In a landmark decision, the 2016 General Conference voted 425-268 to sever United Methodist ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). Delegates also voted to delete language supporting RCRC from the Book of Resolutions.
United Methodism has a long and controversial history with the abortion rights lobby. Shortly after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the UM Church became a founding member of the organization in 1973. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women have maintained membership with the group.
In 1992, delegates were short 37 votes to end United Methodism’s relationship with the organization. The vote was 485-448. At that same General Conference, deleting a resolution entitled “Responsible Parenthood” failed by a margin of 65 to 35 percent. In Portland, however, delegates overwhelmingly voted to delete “Responsible Parenthood” from the United Methodist Book of Resolutions shortly after ending its relationship with RCRC.
While United Methodists would all affirm “responsible parenthood,” the resolution included controversial wording such as: “We therefore encourage our churches and common society to:… safeguard the legal option of abortion… make abortions available to women without regard to economic standards of sound medical practice, and make abortions available to women without regard to economic status…”
In previous General Conferences, delegates declared: “We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics.” In 2000, delegates urged an end to “the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion)” except when the mother’s physical life is in danger or there are “severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”
United Methodism’s relationship with RCRC has been a contentious issue at all recent General Conferences. During the 2012 General Conference, the legislative subcommittee and committee both voted to withdraw from RCRC, but a regular plenary vote on this matter was never able to take place.
Legislative action went very different in Portland. “Our United Methodist Church has a carefully nuanced official position on the difficult issue of abortion. It is not as strong as some of us would like nor as clearly pro-choice as others would like,” said the Rev. Beth Ann Cook of the Indiana Conference, presenting the petition. “This group [RCRC] is neither nuanced nor moderate.”
Representing the New England Conference, the Rev. Rebecca Girrell said the coalition provides training for churches to talk to people who are considering abortion or have had an abortion. “The United Methodist Church’s position on abortion is carefully nuanced,” she said. “RCRC does not speak for The United Methodist Church but we speak to it.”
“We advocate for The United Methodist Church’s position on abortion,” said Susan Burton, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society – one of the denominational entities linked to RCRC. “This interfaith organization is richer from hearing our voice.”
But Iowa delegate Darcy Lynn Rubenking disagreed. “Abortion is murder. I don’t want the name of my church or finances associated with RCRC,” Rubenking said.
Editorially, Good News has called for the cutting of ties with what was originally known as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) since the late 1980s. We are not impartial observers in this debate. We are well aware that there are United Methodists on both sides of the divide over abortion rights. We simply never believed that RCRC should be the voice for all United Methodists on such a sensitive and polarizing social justice issue.
After the 1972 General Conference narrowly approved legalized abortion, the late Albert Outler, noted United Methodist theologian and ecumenist, observed the tragedy awaiting our church and society: “Without radical reform of the consultative process by which the UM Church pretends to determine serious moral and political questions, we shall go on becoming more and more a part of the problem (namely, the literal demoralization of modern society) and less a part of its Christian solution.”
Unfortunately, his words have become reality. Abortion has created division instead of unity, and promoted injustice for the most vulnerable members of the human family. Many years ago, our membership in RCRC should have been replaced with redemptive ministry to abortion-vulnerable persons to express compassion and justice for both the mother and the child.
“The 2016 General Conference finally succeeded in voting to require the General Board of Church and Society and the United Methodist Women to immediately withdraw their membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” Cindy Evans of Lifewatch told Good News. “The so-called ‘Responsible Parenthood’ resolution – with its support of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, and its attempt to spread United Methodist promotion of abortion around the world – was defeated and eliminated from the Book of Resolutions. These actions make the 2016 General Conference the most life-affirming General Conference I have ever experienced. I thank God and everyone who helped make that happen. Praise God!”
We are very grateful for our colleagues in ministry at Lifewatch – both Evans and the Rev. Paul Stallsworth – as well as the Rev. Beth Ann Cook, clergywoman from Indiana, and John Lomperis of UMAction for their tireless efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.
For too many years, the UM Church was used by political extremists. The official documents of our denomination need to reflect the careful and judicious discernment of the entire United Methodist Church, not professional abortion apologists. Perhaps United Methodism can become known for welcoming abortion-vulnerable women, offering life-saving resources, and strengthening partnerships with maternity homes, and abortion-alternative centers.
For too long, we have put off this basic Christian calling of hospitality and justice for the weak and defenseless. Perhaps our new outlook in Portland will inspire us to become a sanctuary for the “least of these.”
– Good News