December 2001 -- A quarterly news letter for United Methodists


Contents

bullet SEPTEMBER 11TH: WHAT HAS CHANGED
bullet THE GROWING CULTURE OF LIFE WITHIN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
bullet YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
bullet BOOK ORDER FORM
bullet SEND LIFEWATCH TO A FRIEND!
bullet Our Mission

 

SEPTEMBER 11TH: WHAT HAS CHANGED

On September 11, 2001, militant Islamic terrorists attacked the United States. Four jetliners, hijacked by the terrorists, were turned into missiles aimed at prominent symbols of American power. Two of the jetliners rammed and brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

There was a renewed recognition of the objective existence of moral truth, good, and evil

One crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, DC. And the other (which was allegedly headed toward the United States Capitol), due to heroism of its passengers, crashed and burned in rural Pennsylvania. Besides the suicidal terrorists, around six thousand innocents - that is, noncombatants, including children - died in this vicious, cold-blooded crime against humanity. The United States and most of the rest of the world were shocked by this terrorist action. In a matter of days, the global shock had turned into mourning. Then the mourning turned into political, moral, and theological reflection on what had happened. And the reflection has now turned into national and international responses - military and otherwise - to the terrorists and their collaborators.

Time and time again, it was said by commentators that, on September 11th (or “9/ll”), “everything has changed” in the United States. “Everything has changed” is one of those overstatements that, because so many repeat it so often, takes on a life and reality of its own.

In one sense, “everything has changed” seems exactly right. When the terrorism of September 11th occurred, the thinking, ideas, and claims found in American public life were altered. Dramatically altered. Having suffered the murderous attack, Americans suddenly began hearing, reading, and using a vocabulary with which many were unaccustomed. After September 11th, the defining power of moral relativism was diminished, if not banished, from American public life. For after September 11th, the conversations in American public life began to be sprinkled with such phrases as “the dignity of the person” and “the sacredness of human life.” After September 11th, there was a renewed recognition of the objective existence of moral truth, good, and evil. And after September 11th, there was an acknowledgment of innocents being unjustly killed.

For years, this way of thinking and these ideas - call it moral realism - have been kept alive in the Gospel-of-Life community in the United States. Those committed to the Gospel of Life have, over the decades, maintained a moral clarity and decisiveness that are at odds with the general culture. But now, in the aftermath of September 11th, it seems that that same moral clarity and decisiveness are being extended throughout the culture at large. In other words, those committed to the Gospel of Life seem to be providing the moral vocabulary and categories to the United States, as the nation seeks to understand and respond to September 11th.

The same moral clarity which came to our nation on September 11th counsels our nation to seek justice, not a ruthless vengeance. It encourages our nation toward a response based on the guidance of just-war theory - for the sake of justice and protection of the innocent. At the same time, true moral clarity would never permit the United States to launch a crusade that would involve the direct and intentional killing of thousands of noncombatants.

Moral descriptions such as the “dignity of the human person” and “sacredness of human life,” moral truth and good and evil, and noncombatant innocents are not empty or plastic claims. Because these terms refer to reality, they cannot be called into play to justify an unjust war against terrorism fought in an unjust way. (And if the political powers that be would attempt to use these terms to underwrite unjust military actions, these terms will, in time, be seen to judge and condemn the actions they were earlier used to support.) These claims, provided by the Gospel of Life, are powerful guides always and everywhere, during times of peace and times of war. For in the end, they aim to protect and advance life.

Father Robert A. Sirico, of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, sums up the horror and the hope of September 11th: “Yet underneath the most mundane of our activities is a greater truth - a Truth that undergirds the whole of the universe. That Truth is that human life is sacred because it has an origin in the eternity of God’s grace, as well as a destiny in his love. It is because of this reality - that human beings are created in the image of God - that the heinous action of diabolical fanatics is such a crime.

“Thankfully, such forces are doomed to ultimate failure because the logic of their Culture of Death leads to self-immolation and destruction, whereas the logic of our Culture of Life leads to replenishment, creativity, and growth.” (Acton Notes, October 2001) (PTS)


THE GROWING CULTURE OF LIFE WITHIN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

All of a sudden, the Culture of Life is growing within The United Methodist Church. This is not wishful thinking. It is reality. This flourishing can be seen in United Methodism’s official teaching on capital punishment, abortion, assisted suicide, and embryonic stem-cell research.

Regarding capital punishment, General Conference 2000 relocated United Methodism’s official statement on capital punishment, placed it under The Social Principles’ “Basic Freedoms and Humans Rights” (Paragraph 164A), and refined it to read: “...the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching, and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs. For the same reason, we oppose capital punishment and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.”

Regarding abortion, the 2000 General Conference added this sentence to the 2000 Book of Discipline paragraph on abortion (“The Nurturing Community,” Paragraph 161J): “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.”

Regarding assisted suicide, the most recent General Conference boldly declared through The Social Principles in The Book of Discipline (“The Nurturing Community,” Paragraph 161M): “The Church does not endorse the enlistment of medical providers, who are charged to cure and to care, to assist people in taking their own lives.”

And regarding embryonic stem cell research, Mr. Jim Winkler, who heads the General Board of Church and Society, wrote a summer 2001 letter to President Bush. In his letter Winkler noted that such research seems “to be destructive of human dignity and speed[s] us further down the path that ignores the sacred dimensions of life and personhood and turns life into a commodity to be manipulated, controlled, patented, and sold.” Furthermore, he declared: “After prayerful reflection, I am moved by my faith, by careful reading of official United Methodist policy and teachings, and by my abiding concern for human dignity, justice, and the integrity of God’s creation...” (United Methodist Reporter, 8/10/01) Mr. Winkler’s strong statement is based on The Book of Discipline’s Paragraph 162L, and on The Book of Resolution’s 89 (“Bioethics Task Force”), 90 (“New Developments in Genetic Science”), and 91 (“Human Cloning”). (See “On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research,” Lifewatch, September 2001.)

Let it be noted that United Methodism’s current, official positions on partial-birth abortion and embryonic stem cell research are at odds with the current, official positions of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice [RCRC], a pro-choice political lobby. RCRC is flatly opposed to any restriction on any abortion, including any partial-birth abortion. And RCRC affirms “the morality of using embryonic and fetal tissue...” It is obvious that there is a pressing need for United Methodism’s General Board of Church and Society and General Board of Global Ministries/Women’s Division to end their present affiliation with RCRC. The sooner, the better. This would be one more, significant step in nurturing the Culture of Life that is now growing, at a rather considerable rate, in our denomination.

THAT PERSISTENT PROBLEM

In the area of abortion, the Culture of Life within United Methodism finds persistent growth most difficult. United Methodism’s official statement on abortion - Paragraph 161J in The Book of Discipline - remains highly ambiguous. That is, the paragraph on abortion is open to both pro-life and pro-choice interpretations. As a result, for all practical purposes, the paragraph functions as a pro-choice statement. Indeed, as noted above, this paragraph, even with its rejection of partial-birth abortion, permits institutions within The United Methodist Church to associate with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The question arises: Why does The United Methodist Church find it so difficult to be clearly and unambiguously protective of the unborn child and mother? Several responses come to mind, such as ideological feminism and political correctness. However, both of these forces appear to be on the decline within the United Methodist household. So the answer to the above question appears to lie elsewhere.

Perhaps United Methodism’s lack of clarity on abortion is simply a matter of The United Methodist Church reflecting American culture. In a column entitled “Have It Your Way in the New Moral Order” (The Carteret County News-Times, 8/31/01), John Leo accurately describes current American morality: “Much of [Alan Wolfe’s Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice] analyzes various virtues and argues that Americans uphold the old virtues in principle while in practice turning them into personal ‘options’...

“This would explain much of the gap between polls on moral issues and actual behavior. Several polls, for instance, show that between 50% and 60% of Americans think abortion is a form of murder. An annual survey of college freshmen consistently shows that about half of those polled think abortion should be illegal. Yet the prevalence of abortion points to a more relaxed moral standard when the chips are down...

“Wolfe’s Moral Freedom seems to whisk away duty and obligation, relieving us all of the burden of doing anything costly...” (Though Leo’s column appeared before September 11th, its observation are still accurate, for the most part. Even if the moral relativism of elite American opinion makers has indeed been undercut by the events of 9/11, and even if moral realism is on the increase throughout the society, many Americans remain reluctant to do the right thing regarding abortion, when doing the right thing does not feel good.)

But the Church, including The United Methodist Church, has the “duty and obligation” to proclaim and to practice “the cost of discipleship” (Bonhoeffer) - even when discipleship concerns life and abortion. As long as United Methodism remains comfortable with the current morality of American culture, our church will continue its intentionally ambiguous position on abortion. But when United Methodism discerns that God desires for and demands from the Church more than contemporary American morality offers, The United Methodist Church will become more clearly protective of the unborn child and mother. Then the Culture of Life will have reached a commendable maturity in the people called United Methodist. (PTS)


YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT

● As many ministries these days, Lifewatch is currently experiencing a very dramatic downturn in contributions. Therefore, we encourage you to give as you are able. Also, have you considered suggesting to your congregation’s Finance Committee and Administrative Council that they include a contribution to Lifewatch in the annual church budget? Many, many thanks for your thoughtful and generous responses.

● January 20-27, 2002 is considered Sanctity of Human Life Week. There are materials available that can help your congregation observe the week. For example, a Sanctity of Human Life Handbook, bulletin inserts, and other items. If you are interested in receiving these materials or others, contact Focus on the Family at www.family.org or at (800)232-6459.

Christians, Hauerwas believes, are called to be a pilgrim people who will always find themselves in one political community or another but who are never defined completely by it.

● The Reverend James Lawson is a civil-rights activist and a retired United Methodist pastor. His is a rather active retirement. This United Methodist has many public engagements and involvements - some of which are reported in the denominational press. For example, Rev. Lawson had been scheduled to speak at Christian Brothers University, a Roman Catholic school. Pax Christi USA, which is headquarters for the national Catholic movement for peace, was holding its annual conference on August 3-5 at the university and had made the arrangements for Rev. Lawson to speak. But then Brother Stanislaus Sobczyk, who is president of the Memphis University, stepped in. Brother Sobczyk banned Rev. Lawson from the Memphis event. The reason given: on abortion, Rev. Lawson is aggressively pro-choice. (Newscope, 7/20/01)

Rev. Lawson’s friends might protest that this action is a blow to Christian unity. However, we are not convinced by such a protest. Christian unity, that is actually Christian and that is really about unity, is always based in truth, Christian truth. And furthermore, Christian truth through the ages has been, is, and will be protective of unborn children and their mothers. Therefore, Christian unity in Christian truth does not allow teachers (even those who are clergy) who promote violations of civil rights (of unborn children, in this case) to speak at conferences held on church-related campuses.

Three cheers for Brother Sobczyk and for his morally clarifying action! We hope and pray that his action will help Rev. James Lawson to rethink and perhaps reject his anti-ecumenical, pro-choice advocacy.

● Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University Divinity School was recently selected, by Time, America’s best theologian. In an excellent description of Prof. Hauerwas, Dr. Jean Bethke Elshtain, who teaches social and political ethics at the University of Chicago, had this to say: “Hauerwas has been a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years. For him, the message of Jesus was a radical one to which Christians, for the most part, have never been fully faithful. Christians, he believes, are called to be a pilgrim people who will always find themselves in one political community or another but who are never defined completely by it. Thus, as the body of Christ on Earth, Christians must be a ‘sign of contradiction,’ to borrow a term from Pope John Paul II, a moral theologian much admired by the very Anabaptist Methodist Hauerwas. Hauerwas recently argued that in a human future he believes will be bleak, Christians should be known as ‘those peculiar people who don’t kill their babies [through abortion] or their old people [through euthanasia].’

Dr. Elshtain goes on to summarize Hauerwas’ message of the cross: “God revealed himself in inauspicious circumstances - in a provincial backwater of the Roman Empire and among a beleaguered people, the Israelites. Through his ministry and death, Jesus offered humankind a radical vision of forgiveness and freedom from revenge. To a world obsessed with power, that is outrageous. An omnipotent God incarnate who relinquishes his power and dies an ignominious death in order that human beings might ‘have life and have it more abundantly’? Whoever heard of such a thing?” (Time, September 17, 2001)

Also, it should be noted that The Hauerwas Reader has just been published by Duke University Press (Box 90660/Durham, NC 27708-0660). Edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, this volume is an outstanding collection of thirty-one pieces by Hauerwas - including “Abortion, Theologically Understood,” which Lifewatch has published and distributed. The Hauerwas Reader is a fine introduction to Hauerwas’ always provocative thought.

● There are some statements, sprinkled throughout “Christian conversation” these days, that really do inspire courage and determination. “Let the Church be the Church!” “The Church is against the world for the world!” “We Christians are resident aliens!” “The Church goes against the stream!” And even “No!” Richard John Neuhaus, Stanley Hauerwas, William Willimon, and Karl Barth are famous for issuing and/or recalling such rallying cries.

Well, the July 13th issue of Newscope mentions that the Virginia Conference did not pass a resolution that would have had the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division (of the General Board of Global Ministries) withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The motivating force behind this conference action (or inaction) might be characterized in one or more of the following ways. “Let the Church be the world!” “The Church is for the world, for the world!” “We Christians are comfortable citizens!” “The Church goes with the stream!” “Yes!” How sad when we United Methodists become so bland and lite.

The same issue of Newscope reports that the 2001 Wisconsin Conference voted to ask each congregation in the conference to support, in all ways, “at least one family or a woman in a crisis pregnancy.” And prior issues of the same periodical note that the North Georgia and Missouri West conferences passed resolutions similar to the one that the Virginia Conference rejected. How exciting when we United Methodists are salty and light!

● “In the way the story is usually told, the Confessing Church movement in Germany pursued a valiant opposition to Hitler in behalf of the [C]hurch but did not yet see how clearly how dire and unique was the threat against the synagogue. Not so, argues [Eberhard] Busch [in his book, Unter dem Bogen des einen Bundes: Karl Barth und die Juden 1933-1945, Neukirchener Verlag, 1996]. In a number of little-known addresses and letters, [Karl] Barth had proclaimed as early as 1933 that one was not preaching the [G]ospel of Jesus Christ in Germany if one was not also preaching specifically against the persecution and disappearance of the Jews. It was this advocacy in behalf of the Jews that led to Barth’s expulsion from Germany, insists Busch, and not just some general failure on Barth’s part to support Hitler. As a matter of fact, his pro-Jewish position brought him into mounting conflict with the Confessing Church leadership and led eventually to his being unwelcome at its meetings. To put it plainly, the reason Barth had to leave Germany was because the compromised leadership of the Confessing Church movement itself no longer supported him.” (William Stacy Johnson, “Barth and Beyond,” Christian Century, 5/2/01, emphasis added)

Why this biographical excursion into the theological ministry of Karl Barth? Because the parallels with our time are unavoidable.

As Barth resisted “the persecution and disappearance of the Jews” in the Germany of 1933, so we United Methodists must now resist the Culture of Death as it now targets unborn children, their mothers, human embryos, the infirm, and the elderly. Indeed, we should truthfully claim: one is not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the United States today if one is not preaching specifically for the protection of innocent, human life and against abortion, the destruction of human embryos, and euthanasia. Certainly, Barth knew that his proclamation against Germany’s destruction of the Jews was risky and unpopular. And certainly, we know that the preaching of the Gospel of Life does not sit well with some United Methodists - especially some United Methodist leaders. But in Germany of 1933 and in the United States of 2001, such preaching serves the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the Gospel of Life. And that is what counts.

● Kay C. James, who has served as an assistant secretary for public affairs in the United States Department of Health and Human Services and as an executive with the One-on-One Foundation, had just completed a pro-life presentation. She was immediately confronted, rather personally and insensitively, by a woman identified as an abortion-clinic counselor. The challenger said: “Mrs. James, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You are obviously so middle-class that you can’t relate to the needs of the poor. You don’t understand why a poor woman would need abortion services to improve the quality of her life.”

Kay James responded: “Tell me how would you counsel a woman who comes to you in tears and says, ‘I’m pregnant, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I already have four children. My husband is suffering from alcoholism, and he physically abuses the children and me. He can’t hold a job, and I don’t know how I’m going to put food on the table.’”

The abortion counselor answered Mrs. James: “The most loving thing that woman could do would be to have an abortion. What loving mother would bring a child into the world under those circumstances? What quality of life could that child be expected to have?”

Then Kay James replied: “I have a vested interest in how you would counsel that woman, because that woman was my mother. And that fifth child she carried was me. And in case there is any doubt in your mind, the quality of my life is very, very good. My husband, Charles, and I have three children and have adopted a fourth. I was born into a family struggling against poverty and alcoholism, but I am an example of what the power of Jesus Christ can do in the life of a believer.” (Catholic New York, October 2001)

● “As John Paul II wrote in his encyclical letter, Redemptoris missio, ‘People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories’ (n. 14). A strength of personal witness lies in the fact that it is available to all, no matter one’s circumstances, state of life, or personal vocation.

“Such personal witness can take many shapes - and should take many shapes, as each of us are graced with different talents and abilities. Aside from the traditional acts of repentance - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - we may give witness to the sanctity of life simply by being good fathers and mothers; by speaking up when confronted by ignorance; by encouraging priests and religious when they proclaim the dignity of life from the pulpit; by being persons of charity and justice; by striving to fulfill our universal and personal vocations; most of all, by infusing our actions with love, which St. John tells us in his first epistle is the most potent form of witness...” (Geoffrey Surtees of the New Hope Life Center/ACLJ-New Hope/New Hope, KY 40052)


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
12/1/01
For United Methodists


YOU AND YOUR CHURCH GROUP
ARE INVITED TO ATTEND…

THE ANNUAL LIFEWATCH
SERVICE OF WORSHIP

January 22, 2002 (Tues.)―9:30-10:30 a.m.
The United Methodist Building
100 Maryland Avenue, NE―Washington, DC
Sermon: Dr. Sondra Wheeler
Martha Asheby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics
Wesley Theological Seminary

THE ANNUAL LIFEWATCH
BOARD MEETING
3:00-5:00 p.m.
The United Methodist Building

HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!

[For easier admission to The United Methodist Building on January 22nd, you might bring this issue of Lifewatch to Capitol Hill.]

 

 

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Lifewatch is published by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

 

Our Mission:

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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