Pro-Life Witness

United Methodism’s Pro-Life Witness

on January 29, 2020

United Methodism first endorsed abortion rights in 1970. Since then the denomination has added qualifications. The 2016 General Conference deleted the church’s support for Roe v Wade and withdrew church agencies from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. But the denomination remains largely pro-choice.

The unofficial United Methodist Task Force on Abortion on Sexuality, as a pro-life witness, convenes a small “Lifewatch” worship service in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill on the same day as the National March for Life. This year’s speaker on January 24 was David Watson, dean of United Methodist United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

As United Methodism heads towards schism, will this Lifewatch service be the last? Presumably the post-schism traditional Methodist church will be pro-life. But will the post-schism liberal United Methodist Church return to harder core pro-abortion activism of earlier years?

Recalling the opening words of John’s Gospel, Watson in his Lifewatch sermon (video here) noted that “just as John holds up life in his account of the creation of all things, so we, the church, are called to hold up life in our proclamation. We are called to hold up life in a culture of death.”

Watson lamented that “we are losing the battle in Western culture for hearts and minds in a war against life,” citing the “applause in the New York legislature over the legalization of late-term abortion.” He recalled that comedian Michelle Wolf “joked before an audience that her abortion made her feel powerful, made her feel like God,” followed by audience applause.

“Yes, in a way she was powerful,” Watson admitted. “She used her power as a human agent, given to her by the same God who called her into being. She used the power of life and death, the same power that has eliminated almost all people with Down syndrome from Iceland, and which has eliminated 80-90 percent of people with Down syndrome, people like my own son, in the United States. Perhaps someday we will hear applause for these deaths as well. In the culture of death, we applaud death.”

Watson reflected on the March for Life and its critics: “There are many who will look at this gathering of faithful from across the nation today and say that we’re the ones filled with new wine–that we are drunk with a desire for power, that this is about control, about taking away rights, about oppression.”

The pro-life response should be, Watson said: “No, today is about life. What came into being through the Word of God was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

Watson recalled the early church’s Didache, a manual for Christian teaching, which taught: “There are two ways: one of life and one of death. And there is a great difference between the two ways.”  He said: “It is no less true today than in the ancient world. …So today we hold up life.”

“I don’t want to be part of a church that capitulates to a culture of death, or at best turns a blind eye to the devaluing of human life that proceeds apace in the world around us,” Watson said. “I don’t want to be part of a church that refuses to identify sin so as to sit comfortably in a culture that bows the knee to a new and false god every week.”

Instead, Watson said he wants “to be part of a church that remembers who she is… a church that knows the truth and proclaims it, and is willing to stand apart, to stand in the gap, and to be ridiculed when necessary… a church that is willing to sacrifice in service to Jesus Christ.”

As United Methodism heads towards division, the new branches will have to decide to what extent they will uphold a pro-life message or capitulate to culture.

  1. Comment by JR on January 29, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    I highly recommend that you gentlemen in the picture above, being so strongly against abortion, be sure to never ever have one. Don’t ever let someone force you into choosing otherwise!

  2. Comment by Palamas on January 29, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    I strongly recommend that, being anti-slavery, you be sure never to own one. I also strongly recommend that, if you are anti-adultery, you never have an affair. I further recommend that, if you are anti-polygamy, you never marry more than one person. Oh, and finally I recommend that you don’t comment on moral issues when your understanding of the arguments are on a second-grade level. You simply make yourself look like an idiot.

  3. Comment by JR on January 30, 2020 at 8:07 am

    I agree with all of your points.

    The Bible is not anti-slavery, for what it’s worth. It’s also not anti-polygamy.

    I’m happy to say that I’m anti-abortion as well as pro-choice. On a personal level the former, and I’d like to see our society address root causes that makes the ‘pro-choice’ piece relatively moot. But that requires some nuance of thought – so when someone claims that wide swaths of people are ‘pro-abortion’, it’s a clear signal that they don’t have any kind of nuance in their thinking on this issue – OR, they are trying to kick off a particular reaction.

  4. Comment by Palamas on January 30, 2020 at 10:14 am

    To say one is “anti-abortion” at the same time one is “pro-choice” is either 1) completely incoherent, or 2) completely fatuous. It’s incoherent if one believes abortion is a serious public wrong along the line of murder or (if one doesn’t want to go that far) manslaughter, and yet is willing to allow people to engage in it. Are you willing to allow people to commit manslaughter if they have a good reason? It’s fatuous if one is pro-choice because you don’t think abortion is all that big a deal, in which case you both are ignorant of the Christian tradition regarding abortion, and ethically unserious (like a slave-owner who never gave any thought to whether slavery was a sin against God because he’d decided a priori that blacks weren’t really human, and so could be readily disposed of like any other property).

  5. Comment by JR on January 30, 2020 at 12:23 pm

    “It’s incoherent if one believes abortion is a serious public wrong along the line of murder or (if one doesn’t want to go that far) manslaughter, and yet is willing to allow people to engage in it. ”

    Clearly I don’t agree with your definitions.

    I don’t choose to impose my personal moral and religious beliefs on other people.

    Some people don’t think they should be married before having kids. I do, very strongly – yet I won’t impose that belief on others. I think that our society would be in a much better place if that was the case, and I could work to make good marriages a very positive example for youth.

    Root causes, Palamas. Address the root causes.

    “Are you willing to allow people to commit manslaughter if they have a good reason?”

    Surely. Well, not “people”, but society. Similar to my point above, there is certainly a place for capital punishment. I think we overuse it, and I would like us to address the root causes that makes the death penalty an acceptable choice. In my mind, we should probably have less than 10 potential capital punishment cases in the queue at any time – not because people don’t do crimes, but because most those crimes should not usually be DP eligible.

  6. Comment by Loren J Golden on January 30, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    If you believe that it is immoral for an adult to engage in sexual intercourse with a minor, even if the intercourse were consensual, and you supported laws that criminalized such behavior, would you not be “imposing your personal moral…beliefs on other people”?

  7. Comment by JR on January 31, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Hi Loren,

    Absolutely – but since the minor is not legally considered of the same level, it’s reasonable for a law to cover that situation. There are fine points around a minor just below the age of consent vs an adult who has just reached majority age, but the principle remains the same.

    There’s an obvious point to be made with respect to a fetus. However, there’s a gap that is often missed – a fetus isn’t event qualified to be a citizen until they are born (see 14th Amendment to the Constitution).

    I will continue to state, I’m in favor of some limited regulation when it comes to abortion.

  8. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 1, 2020 at 1:53 am

    My point was that you agreed that at least in the case of child or teen sexual abuse, you were willing to impose your personal moral beliefs on the adult perpetrator, despite your proud statement, above, that you do not choose to do so.
    By the same token, you claim to be personally “anti-abortion”, but this seems to be something that you find distasteful and not inherently and objectionably immoral, for you are unwilling to impose your personal moral beliefs on the abortion provider, as you are on the sexual predator, as if children outside the womb are, in your moral estimation, inherently more human and more worthy of protection under the law from those who seek to do them harm than children inside the womb.
    And your statement, “a fetus isn’t event qualified to be a citizen until they are born,” is quite simply abominable.  Illegal aliens are also not qualified to be citizens, and to draw the logical conclusion of your analogy, if unborn children are not worthy of protection under the law because they are not qualified to be citizens, should those who exploit or even murder (or commit manslaughter against) illegal aliens be immune from prosecution because their victims are not qualified to be citizens either?
    But ultimately it is not violations against man’s laws that we will be held to account, but God’s.  Scripture is not ambiguous when it tells us that God formed US—not formed some lump of flesh that later became us once we passed out of our mothers’ wombs (or some later time after conception), but formed US—in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139.13-16, Is. 44.2,24, 49.1,5, Jer. 1.5).  He it is that promised and formed a son for Abraham in his barren wife Sarah’s womb (Gen. 17.16, 18.10,14, 21.1); and likewise for Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 25.21), Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 30.22-23), Manoah and his wife (Judg. 13.3,24), Elkanah and Hannah (I Sam. 1.17-20), and Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1.13-15,24-25,57).  Shall the Lord and Giver of Life, as God the Holy Spirit is named in the Nicene Creed, who prohibited the taking of human life in the Law that He gave (Ex. 20.13, Dt. 5.17) and stated that He required a reckoning from any man or beast who spilled man’s blood because He made man, male and female, in His image (Gen. 9.5-6, 1.26-27), shall He treat the taking of life that He created in the womb as a lesser offense than the taking of life that has passed from the womb?
    Again, the Scripture clearly says no.  As Exodus 21.22-25 tells us, “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm,” that is, her children are born prematurely but alive, “the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.  But if there is harm,” that is, harm to the mother or her unborn children, including miscarriage or stillbirth resulting from her having been struck, “then you shall pay life for life,” etc.  Thus, the penalty for taking the life of an unborn child under the Old Testament Law was no less than the penalty for taking of the life of a person outside the womb, namely, the death of the murderer (Gen. 9.5-6, Ex. 21.12-14, Lev. 24.17, Num. 35.9-34).
    Consequently, we cannot, in the light of Scripture, conclude that the Sovereign God, who gives life and takes it away, leaves abortion—the deliberate taking of human life in the womb—as a matter of private moral choice.  As we Presbyterians are famous for confessing, “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything contrary to his Word; or beside it, in matters of faith, or worship.” (WCF XX.2)  Most often, this is quoted in the context of stating that we are free from being forced to obey commandments and doctrines that you and I come with on our own recognizance that contradict or do not flow from the teachings of Scripture.  However, the first part of that is, “God…is Lord of the (human) conscience.”  That means, He is going to judge our consciences, when we stand before His throne after Christ returns at the end of human history.  “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (I Sam. 16.7; also I Chron. 28.9, Prov. 15.11, 17.3, Jer. 11.20, 17.9-10, Lk. 16.15, Rom. 8.27, I Cor. 14.24-25, I Thess. 2.4)  And again, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4.12-13)  So, we might deceive ourselves by pretending that abortion is a matter of private moral choice, as if the life of a human being inside the womb was somehow less the image of God than a human being outside, making the deliberate taking of the life of an unborn child of less moral consequence than the deliberate taking of the life of a child or adult outside the womb.  But God is not so deceived, and He will judge us if we turn a blind eye to the horrific injustice perpetrated against the unborn in abortion, as assuredly as He will if we turn a blind eye to a brother or sister in need (Mt. 25.31-46).  Well did the author of Hebrews write, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10.31)

  9. Comment by JR on February 3, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Loren,

    Scripture also says you should kill a variety of people who have gone against God’s laws – adulterers and witches, and homosexuals, etc etc ad nauseam.

    Scripture also says that the world was made in 7 days, roughly (depending on your calculations) 6000 years ago.

    Scripture says that a flood killed EVERYONE on the Earth except for Noah and his brood.

    Scripture also says that Godzilla walked the earth (Job 41, more or less).

    Scripture says a lot of things.

    I don’t think it’s appropriate to force others to abide by the word of Scripture.

  10. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 3, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    But you do believe that it’s appropriate to force the unborn to abide, and unwillingly give their lives if so called upon, by an unbelieving, secular, humanistic metanarrative that only takes life and does not give it.
    That’s your alternative, JR.  I’ll stick with Scripture.

  11. Comment by Michael McInnis on January 30, 2020 at 6:31 pm

    Sorry, JR – you are wrong about polygamy in the Bible. God does not endorse polygamy; he allowed it (as God allows many of our bad choices because we have free will).

    But in every instance when there is polygamy in the Bible, it is very obvious that these are not happy marriages without envy, jealously and rivalry. Polygamy in the Bible NEVER turns out well, and this is very clear.

  12. Comment by JR on January 31, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Hi Michael,

    great point. I didn’t watch the video, but I’m happy to discuss the issue.

    Your view would have Jacob only marry Leah, and therefore the Jews would not have been blessed with Joseph and Benjamin.

  13. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 1, 2020 at 2:09 am

    Michael’s “view” in this case, also happens to be God’s; what Jacob did in marrying Rachel after having been tricked into marrying her sister was a sin against His Law (Lev. 18.18).  However, although the domestic life that Jacob reaped as a result of that sin (not to mention the results he reaped from the further sin of showing favoritism toward Rachel’s sons), God still redeemed his sin (Gen. 50.20), just as He did David’s (Mt. 1.6-16).  But that is not to say that Jacob (or David) was not morally culpable for what he had done.

  14. Comment by JR on February 3, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    Hi Loren,

    So Jacob marrying Rachel was a sin, yet God still blessed them with sons (per your previous post)?

    Talk about mixed messages.

    Maybe God isn’t quite the wholly interventionist deity you seem to think. Because if He was, he would have told Jacob up front to chill it on the polygamy front (among all the other Biblical polygamists) and everything would be just fine.

  15. Comment by Loren J Golden on February 3, 2020 at 11:26 pm

    “Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?  Whom did he consult, and who made him understand?  Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Is. 40.13-14)
    It would seem that you would proffer yourself as just such a candidate, JR.  It seems that you think that you know better than Him.  Rather like Job, who sought to justify himself rather than God (Job 29-31).  I would encourage you to carefully read how God answered him out of the whirlwind in Job 38-41, without getting hung up over literalistic interpretations of Behemoth and Leviathan in a work of poetic literature.

  16. Comment by John Smith on January 29, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    I’ sorry but pro-life and UMC don’t belong in the same sentence. While individuals may be pro-life and the denomination has gone to enormous lengths to ensure those in the pews don’t know its pro-abortion stance at the end of the day the UMC is pro-abortion and any progressive successor will be as well. If we’re questioning what the traditionalist portion will be there should be a simple check: What does the WCA BOD say about abortion?

  17. Comment by Beth on January 29, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    I asked the WCA that question directly and they replied that they don’t have an official position on abortion.

  18. Comment by Mike on January 29, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    The proposed WCA Book of Doctrines and Discipline, paragraph 302, states “We believe that life is a holy gift of God whose beginnings and endings are set by God and that it is the particular duty of believers to protect those who are powerless to protect themselves, including the unborn. We believe that human life begins at conception and abortion ends a human life.” You can find this online at the WCA site.

  19. Comment by Beth on January 29, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    Thank you, I’m glad to know this.

  20. Comment by David on January 29, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    Prenatal testing for genetic diseases prevents suffering to families, but also to those affected. Those with the mentality to understand their condition realize they cannot do things that others can do. This is not a happy situation. Affected persons can also detract from the care of other children and bring additional stress to a marriage.

    Genetic testing merely offers people information. How they choose to act on it is their own affair. Most fetuses with genetic defects are aborted naturally, often before the pregnancy is recognized.

    There was a time when the UMC and SBC favored abortion rights. These positions were taken after much prayer for discernment.

  21. Comment by Palamas on January 29, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    So you’re in favor of aborting children with Down’s Syndrome, or at least giving parents the freedom to do so?

  22. Comment by David on January 30, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    A fetus and a child are not the same thing.

  23. Comment by John on February 3, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    Except that they are–the only difference is whether they’ve made it through the birth canal or not. Luke appropriately uses brephos for both the pre-born John the Baptist when he leapt in Elizabeth’s womb and the newborn Jesus when he was wrapped in swaddling clothes; the term applies equally to both pre- and post-natal offspring.

  24. Comment by Jim on January 30, 2020 at 9:11 am

    “Affected persons can also detract from the care of other children and bring additional stress to a marriage.”

    So then, those with congenital disorders e.g. kidney, organs in general, hemophilia, etc, which DO BRING stress on marriages and families are also included in your thinking? And for your information, your statement about natural abortions is not only wrong, it is sinister.

  25. Comment by David on January 30, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    You are scientifically incorrect. Only about 30% of human conceptions reach term.

  26. Comment by Jim on January 30, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Morally correct on the former which you conveniently ignored. You really are something — an advocate for the leftist agenda trying to masquerade as a middle of the road thoughtful, introspective intellectual .

  27. Comment by David on January 30, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I spent my working life in reproductive genetics, mainly Tay Sachs, which is always fatal in its infantile form at an early age. This disease has been almost eliminated by testing and selective abortion. Too bad we do not have a cure for those who cannot discuss things without name calling or ad hominems.

  28. Comment by John on February 3, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    David, if Tay-Sachs has been almost eliminated, then pre-natal testing must be showing rapidly decreasing incidences of the disease, no? Or are you saying that there are few post-natal occurrences because so few Tay-Sachs babies make it out of the womb alive?

  29. Comment by David Watson on January 31, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    I’m the father of a child with Down syndrome. He is happy and relatively healthy. His older brother loves him. You are advocating for eugenics. Stop. Do better.

  30. Comment by Thom Kohl on January 30, 2020 at 6:04 am

    My UMC Annual Conference voted down a declaration that a baby in the womb is fully human. I was shocked at the discussion while this legislation was being discussed. It was during this deliberation that I realized that I could not remain in a denomination long that did not recognize the miracle of the beginning of a new life.

  31. Comment by Tim on January 30, 2020 at 9:30 am

    My college, in 1976, used to have a display of miscarried and still born babies in large jars from about 6 weeks of age up to 9 months of age. This display was in the public area of the hallway of the Biology building. The first time I saw this display was the last day of my believing in abortion.

  32. Comment by David on January 30, 2020 at 5:34 pm

    Perhaps you will change your mind after seeing this.

  33. Comment by Tim on January 30, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Patau happens in about 66 out of one million births. We abort about one million babies a year in America. We are killing a lot of healthy children.

  34. Comment by Mark Flynn on February 1, 2020 at 11:36 am

    God bless David Watson. I am deeply grateful for his statement.

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