
have taken the subject into serious consideration, and, after mature
deliberation, they are of the opinion that under the present existing
circumstances in relation to slavery, little can be done to abolish a
practice so contrary to the principles of moral justice. They are sorry to
say that the evil appears past remedy; and they are led to deplore the
destructive consequences which have already accrued, and are likely to
result therefrom.’" ("Unholy Alliances" by Bill Wylie-Kellerman,
Christian Social Action [July/August 2003], p. 12) In 1816, the
Methodist Episcopal Church was deeply compromised on slavery. In 2003, The
United Methodist Church is deeply compromised on abortion. Then the wheels
of justice turned slowly. And now the wheels of justice are turning.
Slowly. But they are turning.
Commitment to proposing the truth can lead to proposing the
question, or so suggests Mary Meehan: "[I]n the commotion of
intellectual battle, we sometimes forget that a question may be more
effective than a declaration or a long speech. Placing one or two good
questions in someone’s mind may do more good than an hour’s debate.
"A thought-provoking question for a politician might be: ‘But why
are you personally opposed to it? What is it about abortion that bothers
you?’ For someone who discusses the issue in a totally abstract way: ‘Have
you actually seen the results of abortion? If not, would you be willing to
look at a couple of pictures?’ For a lawyer: ‘Given both abortion and
euthanasia, I wonder if we’re headed for a time when the only people with
legal protection of their right to life will be the powerful—those who
need it least?’ For a psychologist or teacher: ‘Have you considered the
effect of abortion on small children? Don’t you think that knowledge of it
might terrify them?’ For a liberal: ‘Hey, whatever happened to standing up
for the little guy? And why not consider a nonviolent approach to this
issue?’" (The Human Life Review, Winter 2003, pp. 57-58)
Mr. John Carroll is the editor of the Los Angeles Times.
On May 22, 2003 he wrote a memo to colleagues at the Times on
"[c]redibility/abortion." Wrote Mr. Carroll: "I’m concerned about the
perception—and the occasional reality—that the Times is a liberal,
‘politically correct’ newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate
view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with
the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion
doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.
"The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the
third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as
requiring ‘so-called counseling of patients.’ I don’t think people on the
anti-abortion side would consider it ‘so-called,’ a phrase that is loaded
"The story makes a strong case that the link between abortion and
breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers, but I wondered as I
read it whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who
believes in it.
"Such a person makes no appearance in the story’s lengthy passage about
the scientific issue...
"The reason I’m sending this note to all section editors is that I want
everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias
from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is
suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a
whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of
"I’m no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it
presents a profound philosophical, religious, and scientific question, and
I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is
intelligent and fair-minded will do the same..." (www.laobserved.com)
That kind of institutional self-criticism and honesty is always a
welcome development—especially at a publication so important to American
John Paul II
has written: "What kind of society is worthy of the human person? The
Church responds with the unique perspective of salvation history. She
proclaims the truth that the Word of God, through whom all things were
made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt among us. He entered the world’s
history—our history—as a man, a human being, a divine Person; he took on
our history and made it complete... Truly great must be the value of human
life if the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the
salvation of all humanity."