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JAN. 2, 2009 UPDATE: The General Board of Church and Society has withdrawn its support for the Freedom of Choice Act. Details here.

ORIGINAL POST: The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is among 19 “religious groups and faith communities” urging President-elect Barack Obama to help eliminate state legal protections for unborn children.

GBCS is a signatory to “An Interfaith Call to Action on Reproductive Health,” an open letter to Mr. Obama calling for expanded access to “comprehensive sex education, abortion services and contraceptive information and options.”

gbcslogo3Among other things, the letter asks the president-elect to “support the Freedom of Choice Act, which reaffirms a woman’s right to choose to bear a child or terminate a pregnancy, and urge its passage in Congress.”

(Given that it seems unnecessary in the U.S. to reaffirm “a woman’s right to bear a child,” the clear intent of the Freedom of Choice Act is to establish — in legislative law rather than in judicial action — the “right to… terminate a pregnancy.”)

During the campaign, Mr. Obama made clear his support for FOCA. “The first thing I would do as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told a Planned Parenthood conference last year (video here). FOCA has not passed Congress yet, but Mr. Obama is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill (text).

obama_planned_parenthood

Pledging to sign FOCA 'first thing'

Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, warns that the Freedom of Choice Act “would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry.”

That view is shared by the pro-FOCA National Organization for Women, which notes that the law would “would sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies” by creating a federally guaranteed “fundamental right” to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.

Specifically, the Freedom of Choice Act would overturn:

  • State abortion-reporting requirements in all 50 states
  • Forty-four states’ laws concerning parental involvement
  • Forty states’ laws on restricting later-term abortions
  • Forty-six states’ conscience protection laws for individual health care providers
  • Twenty-seven states’ conscience protection laws for institutions
  • Thirty-eight states’ bans on partial-birth abortions
  • Thirty-three states’ laws on requiring counseling before an abortion
  • Sixteen states’ laws concerning ultrasounds before an abortion

(Bullet-point information above was compiled by Tom McCloskey and Laura Myers at the Family Research Council.)

In the letter to Mr. Obama, the General Board of Church and Society and the other signatories also urge repeal the Hyde Amendment. That long-standing federal law prohibits federal (i.e., taxpayer) funds from being used to pay for abortions, except in those rare cases in which an abortion appears necessary to save the life of the mother, or when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Again Professor Robert George:

The abortion industry laments that [the Hyde Amendment], according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, “forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead.”

In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment.

The letter to the President-elect also asks Mr. Obama to “[r]emove funding requirements for dangerously ineffective abstinence-only [sex education] programs,” and to “[p]rotect and strengthen access to birth control, including emergency contraception” (i.e. drugs that act to prevent fertilization or that induce abortion of a pregnancy already begun).

In addition to the UM General Board of Church and Society, the letter’s signatories include Christian Lesbians Out, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (full list of signatories here).

book_of_discipline_2008

Thinking about this: The “prime responsibility” of the General Board of Church and Society, as set forth in Paragraph 1004 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, is “to seek the implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements of the General Conference on Christian social concerns.”

The most recent General Conference, meeting earlier this year in Forth Worth, Texas, acknowledged “the sanctity of unborn human life,” saying that United Methodist are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”

Further, the Conference “support[ed] 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.”

As in previous years, the Conference stated that the United Methodist Church “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008).

On this last point, findings from a 2005 study suggest that, at a minimum, nearly three-fourths of abortions are for reasons of birth control.

Graphic from Bound4Life.com

Graphic from Bound4Life.com

The study found that 74 percent of women having abortions chose to abort their pregnancies because having a child “would dramatically change my life.”

Other research suggests that birth control may be the paramount reason in more than 90 percent of abortion decisions.

In addition, a 2002 study discovered that 54 percent of women having abortions had used contraception during the month they became pregnant, suggesting that abortion is widely used as a “back-up plan” for birth control if other methods are not successful.

Thinking a bit more: The first general rule of the United Methodist Church is “do no harm.”

Since the U.S. the Supreme Court handed down its decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973, an estimated 48 million unborn children have born the brunt of legal abortion. About 25 percent of those children were African-American.

As for the mothers, a 2005 New Zealand study found that young women who have abortions subsequently experience elevated rates of suicidal behaviors, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and other mental problems.

Contact information for the General Board of Church and Society is here.


Related post
General Board of Church and Society goes to court

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In an earlier post, I published remarks by Dr. Bill Bouknight — a leader among United Methodist evangelicals — discussing “five causes for celebration” coming out of this year’s UM General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Unfortunately, much of the news from GC08 wasn’t encouraging. In this post, Dr. Bouknight summarizes “five actions of General Conference that spell trouble for evangelicals and orthodox believers.”

His remarks are from an address to the Methodist Laity Reform Movement, a renewal group in the Iowa Conference.

First, we elected a new Judicial Council that looks quite liberal. This new Council includes just two known evangelicals.

Dr. Bill Bouknight

Dr. Bill Bouknight

The Council of Bishops played a key role in this drastic change. The list of liberal nominees that they submitted was the same one supported by the liberal Methodist Federation for Social Action (PDF).

The Bishops were obviously unhappy over Ruling 1032 in Virginia. You will remember that this ruling in 2005 allowed a pastor to withhold membership from a non-repentant, practicing homosexual.

The Bishops did not like that ruling. Therefore, in Fort Worth they lent their considerable influence toward electing a very different Judicial Council.

For example, the Bishops did not recommend the re-election of a wonderful African-American attorney from Houston, Mary Daffin. Instead, they recommended the election of a person who was one of the organizers of the infamous Re-imagining Conference of 1993, and she was elected!

This new Judicial Council is almost guaranteed to overturn Ruling 1032 if it gets a chance. [MethodistThinker note: See this post for information on the Judicial Council members.]

A second unfortunate action of this General Conference was to take the preliminary steps toward establishing a separate Regional Conference for United Methodists in the USA. The final decision was postponed until 2012, but the enabling legislation will go to all the Annual Conferences next year for a vote.

Many of us evangelicals believe this is an attempt to separate American evangelicals from the vast number of African and Asian evangelicals. Arguments are already being made that homosexuality, for example, is a regional issue. What the African culture believes to be sin is not necessarily sin in the USA.

But aren’t we all guided by the same Bible? Don’t we call claim to have one faith, one baptism, one Lord and Master of us all?

This proposal looks like re-segregation to me. How sad it will be if we forsake Mr. Wesley’s conviction that “the world is my parish.”

A third negative result from General Conference was its failure to separate us completely from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). RCRC opposes any and all restrictions on abortion; therefore, it is out of step with our United Methodist position.

Logo of the 2008 General Conference

Logo of the 2008 General Conference

Nevertheless, General Conference refused to mandate that the two General Agencies of our Church that are members of RCRC [the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division] cancel their membership.

On the “good news” side, the vote was close (52 percent to 48 percent) and the decision might be reversed in four years. [MethodistThinker note: For a transcript of the General Conference debate on participation in RCRC, see the PDF file here, starting on page 2698.]

A fourth bit of bad news is that General Conference eliminated a provision in the Book of Discipline that requires all General Agency program staff to be Christians.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine any good reason why we should hire a non-Christian as part of our program staff? It would be like hiring an Army Ranger to work for the Quakers! Yet, the removal of Paragraph 714.9 means that a Muslim or a Buddhist can be hired by one of our General Agencies.

Here is a fifth and final bit of bad news. The historic right of the local pastor to discern whether or not a person is prepared to take the vows of church membership was seriously eroded.

A constitutional amendment relating to Article IV of the UM Constitution deleted certain key words, leaving this important statement to read as follows: “In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.”

The General Conference was so eager to ensure that an unrepentant, practicing homosexual could join the church that it took the first step in removing all standards for church membership. Since this is a constitutional change, it will require a two-thirds aggregate vote of all the annual conferences.

Now in view of all this bad news from the General Conference, it may surprise you to know that I am optimistic, even bullish, on the United Methodist Church.

Why is that? For one thing, the numbers favor us. In 2012, many more Africans will be voting members of the General Conference. Almost all of them are conservative or orthodox. It is estimated that at the General Conference of 2012, international delegates, mainly Africans, will comprise about 40 percent of the total Conference….

But my confidence is based on more than that. I know that the Church is still the Body of Christ. He has promised to build His Church and that the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

I trust the Lord Jesus Christ to take care of His Church….

I believe that during the first half of the 21st Century, we are going to see a new United Methodist Church emerge. No longer will be just an institution; it’s going to become a movement again — and to God be the glory!

Bill Bouknight retired from the pastorate last year, after more than 40 years of serving churches in South Carolina and Tennessee. He is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001), and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Dr. Bouknight was educated at Duke University, the University of Edinburgh, and Yale Divinity School. He is a member of the board of directors of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church.


Related post
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08

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Speaking earlier this year to the Methodist Laity Reform Movement, a renewal group in the Iowa Conference, United Methodist evangelical leader Dr. Bill Bouknight noted “five causes for celebration” coming out of this year’s UM General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dr. Bouknight

Dr. Bouknight

First, the Church’s position on human sexuality (¶161G) was not changed.

The vote was 55 percent to 45 percent to retain this vital sentence: “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Indeed, Paragraph 161G was actually strengthened by adding these words: “Sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

Second, most of the divisive and sometimes unbiblical recommendations from the General Board of Church and Society were defeated. And their attempt to divest funds from companies doing business with Israel was set aside.

Also, their attempt to change the definition of marriage from a covenant between a man and a woman to a covenant between “two adult persons” was defeated.

A third victory was that our position on abortion (¶161J) was strengthened. We added this statement: “We are equally bound to respect the live and well-being… of the unborn child.”

We also added our official support for parental notification and consent for underage girls before they can have abortions.

A fourth cause for celebration was that an additional $2 million was committed to theological education and pastoral training in the Central Conferences, with particular emphasis on Africa.

There is still a justice issue here. Over the next four years we will pump $60 million into our 13 American seminaries, but will send only $2 million to Africa where the church is really growing.

A fifth cause for celebration was that a constitutional amendment to Paragraph 35 was approved that would allow probationary members, associate members, and local pastors to vote for clergy delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Of course, there also was unsettling news coming out of GC08. In the next MethodistThinker post: Dr. Bouknight’s summary of “five actions of General Conference that spell trouble for evangelicals and orthodox believers.”

A native of South Carolina, Bill Bouknight was educated at Duke University, University of Edinburgh, and Yale Divinity School. He is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001), and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

Dr. Bouknight retired from the pastorate last year, after more than 40 years of serving churches in South Carolina and Tennessee. He is a member of the board of directors of The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church.


Related post
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ’08

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The Nov. 7 edition of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the official newspaper of the North and South Georgia Conferences, quotes a recent United Methodist News Service column by J. Richard Peck titled, “John Wesley’s Advice on the Economy.”

wca-november-7-coverThe column purports to summarize Mr. Wesley’s Dec. 1772 letter to the Lloyd’s Evening Post newspaper. Here is the excerpt the Advocate selected from Mr. Peck’s column.

John Wesley believed that most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

Wesley felt the cure was to repress “luxury, either by example, by laws, or both.” He asked legislators to establish laws that would prohibit the distillation of alcohol.

While he lamented high taxes upon the poor and middle class, he called for additional taxes on luxury items such as horses and carriages.

He also expressed concern about future generations and called for a reduction of the national debt. In short, Wesley called for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products.

The excerpt appears to give “theological cover” (from the founder of the Methodist movement himself!) to those in the current political climate who advocate stepped-up redistribution of wealth from high-income members of society to people with lower incomes.

However, the larger context of Mr. Wesley’s letter gives quite a different impression.

From the actual letter (PDF):

Why have [so many in England] nothing to eat? Because they have nothing to do. They have no meat, because they have no work. But why have they no work?… Because the person who used to employ them cannot afford to do it any longer.

Many, who employed fifty men, now scarce employ ten. Those, who employed twenty, now employ one, or none at all. They cannot, as they have no vent for their goods; food now bearing so high a price, that the generality of people are hardly able to buy anything else.

John Wesley

John Wesley

A major reason for high food prices, Mr. Wesley argued, was that immense quantities of “breadcorn” are “consumed by distilling” alcoholic beverages.

He noted that the abundance of land being used to grow wheat for distillation reduced the acreage available for other crops, while also driving up prices for other wheat-based products.

Mr. Wesley decried the government’s unwillingness — for financial reasons — to discourage the consumption of alcohol. Sales of that “deadly poison-poison” were bringing in “large [tax] revenue to the king,” he noted.

Indeed, the government’s overweening desire for tax revenue was having perverse effects throughout the economy, he observed.

[W]hy is it, that not only provisions and land, but well-nigh everything else is so dear [i.e., expensive]? Because of the enormous taxes which are laid on almost everything that can be named.

Not only abundant taxes raised from earth, and fire, and water; but, in England, the ingenious statesmen have found a way to tax the very light!

In a series of suggestions for improving the economic health of the nation, Mr. Wesley hinged his argument on the need to drive down agricultural-commodity prices. Lower food costs, he argued, would increase discretionary income and stimulate appropriate consumption of other consumer goods, thus creating economic growth and increasing employment.

The key to driving down food prices was “prohibiting for ever that bane of health, that destroyer of strength, of life, and of virtue, distilling. Perhaps this alone will answer the whole design,” Mr. Wesley wrote. (In another part of the letter, he argued that more family farms and fewer farm “monopolies” would help drive down food costs, as well.)

lloyds_evening_postIn general, John Wesley urged eventual tax reductions — conceding, however, that servicing the nation’s large national debt made the continuation of certain taxes a necessity.

As for tax increases, he suggested that the government could make up revenue lost from prohibiting distilling with an additional tariff (of 10 pounds) on “every horse exported to France” and a hike in the property tax on horses in England used to draw “gentlemen’s carriages.” (He also believed these particular taxes would reduce the number of horses being raised, thus driving down the cost of oats.)

While Mr. Wesley did decry “the amazing waste” of food by some wealthy people (which contributed to food scarcity problems for others), there is nothing in his letter that suggest, as asserted by Mr. Peck, that Wesley believed “most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.”

Indeed, the assertion seems to put the cause and effect backward. Income disparity was a result of a problem-laden economy, not the cause. Improve the economy, John Wesley argued in his 1772 letter to the Lloyd’s Evening Post, and the lot of the poor would improve along with it.

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Ted Olsen at Christianity Today, using exit polling results from CNN, reports that among voters who described themselves as “evangelical” or “born again,” Sen. John McCain pulled 74 percent of the vote.

Sen. Barack Obama received only 26 percent, performing about the same among conservative Christians as Democratic standard-bearer John Kerry did in 2004.

(The difference, of course, is that Sen. Obama won, assisted by a strong turnout among black voters. Sen. Obama received nearly 3.3 million more votes from African-Americans than Sen. Kerry did; 2.9 million of them were from voters aged 18-29. Overall, blacks voted 95 percent for Sen. Obama.)

crossflame_election08What the exit polls show is that the Obama candidacy, despite an abundance of speculation to the contrary, failed to make significant inroads into the conservative Christian voting bloc, which is strongest in the southeast and south central parts of the country.

(Not surprisingly, these areas are where the United Methodist Church has its strongest conferences and largest jurisdictions).

The poor Democratic showings among evangelicals likely will continue until the Democratic party finally moves toward a less extreme position on abortion. The current position (“we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine [the] right [to an abortion]”) puts the party squarely at odds with the biblical view of the sanctity of unborn human life.

Other polling data indicate that non-evangelical Protestants also favored McCain. In contrast, Sen. Obama ran strong among the irreligious, garnering more than two-thirds of the vote among people who never attend church. He also pulled 53 percent among those who attend worship services only irregularly.

Remarkably, the pro-abortion Sen. Obama captured 53 percent of the Catholic vote, a six-point improvement over Sen. Kerry’s showing in 2004, despite urgent calls from Catholic leaders to vote pro-life. Still, McCain won a majority of Catholics who attend worship regularly.

Jewish voters, a reliably Democratic voting bloc in the U.S., went 77 percent for Obama-Biden, helping the ticket gain wins in New York, California, New Jersey, and Florida. (Jews in Israel, by contrast, are far less sanguine about an Obama presidency.)

Here are the evangelical tallies by state (the first percentage represents the voters in each state who self-identified as evangelical or born again; no data is available for Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont):

  • Alabama
  • 46% Evangelical
    88% McCain
    11% Obama

electionmap_counties

Obama - Blue | McCain - Red
(by county)

  • Arizona
  • 21% Evangelical
    77% McCain
    23% Obama

  • Arkansas
  • 53% Evangelical
    72% McCain
    25% Obama

  • California
  • 17% Evangelical
    70% McCain
    26% Obama

  • Colorado
  • 22% Evangelical
    75% McCain
    22% Obama

  • Florida
  • 24% Evangelical
    78% McCain
    20% Obama

  • Georgia
  • 37% Evangelical
    89% McCain
    10% for Obama

  • Idaho
  • 33% Evangelical
    80% McCain
    18% Obama

  • Illinois
  • 22% Evangelical
    59% McCain
    40% Obama

  • Indiana
  • 41% evangelical
    66% for McCain
    32% for Obama

  • Iowa
  • 30% Evangelical
    60% McCain
    38% Obama

  • Kansas
  • 40% Evangelical
    78% McCain
    22% Obama

  • Kentucky
  • 45% Evangelical
    74% for McCain
    25% for Obama

  • Louisiana
  • 29% Evangelical
    87% McCain
    9% Obama

  • Michigan
  • 27% Evangelical
    63% McCain
    34% Obama

  • Minnesota
  • 28% Evangelical
    60% McCain
    38% Obama

  • Mississippi
  • 43% Evangelical
    90% McCain
    9% Obama

  • Missouri
  • 38% Evangelical
    67% McCain
    32% Obama

  • Montana
  • 30% Evangelical
    72% McCain
    23% Obama

  • Nebraska
  • 30% Evangelical
    71% McCain
    28% Obama

  • Nevada
  • 16% Evangelical
    73% McCain
    25% Obama

  • New Mexico
  • 16% Evangelical
    81% McCain
    17% Obama

  • New York
  • 9% Evangelical
    77% McCain
    21% Obama

  • North Carolina
  • 42% Evangelical
    74% for McCain
    25% for Obama

  • North Dakota
  • 31% Evangelical
    73% McCain
    26% Obama

  • Ohio
  • 30% Evangelical
    70% for McCain
    29% for Obama

  • Oklahoma
  • 52% Evangelical
    77% McCain
    22% Obama

  • Oregon
  • 27% Evangelical
    66% McCain
    31% Obama

  • South Carolina
  • 39% Evangelical
    84% for McCain
    16% for Obama

  • South Dakota
  • 37% Evangelical
    63% McCain
    33% Obama

  • Tennessee
  • 51% Evangelical
    75% McCain
    22% Obama

  • Texas
  • 31% Evangelical
    79% McCain
    19% Obama

  • Utah
  • No numbers on evangelicals, but Mormons voted 80% for McCain.

  • Virginia
  • 27% Evangelical
    78% McCain
    21% Obama

  • Washington
  • 24% Evangelical
    64% McCain
    32% Obama

  • West Virginia
  • 52% Evangelical
    64% McCain
    34% Obama

  • Wisconsin
  • 26% Evangelical
    64% McCain
    36% Obama

  • Wyoming
  • 28% Evangelical
    80% McCain
    17% Obama

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