12/99 -- A quarterly news letter for United Methodists


Contents

Guest Column I: PRAGMATISM CORRUPTS THE CHURCH
LETTER FOR LIFE I: CONCERNING THOSE EXCEPTIONS
LETTER FOR LIFE II: A PERSONAL STORY
LETTER FOR LIFE III: A PUBLIC ARGUMENT
YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
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heart.gif (1031 bytes) Guest Column I:

PRAGMATISM CORRUPTS THE CHURCH

This past annual conference I was asked to sign a petition on the Church, the Church's faith and practice, and abortion. The petition called for congregations to take a more proactive role in addressing abortion by offering to adopt children born as the result of "crisis pregnancies." In spite of much support for the petition, many people claimed it was "too idealistic." Many argued that, although well intentioned, such an appeal for the adoption of unwanted children was "unrealistic," given the numerous logistical problems involved in such a proposal.

Reflecting on this debate, I recalled conversations I have had in the past concerning other ethical issues. "Jesus says, 'pray for your enemies,' and 'turn the other cheek,' when someone strikes you. I think this means Christians are called to be pacifists." In response to this statement, I have often received comments concerning how such an ethical position just does not work in the "real world." Such an ethical position simply is not "practical."

What is most troubling about many such responses is not that they are made, or by whom they are made. In most cases, the persons making such responses are extremely faithful, practicing Christians, often with greater life experience than I have. No, what is problematic is how such responses are usually made. Rather than appealing to Scripture or to Christian Tradition, "common sense" and "pragmatism" usually end up being the truly determining factors in coming to such ethical decisions. "Sure, Jesus says that we are to turn the other cheek. But this simply does not work with regard to war." Or, "Sure, we all know that abortion is undesirable, but actually having congregations adopt children just won't work in the real world."

Hearing such arguments based upon pragmatism, I wonder: "What if such 'idealistic' positions, such as churches adopting unwanted babies, were actually tried—rather than immediately dismissed as untenable?" If a practice such as church adoption were instituted, no local church would have to worry about having enough children in the youth group, or concern itself with church growth ever again! Similar to the earliest Christians (as well as the first Methodists!), congregations would be comprised of people who are termed 'unwanted' by the rest of the world. Such as the poor. The mentally and physically handicapped. The "unwanted baby."

As G.K. Chesterton once commented, "It is not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. Rather, it is that Christianity has hardly ever been tried." (Paraphrased in Yours Are the Hands of Christ by Dr James C. Howell, p. 10) Truly, the same can be said about such "idealistic" proposals as congregational adoption or pacifism. It is not that such proposals are "too idealistic. " They have just never been tried.

Besides wondering what it would look like if we actually tried to implement such "idealism," I am also deeply disturbed by pragmatism's negative effects upon the Church's ethics. Pragmatism not only replaces the Bible and Christian Tradition, the leading sources for Christian practice, but also permits the American principles of "utility" (i.e., usefulness) and "common sense" to limit the Christian Gospel of extravagant grace and Christ's foolishness. Just as St. Paul reminds us, the Gospel is "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (I Corinthians I :23, RSV) Even to Gentiles in the United States!

Perhaps our congregations cannot advocate such "idealistic" Christian-ethical projects as congregational adoption or pacifism. If this is the case, perhaps the problem lies not in the idealistic, ethical positions themselves. Rather, the problem might well lie in us for not having the courage or the faith even to try.

[This essay appeared also in the Generous Orthodoxy column of the North Carolina Christian Advocate (1119199). Rev. King [2202 White Pine Drive/Durham, NC 27705/(919) 384-9l01] is an elder and member of the Western North Carolina Conference. He is currently studying for a Th.M. in Christian-theological ethics at Duke Divinity School.]heart.gif (1031 bytes)


PLEASE JOIN US ON THE FIRST TUESDAY OF EACH MONTH IN PRAYING AND FASTING FOR LIFEWATCH'S CONTINUING MINISTRY.


LETTER FOR LIFE I:

CONCERNING THOSE EXCEPTIONS

The following letter was generated by The Confessing Movement Conference that took place in Indianapolis, IN (September 9-l l, 1999). It concerns the important matter of "exceptions." That is, it concerns what the Church should teach, preach, and practice with regard to pregnancies that result from rape and incest.

Mr. Don Thompson, who is a frequent contributor to Lifewatch, wrote this letter to Rev. William Bouknight, who is the current President of The Confessing Movement. Any forthcoming replies to Mr. Thompson's letter, from The Confessing Movement, will be carried in a future issue of Lifewatch.

The Reverend William R. Bouknight III
Christ United Methodist Church
4488 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38117-3716

September 12, 1999

Dear Bill:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I have addressed this letter to you because you are the President of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church (CM). I am also sending copies to all board members of the CM and Lifewatch, and to the Jude list [which is a group of mainly young, quite activist pastors within the CM]. It is my goal to open this discussion now, before General Conference 2000, about the sacred worth of each human life.

First, let me take this opportunity to praise the CM board for its willingness to wade into the quagmire of the life-versus-death debate at the CM Conference. It is always good for each of us to consider what God has shown us about life and to attempt to apply it in our lives.

In part, the Indianapolis Affirmation [which was adopted by the CM Conference in Indianapolis] reads as follows: "We call General Conference to affirm more strongly the sanctity of the unborn child and reject unreservedly partial-birth abortion."

I applaud this statement for rejecting unreservedly partial-birth abortion. However, does this mean the CM board is reserved about rejecting all abortion? Does the CM board believe that some abortions—e.g., in the cases of rape or incest—may be justifiable?

I know that this is a difficult question for some to answer. But official CM clarification on this point is very important to pro-life United Methodists across America.

Please consider that, if the CM professes to believe in the Bible and is calling upon our clergy and laity to "remain true to the teaching of Scripture..." [Indianapolis Affirmation], then the CM must also follow Scripture.

We dare not state that, on the one hand, we reject homosexual marriage and partial-birth abortion based on Scripture, and then, on the other hand, make exceptions for rape and incest. Nowhere in Scripture does God make these exceptions. Scripture teaches that God knows us and has a relationship with us before we are born. David states in Psalm l39:13-14: "For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works!" [RSV, here and following] Isaiah 44:2 declares: "Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you..." And Isaiah 49:1: ". . .The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name." Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. . ." And Luke 1:15: ". . .he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb."

So, if God is able to form us, knit us, help us, call us, name us, know us, consecrate us, and, if He wills, fill us with the Holy Spirit, all before we are born, then He can handle the circumstances surrounding our conception. We risk playing God if we teach or counsel anyone that a life inside the womb is not a gift of sacred worth from God and that this baby can be sentenced to death because of the tragic or horrible situation in which the child was conceived. Women need to know that the most loving option is to give life to the child. My wife and I can personally testify to the fact that even a child conceived during a rape can bring great blessings, resolution to the birth mother, and tremendous joy to us, the adoptive parents!

I pray that the Board of Directors of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church will hear the word of the Lord regarding life and will faithfully apply the same standard to yourselves that you are demanding of our bishops, "to guard, defend, and teach the historic apostolic faith without apology. If there are clergy and laity who cannot abide by and remain true to the teachings of Scripture and our doctrine, we encourage General Conference to provide for an exit process with pension, property, and without penalty." [Indianapolis Affirmation]

Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration in responding to my questions.

Your Brother in Christ,
Don Thompson
2118 Laconia Road
Somerville TN 38068heart.gif (1031 bytes)


LETTER FOR LIFE II:

A PERSONAL STORY

August 4, 1999

Dear Friends:

Here is my story.

My husband was a medical doctor. One day he went into his office and found a lady with her eighteen-year-old daughter. The lady was worried because she believed her daughter had cancer. But actually her daughter was pregnant. The girl's family did not want to be ashamed. They preferred abortion, but it was too late.

In time, she gave birth in a small village. I was a provider supplying her with food and clothing for the baby. My mother helped me too! After the girl got married, they were living in our house. When they started on their own, I did not have more news from them. And we moved to another town.

(This happened in Romania forty years ago.)

Ten years passed by, and we visited some friends. While there, I met the father of this baby. He was happy to see me. He said, "We have a daughter who is now eight years old, and we have named her after you. We were very glad for your help."

Later I met the mother of the formerly pregnant girl. When I met her, she said, "Thank you very much! I felt so sorry for my daughter, but now I know I was wrong. We are very happy to have two beautiful grandchildren."

This is my story! God always rewards us for doing good things!

Bless You,
Ariana Barbu/189 Wilburn Street #17
Rochester, NY 14607
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LETTER FOR LIFE III:

A PUBLIC ARGUMENT

The Reverend David A. Banks is a pastor [St. Peter's United Methodist Church/111 Hodges Street/Morehead City, NC 28557], a delegate to General Conference 2000, and a faithful friend of Lifewatch. On November 2, 1999, he wrote an extraordinarily powerful letter to Senator John Edwards (D-NC) to express disagreement with Sen. Edwards' vote against the most recent Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Rev. Banks' letter deserves a wide reading.

Rev. Banks begins: "You [Sen. Edwards] had before you an opportunity to provide our country with moral instruction about the nature of society and the dignity of humanity. But seeing your role simply to be a matter of passing legislation, you failed to provide the important moral message...

"You...have participated in making ours the first generation in American history that made it legal and acceptable to kill infants as they are being born. As you know, that is but a very short step from the practices advocated by Princeton University's Peter Singer, who argues that the less-than-normal child outside the womb deserves no more legal protection than the child within the womb..." [For more on Singer, see below.]

THE MORAL AND THE LEGAL

Banks then moves to the heart of his argument: "You say in your own statements that you are 'very disturbed by late-term abortion procedures,' and that you are 'opposed to all late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, unless giving birth grievously endangers the life or physical health of the mother.' This tells me that your own moral sense is offended by what is now legal. We know there is a moral order that stands over and above the legal order. In a society that increasingly confuses what is right with the discussion of rights, we should be grateful for every distinction between rights and right, between what is legal and what is moral. The moral will never collapse into the purely legal. The moral is richer, fuller, deeper, and stronger. It may be suppressed for a season, but it will not be conquered. Your moral sense tells you that something is amiss in the United States Supreme Court's constitutional decisions on abortion. When that is the case, even legislation which possibly may be overturned is important, for it provides the Court with an opportunity to correct itself; and even when overturned, it contributes to the moral formation of society.

"A case in point is the Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision, of March 6, 1857, which declared that 'Negroes had no rights which any white man was bound to respect.' With that decision, a great savagery had been enshrined into law. In spite of earlier legal limitations on slavery, an unrestrained judiciary preempted the political process and made it legal for one human being to own another as a slave in all United States territories. For some, because slavery was legal, it --was also moral. For a brief and tragic moment, the legal appeared to conquer the moral. However, there was enough outrage among many to be galvanized into action. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated President, and, as far as Lincoln was concerned, the legal (namely, the Dred Scott decision) and the moral (opposition to slavery) were not to be confused. Mr. Lincoln opposed what was constitutional on the grounds that slavery was immoral.

"Mr. Edwards, your own moral sense, as expressed by your own words, tells us that a child who is held in a doctor's hands ought not to have her head punctured and her brains evacuated. You had before you several hundred innocent persons in need of defense, and because you were sure you could not win against the Supreme Court, you did not even try. To me, that is indefensible. By voting with the minority, you have insured that President Clinton's veto will stand, that the Court will not be challenged to rethink or refine its position, and that an egregious, offensive practice will continue.

"I feel tyrannized by this inhumanity. Why do we not all so feel? The Supreme Court in 1857 refused to admit that Dred Scott was human. By denying his humanity, the Court simply talked in terms of the rights of the slaveholder. Your correspondence does as much. You speak of the rights of the mother in her private decision; but you never consider, you never mention, the humanity of a baby lying vulnerably in the hands of an aborter. But that nineteenth-century Court was wrong. And we, too, are morally wrong when we are not offended whenever human dignity is denied to any member of the human family. A baby held in the hands of a doctor is not property to be destroyed but a human being to be welcomed and received. How dare we not protect him/her from so savage a practice of infanticide?

KING, REVISITED

"In late 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., published Why we Can't Wait, a fascinating book explaining and justifying his efforts against Birmingham's insidious racism. In Birmingham, as in much of the South during that time, many practices were legal even though they were not moral. Dr. King, reflecting upon the struggle of the moral with the legal, noted that "[t]he ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people.' He believed that the good people could have changed society, but alas they did nothing and said nothing. Their moral capitulation left thousands under the terrors of racism. I am sorry, Senator Edwards, to say this, but you have morally capitulated to a moribund culture of self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement. Because of President Bill Clinton's certain veto and the Senate's failure to have just three more morally courageous souls, in a couple of years the Senate will be deciding the propriety of Peter Singer's one-month rule. "I hoped for better."heart.gif (1031 bytes)


YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT

heart.gif (1031 bytes) The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is a pro-choice political lobby based in Washington, DC. As all of us know, the General Board of Church and Society and the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries are affiliated with this outfit. RCRC has this to say about its own work: "The Religious Coalition provides opportunities for religious people to examine and articulate their own pro-choice positions and assists clergy in educating their congregations, communities, and elected officials about the theological and ethical dimensions of reproductive choice." (RCRC website, 10/6/99) Let there be no mistake about it. RCRC is proudly pro-choice. That is undeniable. And our denomination, The United Methodist Church, by associating with RCRC, is now located in the pro-choice camp of contemporary American politics.

heart.gif (1031 bytes) Dr. Peter Singer was recently appointed the new Ira DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. That's nice, you are thinking. But think again, please. Granted, Dr. Singer is an ethicist who is highly respected in some academic circles. Even so, his ethical utilitarianism is repugnant to the Church. For starters, he is religiously committed to animal rights and animal liberation. Because of this faith commitment, he wants to banish the overriding claim of human dignity from the ethical arena: "We can no longer base ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation, made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul... If we compare a severely defective human infant with a... dog or pig...we will often find the non-human to have superior capacities... Species membership alone...is not relevant..." (Pediatrics, July 1983). In his book Practical Ethics (written with Dr. Helga Kuhse), Singer contends that "[h]uman babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons." Therefore, "a period of 28 days after birth might be allowed before an infant is accepted as having the same right to live as others." Singer has also written: "if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him. " (National Right to Life News, 9/14/99)

You get the drift. According to Dr. Singer, abortion on demand is okay. Infanticide is okay. And euthanasia is okay. As long as the greatest happiness is secured for the greatest number. Dr. Paul Ramsey, the great United Methodist ethicist who taught for years at Princeton University, must be rolling over in his grave because of the appointment of Dr. Singer. And if Ramsey is not rolling, he is at least a bit restless.

heart.gif (1031 bytes) "Roe" and "Doe" have changed and changed dramatically, according to Priests for Life (September-October 1999). The two paragraphs that follow were run as possible bulletin inserts. First, "Roe:" 'Norma McCorvey, the 'Jane Roe' of the 1973 Roe v. Wade United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is now a pro-life Catholic. On March 23, 1997, she declared these memorable words: 'I am Norma McCorvey. I became known as Jane Roe on January 22, 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court released the Roe v. Wade decision, which created a woman's 'right to abortion.' I am now a child of God, a new creature in Christ; I am forgiven and redeemed. Today, I publicly recant my involvement in the tragedy of abortion. I humbly ask forgiveness of the millions of women and unborn babies who have experienced the violence of abortion. In this place of healing, the National Memorial for the Unborn, I stand with those who honor the worth of every unborn child as created in the image of God. I will strive, in the name of Jesus, to end this holocaust."

Then, "Doe:" "Sandra Cano, the 'Mary Doe' of the 1973 Doe v. Bolton United States Supreme Court decision, is a pro-life Christian. On March 23,1997, she declared these memorable words: 'I am Sandra Cano. I became known as Mary Doe when the U. S. Supreme Court released Roe v. Wade's companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which allowed abortion for virtually any reason. I am against abortion; I never sought an abortion; I have never had an abortion. Abortion is murder. For over twenty years, and against my will, my name has been synonymous with abortion. The Doe v. Bolton case is based on deceit and fraud. I stand today in this place of healing, the National Memorial for the Unborn, and pledge to the memory of these innocent children, that as long as I have breath, I will strive to see abortion ended in America."

heart.gif (1031 bytes) The other morning your scribe was listening to "Dr. Laura"—Schlessinger, that is—on an AM talk radio station. Dr. Schlessinger is the Jewish psychologist who lets the moral claims of Judaism (and her street smarts) guide her conversations with callers. Her approach is, let us say, very directive. Carl Rogers she is not. Anyway, on this particular morning, she was speaking quite passionately about the dignity of human life created in the image of God. Because of the God-given dignity of the human person, she reasoned, it is our compassionate duty to care for, not kill, the elderly person who is very sick and perhaps nearing death. Furthermore, because of the dignity of the person, she claimed, it is our compassionate duty to protect, not kill, the unborn child. Then it struck me. How interesting that the moral claims on human dignity of a Jewish talk-show personality—and a psychologist, no less—are closer to classical Christian teaching than the moral statements on the same issues of most United Methodist bishops. heart.gif (1031 bytes)

 

YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND

THE ANNUAL
LIFEWATCH
SERVICE OF WORSHIP

Monday, January 24, 2000
beginning at 9:30 a.m.
at

SIMPSON MEMORIAL CHAPEL
The United Methodist Building
100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Washington, DC

Preacher:
The Reverend Harold Lewis

Lincoln Park United Methodist Church
Washington, DC

Worship Leader:
The Reverend Paul R. Crikelair
Goodwill United Methodist Church
Elverson, PA

You are invited to these afternoon events at the United Methodist Building that day:
Lifewatch Reception at 3:00 p.m.
Lifewatch Board Meeting at 3:30 p.m.

 

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/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 life."

 

Lifewatch is published by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, a network of United Methodist clergy, laity, and congregations.

It is sent free to interested readers. Editor, Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth: P.O. Box 177, Rose Hill NC 28458 (910)289-2449/Administrator, Mrs. Ruth Brown: 512 Florence Street, Dothan AL 3630/ (334)794-8543/E-mail: cindy@lifewatch.org Web site: http://lifewatch.org

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