Health care and the most vulnerable

By Rob Renfroe

If you own a television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper, it’s nearly impossible to not get caught up in the intense debate regarding health care. Few issues regarding public policy have created such emotion and passion. And rightly so—health care literally concerns matters of life and death.

Recently, Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of our United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, weighed in on the subject in an editorial titled “Congregational Malpractice.” His jumping off point was the statement: “The fundamental test of our society is how it treats the least powerful among us.” I don’t disagree. Our Lord had a particular concern for the least and the last and the looked-over; we should, as well.

Who in our society are the least powerful and the most vulnerable? It’s an easy answer. There is no group in this country as powerless or at such great risk as are the unborn. Once conceived, there is a one in five chance that a fetus’ existence will be terminated by an abortion.

One in five. Persons playing Russian roulette have a greater chance of surviving than do our nation’s unborn. No other group is at such risk of not surviving the next nine months—not the poor, not cancer patients, not those suffering with AIDS. Not even those who are without health insurance. And no other group is as incapable of speaking for itself or protecting its rights.

What makes Mr. Winkler’s statement so curious and sad is that the Board of Church and Society is one of two official United Methodist bodies that are “member organizations” of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The other is the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.

The RCRC describes itself as “pro-choice,” not pro-abortion. However, it supports abortion not just when the mother’s life is in peril. It supports abortion for any reason and at any time, including late-term and partial-birth abortions.

Our Book of Discipline states: “We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.” At the 2000 General Conference, United Methodism voted overwhelmingly to oppose partial-birth abortion by a vote of 622-275.

For too many years now, official bodies within our denomination, supported by our apportionments, have allied themselves with political extremists. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) has lobbied for issues such as taxpayer-funded abortions and partial-birth abortions. United Methodist boards and agencies should do nothing that even appears to be supportive of that organization.

Within our American society, there are many views as to when human life begins. But can’t we as people of faith who believe that life is sacred agree to err on the side of caution? Can’t we agree that we should neither support nor be affiliated with organizations that want no restrictions whatsoever upon terminating the existence of the most vulnerable among us?

To those who plead ignorance about the beginning of life, I ask, “Why use your claimed ignorance as permission to perpetuate what could be (and I believe is) a great evil upon the most vulnerable in our society? Where you are uncertain, shouldn’t you be most careful, not most reckless?”

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life,” writes German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his notable book Ethics.

In his editorial, Mr. Winkler concludes with this statement: “Any congregation that doesn’t seek health care for all of the uninsured should be sued for malpractice!” I wonder what a general board of the United Methodist Church is guilty of when it calls us to care about the most vulnerable, and at the same time partners with an organization that believes the termination of the most defenseless among us should be legal anytime, anywhere for any reason?

Renewing the United Methodist Church is not just about theology. It’s about bringing our boards and agencies to the point that they reflect what most United Methodists believe. Obviously, we still have a long way to go when those who claim to represent us and spend our apportionment dollars are willing to play Russian roulette with human life.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News

About Adcetera