On May 19 history was made. The United Methodist General Conference, representing a 12 million member denomination, voted to withdraw its church agencies from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a Washington lobby that opposes all restrictions on abortion.
In 1973 the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) organized what was then the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, which for many years was housed in the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. The group from the start opposed any restrictions on abortion including parental consent laws. Support for abortion rights was conventional wisdom for Mainline Protestant elites in the early 1970s.
United Methodists have debated RCRC for much of 40 years, with especially close General Conference votes in 1992 and 2008. GBCS and the New York-based United Methodist Women, which also belonged to RCRC, have long vigorously rebutted any attempts to withdraw.
When John Lomperis, who now directs IRD’s United Methodist program, first became my assistant over 12 years ago he had already several years before as a college student made United Methodist membership in RCRC his special concern. One cold January he had even ridden coach overnight on Amtrak from Chicago to attend a pro-life Methodist worship on Capitol Hill as a witness against RCRC.
John worked hard at the 2004 and 2008 General Conferences for RCRC withdrawal, organizing delegates for the debate. Attending Harvard Divinity School did not slow his passion. At the 2012 General Conference for the first time a legislative committee okayed RCRC withdrawal. Victory seemed near until church authorities removed it from the plenary calendar, effectively killing it. John was undeterred. In 2015 he was miraculously elected as a 2016 General Conference delegate from Indiana, an honor that eludes many much more senior church members. RCRC remained ever in his sights. Exceeding the brief of a typical delegate, John tirelessly documented RCRC’s record and informed other delegates around the world in preparation, traveling to Africa and the Philippines.
Here in Portland, Beth Ann Cook, an Indiana minister and colleague to John, adroitly and persuasively made the presenting argument to the delegates for withdrawal from RCRC. Also here as volunteers are the Rev. Paul Stallsworth and Cindy Evans, longtime faithful leaders of Lifewatch, United Methodism’s pro-life caucus, whose annual Capitol Hill worship John once rode overnight on Amtrak to attend. These United Methodists never wavered across many years, despite overwhelming odds.
During the floor debate a GBCS official unsuccessfully urged the delegates to reject RCRC withdrawal. The vote was not even close. Sixty-one percent approved withdrawing church agencies from RCRC. John’s 15 year campaign to extract his denomination from abortion advocacy had finally prevailed.
Complacency, cynicism, and despair are too common. Devoting many years to struggle for a just cause is unusual and is the vocation of unique souls. John with the help of many others has extracted America’s third largest church from an affiliation unworthy of the Gospel and its preference for life. Thank you John for your Methodist perseverance. God has honored your labors and so many others who refused to quit.