December 2002—A quarterly news letter for United Methodists


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One of the joys of editing Lifewatch is the new, unexpected friends it brings. Growing up in Garden City, KS, I did not know Mr. Cliff Hope, one of the lawyers in our town. However, as of late, Mr. Hope has become a reader of this newsletter and a friend. Earlier this year he completed a long essay entitled “An American Primer: A Guide to the Duties of Good Citizenship.” Its section on “Respect for Life” contains this wonderful description of the respect for life found in his own household. —Editor

In February, 1973, about one month after the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, my wife confirmed that she, at the age of 48, was pregnant. It had been twelve years since our last child was born. In due course―in late July―our fifth daughter was born. Five months later, we celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Actually, we had other plans for 1973. Our eldest daughter was in graduate school, and our only son and another daughter were in college. Of the two daughters still at home, one was in high school and the other in junior high. My wife and I were registered to attend the World Peace Through World Law conference in August in Abidjan, port city of Ivory Coast. We even had talked of joining the Peace Corps or some other voluntary service, taking our 12-year-old daughter with us. Pregnancy brought an end to those plans. Abortion was never considered.

In the town of 15,000 where we had lived for 24 years, there was, of course, something of a buzz about our late expectation―a ripple of snickering, surprise, and disbelief―and some outright curiosity and concern about whatever would we do about our “predicament.” At the same time, there was an outpouring of support and congratulations. And prayers.

A number of people, mostly women, approached my wife to reassure her. “My mother was your age when I was born,” one said proudly. Others, too, talked about late-in-life births in their families.

Our family doctor, a man of few words, was unruffled. He figured the due date and allowed that the mother-to-be was healthy―not overweight, did not smoke, and got plenty of exercise. A good risk for a late pregnancy.

After a moment of silence, he said, “You know, I have an aunt and uncle who had a son when they were in the late thing that ever happened to them.”

Our time as the “talk of the town” was brief. I was reminded of it in the fall of 1989 when friends of ours, a prominent couple in a nearby farming community, learned they were expecting a fourth child when they were certain their family was complete. Their three sons were in school.

The mother-to-be, younger than 48 by several years, laughed as she said, “The day our news started circulating was the day the Berlin Wall fell. But no one talked about that where we lived. They were talking about me!”

After our daughter was born, we knew there were some who wondered if she “was all right.” By the grace of God, she was indeed.

In relating our family story, I am not saying that others should allow an unplanned child to be born just because we did. But I am saying this: whether such a child is allowed to be born should not depend on the mere wish or whim of the mother or both parents. In these times, no mother is forced to keep an unwanted child. Thousands of couples are longing to adopt a child or children. Adoption [should be] an alternative….♥


More and more, it seems, United Methodists are prone to picture The United Methodist Church as a “big tent.” That is, we United Methodists are likely to understand our denomination as a large umbrella under which various versions of, and interest groups within, United Methodism live, sometimes compete, and sometimes conflict with each other. According to this view, the organizational structures of The United Methodist Church work mainly to keep the peace between the many United Methodist styles, groups, and causes. This is the “big tent,” or the Church of Choice, at the denominational level.

More locally, there are some United Methodists who want their congregation to serve as a voluntary association in which they can religiously express themselves and their preferences. In other words, they desire a church where they can, above all else, exercise their own choices. When it comes to church doctrine, church morals, church worship, church government, and so on, they do not want any givens. Instead, they want their say, their voice, their vote, their way. These folks want, more than anything else, the congregation to be a “big tent,” a local version of the larger Church of Choice.

But there is a problem with this way of thinking. The Church of Choice runs counter to “the one holy catholic and apostolic Church” (The Nicene Creed), the Church of Christ. For the Church of Christ has a way of believing together, a way of living together, a way of worshiping together, a way of being together. For the Church of Christ is communal, historic, and eschatological―while the Church of Choice is basically individualistic and consumeristic.

Writing about Erik Peterson (1890-1960) and his theological thinking about the Church, Michael J. Hollerich summarizes: “The reality of Christianity requires public, open, objective demonstration. Its doctrines are not scholars’ opinions or subjective projections of individual religious feelings. Its worship is a ritual which links earth and heaven. Its community is not merely a voluntary association of like-minded individuals, but a public, authoritative, and quasi-political reality, the earthly ekklesia of the heavenly polis...” (Pro Ecclesia, Summer 1993)

Let’s translate in this way. The Church of Christ has doctrine to be known, preached, and transmitted. The Church of Christ has morals to be practiced and learned. The Church of Christ has faithful worship to be offered up weekly. The Church of Christ has commandments, laws, rules, and etiquette to be heeded. All of these facets of the Church are gifts from the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, and His Spirit; and they are to be employed graciously, under Christ’s Lordship, and in His Spirit’s power.

So what?

By God’s grace, The United Methodist Church can become, more fully and more faithfully, the Church of Christ. At the same time, United Methodism can set aside the self-understanding and the habits of the Church of Choice. And to the degree that United Methodism becomes the Church of Christ, we will be able to serve the redemption of more women like Mary Ann Emanuel, and to produce women and men of Christian character like Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Hope.

In the end, the Church of Choice has little, beyond passing fads and fantasies, to offer. The Church of Christ, on the other hand, offers life―life in this world, life in Christ, and life with all the saints in glory. (PTS) ♥


● We are still needing a person to serve as a Lifewatch contact or representative in each Annual Conference. Through educational, legislative, pastoral, and organizational means, each Lifewatch contact will help to advance the Gospel of Life within his/her Annual Conference. If you would like to volunteer to be a Lifewatch “contact person” in your Annual Conference, please communicate with Mrs. Cindy Evans, our Publicity and Outreach Coordinator, at 1564 Skyview Drive/Holts Summitt, MO 65043/ (573)-896-9680.

● Lifewatch will soon be represented on a Focus on the Family radio program. In November, your scribe, as part of a panel of oldline Protestants who are witnesses for the Gospel of Life, will have been interviewed. The program will then be aired during January of 2003. You are invited and encouraged to tune in.

● The Reverend Paul R. Crikelair has been one of the most faithful servants of the Gospel of Life in The United Methodist Church. For years, he has ordered and presided at the Annual Lifewatch Service of Worship on January 22nd in Washington, DC. Now Rev. Crikelair has put together a booklet entitled “Breaking the Silence: Snapshots of Pro-Life Sermons by a United Methodist Pastor.” In this booklet, over twenty sermon titles, texts, and summaries are offered for consideration by the working pastor. This is a very helpful, brief resource for homiletical reflection and preparation. For your copy, send $2 with a request to: Rev. Paul R. Crikelair/Goodwill United Methodist Church/104 Church Road/Elverson, PA 19520.

● Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, KS is one of the most notorious abortionists in the United States today. Last January, to celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, he offered free-of-charge abortions. According to reports, thirty-two women signed up for the free abortions. This is reason for sadness and for prayers for God’s mercy. This is also bracing evidence of the reach of the culture of death in our society.

● The conversation has finally begun! First, Bishop Joseph C. Sprague, of the Chicago Area, made his case explaining―or better, explaining away―some of the central, Christological truths of the faith of the Church. (Bp. Sprague’s intentions were good: he was interested in persuasively presenting the faith to the skeptics of our day. But the consequences of his good intentions were disastrous: he undermined the very faith he intended to advance.) For months Bp. Sprague’s colleagues on the Council of Bishops remained silent about Sprague’s theological case. But then, out of the Florida Area, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, the newest kid on the episcopal block, defended the faith of the Church by writing a very gentle but yet devastating critique of Bp. Sprague’s case. Then Bishop Marion M. Edwards, of the Raleigh Area, joined the discussion. Bp. Edwards strongly defended the apostolic faith against the errors emanating from Chicago. Finally, there is serious conversation, among our bishops, about the truth of The United Methodist Church’s faith. Thanks be to God! Could a serious conversation, among our bishops, about The United Methodist Church’s position on life and abortion soon follow? Lifewatch certainly hopes and prays so.

● The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) met in October for its fall board meeting. During the meeting, several petitions, which were prepared by GBCS staff and aimed at the 2004 General Conference, were considered. One petition would have diluted The Book of Discipline’s opposition to partial-birth abortion. This petition would have added the words or health to the Discipline’s current language, so that the amended sentence would read: “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 or health of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.” (Paragraph 161J) The committee dealing with this proposed petition voted 4 to 3 to recommend removal of the entire sentence against partial-birth abortion from the Discipline. The justification for removal was that “the denomination, as stated in the Discipline, takes a pro-choice position on abortion. [The church’s sentence against partial-birth abortion means that the church is] opposing a medical procedure that is available for women to choose.” The new petition, for removal, was sent to the full board. Several board members disagreed with this petition and its rationale. Most tellingly, it was pointed out that the GBCS has gone on record as being strongly opposed to human cloning; for GBCS, at the same time, to favor partial-birth abortion would make for moral non-sense. When the final vote was taken, the petition for removal was defeated by a vote of about 15 to 6, with some directors absent and others abstaining. Remember that General Conference 2000, by a vote of 622-275, placed a strong statement against partial-birth abortion in The Book of Discipline. Therefore, it is most encouraging to note the recent vote of GBCS to maintain the current position against partial-birth abortion in the Discipline.

Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier was one of the outstanding, Biblical theologians of our time. She was a tireless preacher of the Gospel, a faithful teacher of the Church catholic, an author or editor of more than twenty books and countless articles, and a regular contributor to Presbyterians Pro-Life News. On October 25th she went on to glory to join the Communion of the Saints. This is from her column, entitled “Prisoners of Hope,” in the Fall 2002 issue of PPL News (which is a reprint of her Winter 1995 column): “[The Word from the God of hope] says that the guilt of the past can be forgiven and done away. There can be a new beginning. ‘If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation’ (II Corinthians 5:17, RSV). Those who have aborted a child can find release from their guilt. Those who have engaged in sexual sins can find that old life of immorality put away forever. Those who have sanctioned abortion’s slaughter, for seemingly supportable reasons, can be granted a whole new understanding. A fresh start! Once more a beginning! Those are granted by the God of hope!

“And so too does the God who meets us in Jesus Christ transform our present. Now we are not on our own anymore. There is a Wisdom beyond us who guides us, and who can bring right out of even our wrong. There are Everlasting Arms which can carry us when we think we cannot go on. There is a Love that will not let us go even when we are most unlovable. And yes, there is a Spirit [who] can bind us together in community, so that no pregnant woman ever again need feel alone, without help and with no one to whom to turn. To every woman facing a crisis pregnancy, the God of hope extends his Word: ‘Fear not, for I am with you’ (Isaiah 43:5)―through my Spirit, through my Church, through every pro-life group who values you and your child.

“Given such a God of hope, then the future is full of promise, isn’t it? For now the prison cage has been opened, and we are no longer captives to our evil society. Nothing now is inevitable. Death does not have the last word. God is at work, the God of life, who brought Jesus Christ from the dead. He works toward the time when the death of abortion will be no more, when every tear of crisis pregnancy will have been wiped away, when the sorrow and pain occasioned by the loss of every child will be a thing of the past.

“The God of hope is also the victorious God of the future. And so we prisoners of the love of that God and of his hope press on in certain joy.”

Thanks be to God for the faithful life and ministry of Elizabeth Achtemeier! ♥



Sermon by Dr. Sondra Wheeler
Martha Asheby Carr Professor of Christian Ethics
Wesley Theological Seminary

January 22, 2002 (Wed.)―9:30-10:30 a.m.
The United Methodist Building
100 Maryland Avenue, NE―Washington, DC


3:00-5:00 p.m.
The United Methodist Building


[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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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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