Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, published in 2008, and Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century.
By Mark Tooley (@MarkDTooley)
In terms of Methodism’s public witness over the last century, there have been frequent shameful episodes. Some in authority within the church defended racial segregation, while others made anti-Semitic statements. From the very start of Bolshevism, there were always some Methodist officials who defended Soviet Communism even as it murdered millions. In the 1930s, some Methodist elites minimized the evil of Nazism. In more recent decades, church agencies and officials have touted the sexual revolution, despite its assault upon Christian teaching, morals, family, and the well-being of children. And the official church silence over the global persecution of Christians, even during the last century, when more Christians were martyred than during the previous 19 centuries combined, embarrassingly continues, with occasional exceptions.
But the recent news release from two United Methodist agencies celebrating 40 years of abortion rights ranks among our church’s historic lows. Today marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court “Roe versus Wade” decision, written by United Methodist Justice Harry Blackmun, overturning most state restrictions against abortion and effectively mandating legalized abortion on demand.
United Methodism first endorsed abortion rights at the 1970 General Conference, after a 20 minute debate, and strenuous opposition from Methodism’s then most distinguished theologian, Albert Outler. In 1973, immediately after the court decision, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women’s Division helped to found the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, which was headquartered for 20 years in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. These two church agencies remain members of what is now called the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
Last week’s news release comes from the United Methodist representatives to RCRC, one from the Board of Church and Society and the other from the Women’s Division. It does not quote Scripture and barely mentions God. Except for an absurd reference to realizing God’s Kingdom through abortion rights, it could just as easily have come from Planned Parenthood or the National Abortion Rights Action League. It offers NOTHING particularly Christian. It does not lament the over 50 million abortions in the U.S. since 1973, which have included not only the grisly consequences for the unborn but also the incalculable anguish borne by women who have had abortions. Remarkably, it warns against crisis pregnancy centers for trying to save both mothers and the unborn. It hails Roe’s having rescued women from “coat hanger abortions and unnecessary deaths” without noting that, although statistics are incomplete, more women may have died from abortions since 1973 than did before. And it hopes for when “sexuality is safe and celebrated.” It does not bother to define what form of “sexuality” should be celebrated. Its view of sexuality, the human body, and human life seems completely utilitarian and divorced from Christian teaching or any notion of a living, personal God who reveals Himself through Jesus Christ.
In short, this statement from two United Methodist agencies is shameful and morally vacuous. A once robust liberal Protestantism, which captured official Methodism early in the last century, used to emphasize protecting the weak from the strong. Now nearly comatose and having exhausted nearly all remaining moral capital still remaining from the historic faith, liberal Methodism has reached the dreadful spiritual cul-de-sac of celebrating the death of the weak and innocent at the hands of the physically strong.
The 2012 General Conference almost certainly would have voted to withdraw these two agencies from RCRC had it been allowed to vote. It certainly will in 2016. Meanwhile, we should all prayerfully and vigorously counteract the anti-life public witness of the Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women’s Division.
Here is the full text of their statement:
On this 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, some individuals, organizations and churches are celebrating, while others are protesting. Like many other topics of deep social concern, the church is divided on the issue of abortion. Our Book of Discipline (2012) speaks to the official position of the United Methodist Church by stating, “We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers” (Social Principles ¶162J).
On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, as the United Methodist representatives to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, we look back upon the four decades since the passage of Roe v. Wade as years devoid of widespread coat hanger abortions and unnecessary deaths. We recognize the significance of marking this day as we continue to face opposition to keeping abortion safe, legal, accessible and rare.
We also recognize that there continue to be many obstacles to reproductive justice, both nationally and internationally. In the United States, the maternal mortality rate has doubled in the past 25 years. Great racial discrepancies exist, as African-American women are 3.2 times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than white women in the United States. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control reports that almost half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. According to the World Health Organization, every day approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99% of maternal deaths occuring in developing countries.
The United Methodist Church has not been silent or inactive on this issue. Projects of the United Methodist Women and advocacy on the part of the General Board of Church & Society have addressed the issue of reproductive justice, but clearly much more needs to be done. We as the church must more fully devote our time, energy, gifts and service to the following priorities for national and international reproductive justice:
Keep abortion safe, legal, accessible and rare.
Ensure universal access to modern contraception, including but not limited to emergency and over-the-counter contraception.
Increase access to pre-natal services, birthing assistance and post-natal follow-up.
Provide accurate, scientifically based sex education in our churches and schools.
Conduct careful analysis of the church’s support for crisis pregnancy centers that may not offer all options of counseling.
In the wilderness of political posturing and divisive blaming and shaming, we seek to be a voice crying out to prepare the way for the Lord to bring about a new era of reproductive justice for our families and communities. We actively await the realization of God’s Kingdom on earth, a kingdom in which all pregnancies are intended, sexuality is safe and celebrated, and families are healthy and secure.
We cannot afford to allow the heated politics of this issue to veil the fact that women are dying and that childbirth remains one of the most dangerous endeavors a woman faces.
May God use us to create a world where every pregnancy is a cause for celebration and not fear.
Office of Children, Youth and Family Advocacy
United Methodist Women (UMW),
United Methodist Office for the United Nations (UMOUN)
Church Center For United Nations (CCUN)
777 UN Plaza, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10017
212.682.3633 Ext 3106
Director & Organizer for Women’s Advocacy
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church
100 Maryland Avenue NE, Ste 212
Washington DC 20002