Yesterday at the annual pro-life service hosted by Lifewatch in the United Methodist Building, remarks were read from Thomas Oden, one of Methodism’s and American Christianity’s most esteemed theologians. Oden, who’ll be 85 this year, and who is an IRD emeritus board member, no longer travels but remains a prolific writer. A scholar of the Early Church Fathers, he is editor of the majesterial, nearly two dozen volume Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. His most recent books are on early African Christianity and on the social ethics of John Wesley.
Speaking to Lifewatch, a caucus working to shift United Methodism in a pro-life direction, Oden, who cited his own shift from pro-choice to pro-life, observed:
We are here at Lifewatch to watch over those most vulnerable. We are here to stand before the Lord to pray for those most vulnerable. We are here to stand before the Lord to pray for those who are being led to death, to repent for our callousness, and to pray for grace to do all we can to protect those who need our protection.
Oden recalled before 1970 teaching social ethics to young pastors and rationalizing “convenience abortions,” without considering “vast implications…for women, families and society, but most of all for the lost generation of irretrievable aborted babies,” based on “situation ethics” that were “careless of human life.” With Rudolf Bultmann as his theological guide, he had “an inadequate grasp of the law and moral restraint.” At the time of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the “history of moral wisdom was being junked, and I was a junk dealer.”
Later, when counseling women seminary students grieving over their abortions, Oden “experienced an overwhelming wave of moral revulsion against the very abortion-on-demand politics I had once advocated.” He came to believe that “before conception, we have a moral choice as to what we do with our bodies,” and “after conception, we do not have a choice to take away the life our bodies have created.”
“Life is of incomparable value since it is the precondition of all other human values,” Oden concluded. “It is on a wholly different plane morally than the relief of suffering, which itself is in the service of life. Protecting life is the premise of every conceivable value that depends upon life. That protection has been denied by law to millions and millions of babies in our time.”
Oden quoted fifth century Saint John Cassian as an admonition to the church and to the parents of unborn children: “Spare nothing to save those who are being led to death and to redeem those who are being slain.” Reflecting on his own errors, Oden promised: “The One who keeps watch over our souls has known our hearts even when we go astray and wonderfully when we return.”
The full text of Oden’s remarks eventually will appear at www.lifewatch.org.