| 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
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 triedrather 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
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FIRST TUESDAY OF EACH MONTH IN PRAYING AND FASTING FOR LIFEWATCH'S CONTINUING MINISTRY.
LETTER FOR LIFE I:
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
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
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 abortionse.g., in the cases of rape or incestmay be
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
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,
2118 Laconia Road
Somerville TN 38068
LETTER FOR LIFE II:
A PERSONAL STORY
August 4, 1999
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!
Ariana Barbu/189 Wilburn Street #17
Rochester, NY 14607
LETTER FOR LIFE III:
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
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
"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
YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT
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.
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,
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.
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
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."
The other morning your scribe
was listening to "Dr. Laura"Schlessinger, that ison 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 personalityand a psychologist, no lessare closer
to classical Christian teaching than the moral statements on the same issues of most
United Methodist bishops.