Illustration Courtesy of Teddy Ray
I've had many days that I was incredibly proud to be a United Methodist. Many of those have been after natural disasters struck and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was, as always, one of the first and most important responders. Other days of pride have come when I was reminded of incredible works of compassion like Imagine No Malaria, which has helped cut in half deaths due to malaria in less than a decade. I was even rather proud today to learn that UMC pastor Adam Hamilton would be preaching at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.
And I've had plenty of reservations and frustrations and days when I was embarrassed to be a United Methodist. Watching the catastrophe that was General Conference 2012 was tough. Perhaps best summed up by the tweet, "UMC Judicial Council orders Titanic deck chairs returned to original position." You've seen other disappointments and frustrations in "Why the American UMC is Dying a (Somewhat) Slow Death," "The Stuck State of the UMC," "What does ordination mean?" and "How would John Wesley do bishops' elections?"
But today is probably the day I have been most ashamed to be a United Methodist. The cause for that shame is this joint press release from key representatives for United Methodist Women and the UM General Board of Church and Society.
The press release notes that it comes on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It celebrates years "devoid of unnecessary deaths." It laments that "we continue to face opposition to keeping abortion safe, legal, accessible and rare." It laments rising maternal mortality rates and women who "die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth." It claims to await God's kingdom on earth, "in which all pregnancies are intended." It uses the word justice four times.
Not once does it mention the unnecessary deaths of unborn children that have come at the hands of people whose conveniences, preferences, or lifestyles were threatened far more than their physical well-being. Not once does it lament the deaths of unborn children or suggest further advocacy for them (other than a passing reference to abortion being rare). It suggests that unintended pregnancies would have no part in the kingdom of God, and even implies that abortion would be an appropriate option in those cases.
How in the world can you write a press release chock-full of "justice" and "kingdom of God" and "unnecessary deaths" without ONCE mourning the killing of unborn children?!?
How can you write this press release and use the word "rare" twice in passing without acknowledging how many abortion deaths are due to convenience, not threat to physical well-being?
I can understand a Christian position that is concerned for women whose lives are put at serious risk. In that, I celebrate many of the things this press release celebrates and lament many of the things the press release laments. I'm torn, and not sure of my ultimate position, but can at least understand a position that would advocate for legal abortions in some of these worst-case circumstances.
But I can't even comprehend such a one-sided statement as this. When representatives of the Church stand so strongly on one side of a two-sided justice issue like this, it grossly misrepresents the gospel. I hope that regardless of which side of any political aisle anyone might be on, we would agree that talk about the kingdom of God in reference to abortion is grossly incomplete without mourning the loss of life for unborn children.
I know some will try to say that this press release was from two individuals who happen to be in these positions in the UMC. That's unacceptable. Especially since the General Board of Church and Society posted it to their webpage. I was disgusted - nearly physically ill - to read this statement from the church that I am a part of. To non-Methodists, I apologize for my denomination in this. This is an unfit representation of the gospel.
So A Call to Action
Are you a UMC member or pastor? Is there a United Methodist Women's group in your church? I think it's time to financially cut ties with this organization. Please encourage any UMW groups in your church to stop sending them money. I believe they're misrepresenting the gospel to the point that the Christian cause would be better off without them. Yes, they are doing some very good things. But others are doing very good things. Send your money to them instead. Send it to "Imagine No Malaria" or UMCOR. For Methodist women's ministries, consider instead the Renew Network.
In "The local church's competition," I just said that most Christian groups and charities should be seen as allies, not competition. Frankly, I'm at the point of moving UMW to the other side of that equation. Such gross misrepresentations and distortions of the gospel as this (no, this isn't the first; this is a tipping point for me) are doing us terrible harm.
For all of my celebrations and all of my frustrations with the UMC, I suspect that if I ever leave, it will be because the UMC gives major money and prominence to groups that would put out statements like this - and that use considerable money to support causes that reflect this perspective.
The Rev. Teddy Ray serves as executive pastor of First UMC in Lexington, KY, and as lead pastor for its satellite Offerings Community.