United Methodists believe in life! Our mission is to make disciples so that people might have a relationship with Jesus Christ and have abundant life and everlasting life. Easter is our best day and every Sunday is a “little Easter” in which we celebrate the resurrection and our commitment to life. That is why we as a denomination support life in all of its forms.
Abortion is an issue that the United Methodist Church speaks about in our Social Principles in the 2012 Book of Discipline. We are not silent about this. Paragraph 161(J) states:
“The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence.
While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. 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 and the unborn child. We recognize 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 by certified medical providers.
We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control. And we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics.
We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. This procedure shall be performed only by certified medical providers. Before providing their services abortion providers should be required to offer women the option of anesthesia.”It goes on to say that United Methodists urge all Christians to a “prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause people to consider abortions in the first place. We pledge to offer ministries that will reduce unintended pregnancies and to help women find feasible alternatives.”
According to Susan Burton of the General Board of Church and Society, “As we work to end human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war, child marriage and domestic violence, we understand why United Methodists have said that women and girls need safe, legal access to abortion ... when violence has been perpetrated against them resulting in pregnancy, or (when) they have a health condition that necessitates immediate care treatment that would not be possible while pregnant (e.g. chemotherapy). We will continue to advocate for family planning, sexuality education and wellness care for women and girls, in addition to an end to sexual and gender-based violence in order to make abortions increasingly rare.”
I personally was able to prevent an abortion when I was serving as the pastor of a local church years ago. This young mother, through the ministry of the church, chose adoption instead of abortion, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to save the life of her baby boy.
Later in my ministry, my husband’s church was located near an abortion clinic. Protestors came on a regular basis to that location with signs and pictures, and some wore costumes of the grim reaper. They would shout at me as I put my mail out, saying that my husband’s church was like the church-going Lutherans who allowed the Nazis to drag Jews to death camps and did not help.
I decided to go over and engage them in a civil conversation about what I did to promote life. I explained to them about a deaf woman I was working with in my congregation who was pregnant with her eighth child. She was a cocaine addict and her children had a very difficult life. The two oldest sons were in prison. There was rarely enough food in the house. I interpreted for her and never once discussed abortion but provided as much support for the family as possible.
I asked the marchers if they could help her. They said they would, but they never called back. Giving help to mothers in need is a huge part of life ministry. We should always be careful not to judge people who do not talk or think exactly the way we do with regard to the issue of life. Respectful sharing is far better than assuming we know what someone believes.
The United Methodist Church also supports the life of the “already born” by opposing the death penalty. Paragraph 164G states, “We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The UMC is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God, and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable.”
Many United Methodists are speaking in the halls of power to call for the end of the death penalty in their states. Delaware and Pennsylvania are two states that still have the death penalty as an option. If we truly believe that "all lives matter," that all life, without exception, is of sacred worth as created by God, then we should consider the unnecessary taking of any life as a grievous sin before God. And the penalty of a life sentence without parole makes the death penalty totally unnecessary.
United Methodists also oppose war as another sign of our commitment to life. Paragraph 165C states “We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government.” Instead of war we support “international treaties and institutions that provide a framework within the rule of law for responding to aggression, terrorism and genocide."
Supporting life consistently is a difficult thing. It is easier to support the unborn child in a protest march than to love our enemies and pray for a person who committed a murder. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus requires prayerful discernment, Bible study and living gently on the earth with one another of different hearts. Christians of goodwill in the United Methodist Church disagree about many of our social issues. I call upon our churches to study our Social Principles and have civil and thoughtful conversations about life.