Last Sunday, I had the privilege of participating in the 10th annual Chicago March for Life.
Estimates pegged the crowd at over 4,000 pro-lifers – twice as many as last year – commemorating this Thursday’s anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton U.S. Supreme Court decisions removing legal protections for unborn children through all stages of pregnancy.
There was also a much smaller crowd of between two and four dozen counter-protesters with signs declaring such things as their support for “ABORTION ON DEMAND WITHOUT APOLOGY” and their perspective that “Abortion on Demand is Liberating.”
Catholic chastity advocate Dawn Eden tweeted about how when she offered to dialogue with one of these counter-protesters, she (the abortion-defending counter-protester) looked to a middle-aged man next to her sporting a “I SUPPORT ABORTION PROVIDERS” sticker, who then shook his head denying permission to his companion. Dawn quipped: “Some feminist, letting a man decide whom she could hear. Pray 4 her.”
The contrast between the two groups who gathered downtown could hardly have been starker – even aside from size and basic message.
The abortion defenders really did not have much to say beyond chanting insults about pro-lifers being callous characters who don’t care about women and blowing shrill, high-pitched whistles in what seemed like a rather failed attempt to distract attention from the pro-life rallies at the start and end points of our march. And it was mostly just whistles that I heard from that little group that was overflowing with palpable anger.
There was a rather positive atmosphere on the pro-life side, even in the midst of noting something as sad as nearly 60 million American babies who have been aborted since 1973. Amidst the diverse group of pro-lifers were many who made this a family outing. Young people danced to upbeat music as we waited for speakers to begin. Other than the two pro-life Illinois Congressmen who spoke (one Democrat and one Republican), the speeches even shied away from being that directly political, for the most part. Among the more memorable signs I saw on our bi-partisan side were “#BlackLivesMatter Begins in the Womb!,” “Socialists for Life!,” and “LGBTQ PRO-LIFE.” Pastor Mark Jobe of New Life Community Church recalled refusing some recommended pre-natal testing, since he and his wife would not have aborted their child even if he had the suspected complications (which he turned out not to have). Young-adult women speakers urged self-sacrificial compassion for young women who find themselves in very difficult situations of unplanned pregnancy, including but not limited being willing to adopt their babies as an alternative to abortion. Women who have already had an abortion were not spoken of as enemies or monsters, but rather as beloved neighbors in need of healing and our compassion.
Pastor Erwin Lutzer of the famed Moody Church read a lengthy letter from a woman whose parents had forced her to have an abortion when she was young – a letter which at times was downright chiding of pro-lifers for how important it is for us to not just talk the talk of opposing abortion but also walk the walk of walking with women facing difficult situations with nowhere to turn, even when doing so would involve significant personal costs of helping bear some of their burdens. As Chicago’s new Roman Catholic Archbishop, Blase Cupich, put it: “It’s not about condemning. It’s about loving.” Another key speaker was Abby Johnson, whose own life story as a Planned-Parenthood-clinic-director-turned-pro-life-advocate reminded us how conversion to the side of life is possible for even those who, like Saul of Tarsus, seem to be the most hard-heartedly opposed.
I received multiple expressions of appreciation for my “UNITED METHODISTS FOR LIFE” sign. The pleasant surprise behind many of those cheers highlights the sad reality of how the United Methodists who talk the loudest about “peace” and “social justice” are generally MIA, at best, or often on the wrong side of such a major matter of social injustice and needless violence.
Chicago United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck, about as quintessentially a liberal United Methodist bishop as you can find, talked a good talk at last June’s Northern Illinois Annual Conference session about being concerned for children. But apparently that concern does not extend to the millions of the most vulnerable of children who are threatened with lethal violence. Bishop Dyck has strongly defended the extremist Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which vehemently opposes any legal restriction on or even moral opposition to elective abortion, while very stridently denouncing Christians who disagree with its political agenda. As a delegate to our denomination’s 2000 General Conference, she even tried to derail a successful effort to amend our denomination’s (regrettably muddled but slowly improving) official abortion position to include a strong opposition to the barbaric practice of “partial-birth abortion” – which gruesomely blurs the line between abortion and infanticide by stabbing and killing a late-term, normally healthy baby after she is partially born.
The problem with liberal United Methodism is not simply that it needs to try to direct the church to take on one more “political” issue. I have argued extensively that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper nature of religion and democracy when liberal United Methodists feel the need to not just be politically active as individuals, which I am all for, but also to demand that our diverse denomination take an unofficial position on and lobby the U.S. Congress for their personal political opinions on every conceivable political, economic, and foreign-policy issue, even issues on which equally faithful Christians can and do disagree. (Interestingly, I have, thankfully, never seen any politically conservative United Methodists act in a “mirror image” way of seeking to use the name and offering-plate money of the whole church to lobby for partisan, Republican economic and foreign-policy political agendas.)
At the end of the day, for all of its blustery rhetoric, liberal United Methodism, like last weekend’s counter-protesters, simply does not have much to say. The entirety of the social-justice agenda of liberal United Methodist caucus groups like the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), and parts of our denominational hierarchy that act like factional caucus groups, can be fairly and comprehensively summed up in a single sentence: “Whatever the values and political agendas of the left wing of the U.S. Democratic Party are, we endorse them, without any critique, nuance, or willingness to defend any biblical or historic Christian teachings that may be a basis for a truly prophetic challenge.”
Thus, the liberal United Methodism of MFSA and hastily adopted, widely ignored General Conference political resolutions is markedly different from other prominent examples of Christian political engagement.
Both the civil rights and the pro-life movements have enjoyed notable support from beyond the churches, but would have been unlikely to have gotten nearly as far as they each did without their strong bedrock of support and leadership from Christian churches. But in contrast to liberal United Methodism, neither the civil rights nor the pro-life movements served as unoriginal, uncritical “palace prophets” to one secular political party or another. Rather, through these two movements, faithful Christians have played a majorly transformative role in bringing attention to and achieving positive action on problems that neither major political party was otherwise doing much about. Both have profoundly reshaped American politics as we know it.
As I have noted elsewhere, when liberal United Methodists churches have little more to offer than a shallow echo of the surrounding culture, they don’t have much success in attracting new and younger people. This sort of secularized United Methodism is dying and does not have much of a future. It should be especially unsurprising that a belief system like “progressive United Methodism” whose adherents do not articulate any clear, strong, universal reason against killing their own children will not have as many younger people to whom they can pass on their churches.
In recent years, United Methodists have (rightly) sought ways to meaningfully express our collective remorse and repentance for the past complicity of our church in racial segregation and even genocidal violence against Native Americans.
I look forward to the day when United Methodist officials will have services of “Acts of Repentance” for our denomination’s complicity in the abortion violence that has been inflicted against my generation.