What would John Wesley say about Planned Parenthood, especially during its current scandal over trafficking in the organs of aborted babies?
Wesley’s emphasis was on spreading the Gospel, saving souls, renewing the church and reforming the nation’s morals. Helping and empowering the poor were central to the Methodist movement. Of course Wesley saw every life as sacred, hence his opposition to slavery and perpetual defense of the defenseless in society.
Abortion wasn’t a public issue in 18th century Britain but obviously it existed. Wesley didn’t address abortion directly but vigorously opposed social sanction for behaviors that would have facilitated abortion in his time, including prostitution and the loose behaviors flowing from gin houses and gambling dens. He knew Christian manhood shunned sexual exploitation of women, that self-discipline was central to Christian life, that the vulnerable must be defended, and that the poor and the very young were among the first victims of any society divorced from the counsels of vibrant religion.
Wesley’s strong sense of the sacredness of human life and of every aspect of the human body would have amplified his horror over Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal parts. That Planned Parenthood performs several hundred thousand abortions annually and primarily preys about the poor and marginalized would have exponentially expanded Wesley’s indignation. Wesley would have recognized Planned Parenthood’s methods from some of the most unsavory habits of depraved urban Britain’s darkest corners.
In the 20th century modernist Methodists and other Mainline Protestants blessed Planned Parenthood for supposedly imposing regulated, scientific control on the breeding of lower classes, which Wesley would have readily recognized as the trait of backslidden, bloodless religion. That these same churches are now themselves bereft of the young would not have surprised Wesley.
Wesley the social reformer would see Planned Parenthood not just a scandal to Christianity but to national public life. Its government funding and the deep entanglements that Planned Parenthood has among ruling political elites would have been easily recognizable to Wesley, who for decades contended against state complicity in social corruption.
In his 1763 speech on the “Reformation of Manners,” Wesley warned that social corruptions harm not just the perpetrators themselves but the whole nation. And to oppose social vices is to elevate the moral, spiritual and temporal status of all society:
Nor is it to individuals only, whether those who betray other into sin or those that are liable to be betrayed and destroyed by them, that the benefit of this design redounds, but to the whole community whereof we are members. For is it not a sure observation, “righteousness exalteth a nation” And is it not as sure on the other hand that “sin is a reproach to any people” Yea, and bringeth down the curse of God upon them So far therefore as righteousness in any branch is promoted, so far is the national interest advanced. So far as sin, especially open sin, is restrained, the curse and reproach are removed from us. Whoever therefore they are that labour herein, they are general benefactors. They are the truest friends of their king and country. And in the same proportion as their design takes place, there can be no doubt but God will give national prosperity, in accomplishment of his faithful word, “Them that honour me, I will honour.”
Some argued in Wesley’s day as today that social vices should be opposed only through winsome voluntary persuasion. But Wesley argued that God ordained government to suppress extreme corruptions for the protection of society, especially the vulnerable:
It is true the Word of God is the chief, ordinary means, whereby he changes both the hearts and lives of sinners; and he does this chiefly by the Ministers of the gospel. But it is likewise true, that the Magistrate is “the minister of God;” and that he is designed of God “to be a terror to evil-doers,” by executing human laws upon them. If this does not change the heart, yet to prevent outward sin is one valuable point gained. There is so much the less dishonour done to God, less scandal brought on our holy religion; less curse and reproach upon our nation; less temptation laid in the way of others; yea, and less wrath heaped up by the sinners themselves against the day of wrath.
Wesley would have been outspoken against the dehumanizing and exploitative vices of Planned Parenthood. He certainly would have urged at the very least government defunding of it, knowing that proper health care was readily available through many more admirable outlets. And he would have insisted that civil magistrates prosecute Planned Parenthood for its egregious trafficking in human life, no less appalling, if less publicly visible, than the slave trade of his day. Wesley would have contended for new laws to protect women and the unborn from the depredations of Planned Parenthood and similar entities.
Supporters of Planned Parenthood include the very powerful, the very wealthy, the very influential, the very articulate, many of all the right people who bestride society like a plumed knight upon his horse. But such imposing people are before the divine will no more than “grasshoppers,” Wesley knew, addressing the timid and scoffers of moral reform in his day:
“But the design is impracticable. Vice is risen to such an head that it is impossible to suppress it; especially by such means. For what can an handful of poor people do in opposition to all the world” “With men this is impossible, but not with God.” And they trust, not in themselves, but him. Be then the patrons of vice ever so strong, to him they are no more than grasshoppers. And all means are alike to Him: It is the same thing with God “to deliver by many or by few.” The small number, therefore, of those who are on the Lord’s side is nothing; neither the great number of those that are against him. Still He doth whatever pleaseth him; and “there is no counsel or strength against the Lord.”