Last week we left off with some in-church leadership trying to pick and choose the best ways to clear their consciences in the ‘murder of the unborn’. They might start by asking themselves…prayerfully as they like to say…whether God would approve the murder of the unborn in the womb. It might save a lot of conflict…and lives.
The 1996 General Conference, meeting in Denver, declared: “We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.” Despite 15 bishops openly declaring their opposition to the church’s stance, delegates reaffirmed official disapproval of the practice. [The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 1996 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1996) Pages 34-37].
Delegates in Denver denounced violent attacks on abortion clinics as “domestic terrorism.” [The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 1996 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1996) Page 111]. They affirmed a resolution from the 1976 General Conference declaring: “We believe that continuance of a pregnancy that endangers the life or health of the mother, or poses other serious problems concerning the life, health, or mental capability of the child to be, is not a moral necessity. In such cases, we believe the path of mature Christian judgment may indicate the advisability of abortion. We support the legal right to abortion as established by the 1973 Supreme Court decision.” [The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 1996 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1996) Page 126]. Delegates also reaffirmed a 1992 resolution “ensuring well informed choice regarding abortion and its alternatives (adoptions and so forth).” [The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 1996 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1996) Page 406].
Meeting in Cleveland, delegates at the 2000 General Conference responding to the Board of Church and Society’s opposition to outlawing partial-birth abortion, declared: “We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion)and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.” [The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, 2000 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 2000) Pages 44 & 49].
Although abortion remained a contentious issue within official United Methodism as the twentieth century closed, the church rarely addressed the issue of divorce, especially as prescribed in civil law. However, Methodist attitudes toward divorce had changed radically throughout the twentieth century. Until 1928, Northern Methodism declared that “no divorce, except for adultery, shall be regarded by the church as lawful.” [The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1904) Page 55]. That stance began to ease in 1928 when the church recognized “as lawful a divorce granted by the State,” whose “function” it was to “determine the grounds upon which a valid divorce may be granted.” [The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: The Methodist Book Concern, 1928) Paragraph 70]. In 1940, the reunited Methodist Church simply urged “uniform marriage and divorce laws.” [The Doctrines and Discipline of The Methodist Church (New York: The Methodist Publishing House, 1940) Page 560]. Starting in 1952, the General Conference stopped directly commenting on divorce law but warned that “divorce is not the answer to the problems that bring it about.” [The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Church (Nashville: The Methodist Publishing House, 1952) Page 638]. In 1972, The United Methodist Church recognized the “right of divorced persons to remarry.” [The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1972 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1972) Page 86]. (I suppose that at this point the church was convinced that it had changed God’s mind about divorce, just as it had about abortion.)
Before we leave the subject of abortion I have received some important information from a Christian legal organization that is fighting to save the lives of millions…with an ‘M’…of unborn infant lives. If anyone thinks the church can get ‘cozy’ with the system, I just found out that a California…no surprise…jury verdict ordered pro-life journalists to pay Planned Parenthood millions, and now the court just awarded Planned Parenthood’s attorneys another $13 million. This is what can happen when the church ignores its responsibilities and obligations if an effort not to offend. Well, let it be known that I am offended.
Liberalizing stances by the church on divorce in the first half of the last century presaged debates over abortion in the century’s last three decades. But then there were debates about school prayer, an Equal Rights Amendment, and expanding the government’s welfare programs. All this when politics did not belong in the church.
Next week we will start a look at another threat to our nation’s founding principles and to the very church that expects those principle to support its ability to exist. We will call this new series…”Politics and the Church – The Liberal/Communist/Progressive Threat”. While many church leaders want to avoid political turmoil in the confines of the church, the facts are that in today’s world politics can shut down a church. We have seen it happen during the coronavirus pandemic with pastors and church members being arrested for meeting. This is only a smattering of what the liberal/communist would like to do to the church. All they need to do is gain political power. There are already countries of the world where being a Christian is worthy of the death penalty. It doesn’t have to be this way if Christians stay vigilant to external political threats. Avoidance is not the responsible path to take. No where in the Bible are Christians told to avoid politics. Jesus was well aware of this. Throughout the history of the world politics has gotten out of control and dear prices have been paid. We need to listen to the sentinel or we could be questioning how could we have let the terror come upon us when we had been warned? I look forward to writing this series. I pray that my motivation will be God sent.
“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering…But if we or our posterity neglect it and its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” Daniel Webster