Not content merely to mock pro-life marchers, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has sent out an email calling for supporters to contact their senators to tell them to “remove the dismissive language that restricts health care access” from the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA). Despite a welcome apology for the crass actions of a member of their staff during the 2015 March for Life, they are now back to agitating for abortion access at the taxpayers’ expense. While the organization declared in late January that “[a]ffirming human dignity is central to the witness of Jesus Christ,” it did not take long for the GBCS to get back to its old habits of acting as if that dignity need not be respected if the human in question is unborn or someone attempting to protect an unborn human.
Earlier this year thousands of people of every age, and from a wide variety of religious (or non-religious) backgrounds, congregated on the National Mall to protest the forty-two years of legalized abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade. This protest has happened every year since the first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. Throughout the march, attendees posted pictures from the march and their reasons for opposing abortion along with the hashtag #WhyWeMarch. As the marchers began walking down Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol and the Supreme Court, they walked past Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). Mefford held a sign mocking the marchers and trivializing the lives of the unborn children they marched to protect. His sign read, “I March For Sandwiches.” As he tweeted the photo, Mefford explained, “I was inspired by the march for life to March for what I believe in! #WhyWeMarch.”
GBCS quickly offered an apology from its General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, that called affirming human dignity a central Christian value. Henry-Crowne continued, “A recent action involving a staff member of GBCS did not reflect our culture of respect, openness and hospitality. Appropriate conversations and action have been taken. We at GBCS recognize the special responsibility we have to cultivate respect, trust and hospitality among those who hold a variety of opinions on social issues.”
Long before Dr. Henry-Crowe came on board last year, the GBCS has vehemently supported the notion of an unlimited right to elective abortion. For example, on the fortieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Dalton U.S. Supreme Court decisions (before Henry-Crowe’s tenure), the GBCS released this fawning statement. In it, the GBCS warned of the danger posed by individual states’ attempt to restrict or regulate abortions. Amongst their five priorities for reproductive justice are: keeping abortion safe, legal, accessible , and rare; ensuring universal access to modern contraception, including emergency contraception; providing sex education in Methodist churches and schools; and conducting “careful analysis of the church’s support for crisis pregnancy centers that may not offer all options of counseling.” While that statement admitted that Methodists are divided on the issue, it also celebrated the GBCS’ partnership with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
The GBCS now, under Dr. Henry-Crowe’s leadership, is standing with Planned Parenthood and NARAL in lobbying senators to withdraw a provision preventing funds intended for assisting victims of trafficking to be diverted to pay for elective abortions (in cases NOT involving rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life). According to Susan G. Burton, Director of Women’s and Children’s Advocacy for GBCS, the “bi-partisan agreement and strong coalition of organizations supporting the JVTA have splintered due to the insertion of language that unfairly restricts funding for the full range of services necessary for trafficked victims.” According to Burton, restricting taxpayer funding of elective abortions (of children NOT conceived through rape) would somehow deprive trafficked women of “the important medical care that they may need to recover from the trauma and be restored to wholeness.”
In addition to demonstrating the GBCS’s disturbing, absolutist support for abortion and apparent belief that it might be a woman’s only option, Burton also distorts the facts. First, there was bi-partisan support for the bill as it passed unanimously through the Senate judiciary panel. While the word “abortion” does not appear in the JVTA, it does state that funding “shall be subject to the limitations on the use or expending of amounts described in sections 506 and 507 of division H of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.” Sections 506 and 507 prohibit the use of fund appropriated by that bill for any abortion unless 1) “the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest;” or 2) “a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” This language, commonly known as the Hyde Amendment, is referenced on pages four and five of the JVTA. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin claim he and other Senate Democrats “missed it” and that “if it had been front and center, we would have caught it.” Being only on page four and five, the Hyde Amendment apparently met only the category of “front” and not that of “center,” and so escaped the notice of the Democrats who supported the bill as it made its way to the floor. As Politico notes, the Democrats’ volte-face coincided with heat from pro-abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
The United Methodist GBCS has apparently decided that siding with these secular pro-abortion rights groups, and helping partisan politicians prioritize their submission to the leash of the abortion lobby over their concern for victims of trafficking, are effective ways to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And apparently they still believe that the message of pro-life people at the March for Life does not.
While UMAction and the Institute on Religion and Democracy welcomed Dr. Henry-Crowe’s statement apologizing for Mefford’s obnoxious sign, it remains to be seen whether there will be any substantial turn away from the GBCS’s traditionally secularized and dismissive treatment of human dignity under her leadership. Instead, now that the outrage over Mefford’s sign has died down, her staff is back to using the UMC’s name and resources to promote the same disregard for unborn human life that Mefford’s sign quite accurately represented.