12/1/98 -- A quarterly news letter for United
That is one of the legal phrases that American society learned during the
Watergate days of the early 1970s. Now, due to the Office of the Independent Counsel
Kenneth W. Starr, its investigation of President Clinton, and an impeachment process of
one kind or another, the same phrase is revisiting American society.
Obstruction of justice, from the perspective of the legal laity, involves
words or deeds that stand in the way of truth being told and justice being done. To
obstruct justice is to deny truth and justice, at least for a season. To obstruct justice
is to commit a crime against the law, the legal community, and the larger community.
Therefore, to obstruct justice is no small mistake. It is serious business.
This legal conceptthe obstruction of justicehas, once again,
become a powerful category in our political culture. So powerful that one might even be
tempted to apply it to The United Methodist Church and its current position on abortion.
It is a temptation too powerful for your editor to resist.
Those of us who have been called to witness to the Gospel of Life within
United Methodism often ask: Why, for a generation now, has The United Methodist Church
stood with the pro-choice and pro-abortion forces in American society? Why, oh why, has
this happened? Our first answer has been accommodation. That is, on the basis of
sociological evidence, we contend that many leaders of The United Methodist Church have
been accommodated to certain cultural quarters of American societythe so-called
prestige media, the colleges and universities, political ideologies that are either
libertarian or "progressive," ideological feminism, and the entertainment
industriesthat approve of and/or promote the abortion cause.
However, our answer should become more specific. That is, we should point
out exactly where the most obvious accommodation has occurred and now occurs in the
church. On that score, we claim that our denomination's Council of Bishops is the
institution in The United Methodist Church that has let our denomination drift into the
pro-choice position. Furthermore, it is the Council of Bishops that has let United
Methodism remain rather comfortably in that position for a generation.
The point of this claim is not to bark and snap, in a journalistic way, at
the Council of Bishops. Nor is the point to express anger or mean-spiritedness at the
Council, and then to feel better after the emotional outburst. Rather the point of this
claim is to understand where the responsibility lies for our denomination's current
pro-choice position on abortion, for our denomination's current collaboration with the
culture of death. Again, that responsibility lies, we believe, with the Council of
Granted, very few of the bishops are out in the church and society making
pro-choice and pro-abortion arguments. Instead, most of the bishops are simply silent on
abortion. But their silence lets othersfor example, the General Board of Church and
Society, the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, their executives,
and the pro-choice delegates elected to General Conference every four yearsmake the
pro-choice case within and for the church. Again, the bishops are the denominational
leaders who grant permission, by their silence, to pro-choice spokespersons to make the
pro-choice case and lead the way.
What Bishops Should Do
Bishops, according to the tradition of the Church catholic and to The
Book of Discipline, are charged "to lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal
affairs of The United Methodist Church, which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
and particularly to lead the Church in its mission of witness and service in the
world." (Paragraph 414.1) Furthermore, bishops are sent out "to guard,
transmit, teach, and proclaim, corporately and individually, the apostolic faith as it
is expressed in Scripture and tradition, and, as they are led and endowed by the Spirit,
to interpret that faith evangelically and prophetically." (Par. 414.3, emphasis
added) In addition, "The Council of Bishops is charged with the oversight of the
spiritual and temporal affairs of the whole Church..." (Par. 427.3)
Simply stated, The United Methodist Church has bishops so that the
bishops, individually and as the Council of Bishops, will lead the church. Bishops are not
just administrators, though they must have administrative skills. Nor are they just
organizational executives, though they must execute policies for the good of the
denomination. Nor are they just referees over the constant contesting that occurs within
our pluralistic community, though they will most certainly do some refereeing. Nor are
they just peacemakers, though they should have the gifts and graces to make peace in many
conflicted circumstances. Rather, bishops should be leaders. And they should be leaders
whose leadership is based on "the apostolic faith as it is expressed in Scripture and
Considering Our Bishops
With regard to the problem of abortion, the Council of Bishops has not led
The United Methodist Church toward the traditional teaching of the apostolic faith. The
apostolic faith was never silent on abortion and was most certainly never pro-choice. From
its beginnings, the apostolic faith always opposed abortion because it understood an
abortion as the taking of one innocent human life and the injuring of another. The
apostolic faith promoted and promotes protection of the unborn child and mother; the
apostolic faith does not promote choice.
How has the Council of Bishops led The United Methodist Church to respond
to the 35 million abortions performed in American society since 1973? With silence. And
how does the Council of Bishops lead United Methodism to respond to the nearly 3,800
abortions performed in the United States on this very day? With silence. Indeed, Lifewatch
would welcome information of the Council opposing just one abortion, because we do not
have such information at the present. For the Council of Bishops to remain silent on
abortion, the Council has had to silence the teaching of the apostolic faith on that
subject. And that involves obstruction of truth and justice.
Why pick on the Council of Bishops here?, some will surely ask. After all,
the Council can only speak in ways allowed by The Book of Discipline. Our answer is
that we are not intending to pick on anybody. We are simply expecting those who are our
designated leadersindeed, our consecrated leadersto lead. And if that means
that the Council should get out in front of the Discipline, based on the apostolic
faith, then that is what it should do. It should be able to do no other.
The leadership of the Council of Bishops is crucial to The United
Methodist Church. Its leadership counts. After all, if the Council of Bishops addresses a
concern, the denomination follows and addresses the same concern. On the other hand, if
the council is silent about a matter, the denomination as a whole, except for dissenting
voices here and there, tends to be silent about the same matter. As a church, we tend to
follow our leaders. And that is the way it should be. Our leaders tend to give our
churchclergy, laity, and congregationspermission, encouragement, and courage
to go in certain directions and avoid other directions. These facts increase the
importance of leaders leading truthfully and lovingly in the apostolic faith. When such
leadership in the apostolic faith is lacking, confusion in the church and in the church's
teaching always results.
All of that said, we can now claim, with more than a little sadness, that
the Council of Bishops is now obstructing truth and justice, so to speak. On the matter of
abortion, by not leading the denomination according to the apostolic faith, by not
speaking the truth in love, the Council is standing in the way of The United Methodist
Church speaking and living more truthfully, more justly.
This is not a call to write off the Council of Bishops as irredeemable, as
hopeless. Rather, this is a call to pray, with great faith and hope in God's providence,
for the Council of Bishops and for its conversion regarding abortion. In addition, this is
a call for you, Lifewatch readers, to engage our bishops, one by one, in Christian
conversation about abortion; to have serious dialogue with our bishops about the universal
Church's continuous, apostolic witness on abortion; to wrestle with our bishops over what
that witness should mean for the Council of Bishops and The United Methodist Church today;
to display before, and expect from, our bishops intellectual honesty about historic
Christianity's teaching on abortion; and to push our bishops far beyond their commonplace
statement, "Well, I believe what The Book of Discipline says about
abortion." Belief in what The Book of Discipline says about abortion is
insufficient for bishops of the Church of Jesus Christ. For what the Discipline
says about abortion goes against what the apostolic faith has taught and now teaches about
Then, one day, after this Christian conversation with the bishops has been
burning on for a while, a few bishops will repent of their silence on abortion. Then, one
day, these few bishops, when meeting with the Council of Bishops, will begin to speak out
of the apostolic faith on abortion. Then, one day, these few bishops will lead the Council
of Bishops and The United Methodist Church to do the same. Then, one day, this obstruction
of truth will end. Then, one day, this obstruction of justice will cease. (PTS)
for a Group from Your Church to Affend
Friday, January 22, 1999
Simpson Memorial Chapel
The United Methodist Building
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Also, please remember you are invited to
attend Lifewatch's Reception at 3:00pm and Annual Board Meeting at 4:00 p.m. in The United
As The United Methodist Church prepares for yet another season of Annual
Conference sessions in 1999 and yet another General Conference in 2000, the Lifewatch
community can and should be preparing to lead our denomination toward a more faithful
witness on life and abortion. With that challenge in mind, we offer the following model
Lifewatch invites and encourages you to bring this resolution to the floor
of your Annual Conference session this coming spring or summer. You might have your local
church approve it and submit it to your Annual Conference. Or you might gather a group
from your District or your Conference to endorse it and send it in. Or you, as an
individual, might offer it to your Annual Conference. Whatever means you employ, please
make sure that this resolution is brought to a vote during the 1999 session of your Annual
To get this model resolution to the floor of your Annual Conference
next summer, you will need to submit a copy of the resolution, edited for your home
conference, to your conference office before your conference's resolution deadline.
Some deadlines, we understand, are as early as mid-January 1999, so it would be good to
get cracking on this project immediately, if not sooner.
Your effort, in service of the Gospel of Life, might well assist General
Conference 2000 in stepping away from United Methodism's present pro-choice, indeed
pro-abortion, position. Your effort, in service of the Gospel of Life, might well help
General Conference 2000 to break ranks with the culture of death and join the culture of
Our thanks to Ruth Brown, James A. Gibson, Michael J. Gorman, John E.
Juergensmeyer, Rob Richey, and Marc Rogers for their wise counsel and helpful assistance
in crafting this model resolution.
Also, thank you for your careful attention, your prayerful consideration,
and your affirmative response. And may the Lord be with you as you advance this Christian
witness for life.
RESOLUTION: AMENDING THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE'S PARAGRAPH ON ABORTION
WHEREAS, the Church has witnessed and worked, through the ages, to protect
"the least of these" (Matthew 25:40), including unborn children and their
mothers; that is, from the Didache to the Church Fathers, from Martin Luther and
John Calvin and John Wesley to Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Albert Outler and
Paul Ramsey to Mother Teresa, the teachers and teachings of the Church have consistently
promoted protection of the unborn and their mothers;
WHEREAS, Paragraph 65J of the 1996 Book of Discipline states belief
in "the sanctity of unborn human life" and "the sacredness of the life and
well-being of the mother;"
WHEREAS, Paragraph 65J on abortion, as it now reads, is morally ambiguous;
therefore, this paragraph is incapable of rendering moral guidance on abortion that is
consistent with historic Christian teaching and with its own affirmations; this is
particularly tragic in American society, which has counted over 35 million abortions
performed since 1973 and now averages approximately 3,800 abortions performed each day;
WHEREAS, Paragraph 65J's moral ambiguity has allowed The United Methodist
Church's General Board of Church and Society, along with the Women's Division of the
General Board of Global Ministries, to affiliate with and support the Religious Coalition
for Reproductive Choice, a political lobby that advocates abortion on demand in American
society and contradicts Paragraph 65J's own assertion of "the sanctity of unborn
AND WHEREAS, Paragraph 65J is sufficiently ambiguous to allow United
Methodist leaders to support, in a public way, the continued legal status of partial-birth
abortion, a procedure which only the most radical advocates of abortion approve;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the 1999 session of the _______________
Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church hereby charges its Conference Secretary,
using the entire rationale stated above, to petition General Conference 2000, in a timely
and appropriate manner, to amend Paragraph 65J of The Book of Discipline to read:
"Paragraph 65(J) Abortion--Human beings are created by God.
The beginning of
life human lives and the ending of life
human lives are the God-given boundaries of earthly,
human existence. While Not only have individuals have
always had some degree of control over when they would die, but also, through much
of history, they now have had the awesome power
to determine when and even whether new individuals will would
be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn all human
life, including the unborn, as God's gift, as affirmed in Scripture, tradition,
and experience, 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 and rare
conflicts of, where the life of the unborn child
with directly and immediately threatens the physical life
of the mother, that may seem to justify abortion, and in such
cases encourage clergy and congregations to pray for and support such mothers and
their families. support the legal option of abortion under proper medical
procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control,
and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We deplore the
use of the cruel form of late-term abortion known as 'partial-birth abortion,' in which
the infant is killed as she is being born; and we believe it should be illegal, except in
cases where the mother's life is threatened. We also deplore the murdering of those who
perform, and who assist in the performance of, abortions; such murdering violates basic
Christian teaching. We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful
inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion. We
commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries (including the
ministry of forgiveness) to those who terminate a pregnancy for any
reason, and hospitality ministries (including the ministry of adoption) to those
in the midst of a crisis difficult pregnancy, and to
those who give birth. We recognize that governmental laws and regulations
do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian teaching
conscience, and affirm that such laws and regulations should not
permit or advance, among the citizenry, a casual disregard for unborn human life. In a
culture which devalues human life, the Church is a community of life, offering the
life-giving, life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only
after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical,
pastoral, and other appropriate counsel."
[In this paragraph, boldface type indicates insertion, and
Submitted by _______________________
[The text of this model resolution can be copied from the Lifewatch Website: http://home.sprynet.com/sprynet/tumaslw/
PLEASE JOIN US ON THE FIRST TUESDAY OF EACH
MONTH IN PRAYING AND FASTING FOR LIFEWATCH'S CONTINUING MINISTRY.
Within The United Methodist Church there are all kinds of
"unofficial" groups alive, well, and at work. Tens of them. From Affirmation to
UMAction, from Good News to the Methodist Federation for Social Action, from the
Confessing Movement to MARCHA. Lifewatch, of course, is among this number.
All of these various groups are busy putting out periodicals, holding
conferences, releasing statements, making declarations, engaging in public and private
arguments, trying to nudge United Methodism in this direction or that. They are centers of
vitality within the denomination, and most of them are unafraid of controversy.
It is understandable why some of the "official" denominational
leaders sometimes grow weary of all the stuff these unofficial groups do. At times such
leaders will lament that these unofficial groups are threatening, if not tearing at, the
unity of The United Methodist Church. They will commonly bemoan all of the unofficial
outfits and what they are doing to the larger church. At the end of a long day, in a
moment of weakness, they probably even wish that all the unofficial organizations would
just go awayfor the good of the church, they say.
Implicit in this critical look at the unofficial, activist side of the
denomination is the assumption that all the unofficial groups are the same. Granted, from
a sociological perspective, they appear to be very similar. All of them have mailing
lists, raise funds, publish, deal with the denominational press, advocate their agendas,
and on and on.
However, theologically speaking, all of these groups are not the same.
Some of them are committed to the faith once for all delivered to the saints, to the faith
of the Church. Some of them are committed to serving, and not changing, the truth of the
Gospel. Some of them are committed to reforming and renewing The United Methodist Church
in the same Gospel.
Therefore, it is probably best not to understand all unofficial groups as
theologically equal. Certainly, all of them will create a certain amount of trouble,
sometimes diminishing the sense of business as usual, in the larger denomination. But when
that trouble is for the sake of the Gospel and when that trouble is made by people
grounded in Christian truth and love, the troublemaking group, even if it is unofficial,
should be welcomed. (PTS)
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/e, 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
Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002-5664
20 October 1998
Hope you are doing well these days.
As you know, in September of this year, the United States Senate did not
have the votes necessary to overturn President Clinton's veto of the Partial-Birth
Abortion Ban Act. Leading up to the Senate vote, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive
Choice (RCRC) held a pro-veto briefing on September 17th in the Dirksen Senate Office
Building. Also on September 17th, RCRC sent a pro-veto letter to members of the United
States Senate and a news release to members of the media about the same letter.
Interestingly, the good name of The United Methodist Church does not
appearexcept in the title Methodist Federation for Social Action and in Holman
United Methodist Church, which is pastorally served by signatory James M. Lawson,
Jr. in RCRC materials related to the September 17th event.
Know that the Lifewatch community is grateful to the General Board of
Church and Society, and to you, for not participating in the pro-veto lobbying sponsored
by RCRC. To have avoided such a political dance is not the greatest good, but it certainly
is a good of lesser degree. At least that is what Christian Scripture and Tradition teach.
If you do not mind, I would like to ask you a couple of questions related
to the General Board of Church and Society's and your nonparticipation. Why were you, or
someone from your office, not present to participate in the September 17th RCRC events?
Why did you not sign the pro-veto letter put out by RCRC? Can one surmise that the General
Board of Church and Society is pulling back from politically supporting the legal
protection of partial-birth abortion? Just curious.
Again, our thanks to you.
(The Rev.) Paul T. Stallsworth
Pastor, and Editor of Lifewatch
[To date, Dr. Fassett has not responded.]
The Reverend Mark Henderson is the pastor of the Federated Church of
Sandwich, NH. In response to the Judicial Council ruling which bans the performance of
same-sex unions by United Methodist clergy, he wrote a letter, signed by some 360 United
Methodists, to each United Methodist bishop. In his letter, he notes: "Is there a
place for individual conscience in The United Methodist Church, for discerning the Spirit
of God? I hope somewhere along the line there will be someone who reads the letter and
sees there are choices one can make. Authority not only carries responsibility, it carries
opportunity." (The Raleigh News & Observer, 10/16/98)
Those of us in the Lifewatch community are quite well acquainted with this
kind of statement about "individual conscience." Indeed, it advances a certain
understanding of individual conscience that has kept The United Methodist Church
exercising and promoting choice on abortion for decades.
In response to Rev. Henderson, we also want to protect conscience.
However, our conscience, our individual conscience, needs to be formed and informed by the
Word of God, by Christian teaching. The United Methodist Church is not, or should not be,
in the business of running around and protecting individual consciences to say and do
whatever they darned well please. Rather, The United Methodist Church is, or should be,
careful to protect and inspire the consciences of Christians to act in obedience to God's
Word, out of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Father Frank Pavone leads Priests for Life in the Roman Catholic Church.
Yes, it is somewhat surprising that the community of Roman Catholic priests requires such
a pro-life organization, but evidently it does. Anyway, Fr. Pavone is a Catholic priest
who, by the grace of God, routinely writes and speaks the truth in love. Here is Fr.
Pavone commenting on Humane Vitae, whose thirtieth anniversary was July 25th of
this year: "[Humane Vitae] is a declaration of the dominion of God over human
life, and of the full beauty of human sexuality. The problem of our age is not that it is
obsessed with sex, but that it is afraid of it...afraid of the full dimensions of its
claim on human commitment, self-sacrifice, and of the fact that authentic sex does not let
us get lost in ourselves and our pleasures, but demands that we give of ourselves for the
good of the other, including the children God may give us." (Priests for Life,
The evening that the editor first read through Fr. Pavone's article, a
television ad aired during "Nightline" directed attention to a tabloid
television program that asks why marriages among Hollywood celebrities so often end in
divorce. Fr. Pavone's comments, which are quoted above, probably provide the start of an
Maureen Dowd's wonderful column, "Liberties," appears twice a
week on the opinion page of The New York Times. Her journalistic word, more often
than not, is stinging. In other words, she offers strong cultural, political, and social
medicine. Take, for example, her July 8th contribution, which was entitled "In All
His Feathered Glory." "Loving that naughty Prez" was lifted from a New
York Observer headline and enlarged in the midst of the column's text, so you get the
idea about its content.
In the same column, Dowd reports on another reporter, Ms. Nina Burleigh,
who used to cover the White House for Time and has written a book about a mistress
of J.F.K. More recently, Ms. Burleigh authored an article about President Clinton for Mirabella.
Defending her article in The Washington Post, Burleigh indicated that she would
have gladly engaged in sexual relations with Clinton "just to thank him for keeping
abortion legal." Evidently, legal collaboration in abortion warrants adulterous
favors. That is, the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments makes way for the breaking of
another (and perhaps another...).
Ms. Burleigh's rather flippant comment suggests that she has no respect
for the unborn child and her mother, no respect for herself and her own dignity and
integrity, no sense of shame for putting in print what should not be said and what is best
not thought. Her comments remind us that, following the lead of our Lord Jesus Christ, we
truly are engaged in a struggle with the culture of death. The culture of death often
states its case through seemingly sophisticated journalists writing on happening subjects
in our society's slickest magazines and most prestigious newspapers. Even so, the culture
of death is pushing death.
For more years than we care to recall, Lifewatch has asserted that to be
Christian, in any serious sense of the word, is to be pro-life. This was as true for the
early Christians as it is true for us latter-day Christians.
John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of
Life), reminds us of historic Christianity's commitment to protect the innocents:
"From the beginning, the living tradition of the Churchas shown by the Didache,
the most ancient non-biblical Christian writingcategorically repeated the
commandment 'You shall not kill': 'There are two ways, a way of life and a way of death;
there is a great difference between them...In accordance with the precept of the teaching:
you shall not kill...you shall not put a child to death by abortion nor kill it once it is
born... The way of death is this:...they show no compassion for the poor, they do not
suffer with the suffering, they do not acknowledge their Creator, they kill their children
and by abortion cause God's creatures to perish; they drive away the needy, oppress the
suffering, they are advocates of the rich and unjust judges of the poor; they are filled
with every sin. May you be able to stay ever apart, O children, from all these
sins!'" (Section 54)
Brothers and sisters in the Lifewatch community, continue faithful in the
way of life.
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