United Methodists, abortion is testing our church. Abortion is testing our church today as deeply as slavery tested our church in the nineteenth century. Abortion is stirring up great confusion and exposing deep conflicts in our community of faith. This condition continues, in part, because the United Methodist Church has not addressed the problem of abortion theologically. Our church has been content to debate abortion with the merely political terms that American society has made available. This is an insufficient response to an historic test.
The time has come to call the United Methodist Church to a scriptural, theological, and pastoral approach to abortion. This we will attempt to do. As United Methodists addressing United Methodists on abortion, we hereby declare our beliefs, confess our sins, and pledge ourselves to a new life together.
Declaring our Beliefs: Our Bodies, Christ’s Body, and Children
Contemporary culture insists that we own our bodies and that we have a right to do with them whatever we want. However, we United Methodist Christians declare that this is false.
We believe that we are not our own.1 We do not own our selves or our bodies. God owns us. “It is he that made us, and we are his “2 Furthermore, it is God who “bought [us] with a price3 with the life of Jesus sacrificed on the Cross. And it is God who sanctifies us to be “temple[sl of the Holy Spirit.”4
We believe that, through faith in Christ and baptism into His Body, God has made us “members of Christ.”5 That is, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church. “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”6 Partaking of the Bread and the Cup, we as members of the Body of Christ demonstrate that we are not accountable merely to ourselves. We are accountable to God and to one another. That means we care and provide for one another as brothers and sisters.
We believe that caring and providing for one another includes welcoming children into the family of the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we know that Children — those who are hidden in the womb and those who are held by the hand, those who are labeled “unwanted” and those who are called “wanted” — are gifts from God. In this we follow the example of our Lord, who, during His earthly ministry and in the face of opposition, welcomed children to His side.7 And we conform to the example of the early church, which, though living in the midst of a pagan empire that casually practiced abortion and abandoned children (usually to slavery, prostitution, or death), helped to provide refuge for unwanted little ones and their needy parents.8
We believe that God welcomes us through the outstretched arms of His Son on the Cross: “The arms of love that compass me/Would all mankind embrace [Charles Wesley9]. Because this God has welcomed us into the Church, we can likewise welcome the little ones.
Confessing our Sins: Our Rebellion, Compromise, and Fear
We confess that we have rebelled against God. We have rejected the light of Christ and turned to the darkness of the world. We have denied — by thought, word, and deed — that we belong to God.
We confess that we have often compromised the Gospel by submitting to the seductions of society. We have exchanged the message of salvation in Jesus Christ for a false message about human potential. We have capitulated to extreme self-involvement and self-interest. Neglecting the call to discipleship, we have treated matters related to marriage, sex, and children as if they were merely lifestyle question. We have lived as if the church is simply another voluntary association of autonomous individuals. We have lived as if the church is not the Body of Christ in which we “bear one another’s burdens.”10 we have lived as if we are our own, not God’s.
We confess that, as a part of the People of God, we have not honestly confronted the problem of abortion. Fearing division, we have removed abortion from the concerns of our church’s mission. Thereby our church has reduced the abortion problem to private choice and to just another issue for partisan politics. Therefore, in our churches we have selectively applied the truths of God’s ownership of us and God’s gift of children. We have neglected our sister who is in a difficult pregnancy and offered her no alternatives to abortion. Rarely have we offered, through our ministries, the forgiving love of Christ to the woman who has aborted. Nor have we hospitably welcomed the so-called “unwanted child” into our churches and families. Nor have we challenged or worked to alter the mindset and social realities that sustain our abortion conducive culture.
Pledging Ourselves to a New Life Together: Our Promises
1. We pledge, with God’s help, to become a church that unapologetically proclaims the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to a world that is usually apathetic and sometimes antagonistic.
2. We pledge, with God’s help, to practice and to teach a sexual ethic that adorns the Gospel. Christian discipleship includes, though is not limited to, the ordering of God’s gift of sexuality. Sexual discipline requires, at minimum, “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.”11 According to Biblical teaching, sexual relations outside the boundaries of “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” are manifestations of sin that call for repentance and reconciliation. This ordering is a part of the excellent way of Christian discipleship. It stands over against the jungle of modern sexuality, which is most evident in our society’s inability to hold men sexually accountable.
Biblically based sexual discipline should be directly and consistently advocated — by our church’s bishops, district superintendents, clergy, parents, church schools, publishing programs, colleges and universities, hospitals, children’s homes, boards, and agencies — among United Methodist children, youth, and adults. In addition, the church should teach the responsibilities for men and women that accompany sex. The church should strongly condemn sexual promiscuity.
3. We pledge, with God’s help, to teach our churches that the unborn child is created in the image of God and is one for whom the Son of God died. This child is God’s child. This child is part of God’s world. So the life of this child is not ours to take. Therefore, it is sin to take this child’s life for reasons whether of birth control, gender selection, convenience, or avoidance of embarrassment.
4. We pledge, as people of a community whose sins are forgiven by God, to offer the hope of God’s mercy and forgiveness to the woman who has obtained an elective abortion. God’s forgiveness and healing are also to be offered to those who have assisted a woman in aborting and now repent.
5. We pledge, with God’s help, to become a church that hospitably provides safe refuge for the so-called “unwanted child” and mother. We will joyfully welcome and generously support — with prayer, friendship, and material resources -both child and mother. This support includes strong encouragement for the biological father to be a father, in deed, to his child.
6. We pledge, with God’s help, to honor the woman who has, under difficult circumstances, carried her child to term.
7. We pledge, with God’s help, to call our church’s boards and agencies to end their support of pro-choice political advocacy and also to develop ministries that support women in difficult pregnancies.l2
8. We pledge, with God’s help, to encourage United Methodist-related hospitals to adopt medical ethics guidelines, which are protective of the unborn child and mother.
9. We pledge, with God’s help, to consider how our church should best apply discipline to her members who reap profits, small and large, from the advocacy and performance of elective abortion.
In a society that is so obsessed with material success and pleasure that it wantonly destroys over 1.5 million of its unborn children every year, we United Methodists hear the words of our Lord, “LET THE CHILDREN COME TO ME, AND DO NOT HINDER THEM.”13 we heed these words of Jesus by ordering our life together so that we can joyfully receive the children.
To accomplish this task, to meet the massive test that abortion now poses to the United Methodist Church, we rely only upon Christ until His Kingdom comes. It is Christ who promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”14 He, above all else is, to be trusted.
All Biblical quotations are from the Revised Standard Version.
1. 1 Corinthians 6:19
2. Psalm 100:3
3. 1 Corinthians 6:20
4. 1 Corinthians 6:19
5. 1 Corinthians 6:15
6. Romans 12:5
7. Matthew 19:13-15
8. Drawing from James Tunstead Burtchaell’s “Opening Statement in Debate” [Commonweal 114 (November 29,1987), p. 663l, L. Gregory Jones notes, “The new Christian faith [of the early church] set four prophetic imperatives before those who would live in the Spirit and fire of Christ, four disconcerting duties that would distance them from Jews and Romans alike… The fourth imperative was that in addition to those children orphaned by their parents’ deaths, they were to protect the infant — unborn or new born. This imperative is expressed in The Didache. the Instruction of the Twelve Apostles (the oldest Christian document we posses outside the New Testament: ‘…you shall not murder a child by abortion, or kill a newborn…”‘ [from “Christian Communities and Biomedical Technologies” in Bioethics and the Beginning of Life, edited by Roman J. Miller and Beryl H. Brubaker (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1990), p.116]. Furthermore, the primitive church’s firm opposition to abortion is expressed in some two dozen early Christian documents.
Second- and third-century sources on the Christian refusal to abandon children and the Christian imperative to rescue the abandoned include: Epistle to Diognetus 5, Aristides Apology 15, Who is the Rich Man that is Saved? by Clement of Alexandria, Apology 39 by Tertullian, Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians 6:1, and Ignatius to the Smyreans 6:2.
Also, see Michael J. Gorman’s “Historical Perspectives” in Miller and Brubaker. Gorman writes: “Beginning in the late fourth century under the leadership of both bishops and monks, orphanages and foundling homes (for abandoned and exposed children) were established throughout the Christian world. From its birth the Christian church had been characterized by its compassion for children. Even the earliest Christians frequently rescued abandoned children and raised them in a Christian family. The foundling homes became visible symbols of Christian compassion for unwanted children in the communities of Europe and the East” (p. 136).
9. “Jesus! the Name High over All,” The Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The Methodist Publishing House, 1966), no. 341.
10. Galatians 6:2
11. This wording appears in the chapter on ordained ministry in The Book of Discipline (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1988), par. 404.4e and several other locations. The Christian’s fidelity in marriage or celibacy in singleness is best understood as a manifestation of divine grace that is given for the good of the church, the family, and the man/woman.
12. Charles W. Hubbard’s challenge — that the United Methodist Church secure $50 million to build and support regional crisis pregnancy centers across the U.S. — should be taken seriously by our church [see Christian Social Action (April 1990), pp. 28-30]. Our boards and agencies should be much more serious about supporting and/or providing adoption services as well.
13. Matthew 19:14
14. 2 Corinthians 12:9