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.