IRD/UMAction has repeatedly observed abortion-supportive delegates and activists stooping to blatantly misrepresenting the truth about the Religious Coalition and Reproductive Choice (with which the recently concluded United Methodist General Conference voted to sever ties) and the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution (which we voted to delete from the UMC Book of Resolutions after four decades), while then appearing to engage in projection by broadly accusing pro-life advocates of promoting dishonesty, although without citing any clear examples. In IRD/UMAction’s opinion, the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution appears to be an instructive example of liberal denominational officials going too far: not content to have a resolution simply supporting contraception (which would have enjoyed broad support across the spectrum), but insisting on tying that to rather broadly supporting abortion and abortifacients while dismissing the value of unborn human life, and then apparently not realizing or caring how offensive this was to the values of non-liberal church folk, petitioning General Conference to rewrite this resolution to make it even more unapologetically strong in its support of abortion.
In this guest post, Rev. Beth Ann Cook responds to such controversies and chatter surrounding the General Conference actions to end our denomination’s affiliation with RCRC and delete the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution from official UMC position statements. She is is pastor of two Indiana United Methodist congregations: Ogilville UMC in Columbus and Rockford UMC in Seymour, Indiana. She serves as a member of the Indiana Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM), the Good News Board of directors, and was a delegate to the last three General Conferences. She is also President of the Indiana Confessing Movement, for whom she originally wrote this piece.
“In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
– Andy Warhol
It was a surreal experience. I opened my twitter feed at one point and it was filled with the above image of my own face. Many friends were re-tweeting a Christianity Today article: Evangelicals Cheer Pro-Life Vote at Methodist Conference.
Furious progressives were also tweeting about me; they said that I “bore false witness” from the stage of the United Methodist General Conference against the leaders of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The Methodist Federation for Social Action even wrote an article stating that my “… presentation contained so much misinformation it’s hard to know where to begin in addressing the inaccuracies.” You can read their article here: Will the Real RCRC Please Stand Up
It seems I’m having the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol famously predicted would come to everyone in the future! I find myself a hero to some and a villain to others. I seriously considered not mentioning any of this. In the end I decided to share it with those who want to hear my side of the story behind this historic vote. So here goes:
First, I’m standing on the shoulders of others who passionately care about women, unborn children, and our church’s social witness.
Paul Stallsworth of Lifewatch, Bishop Tim Whitaker, Cindy Evans, John Lomperis, Marget Sikes, Richard Hearne, Dixie Brewster, and so many others have prayed and worked to make this a reality. Indiana annual conference has been seeking to sever the UMC ties with RCRC for well over a decade. Mark Dicken prepared the original Indiana petition when he and I were part of the then South Indiana Conference. Many people who disagree with me strongly on other issues and are far from “pro-lifers” have called of us to get out of this group for decades. While I appreciate all the love I’m getting from like-minded friends I have to tell you that I don’t deserve all the credit. I’m grateful God used me to speak at General Conference. But I’m standing on others shoulders–they deserve credit. Especially Paul Stallsworth who has dedicated 30 years of his life to this cause.
I was asked to present the petition on behalf of the Church and Society B legislative group by our chairperson.
I was in the Church and Society B Legislative Group and on the sub-group that debated this petition. Both the sub-group and full Legislative Group passed it by a wide margin. A former General Board of Church and Society Director in our committee testified during our deliberations on how he came to believe that the UMC should withdraw from this group. I was invited to share on behalf of the committee from the platform by our Chairman who had the right to assign the duty. I didn’t ask to do it. But I was deeply grateful to be given the privilege of doing so.
The facts I used about RCRC are not only true, they are well documented.
I shared from the stage of General Conference that RCRC has a stance on abortion that is not consistent with the very carefully nuanced teachings of our church. I also told delegates that group that advocates for abortion for any reason at any time in the pregnancy–even up to the baby taking its first breath. In the past when people have asked me where to learn more about RCRC I have simply sent them to RCRC’s own website and it more than confirmed what I have said.
When I was first elected as a delegate to the Fort Worth General Conference I received a lobbying phone call from an RCRC staffer. This person was asking me to oppose a withdrawal petition. I asked her lots of questions. One was if they would disavow the use of abortion for gender selection. She told me that they wanted abortion to be legal in all cases–with no restrictions whatsoever.
I am one of four Indiana UMC members who wrote an informational flyer on RCRC for General Conference Delegates. The others are Paula Shrock, Anita Pattison (a crisis pregnancy center director), and John Lomperis. John’s parents are university professors; he has footnotes running in his blood. For this reason our piece contains carefully documented footnotes. The sources we used can be found at the bottom of this piece. Check them out for yourself.
Neither this action nor the one on the proposed revised Responsible Parenthood resolution changed our nuanced stance on Abortion.
Our church’s official position is found in Paragraph 161J of the Book of Discipline. Our stance on abortion remains more pro-choice than many of us would like and more pro-life than others would like.
GBCS and the United Methodist Women are still free to advocate for women’s health, birth control access, and the availability of safe legal abortions—in the parameters set by our church. Petitions which would have modified our Social Principles to say that we only support abortion as a “last resort” or “in extreme circumstances” did not make it to the floor. Neither did a petition decrying the abortion of children who are diagnosed in the womb with a disability like Downs Syndrome. Based on the wide margin by which Responsible Parenthood was defeated I think they would have passed if they had gotten there.
These votes are proof that the United Methodist Church is increasingly pro-life, orthodox, and evangelical. Votes taken in virtually all of the Legislative Committees also indicate this.
I wasn’t surprised that we voted to get out of RCRC. The reason back-room deals and parliamentary procedural tricks were used to keep it from coming to the floor four years ago is that progressives knew it was likely to pass. For decades even people who support abortion rights have cringed at things RCRC has said and done.
I was, however, shocked by the margin with which we rejected the UMW-backed “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. Responsible parenthood sounds like something we would all automatically support. Who doesn’t want parents to be responsible? And I strongly support the availability of birth control. But this resolution contained very, very strong pro-abortion wording.
Our process requires that Resolutions must be reaffirmed every 8 years by a 60 percent majority. If they are not reaffirmed they fall out. Responsible Parenthood needed 60 percent to be reaffirmed and didn’t even come close. It went down in flames.
It was defeated 445-310. It needed 499 votes to go in the book of resolutions; that is 189 more votes than it received. Because of this vote the UMC’s 40-year affirmation of Roe v Wade was dropped.
It was a classic case of “over-reach”. If I were GCBS/UMW I would submit a version of Responsible Parenthood in four years that better reflects the current values of United Methodists. I believe such a petition would easily pass.
I’ve heard many people on social media, including within Indiana, say that General Conference is not representative enough—that somehow conservatives were elected when they should not have been.
The reality is that our denomination is becoming more theologically orthodox. We have 11 million members in the US, Africa, and Asia. Nearly half live in outside the US (in what UMC jargon calls the “Central Conferences”). Theses members tend to be more traditional on human sexuality and abortion. Within the United States many of our growing churches are also more evangelical/conservative. We have also given voting rights in the last decade to licensed local pastors who have completed the course of study. As a group these pastors (and the small membership churches they serve) tend to be more evangelical as well.
The decision to follow the Bishop’s recommendation of a study commission meant that about 50 petitions related to human sexuality and structural reorganization were tabled. Most of these petitions had already been voted on in Legislative Groups (smaller committees). Across the board the votes reflected a more orthodox, conservative position. In fact I spoke at times in my legislative group to moderate our views. Let that sink in.
In the end, I’m okay with being loved or hated by large numbers of people.
My words here probably change few, if any, minds. You probably still think of me as heroine or villain depending on what you believe about abortion. I’m okay with that. I did what I did for an audience of ONE—Jesus.
Others who are also seeking to serve Jesus faithfully have a very different understanding of Scripture than I do. They come to different conclusions. Some are downright horrified by the votes taken this past week on RCRC and Responsible Parenthood. I respectfully disagree with them and pray for them. I also invite them to join me in praying the Lord’s prayer. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
RCRC Presentation Sources:
RCRC’s publication, “Words of Choice: Countering Anti-Choice Rhetoric.”
RCRC, “Prayerfully Pro-Choice,” pp. 63, 73-74, 101-102
RCRC, “:Prayers for Providers of Women’s Health Care”; http://rcrc.org/prayer-for-providers-of-womens-health-care/.
RCRC, “History”; http://rcrc.org/homepage/about/history/.
RCRC, “Access to Abortion Care”; http://rcrc.org/homepage/policy/access-to-abortion-care/.
RCRC, “Religious Organizations Decry Proposed National Ban on Abortion”; http://rcrc.org/press-room/statements-and-rcrc-news/release-11-08-2013-religious-orgs-decry-proposed-natl-abortion-ban/
Holy Abortion? (http://www.nprcouncil.org/ resources/holyabortion.htm)
“DHM Says ‘No’ to Abortion Rights Ties,” The Disciple, August 1994.