United Methodists’ Goodbye Letter to Abortion Coalition

on June 21, 2016

Relations between two of the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) agencies and a pro-abortion coalition were severed during the denomination’s recent General Conference by a vote of 425 to 268. Following directives, Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, General Board of Church and Society General Secretary, and United Methodist Women General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson issued a joint open letter stating their respective agency’s official withdrawal from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).

“The United Methodist Church continues to support the need for comprehensive education on matters of sexuality, yet we were directed to withdraw from this Coalition whose work supports just that,” wrote Henry-Crowe and Olson in a tone of seeming annoyance.

Of course, the magnitude of the UMC’s orthodox evangelical decision fueled controversy from within and outside of the denomination. RCRC even issued its own statement rejecting the UMC’s decision retorting, “Contrary to the UMC description of our organization, RCRC is a community of religious organizations and faithful individuals in the United States dedicated to achieving reproductive health, rights and justice through advocacy and education.”

Henry-Crowe and Olson exhibit similar resistance in their letter which blames part of the decision on “misunderstandings” regarding RCRC’s mission. Despite the fact that RCRC lobbies for abortion to be legal in all cases and at any time, Henry-Crowe and Olson lament:

As you already know, during this debate and in prior years, RCRC was described as a political lobbying group. Of course, where legal rights and access are threatened, the Coalition has helped us as members reach out to advocate for women and their doctors. As our Judicial Council found, as long ago as 1992, this work does not contravene our United Methodist Book of Discipline, see Decision 683.

Another mix-up, according to Henry-Crowe and Olson, has to do with delegates misinterpreting the “nature of ecumenical and coalition-based work.” While I recall debate regarding RCRC’s supposed provisions for women’s healthcare and lobbying efforts, I personally don’t recall RCRC’s ecumenical nature as a point of issue on the plenary floor during debate. Even so, the ladies write:

One of the misunderstandings that surfaced during the debate on the floor has to do with the nature of ecumenical and coalition-based work. We helped to found this coalition in 1973 in order to share perspectives, learn from each other and to advance work in areas of common interest. We have been enriched by the diverse theological perspectives around the table and this has deepened our own work. We did not come to the table to convert each other, but we were gratified by your interest in the United Methodist theological framework and our carefully nuanced position on abortion. We regret that we will no longer be there to share this with you.

Momentarily softening their rhetoric, Henry-Crowe and Olson acknowledged General Conference delegates also voted to strengthen church resources to provide “nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy and to those who give birth.” The two United Methodist leaders continued:

Even though we will not be members of RCRC, we continue our commitment to the reproductive health of women and girls. We will continue our work to support United Methodists to grow their communities of faith to have the skills, resources and connections to help women and families in all the phases of their lives. We remain committed to meeting women in the midst of difficult circumstances with tenderness, theological groundedness and skill.

However, it’s the last line that seems to read with a bit of defiance:

With many other members of the community of faith, we encourage the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice to continue its important work so that women have safe, legal and affordable access to the care they need.

Is it not inappropriate for United Methodist leadership to commend a pro-abortion coalition and encourage the continuation of its “important work” after United Methodists voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with a group whose “abortion care” contrasts with the church’s teaching on the sanctity of unborn life?

United Methodist clergy and lay leaders, what are your thoughts? Does Rev. Henry-Crowe and Olson’s open letter balance a tone of disagreement coupled with respect? Or does it reflect a rebellious reluctance to cut ties with a pro-abortion lobby group? Please leave your comments below.

  1. Comment by Gregg on June 21, 2016 at 7:35 am

    The RCRC claims to be working for “health, rights and justice…” I guess it depends on what the definitions of “health,” “rights,” and “justice” are.
    Perhaps they’re using the Mengele Pocket Dictionary.

  2. Comment by Eddie Gooch on June 21, 2016 at 9:15 am

    It was an answer to prayer that we will no longer be officially involved with the RCRC. The words chosen in this letter definitely reflect regret and an attitude of rebellion from the two people who wrote it. With the help of the Holy Spirit, may we be a church whose message reflects that of our blessed LORD Jesus: “Choose life ” !

  3. Comment by Pudentiana on June 21, 2016 at 10:02 am

    This “open letter” reflects the continuing perversion of the faith which is promoted by the progressive wing of the UMC. It is based upon a disregard for the teachings of our Lord and an elevation of human wisdom along with a lack of love for the innocence in the womb.

  4. Comment by Joan Watson on June 21, 2016 at 10:12 am

    After reading this letter in full, I decided it was time to check out the RCRC website; I did not have to go too deep to decide the correct decision was made. However, what I also discovered is that the RCRC already has a campaign in place inviting Untied Methodists as individuals and conferences to become members; the New York Annual Conference has already signed on:

    “A resolution that the NYAC become a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and designate $1,000 as the first investment in its work.” http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/2016-new-york-conference
    We have a ways to go before the UMC comes anywhere close to being of the same mind when it comes to understanding what it means to be a covenantal connection.

  5. Comment by David Goudie on June 21, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Sadly the Oregon -Idaho conference also voted to support the RCRC.

  6. Comment by Patrick98 on June 21, 2016 at 10:16 am

    “The United Methodist Church continues to support the need for comprehensive education on matters of sexuality”. Nowhere in that letter did either of those women write that the United Methodist Church supports the need for education on matters of holy sexuality. That is an interesting omission.

  7. Comment by PapaK on June 21, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    This letter is wrong. Not for what it says but because it failed to faithfully represent the voice of the church.
    I am familiar enough with Reverend Crowe to know that , with all our points of serious disagreements, she is a Christian, an honorable person, and a loyal United Methodist. This letter is still wrong.
    It is a basic responsibility of serving a trust:
    The individual members of our boards have a responsibility to be faithful to the church’s stated mission and not to act or use its resources in incompatible ways or purposes. This includes the duties of care, loyalty and obedience. Their central purpose is to ensure that the church’s resources are used to achieve its purposes within its conditions. When acting on behalf of the United Methodist Church individual board members must set aside their own interests, whether professional or personal, or the interests of any other organization.
    Perhaps she is, at the moment, incapable of serving that trust for the same reason many of us are not. After living in schism (Wesley definition, sermon 75) for forty years our capacity to bear with one another is all but gone. The children of the United Methodist who began this conversation are now retirement age clergy. There is no reasonable expectation that three or four more years will improve our lot. Read Wesley, On Schism. Separation is a cure for schism—not its cause.
    What we can see happening to Reverend Crowe here is happening to the best of us on every side. Soon, there will not be enough of us talking to each other to matter.

  8. Comment by Joan Watson on June 22, 2016 at 11:09 am

    I agree with what you are saying; we are divided in so many ways it is ridiculous. Once I started monitoring the myriad of voices across the denomination, it did not take me long to realize that the reason the discussions are so acrimonious is that people are coming from completely different understandings not only theologically but also as to how the church functions–we are basically talking apples and oranges to each other–sometimes I think I am being generous to consider everybody is at least in the fruit family. But I am no longer of the mind separation will be needed. The most committed liberal/progressives are showing they are not capable of working within the system they are a part of. They are also concentrated in very specific areas of the country that are experiencing a numerical decline that is greater than the overall denomination. There are those that are still involved with the UMC in these areas that have taken note of their inability to be “team players”. There were people that voted against the concept of their conference becoming non-conforming; some thought that this was a drastic action to be taking without first giving the Bishop’s Commission a chance–working off memory, in the New York Conference those voting against non-conformity was somewhere in the neighborhood of 25%. I am now willing to wait and see if this will resolve itself. In so many ways, including historically, the liberal/progressives do not have a leg to stand on; at this juncture, reasonable people know that beyond their current cause, they basically do not have two thoughts to rub together. I think they will always be around but I think their voice may be shrinking into background noise. John Wesley commented on the “mystery of iniquity” that has plagued the church from the very beginning. In a couple of his books, a modern Presbyterian pastor, M. Craig Barnes, puts it this way: there will always be bugs that are attracted to the light but they should never be allowed to gain control; I think we just might be in for a course correction.

  9. Comment by Puddleglumm on June 30, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Unless the United Methodist Church reclaims it’s Biblical heritage which includes being PRO-LIFE, it will be relegated to the ash heap of apostate denominations which the Lord Himself will spit out of his mouth. The UMC made a wise choice to leave the RCRC. I will continue to support the Confessing Movement, Good News, and Life Watch, all conservative groups seeking to bring the UMC back in line with scriptural teaching and I will always be pro-life.

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