Politics and the Church – The Hypocrisy of Politics in the Church [Part 46]

This week you will be exposed to explanations that must be oh so pleasing to Satan but the heartbreak is that they come from church leadership.  Shall we get started?

     Two Methodist ministers in 1968 joined with other Maryland clergy to urge legalizing abortion in their state.   “A piece of fetal tissue is not a human person any more than an acorn is an oak.” they insisted.  “If Catholic clergy want to persist in that confusion it is acceptable to us, provided they don’t try to use the law to force their dogma on non-Catholics.” [“7 Clergymen Ask Assembly to Liberalize Abortion Law”, Baltimore Sun (March 7, 1968)]. (Apparently these pastors thought that an effort to protect the sanctity of life is nothing but “confusion”.) A prominent New York Methodist minister spoke for many when he declared in 1969: “A woman should make the decision whether or not she wants to be a mother.  She is the one who is going to raise the baby.  Don’t need more people in this world, and if we do have them…let’s raise them by people who love them.” [“Abortion Reform Wins Adherents Among Theologians”, Christian Science Monitor (July 30, 1969) Page 4]. ( I have a slightly different take on this pastor’s opinion…the decision to have or not have a baby should be made before conception, not when ‘murder’ is the only answer.)

     The director of the Department of World Population Problems within the Board of Christian Social Concerns cited over population when announcing in 1969 his agency would ask the special 1970 General Conference to support legalizing abortion.  The “major obstacle” to population control was not Roman Catholicism but the “middle-class American who wants more children!” he complained.  He even went so far as to suggest possible legal penalties against large families.  “The law controls the number of wives a man can have, and we accept that restriction upon our personal liberty.  Why cannot it control something even more vital for our continued existence?”  [“Population Boom No. 1 Threat, Minister Says”, Los Angeles Times (October 25, 1969) Page 23].  (This minister would have worked out quite well as one of Hitler’s ministers.)  

     Complying, the 1970 General Conference urged state legislatures to repeal anti-abortion laws and any restrictions on sterilization:  The quality of our lives is increasingly threatened as the exploding population growth places staggering burdens upon a society that is unable to solve even their present growth problems.”  It also urged smaller families “as an essential principle for establishing the size of population and thus protecting the quality of life.” [“Methodists Vote $4 Million for Aid to Minorities”, New York Times (April 25, 1970) Page 37].  As might be expected, the 1970 Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference, emphasizing Methodism did not support legal restrictions on family size but urged “economic incentives be employed by the government to discourage rather than encourage large families in the future.” [“Churchmen OK Birth Control” Los Angeles Times June 19, 1970) Page B4].   The 1970 Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference asked its state to legalize abortion, saying its laws failed to “meet the needs of the 1970’s.” [“U. Meths. Approve Abortion”, New Pittsburgh Courier (June 27, 1970) Page 20]. (It is difficult to believe that God-fearing Christian leadership was involved in such proposals. If we go back into history we will find that various tyrants used various forms of murder to eliminate classes of human beings that they felt were a burden to their society. Does this mean too that one day our older population might ‘age out’?)

     In 1971, the National Association of Health and Welfare Ministries of The United Methodist Church urged liberalized abortion laws and “eliminating hospital administrative restrictions on voluntary sterilization and abortion.”  One hospital administrator explained: “Perhaps it is not a great evil to interrupt bringing a child into the world where he is not wanted.”  Not all Methodists agreed.  (How refreshing to know that.)  Prominent theologian Albert Outler of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas joined other professors in defending “embryonic Americans.” They asked: “How long can we meaningfully say that all men are created equal while the innocent unborn are sacrificed to personal whim, convenience, or that new test of Americanism in our increasingly technologic and impersonal age: The qualification of being perfect, or being wanted, or being viable?” Outler had fought against the 1970 General Conference abortion stance. [“What of Unwanted Unborn”, Christian Advocate (April 15, 1971) Page 20].  Outler heartily denounced the 1970 General Conference for its “simplistic” citation of abortion as a “convenience.”  He also condemned the General Board of Christian Social Concerns for having asserted in its earlier draft that the “fetus is not a person, but rather tissue, with the potentiality in most cases for becoming a person, also recognizing that personhood is not possible without physical form.”  Outler further criticized a new booklet from the board called “Abortion: A Human Choice,” which revealed “how readily great moral issues can be thought to be settled by majority vote.”  He regretted that “sometimes the church at large,” can “readily be stampeded, and the Board of Social Christian Concerns is not above just doing that, not just once but often.” [“Does Our Abortion Stand Reflect the Church’s Position?”, Christian Advocate (September 16, 1971) Page 7].

     Responding to Outler, John Swomley of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City defended the 1970 General Conference stance on abortion. He noted that the legislative Committee on Christian Social Concerns had approved the resolution by a vote of 60 to 4. (All that vote proved was just how far out of touch from the Bible the committee members are.)  He also said illegitimate births had declined in New York after abortions legalization there.  (He fails to account for the number of innocent lives that were taken during this ‘improvement’.)  Methodist ethicist Paul Ramsey of Princeton University criticized the 1970 General Conference for declaring: “Since personhood is more than physical being, we affirm that the fetus is a potential person and birth brings the possibility of personhood with physical form.”  This language seemed to leave both fetus and unborn infants as possibly not yet human, meaning, “we have justified infanticide, as well as abortion, as a means of remedying contraceptive failure, family poverty, or rolling back the world’s excess population.” [“Outler’s Position on Abortion Draws Bricks and a Rose”, Christian Advocate (November 11, 1971) Pages 9-12].  Acting on the “mandate” of the 1970 General Conference, and to show “great compassion”, the Board of Christian Social Concerns in 1971 sent $2,000 to bail out a Florida woman prosecuted for having an abortion. [“Unique Abortion Case Draws Church Support”, Christian Advocate (December 23, 1971) Page 22].

     The 1972 General Conference, meeting in Atlanta, reaffirmed abortion rights based on a motion from Birmingham gynecologist Louise Branscomb: [“Revisions, Debate…Then New Social Statement”, Christian Advocate (May 1972) Page 31].  “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.  But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.  In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life within life that may justify abortion.  We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion.  We support the removal of abortion from the criminal code, placing it instead under laws relating to other procedures of standard medical practice.  A decision concerning abortion should be made only after thorough and thoughtful consideration by the parties involved, with medical and pastoral counsel.” [The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1972 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1972) Pages 86-87]. The General Conference urged an “emphasis upon quality of life rather than number of children.” (I can’t help but wonder how church leadership supporting abortion will go over on judgement day?)

     Next week we will continue to trace how the church’s official position on abortion pointed more toward appeasement and a desire to not offend a certain portion of the membership.  I have yet to find where the church’s official position emphasized adults taking responsibility for their actions. Today abortion has become an act of convenience rather than a ‘medical’ necessity.  And many churches…not limited to UMC…are just sitting back letting this infant murder continue with only a small group of convicted citizens to take a stand against a profit making industry.

– Bob Munsey

“While external changes in our circumstances may be a great blessing, the greater blessing is the God-produced change in our character.”  Gary Inrig

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