by John Lomperis
July 4, 2007
LifeNews.com Note: John Lomperis is a research associate at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington.
At their annual meetings in June, the North Carolina and Mississippi Conferences of the United Methodist Church called on the denomination to limit its support for legal abortion to cases of danger to the mother’s physical life. This would align America’s second-largest Protestant denomination with the stance of the National Right to Life Committee and other major pro-life groups.
The stated goal of both the North Carolina and the Mississippi resolution is to prevent the church’s position from being identified “with the ‘pro-choice’ legal position of Roe v. Wade."
In 1972, leaders of the United Methodist Church narrowly voted to adopt a position broadly in favor of legal abortion. But there have been several incremental improvements in the years since then. For instance, in 2000 the denomination adopted a position against most instances of partial-birth abortion.
Last month, the North Carolina and Mississippi Conferences, along with the regional bodies representing United Methodists in eastern Tennessee, South Indiana, and Northwest Texas also passed resolutions calling on the denomination to withdraw its membership in the radically pro-abortion Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
The latter set of resolutions noted such concerns as RCRC’s unconditional support for all abortions, the fact that RCRC does not represent the views of grassroots United Methodists, and RCRC’s opposition to the United Methodist Church’s more conservative positions on partial-birth abortion and homosexual practice.
RCRC was established in 1973 with support from the nonprofit foundation of the pornographic magazine, Playboy, among others in 1973 to counter the nascent movement to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Then, as now, RCRC (then called the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights) aimed to undermine the largely religiously motivated pro-life movement by propping up radical, pro-abortion Jewish, mainline Protestant, and Unitarian clergy.
The 2003 expose’, Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, revealed that the coalition recently received three-fourths of its income from liberal foundations and less than one percent from its member denominations and other religious bodies. The United Methodist Church, which provides no direct financial support, accounts for 8 million of the 20 million Americans who RCRC claims to represent.
These resolutions will make abortion a major issue addressed at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference. General Conferences meet every four years and are the denomination’s top authority for determining the church’s theological, moral, and structural positions.
It is not unprecedented for a denomination to reverse past support for abortion.
America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, adopted resolutions in 1971 and 1974 denouncing seeing “all abortion as murder” as an “extreme” position and supporting abortion in circumstances ranging from rape to risks for the mother’s “emotional health.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, Southern Baptist denominational officials worked closely with groups like RCRC and People for the American Way to oppose abortion restrictions. Since then, however, the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted a solidly pro-life position and become a key bulwark of the pro-life movement.
A similar shift may be under way in the United Methodist Church’s response to abortion.