January 20, 2015

Of Pro-Life Marching and the Social Irrelevance of Liberal United Methodism

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.

18 Responses to Of Pro-Life Marching and the Social Irrelevance of Liberal United Methodism

  1. Greg says:

    John, I’m afraid the UMC, as it is currently constituted, will never offer an apology for, nor retreat from it’s pro-choice, that is to say, “pro-abortion” position; cf. “we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.”

    When the UMC finally splits, and then splinters, I have no doubt that you will be a member of a new denomination that is proudly pro-life, but it will not be the UMC as you know it today. Sad.

    • Walker Brault says:

      Simply making abortions illegal doesn’t stop them from happening. In Romania, when abortion was out lawed, the only difference was that the mortality rate of the mother was 20 times higher. Granted, Romania is not the US, but even here, the evidence is everywhere, laws don’t stop people from doing something if they need is great enough.

      How then can we actually reduce the number of abortions? By reducing the prevalence of the issues that cause women to seek an abortion. The biggest reason women seek an abortion is because their birth control failed. How do we fix that? Well, we either stop people from having sex, or realize that there are plenty of other options available and still in the works that are even more effective, and that can be doubled up with other forms to give even greater protection. Next biggest reason is the inability to support the child. Now the obvious response is to put the child up for adoption. The problem with this is that our adoption system is already vastly overcrowded and dysfunctional as it is. Great improvements must be made before women can reasonably be expected to put their child through the system. Further reductions could be found in reducing and preventing rape as well as continuing to improve the health care system from women so their health isn’t put into jeopardy during their pregnancy.

      If you want to actually put an end to abortion, you need to do more than simply make it illegal, that only ends up killing more people.

      • Greg says:


        • Walker Brault says:

          Except that you insist that everyone who is against the criminalization of abortion is “pro abortion” when there are much better ways to actually end abortion as I explained.

      • Thanks for the comment. Legal bans on infanticide, drug dealing, pollution, and/or abortion do not 100% prevent people from doing those things, but they do make much fewer people choose them. It’s apples and oranges to talk about another country with such a deeply ingrained mistrust of government and without as strong a culture of rule of law. Our adoption system is indeed overcrowded – but the overcrowding is with parents waiting for a long time, NOT with a surplus of newborn babies up for adoption. Contrary to rhetoric, the research has shown that mildly restrictive legal regulations on abortion in the USA – like bans on taxpayer funding, waiting periods, and grandparents consent for underage mothers – indeed succeed in lowering abortion rates, thus saving the lives of real human beings from death. When it comes to liberal United Methodists siding with NARAL/RCRC against such commonsense measures or refusing to actually promote a culture in the church and society of premarital abstinence, the common thread remains of liberal United Methodism’s secular, partisan political captivity being so strong that it can never bring itself to choose Christian faithfulness that might challenge the values or perspectives of the left wing of the Democratic Party.

        • Walker Brault says:

          I realize that comparing the US to Romania is like comparing apples to oranges, I even stated so (though not using the same simile) in my comment.

          Would you mind providing some sources showing that all of the regulations you list actually have an effect on the abortion rate?

          In research done by the Guttmacher Institute found that abortion rates in 2011 were at their lowest since 1973. They also found that the decline spanned almost all states, which would seem to be contrary to your argument. In the news release they attribute it to the improved use of contraceptives as well as a decrease in pregnancy rates.

          Promoting a cultural of premarital abstinence, while a high ideal, is far from practical in today’s society. The church in general, both liberal, conservative and anywhere in between, is as irrelevant as ever. States like Texas, which greatly focus their sex education around abstinence have higher teenage pregnancy rates (how much of this might also come down to racial, social, and economic differences I’m not enough of an expert to suggest). I’m not saying don’t teach it, but at least realize that in today’s society it’s not enough.

          I consider myself more of a liberal methodist than I do a conservative methodist but I am far from the portrait that you paint of liberal methodism. Everyday I find myself questioning the perspectives of the Democratic Party, but I also question the perspectives of the Republican party even more.

          Simply because you don’t find something to be faithful to the christian tradition doesn’t mean that others don’t. I bet most of those who opposed abolition thought of themselves as staying faithful to their christian tradition, but those who supported abolition also found themselves faithful to their christian tradition. They did not come from separate denominations (though some such as ours did come to that) but rather felt the pull of different values over others. Now I’m not implying that this is the same situation that we are in now, but we must keep in mind that it makes sense to them. Simply stating to a group of people, who largely have the same point of view that you do, that the other ‘side’ is wrong doesn’t do anything to make the conversation better, and neither does making broad generalizations (you called me out on it, so I’m gonna call you out on it too). To further the conversation we have to step into each other’s shoes, look at it through their point of view and understand why they believe that before we can even attempt to actually change that belief (if it truly needs changing).

          • yolo says:

            You’re right about the decline in abortion and I have never disputed that, but Humanae Vitae was clear that the issue with abortion and contraceptives is far more than the act of abortion. There are enormous societal-family implications that have proven to be correct: the rate of divorce; the rate of children in single-parent households; the rate of out-of-wedlock birth (not counting aborted pregnancies.)

          • To answer your question about how abortion rates are lowered (and why the GBCS and other liberal UMC groups should not be let off the hook for refusing to EVER disagree with Planned Parenthood on any policy matter related to commonsense, popularly supported abortion regulations): there is first of all common sense. If a 12-year-old girl has to get parental consent before undergoing life-changing (for her), life-destroying (for the baby) surgery, there are situations in which the adults will not consent to killing their grandchild, and so there is no abortion. Or as Bishop Scott Jones has noted on taxpayer funding for abortion, it’s just commonsense to see that any behavior that is financially subsidized to be less costly will happen more often.
            Then here is some of the research: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18338.pdf
            And some more, http://www.frc.org/onepagers/abortion-laws-and-their-effects-on-abortion-rates
            And while you may label yourself a liberal United Methodist, insofar as the above description, which absolutely describes a great many liberal United Methodists I know (remember, I went to one of the most liberal UMC University-Senate-approved divinity schools), does NOT apply to you, then you are not a simon pure liberal United Methodists. 🙂

    • Thomas says:

      There are very good chances that the UMC will reverse their pro-abortion stance in a near future, since most of their clergy is pro-life.

  2. Neil Bragg says:

    Love that photo, that really says it all.

  3. yolo says:

    The difference between the left and you or the left and Catholics is that when the left advocates for “action” on issues, they are advocating for action as Marxists. When you or Catholics advocate for “action” on issues, you are advocating for action as Christians. Yet the left asserts that it is Christian! It’s not and it’s why so many left the left pews.

    • yolo says:

      That is the “void” in spirituality that is frequently talked about. There is no spirituality in Marxism. That’s why Marx attacked religion. That’s why so many people who are unchurched find religion, but a religion that is a cult or Islam because their parents never provided Christian spirituality.

      • MarcoPolo says:

        Islam is not a cult, yolo!
        And it provides a lifetime of honorable worship for it’s adherents. You must know that, right?
        But then, perhaps I misread your post?

        • yolo says:

          “cult OR Islam”

          NOT “cult of Islam”

          You misread or mentally saw “of”.

        • yolo says:

          And, my point is still intact that there is a spiritual void in people, including many who were liberal Christians, that they apparently could not fill in liberal Christianity so they turned to Islam (and there are many examples of these people radicalizing).

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I think you have a valid point regarding people’s inner void, or yearning for existentialism.
            And I imagine there are almost as many instances where both religions (Christian and Islam) view the other’s existence as a “Gateway-Drug”… something that you try first, only to go on to a more serious “Drug/Religion”.

            I’m not mocking any particular religion… I’m mocking them ALL!
            Can you imagine the carnage, if every Religion had as one of it’s prime priorities, the converting of people from other Religions?

  4. Tiger says:

    You are correct, this woman bishop who expresses her concern for “the children” one minute, then the next minute is beating the drum for abortion – yeah, that is pretty glaring hypocrisy. Does anyone have any numbers for her conference? I’m betting it’s shrinking, not growing, so her leftist ideology isn’t exactly filling up the pews.

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