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"Not So" Random Ramblings On Abortion And The Gospel
UM Theologian Turns Reluctant Prophet

by Rev. Paul Stallsworth, Ph.D

Abortion is the public issue, in American society, that stubbornly refuses to go away. To be sure, there are other issues that seem to get more attention for a season. The war against terrorism. The economy. The federal budget. The federal deficit. Health care legislation. Same-sex “marriage.” Global warming. The death of Michael Jackson. The antics of other celebrities. And on and on. They all get media attention, lots of it, for a season. Then they fade and, in time, are forgotten. But the issue of abortion stays, prominently or not, in place. Since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decisions―Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton―abortion has remained an issue consistently in front of the American people.

Over the last several months, the abortion issue reappeared again and again. It was discussed during the political campaigns of 2008. It became a major concern during the early days of the Obama Administration, due to certain of the administration’s pro-choice executive orders. It sparked a controversy at the University of Notre Dame, as many questioned that Catholic university’s honoring of President Obama. Then there was the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the late-term abortion provider. That was followed by the news that most Americans, according to polls, consider themselves “pro-life.” Again, this is the issue that will not go away.


Stop for a minute to consider how legalized abortion has influenced, more or less, several of the key institutions of American society. American churches have had to deal with countless arguments over abortion at all levels of their structures. The American legal profession has had to do some serious soul-searching about the purposes and ends of the law and the courts. American medicine has seemed, on occasion, to have lost its moral footing. American politics has undergone party realignment(s). American media, of the mainstream variety, have come under serious charges of bias, and they are suffering from the rise of alternative sources of information. American culture has become the main location for the rise and unfolding of the culture wars, which have spread so relentlessly and so widely. American education has become a source of constant concern because of its underachievement. American entertainment has become coarser with each passing year. The American family has been destabilized. And American society, taken as a whole, has lost a public philosophy that is shared by most of the citizenry and that can assist in guiding public life.

The problem of abortion, by itself, has not caused all of this confusion. But the deaths of more than 50,000,000 unborn children, the harm done to their mothers, and the countless ways taken to protect the continuance of this sad state of affairs have played a significant role in this turmoil throughout the society.


So, how is The United Methodist Church dealing with the abortion issue at the present time? Two main strategies seem to have emerged.

The first and most common strategy is silence. Many United Methodist leaders prefer to ignore the issue. Pleased with the Obama Administration and its politics, some simply do not bring it up. Fearful of the fallout that might result in their local churches, many do not bring it up. They assert their main concern is preaching the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ. But that is exactly what many church leaders in Germany, during the Third Reich, said, as they remained silent and inactive about the plight of the European Jews.

A second strategy is emerging. Call it the strategy of bridge building. Some prominent United Methodists want to reach out to all sides of the abortion controversy. So they engage in conversation with those on the pro-choice side. Then they speak with those on the pro-life side. In doing so, they strive to reach a middle ground that will please the greatest number of church members. However, there is a problem with the bridge-building strategy: the bridge builders tend not to listen to the Church’s Great Tradition, the Church’s historic faith, which through the ages has been consistently protective of the unborn child and mother. The bridge builders, it seems, are so busy reaching out to both sides, so busy listening to both sides, so busy searching for compromises and common ground, that they forget the teaching office of the Church and what should be regularly taught. So they actually forget about the truth of Church teaching.

Using silence, an edited Gospel, or well intentioned bridge building―all of which avoid the truth about life and abortion―might be understood as behavior unbecoming of the clergy and the bishops.


The time is coming when The United Methodist Church―her bishops, clergy, and laity―will rediscover that the Gospel is the Gospel of Life. There is no other true Gospel than the Gospel of Life. The Gospel of Life is for the weakest, the least significant, the helpless, among us. That Gospel places obligations on the articulate to speak for the voiceless, on the strong to protect the weak, on the well placed to aid the vulnerable. That Gospel inspires the willingness to act for the sake of the little one in the womb and for the sake of his/her mother. (PTS) ♥

Source: Lifewatch September 2009 Newsletter
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