Grace United Methodist Church stands a mere 1.2 miles from the child sacrifice center operated by Naresh Patel. Such geographical proximity to a place of horror and desecration of the image of God in human beings (born and not-yet-born) is a gift from God Himself. Yet this blessing of opportunity to reach the darkest place in Oklahoma City with the light of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah is wasted every single day in the hands of the leadership and congregation of Grace UMC.
According to the 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations and Membership Study, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is the second largest Protestant denomination, following the Southern Baptist Convention, in the United States. Given its sheer size and its influence on Christians in the US, it is instructive to evaluate the official position of the UMC on abortion to discover why abolitionists might choose to spend Sunday morning rebuking one of the member churches of the UMC denomination.
United Methodist churches are governed by the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. The relevant section about abortion can be found on page 112 of Part I, which corresponds to page 127 of 364 on the electronic Flash-based copy. Some relevant excerpts follow:
We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.
…a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.
The United Methodist Church supports abortion
The UMC statement tries to respect the sanctity and rights of both mother and child, but in reality, the mother is given final say, rather than God the Creator. Her rights are elevated above the rights of her child, and at her whim she may extinguish the life within her. There is a long history that demonstrates how language like “tragic conflicts of life with life” can be used to open the door to a wide range of excuses to have an abortion. There really is no end to what can be justified. Life with life conflicts occur throughout the life of virtually any person, and many times those interactions are tragic. Who hasn’t suffered at the hands of a fellow human? Who hasn’t experienced hurt, pain, and damage, sometimes extreme, through human interaction?
The question is not whether life with life conflicts exists, but rather how such conflicts should be resolved. The UMC clearly and unequivocally affirms abortion as a justifiable option in these scenarios. By refusing to stand against this practice, the UMC is complicit with this culture of death. Abortion is a brutal act against the preborn human. Even if performed “correctly” (which is no guarantee), the baby will die in a horrific and terrible fashion. Any Christian who takes seriously the commands of God and knows basic biology should abhor this practice. Tragic life circumstances will always exist between people. Are not Christians called to humble themselves for the sake of, and serve, their neighbors? Where is the ethic that Jesus gave us in the red letters of Matthew 5? What room is there in this position for Philippians 2:1-4?
The reality is that abortion exists because the preborn have been dehumanized, and their rights negated. Abolitionists have written extensively on this topic, defending the Biblical position that the image of God is present in our preborn neighbors and serves to ground the right to life for those humans. In fact, it is the image of God — taken together with the Incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young Jewish girl — that forms the very foundation of abolitionist ideology.
Modern science has clearly demonstrated that human life exists from the very earliest moments of conception, and human beings bear God’s image. They are our neighbors – the very same neighbors we are commanded to love as ourselves. Rather than endorsing the desecration of fellow image-bearers, the UMC should be calling its church members to love their neighbors more than themselves and to be willing to suffer for their sake. It should be taking a strong stand against death and choose to stand on the side of life, the side of Jesus, on Whom they claim they call on a weekly basis.
The UMC is quick to dampen the effect of their endorsement of abortion by attempting to limit its scope and application. They reject using abortion as a form of birth control, gender selection, or eugenics. Parental notification laws are supported and late-term abortions are opposed except in cases where the mother’s life is in peril or fetal abnormalities are present. While there are indeed situations where neither the mother nor the child will survive the pregnancy if left to follow its natural course, such scenarios (e.g., ectopic pregnancies) and they are tragic cases, there is a fundamental difference between intentionally terminating a pregnancy and the range of justifiable abortions covered by the UMC statement. In the former, one is attempting to salvage the only life that has any hope of surviving at all, while the latter sacrifices the life of the child for what often amounts to nothing more than discomfort or maintaining a certain standard of life. As argued above, however, the language of the UMC statement is too broad to be limited to the situations where the mother’s life truly is in grave and immediate danger.
As Christians, the UMC should agree that it is not physical traits, emotional development, or any other external feature that defines our intrinsic right to life. Instead, all of our rights are grounded in what God says about people and His image in us. It is the image of God in humans that has been a bulwark against all past violations of human rights. Our unborn neighbors possess this image just as we do. Thus, there simply are no situations where “tragic conflicts of life with life” justify abortion. We clearly see this ethic at work in our daily interactions among post-birth humans. Why does the UMC hold a separate ethic for pre-birth humans?
The UMC supports the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
The RCRC’s mission statement and other parts of its website reveal it to be an emphatically pro-abortion organization that seeks to propagate anti-abolitionist and anti-pro-life ideas in religious communities. The Coalition was formed in 1973, following the SCOTUS rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, to safeguard the “newly won constitutional right to privacy”.
The RCRC emphatically declares that the Bible does not view the fetus as a person with fundamental rights.
By affiliating with the RCRC, the UMC is actively working against those who bring their Christian faith to the public square and expose the sin of abortion. It is no longer a debate when life begins. All that remains is the philosophical and theological debate about what the right to life is, how it is grounded, and to whom it applies. As Christians, the UMC ought to disavow any organization that seeks to promote the destruction of fellow image-bearers, not endorse and partner with it. The simple fact is that the UMC has misunderstood the Biblical position on abortion and is working against the Kingdom of God by endorsing the RCRC.
Our Call to the United Methodist Church
First of all, we do not hate the UMC, its congregations, its leaders, or its congregants. We love them enough to bring the truth to them, even if it means violating some social mores and creating discomfort and conviction.
As fellow Christians, we call the UMC to repent of its anti-Biblical position on abortion and to break ties with the RCRC. We want to encourage the factions within the UMC to work diligently to overturn these decisions and bring the church toward a Biblically-faithful position on abortion.
Furthermore, it is likely that pro-life Christians as well as abolitionists may form part of the congregations of these UMC churches. Many of these individuals may be ignorant of the church’s position on this critical issue. We want to encourage those individuals to prayerfully consider how they can change the direction of the UMC. Go to your church’s leadership and bring up this issue, write letters to those in positions of power, and challenge false ideas that are raised up against the knowledge of God.