12/1/97 -- A quarterly news letter for United Methodists


Guest Column:

Last spring Lifewatch asked my wife, Carla, and me to attend the National Right to Life Convention in Chicago. We were also asked to represent Lifewatch in the "breakout session" led by the National Pro-Life Religious Council (NPRC).

NPRC is made up of representatives from Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and other churches. Its breakout session at the convention was entitled "Here Are the Sheep, Where Are the Shepherds?" Since there was a standing-room-only crowd of 200 or more in the NPRC-led session, the people attending the National Right to Life Convention were obviously interested in what the Church has to say about life and abortion.

During the breakout session many good suggestions were made on how best to encourage your pastor to speak out for life and against abortion. One suggestion was to give your pastor the book of pro-life sermons entitled The Right Choice (which is available from Lifewatch). Another was to encourage a pro-life pastor to meet with your pastor so that a peer could encourage your pastor to proclaim a more pro-life message from the pulpit. All in all, this conference encouraged my wife and me greatly regarding the health of the pro-life movement in America.

The one disappointing realization came during the breakout session. Carla asked the people in the crowd of 200 to raise their hands if they were United Methodist. There was only one. This shocked me. Where were the United Methodists? There were, to be sure, several former United Methodists in attendance; even so, there was only one person who is presently United Methodist.

This leads me to ask, with The United Methodist Church in mind, not only, Where are the shepherds?, but also, Where are the sheep? As United Methodists, we laypersons dare not point our fingers at our pastors and complain that we have no leadership. We church members must look at ourselves individually and ask the following questions.

  • Am I being a faithful and effective pro-life witness in The United Methodist Church?
  • Am I urging other United Methodists to love both the unborn child and mother?
  • Am I encouraging fellow members of my congregation to speak out for the protection of life and against abortion?
  • 12/1/97 A quarterly newsletter for United Methodists
  • Am I asking my annual conference to pass pro-life resolutions?
  • Am I witnessing to my bishop that abortion involves the taking of an innocent human life, and am I proposing that s/he take a stand for the unborn as well as the born?

There is not much time. Your annual conference is only a few months away, and General Conference 2000 is only 2 years away. If The United Methodist Church is ever going to change from its pro-abortion stance, we--including you--must speak out, and do works of mercy, for the unborn and mother. --Don Thompson [member of Christ United Methodist Church/Memphis] /676 Walnut Bend/Cordova, TN 38018/(901)751 -3249heart.gif (1031 bytes)

Where We Are

Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett is the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church. Recently, answering some concerned United Methodists who had raised some serious questions about GBCS policies and positions, Dr. Fassett responded with a form letter.

In his letter, after addressing the issues of homosexuality and welfare, Dr. Fassett engaged the problem of abortion. Here is his paragraph on abortion: "Finally, the issue of late term abortions, often referred to as partial-birth abortions. It seems to me there can be nothing more repugnant than abortion no matter which method is employed. The United Methodist Church has expressed its official position in Paragraph 65J of our Discipline. This is an official policy of choice with very clear directives rejecting abortion as a means of birth control and gender selection. However, as a policy of choice, it becomes our obligation not only to be certain that spiritual counsel is available for women or families regarding this decision of 'life against life,' but it is also imperative that we maintain legal options in the United States for access to legal procedures such as those found in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. As you are well aware, significant numbers of United Methodists reject the policy of choice supported by our church. As such the issue of late-term abortions is even more outrageous to them as it is to me. However, supporting the legal option of late-term abortion--however heinous its appearance--assures the care of women if there is a clear medical challenge to her life or health. In my opinion, there is no other rationale that can apply to such a procedure except the challenge of 'life against life.' I do not, nor do we--as a church--advocate abortion of any sort except in those cases supported by our church policy. Those persons opposed to choice will certainly take our clear statement about late-term abortions to mean we support them. This is simply not true." (Bold-type emphasis is added.)

Dr. Fassett's paragraph on abortion states very clearly that, according to The Book of Discipline, the official United Methodist position on abortion is pro-choice or pro-Roe v. Wade. And pro-choice, in Dr. Fassett's reading, means that The United Methodist Church is opposed to any and all legal protections for the unborn and mother. To be sure, Dr. Fassett states in his letter that, as far as he is concerned, "there can be nothing more repugnant than abortion no matter which method is employed " And he adds that "the issue of late-term abortions is even more outrageous...to me." And he notes again that he does not support late-terms abortions. Still, his bottom line is this: The United Methodist Church stands for the legal choice of abortion without restriction, without qualification. In other words. according to Dr. Fassett. The United Methodist Church is more dedicated to protecting abortion-on-demand in America than protecting unborn children and their mothers from abortion.

Just today, a bright, engaged, evangelical brother in the ordained ministry of our church mentioned to this editor that he thought the official United Methodist position on abortion was acceptable, if not perfect. Little did he realize that our disciplinary paragraph is interpreted, in a rigidly pro-choice way, by the denominational powers that be. Little did he know how our disciplinary paragraph is used, by Dr. Fassett and others, to oppose the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that has been passed by the United States House of Representative and by the United States Senate by wide margins.

Unfortunately, this brother is not alone. There are many faithful United Methodists who say, "All we need to do, on abortion, is abide by what the Discipline says." However, Dr. Fassett's statement, founded on the Discipline, indicates very clearly that The Book of Discipline is at least ambiguous, and at most in error, on abortion.

Dr. Fassett's position on abortion, which is based on The Book of Disciplines is similar to the position taken by Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York. Regarding abortion, both Fassett and Cuomo are "personally opposed, but..." That is, they are personally opposed to abortion; however, legally speaking, they favor choice in an uncompromising way.

"That They May Have Life" is a recent statement from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. On the Fassett-Cuomo position, it rightly declares: "It is unacceptable and indefensible for Christians to say that they personally oppose abortion but do not support the legal protection of the unborn. Commitment to life is not a matter of personal piety; it is a conclusion about social justice. Laws against abortion and other evils do not 'impose' morality. They protect the weak from violence, one of government's defining roles. When a life is unjustly taken, this is not an expression of freedom or choice. It is the abuse of freedom and choice, and the permanent denial of freedom and choice to the individual who no longer lives." So true it is.

The United Methodist Church is not pro-choice on gambling. Nor is The United Methodist Church pro-choice on pornography. Nor is The United Methodist Church pro-choice on racism. Likewise, The United Methodist Church should not be pro-choice on abortion. And that means The Book of Discipline's paragraph on abortion needs to be changed--to be protective of the least of these, the unborn child and mother. (PTS)heart.gif (1031 bytes)


These stirring words are taken from "The Mother of All Battles," a sermon written and preached by Rev. Connie Roland Alt, the pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Wilmington, DE: "Today is a call to arms. Actually, the Mother of All Battles was won by Jesus Christ on the Cross on D-Day, on deliverance day. But the day of total victory, V-DAY, is still ahead. The Great War over sin and death has been fought and won, though this battle still rages. In the meantime, with renewed energy and courage, we will take up the cause of defending the weakest, most vulnerable of God's children. It is not easy. We seem to be outnumbered...

"This is a call to arms..."

  • "Arms for holding the unwanted and the unloved."
  • "Arms for hugging and comforting women who have had abortions, and offering them the peace and forgiveness that only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can offer."
  • "Arms for protecting and shielding the helpless and oppressed."
  • "Arms for linking together in unity of purpose for declaring the truth."
  • "Arms to lift up holy hands in supplication and constant prayer for a stop to the lies that perpetuate the atrocity of abortion."
  • "Arms that reach out the helping hands of a truly warmhearted people dedicated to scriptural holiness and reforming the nation in the name of our Lord."
  • "This is a call to loving arms. To God be the glory!"

To obtain the entire sermon by Rev. Alt, as well as thirteen other sermons and speeches contained in The Right Choice, write a $10 check payable to "Lifewatch" and send to Lifewatch / 512 Florence Street Dothan, AL 36301heart.gif (1031 bytes)


• It was Martin Luther who said: "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, l am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."

Could it be that, at this particular moment in time, the "little point" under attack is the human dignity of the unborn child and mother? According to Luther's standard, it is reasonable to declare: if we proclaim Jesus Christ as Son Savior, and Lord--but omit the claim of the God-given human dignity of the unborn and mother--then we fail in our confession of Jesus Christ. To confess Jesus Christ, fully and faithfully in our day, requires the proclamation of the dignity of man--including the dignity of the unborn child and mother.

• "Scriptures on Abortion" is a very informative, six-panel brochure compiled by Bill Waldrop, Jr. It lists some thirty Biblical passages that, in various ways and means, speak to the problem of abortion. In addition, the brochure's notes include comments against abortion from the Great Tradition of the Church. You can obtain a copy of this helpful educational resource by sending a SASE plus one stamp to: Bill Waldrop, Jr./3621 West 5400 S/Roy, UT 84067.

• A new video on various renewal ministries within The United Methodist Church is now available. Entitled "A Jesus Agenda " the tape features Mrs. Diann Catlin interviewing Mr. Mark Tooley, Dr. James V. Heidinger II, Mrs. Faye Short, and your editor. Mrs. Catlin, a faithful teacher of the Bible in United Methodist churches, asks pertinent and probing questions of the four interviewed. In his interview, Mr. Tooley, of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and UMAction, comes across as the most straight-forward journalist to report on the United Methodist scene since Roy Howard Beck, formerly of The United Methodist Reporter Mr. Tooley is both direct and fair. Dr. Heidinger, who is the executive editor of Good News and has been in the renewal trenches for years, explores how our denomination is doctrinally and theologically challenged. Mrs. Faye Short, of the Renew Women's Network, discusses today's UMW establishment and offers an alternate ministry to the women of our church. And yours truly describes why the ministries of Lifewatch and The Confessing Movement are necessary in The United Methodist Church today. This tape provides much information--in a reasonable, critical, and yet hopeful manner--about the problems and the promise found in United Methodism at the end of the twentieth century. It is an excellent educational tool for use in church school classes and other church meetings. For your copy, send a $10 check made payable to "MEM" to MEM/4620 Prince Edward Road/Jacksonville, FL 32210.

• Last July the Episcopal Church convention passed a statement that expressed opposition to partial-birth abortions. A month earlier the Presbyterian Church (USA) had passed a similar statement. When will The United Methodist Church, or one of its institutions, speak out against this barbaric practice? May the Holy Spirit move our church, or one of its arms, to speak the truth in love against this murderous procedure.

• Paul Marshall's recent book, Their Blood Cries Out, concerns anti-Christian persecution around the world it contains this strong statement, which applies to abortion and our church: "It is no mercy to spare the feelings of others by allowing the suffering of millions to pass by in silence. It is no humility to accept the death of others. It is no love to be quiet in the face of oppression. We may indeed be called to turn the other cheek in attacks on ourselves. We have no such call in attacks on others. The call to escape self-centeredness and self-justification is meant to free us to be servants of others."

• The following is from John Paul II. It was spoken during his recent visit to Poland: "A civilization which rejected the defenseless would deserve to be called a barbarian civilization, even though it had great successes in the fields of economics, technology, art, and science. The Church, faithful to the mission received from Christ, despite the weaknesses and infidelities of many of her sons and daughters, has consistently brought into human history the great truth of love of neighbor, has reduced social divisions, has overcome racial and ethnic differences, has cared for the sick and the orphaned, the old, the handicapped, and the homeless. She has taught with words and deeds that no one can be excluded from the great human family, that no one can be pushed to the edges of society. Defense of the life of children not yet born is the consequence of this mission of the Church...

"Dear brothers and sisters, support life...l repeat once more what I said in October last year: 'A nation which kills its own children is a nation without a future.' Therefore, a general mobilization of consciences and a joint ethical effort is necessary in order to put into action the great strategy of the defense of life. Today the world has become the arena of the battle for life. The struggle between the civilization of life and the civilization of death continues. This is why the building of the 'culture of life' is so important...

"Continue to defend life! This is your great contribution to the establishment of the civilization of love. May the ranks of the defenders of life steadily increase! Do not lose heart! This is a great mission entrusted to you by Providence. May God, from whom every life takes its origin, bless you" (New York Times, 6/5/97, and Life Insight, June-July 1997).

• A part of fostering a culture of life within United Methodism is helping men and women, who uphold the dignity of all God's children (including those children not yet born), to discern God's call to ordained ministry. Therefore, if you know such a man or such a woman, you might direct him/her to apply for a Denit Fellows Award at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Interested parties should contact the Office of Admissions at (202)-885-8659 or (800)-882-4987/ext.1.

• Rev. Jennifer Mehl Ferrar of Fleetwood, PA, recently wrote this about abortion: "In the end, abortion is not an act of desperation, but one of hubris. It is an attempt to wrest control of our destiny away from God. According to pro-abortion ideology, conception is a human deed. Consequently, Rosemary Redford Rather can say in her prayer for the rite of healing from abortion, 'We want to create life that is chosen, wanted, and can be sustained and nourished' (Woman-Church). We women taketh and can, therefore, taketh" (First Things, March 1997).

• Thomas a Kempis continues to instruct with such as this: "If you try to find rest in this world, how will you ever reach that rest which is life everlasting? It is not long hours of rest you must be prepared for here, but for long hours of patient endurance. True peace must be sought not on earth, but in heaven; not in men, nor in other forms of creation, but in God alone. For the love of God you ought to endure with gladness all that befalls you: toil and sorrow, temptations, afflictions, anxiety, want, weakness, injury and slander, rebuke, humiliation, shame, correction and scorn. All these things are aids to holiness; they test the man who has newly entered the service of Christ, and go to the making of his heavenly crown" (The Imitation of Christ).

• The July/August issue of Christian Social Action (CSA), which is a publication of our General Board of Church and Society, contains a diatribe, written by John Swomley, against the Confessing Movement. (Mr. Swomley advances the pro-abortion agenda with vigor, as JFK would have said.) Because The Confessing Movement laments that contemporary United Methodism is "ignoring the Church's long-standing protection of the unborn and the mother" (Article 3, A Confessional Statement), Swomley contends that the statement belongs to "the entire anti-abortion movement in this country."

In a letter to the editor, Stephen Charles Mott, who writes the From the Word column in CSA and who is the chair of the New England Conference Committee of Church and Society, responds to Swomley: "That does not seem to be good scholarship or a fair treatment" (CSA, September 1997).

To which we reply: Amen; and thank you, Rev. Mott.heart.gif (1031 bytes)





Please use this ad for your church bulletin and/or newsletter.

Plan Now to Attend
the Annual



January 22, 1998

The Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
Beginning at

9:30 a.m.


Simpson Memorial Chapel
The United Methodist Building

100 Maryland Avenue, NE
Washington, DC

The Reverend Marc Rogers
First United Methodist Church
Wortham, Texas

Worship Leader:
The Reverend Paul R. Crikelair
Goodwill United Methodist Church
Elverson, PA

Also, on January 22nd, you are cordially invited to attend
the Annual Lifewatch Board Meeting at 3:30 p.m.,

both of which will be held in The United Methodist Building

Lifewatch is published by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, a network of United Methodist clergy, laity, and churches. It is sent, free of charge, to interested readers.

Editor, Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth
P.O. Box 177
Rose Hill NC 28458

Administrator, Mrs. Ruth Brown
512 Florence Street
Dothan AL 36301
(334) 794-8543

1322 Marie Avenue
Ephrata PA 17522



At the April 1997 National Workshop on Christian Unity, nearly 500 Christians, representing 17 communions, gathered in Sacramento, CA. The opening worship service, held at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, drew not only workshop conferees but also pro-life protesters. Employing an in-your-face style, the protesters were presumably objecting to represented denominations which maintain a pro-choice position on abortion. ("Report on the [1997] National Workshop on Christian Unity," an unpublished paper by Rev. M. Claire Clyburn of Washington, NC)

The rather head-on Sacramento protest raises a significant question: Will, at some point, The United Methodist Church's pro-choice position on abortion undermine its ecumenical relations with the greater Church?

With that question in mind, your editor attended an open forum held during a meeting of the national Roman Catholic-United Methodist dialogue, which has been in progress since the late 1960s. (On the international level, there is another ongoing dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council.) The forum took place on the evening of October 16, 1997, at St. Paul's College, Catholic University in Washington, DC.

The evening forum was a rather informal gathering. The Roman Catholic team was composed of:

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, WA; Sister Ellen Joyce of the College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, NJ; Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill of Mount St. Agnes Theological Center for Women, Baltimore, MD; Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph, Secretary of Educational Ministries, the Diocese of Lexington, KY; Monsignor John Strynkowski of Holy Cross Parish, Maspeth, NY; and Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC.

The United Methodist team was made up of: Bishop William Boyd Grove, the Ecumenical Officer for The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops; Ms. Ruth A. Daugherty of Lancaster, PA; Rev. James Gaughan of Portland Avenue United Methodist Church, Bloomington, MN; and Dr. Bruce W. Robbins,

General Secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Affairs, New York, NY. Ms. Jennifer Bader, a doctoral student in systematic theology at Catholic University, and your editor were the two guests at the forum.

In short order, the major topic of the forum became the challenge that abortion presents to Christian unity. And a challenge it is. After all, the Roman Catholic Church, in official teaching, is decidedly pro-life on abortion. At every step, Roman Catholicism consistently teaches and advances protection of the unborn and mother from abortion. On the other hand, The United Methodist Church, in official teaching, is pro-choice.

While acknowledging "the sanctity of unborn human life" (The Book of Discipline, Par. 65J), United Methodism intentionally leaves the door open to choice. (This opening permits certain sectors of United Methodism to affiliate with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a pro-choice political lobby in Washington, DC. It also allows United Methodist leaders to speak out against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Even many pro-choice politicians are horrified by partial-birth abortion and therefore support the ban.)

This conflict in basic moral teaching presents an obvious obstacle to Roman Catholic-United Methodist unity.


The forum's quite lengthy, but very civil, discussion clearly indicated that both Roman Catholics and United Methodists will not remove the challenge of abortion from the ecumenical table. In other words, this dialogue will not be silent about this topic. Were the dialogue to be silent on abortion, it would prove itself to be nothing but a nice, tea-and-sympathy chat unable or unwilling to tackle difficult problems. Furthermore, silence on abortion would demonstrate that the dialogue had caved in to the moral relativisms and subjectivisms of our day. Willing to engage the pressing problem of abortion, these Catholics and these United Methodists demonstrated that they hopefully trust the Holy Spirit to lead their dialogue into the future.

Early in the discussion, Bp. Grove noted that John Wesley, who is a crucial historical source of United Methodism's ecumenical vocation, was often "passionately committed [to a position] yet open to other points of view." Your editor took this to be a suggestion that perhaps pluralism on abortion--with Catholics being pro-life, with Methodists being pro-choice, and with both agreeing to disagree--would be a sufficient response. However, due to the significance of abortion--which involves basic Christian teaching, essential Christian truth about "human nature and moral responsibility" (Richard John Neuhaus), and the struggle of the culture of life against the culture of death--the dialogue rightly bypassed pluralism as a possible solution.

The idea of pluralism, at a different level, was picked up by Rev. Gaughan. In his opinion, "the genius of United Methodism" is the room it allows for dissent. That is, a United Methodist can dissent from official United Methodist teaching and still be considered a loyal United Methodist. In an additional note on pluralism, Dr. Robbins spoke of the wide varieties of opinions on abortion in both the Roman Catholic and United Methodist communities. The problem at hand, however, concerned and concerns conflicting church teachings on abortion (not individual opinions on abortion) and how those teachings influence Roman Catholic-United Methodist unity.

All participants agreed that, over the years, the national Roman Catholic-United Methodist dialogue had made significant strides. After all, among participants a real ecumenical community had formed, and major areas of agreement were being uncovered. The dialogue's publications--Shared Convictions about Education (1970), Holiness and Spirituality of the Ordained Ministry (1976), Eucharistic Celebration: Converging Theology, Divergent Practice (1981), and Holy Living and Holy Dying (1988)--indicate massive agreements. Therefore, it was assumed by all and stated by Bp. Skylstad that, remaining on the ecumenical journey and keeping the dialogue going in love and truth, participants should thoughtfully engage areas even where disagreements would most certainly arise.


Sr. O'Neill proposed that Roman Catholics and United Methodists would most constructively discuss abortion in theological terms. That is, Roman Catholics and United Methodists, in dialogically engaging the problem of abortion, should abandon the language of autonomous individualism (which claims, for example, that "a woman has a right over her own body"). The language of autonomous individualism is, she said, opposed to Christian teaching, opposed to baptism, and opposed to communion. After all, the Christian faith teaches that we are not our own, that we have been purchased for a price (I Corinthians 6:19-20). Therefore, Roman Catholics and United Methodists would do well to employ the language of the Christian faith, the language of baptism, and the language of communion in carrying on conversation about abortion.

Sr. Joyce added that the work of the University of Notre Dame's Todd Whitmore could assist this conversation. Whitmore claims that abortion is actually about how we treat our children, including our unborn children. Sr. Joyce seconded Sr. O'Neill's claim that the Church's Biblical and Traditional resources, for responding to abortion, are rich and ready to be mined. Furthermore, she urged that abortion needs to be examined as a moral problem, not as just another public policy issue and not as just another partisan-political issue.

Rightly noting that the Church is responsible for teaching the truth as best she can, Dr. Radon reminded the group of one pertinent moral truth that stands among many others: abortion always involves the taking of a human life. Perhaps with this truth in mind, Jennifer Bader suggested that United Methodists, known for compassionate ministries to the poor, might well join with Roman Catholics in reaching out in love to women in crisis pregnancies.


During the forum, several references were made to Holy Living and Holy Dying, the only ecumenical document written on end-of-life issues. Unfortunately, let it be remembered that this document has, to date, not nudged United Methodism toward more faithful teaching in the area of assisted suicide. After all, one of our bishops, serving as a jury foreman in one of Dr. Kevorkian's trials, helped to exonerate the accused. Even so, perhaps a similar document on abortion, written in theological terms, just might help to move the Roman Catholic-United Methodist dialogue closer to Christian unity.

This editor has long contended that Roman Catholics, in dialogue with United Methodists, bring out the best from their United Methodist partners. It is seems that Roman Catholics cause us United Methodists to remember our Wesleyan formation. And that happened again, it appeared, on the evening of October 16th in Washington, DC.

But more ecumenical work needs to be done. For Roman Catholics and United Methodists to reach "full, visible unity"--centered on sharing around the same Lord's Table there will have to be a meeting of Christian minds, in theological terms, on abortion. Needless to say, this meeting of Christian minds will be not a negotiated compromise. Rather, it will be a renewal, for both Roman Catholics and United Methodists, in confessing and trusting and obeying Jesus Christ.

For this to happen, Roman Catholics and United Methodists will not be required to reach total agreement on political proposals that address abortion in the general society. But we must agree on the theological basics regarding abortion. If the Roman Catholic Christians and the United Methodist Christians keep this dialogue Christian, if love continues undiminished, if truth remains central, this meeting of the minds on abortion will occur. And when it does occur, it will be by the grace of God, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

--Paul T. Stallsworth, 12/1/97, Lifewatch, 512 Florence Street, Dothan AL 36301 (334)794-8543

* Plan to attend our Jan. 22 Worship Service in commemoration of the 25th year since Roe v. Wade


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