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Ethicist shares lessons on conflict at 'Roe' prayer service


WASHINGTON (UMNS) - On the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, a Christian ethicist offered a biblical message as old as the church itself: "Love one another."

Drawing on Paul's letter to the Romans, Sondra Wheeler told those gathered for a pre-March for Life prayer service that the apostle Paul's task in this document was to tell both sides they were wrong and to address how they treated each other.

"Paul condemns heedless self-righteousness on both sides" in Romans 12, Wheeler told those attending the service at the United Methodist Building, across the street from the Supreme Court. This was the 15th such service organized by the United Methodist Taskforce on Abortion and Sexuality, an unofficial network of United Methodist clergy and laity. Jan. 22 marked three decades since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

Paul's letter was like a bridge across the chasm that divided the Christian and Jewish communities in Rome, Wheeler explained. There were differences between those who accepted Christ and those who did not. And, among the Christians, there was a fracture between the people who believed that Jesus, in fulfilling the Torah, reinforced all the dietary and other laws of God's chosen people, and those who felt he represented freedom from all that.

"It is a fight about how to honor God," not a dispute about whether to worship God, Wheeler declared. Paul told the Romans that such a fight between siblings must be conducted with humility. He was aware, she said, of the tendency to maintain a sense of cast-iron certainty while relegating all who disagree to the outer darkness.

Paul urged the Romans to live peaceably with all and to avoid conforming to the world. Wheeler said in her message, "The Bond of Peace in a Church of Conflict," that Paul's advice applies to contemporary issues such as abortion.

"The world will watch avidly the spectacle of the church tearing itself limb from limb," the Wesley Theological Seminary professor warned.

Paul urged Christians to "hate what is evil while holding fast to what is good," she said. "The alternative to fighting as the world would have us do is not indifference." It is honorable, prayerful discernment of God's will, she said.

"To fight as Christians means we hold on to … truth," Wheeler said. "What unites us as a church is … deeper and more fundamental than all that divides us."

The Rev. Paul Crikelair of Elverson, Pa., president of the task force, led the service. The Rev. Paul Stallsworth of Morehead City, N.C., editor of Lifewatch, the task force's newsletter, read the Gospel lesson and served communion.

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