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Abortion opponents speak out during national rally

An anti-abortion advocate protests Roe v. Wade on the steps of the Supreme Court during the March for Life on Jan. 22 in Washington.
An anti-abortion advocate protests Roe v. Wade
on the steps of the Supreme Court during the
March for Life on Jan. 22 in Washington.
UMNS photos by Melissa Lauber.

By United Methodist News Service*
Jan. 24, 2008 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)

On the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, thousands of anti-abortion advocates marched "to witness to a culture and a gospel of life," said the director of an unofficial United Methodist pro-life caucus.

At a Jan. 22 worship service held in The United Methodist Building in the nation's capital the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, director of the pro-life caucus, said the group is working to reverse the Supreme Court decision by providing theological leadership within the church.

Bishop William H. Willimon, Birmingham episcopal area, praised Lifewatch’s efforts in a sermon at the worship service. This marks the 20th year Lifewatch has held a worship service before the annual March for Life.

Using the text of Isaiah 7:14, the bishop said when Israel was facing an overwhelming enemy, King Ahaz called upon his wisest council for help. Isaiah told the king, “The Lord himself will give you sign. A young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

Bishop William H. Willimon preaches at the Lifewatch service at The United Methodist Building.
Bishop William H. Willimon preaches at the Lifewatch service at The United
Methodist Building.
Just like King Ahaz, Christians today “chafe against the non-utility of the peculiar truth of the name Immanuel,” said Willimon. Christians need to look beyond what is helpful, or logical, even reasonable, and instead look into the Gospel at the heart of non-utility – the cross.

“We are to live as God is,” said the bishop.

When Willimon was a chaplain at Duke University, a graduate student interviewed women who had had abortions. Their No. 1 reason for doing so, they said, was that they felt they “had no other options.”

“Ironically, we call this freedom to choose,” the student remarked.

But for Bishop Willimon it pointed out a lack of imagination within the church.

"The role of the church is to stoke, fund and fuel alternatives we could not have come up with if we looked only at the alternatives the world gives us,” he said, cautioning United Methodists against a “lack of imagination that leads to accommodation.”

An executive with the denomination's Board of Church and Society agrees that the church needs to work on policies that will prevent unplanned pregnancies, "thereby, preventing abortion from the outset."

“What the church doesn’t need are episcopal leaders who add shame and guilt to the millions of women caught in circumstances leading to abortion by categorizing abortion as sin," said Linda Bales, an executive with the denomination's social action agency housed in The United Methodist Building.

“If we, as people of faith, are really serious about reducing the number of abortions in this country and around the globe, then we need to be serious about addressing the issues holding women hostage to circumstances resulting in abortion," she said.

Those issues include comprehensive sex education for young people, health services including contraception and education, and leadership opportunities for girls and women to thrive "and not be at the mercy of patriarchal societies," Bales said.

"We have to equip men to treat women non-violently and with respect and dignity, and break the cycle of the marginalization of women.”

According to a recent national study, the numbers choosing non-surgical abortion options such as the morning-after pill or RU-486 are growing while abortion rates and the total number of surgical abortions steadily decline.

Stallsworth characterized the United Methodist view on abortion as a procedure which “can be seen as tragically necessary.”

The United Methodist Social Principles (in Para. 161J) say: “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.”

The Social Principles conclude that the church recognizes “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.”

Lifewatch hopes to reverse Roe v. Wade by first providing theological leadership within the church, which will set an example that political, legal and cultural forces will follow.

“We want to make waves of reform and renewal throughout the church and shake up the world as well,” Stallsworth said.

Willimon applauded Lifewatch for their “pointless, useless craziness in the name of Jesus’ work.”

“We are fools because of Christ,” he said.

*Melissa Lauber, editor of the UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Lifewatch

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

Abortion: Overview

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