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.