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The United Methodist pro-life organization known as Lifewatch is urging Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a United Methodist layman, to reconsider his support of the recently passed Senate health bill, even as passage of a final health bill grows increasingly unlikely in the wake of last week’s U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

In December, Sen. Nelson became the final senator to announce his support for the bill, giving the legislation the exact number of votes needed to pass. For weeks prior to the vote, the Nebraska senator — who describes himself as pro-life — had expressed concerns that the Senate health bill would allow taxpayer funding of abortion.

A letter to Sen. Nelson written by two Lifewatch leaders refers to recent “lobbying efforts by some United Methodist clergy and laity” who pressured the senator to support the health bill even if it meant “compromising [his] pro-life principles.”

Many of those lobbying efforts were instigated by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). In November, GBCS decried abortion-related concerns that were hindering passage of the health bill. The board’s Linda Bales Todd described such concerns as being “based on one, narrow religious doctrine.”

Cynthia Abrams of GBCS

Days before the December Senate vote, the Rev. Cynthia Abrams of GBCS sent an e-mail to Nebraska Methodists characterizing Sen. Nelson as adhering to a “personal agenda” that was causing him to be “the last holdout blocking an important step forward in [health] reform.”

The GBCS e-mail included a suggested script for recipients to use when calling the senator’s office: “As a fellow United Methodist, I’d like you to know that our denomination’s position is that health care is a basic human right.”

(For the history of how health care came to be characterized as “right” by the UMC, see here; the matter has never been debated on the floor of any UM General Conference.)

The Lifewatch letter does not mention GBCS by name, but it notes that the Methodists who urged Sen. Nelson to set aside his pro-life views and support the health-overhaul bill “do not speak for all United Methodists.”

The Senate’s health care bill is unacceptable — to us, to many if not most United Methodists, and to the clear majority of Americans — since it would have the effect of facilitating, and thus increasing, the incidence of abortion in our society.

Furthermore, we are very concerned about the Senate bill’s failure to include the House bill’s conscience protections for health care providers who do not want to be coerced into participation in abortion. Finally, we are disturbed to read reports that your office “shut out” input from pro-life leaders during final negotiations on the final abortion language.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

We understand that, in recent weeks, you have been the target of lobbying efforts by some United Methodist clergy and laity urging you to support the health care reform bill even if it means compromising your pro-life principles. While these individuals are certainly free to express their opinions to you, you should know that they do not speak for all United Methodists.

Through our extensive experience in United Methodist congregations and organizations, we can assure you that many, if not most, United Methodists in Nebraska and in the United States share our concerns.

We understand the need to address the problem of the deplorably high number of people in our nation without health insurance. However, the first principle of the General Rules of The United Methodist Church, given by John Wesley to the early Methodists, is “Do no harm.”

With this principle in mind, as negotiations and votes on health care reform continue, we strongly urge you to reconsider your position and to work with pro-life leaders, including Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), to ensure that [any] health care bill that is passed will: (1) exclude any direct or indirect federal support for elective abortions; (2) exclude any provisions that may otherwise encourage or facilitate abortions; and (3) include strong conscience protections.

The letter is signed by Lifewatch president Paul T. Stallsworth, pastor of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Morehead City, North Carolina, and John Lomperis, a member of the Lifewatch advisory board and a student at Harvard Divinity School.

John Lomperis and Paul Stallsworth at the 2009 National Right to Life Convention

Lifewatch was founded in 1987 as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality.

Members of the advisory board include Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the UMC’s Florida Conference, Bishop Will Willimon of the North Alabama Conference, Michael J. Gorman, Dean of Ecumenical Institute of Theology in Baltimore, Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, the Rev. Bill Hughes of the University of Kentucky Wesley Foundation, and Thomas C. Oden of Drew University.


Related posts
A United Methodist pro-life prayer guide
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related articles
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)
The pro-life organizations and people Nelson betrayed | Jill Stanek (Dec. 21, 2009)
Ben Nelson refused to allow pro-life group’s input on abortion funding deal | Steven Ertelt, LifeSite News (Dec. 19, 2009)
Methodists work Nelson: ‘Set aside his personal agenda and think about the common good’ | Ben Smith, Politico (Dec. 18, 2009)
Four-minute video of 10 Nebraska United Methodists lobbying at Sen. Nelson’s Omaha office | Nebraska Conference (Nov. 2, 2009)
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
United Methodist Church continues decades-long crawl to pro-life direction | John Lomperis, LifeNews.com (May 23, 2008)
Mainline churches participate in abortion rights march | John Lomperis, Good News (July/August 2004)
UMC holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say | Melissa Lauber, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2002)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)

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Friday (Jan. 22) marks the 37th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in the cases of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Taken together, the two rulings (authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, a United Methodist) effectively voided dozens of state laws aimed at protecting unborn children from abortion.

Since then, abortion doctors have performed 50 million abortions in the U.S. — primarily for purposes of birth control rather than for medical reasons. On average, five abortions occur in America every minute of every hour of every day.

The pro-life prayer guide below is adapted from material prepared by Lifewatch, also known as the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. A PDF copy of the prayer guide, designed for use as a church-bulletin insert, is here. (UM pastor Chris Roberts has prepared additional material that can be used as bulletin insert.)

Lifewatch will host its annual worship service Friday at the United Methodist Building, next door to the U.S. Supreme Court. Bishop Scott Jones, who presides over the Kansas Area of the UMC, is scheduled to deliver the message.

In previous years, Bishop Will Willimon (North Alabama) and Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Florida) have addressed the Lifewatch gathering.

The UM Building in Washington, D.C.

At the 2004 service, Bishop Whitaker said a church that supports abortion undermines its proclamation of the gospel.

“[W]e who are United Methodists…have a responsibility to live according to our first rule [of the Methodist General Rules], which is to do no harm,” he declared. “Do no harm to the unborn! Do no harm to the witness of the Church as a peaceable people! Do no harm to the Gospel of peace!”

In 2008, the United Methodist General Conference passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”

The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states that the UMC “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161J).

Shortly after Friday’s Lifewatch service, the annual March for Life begins on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

(UMNS photo)

The event, which draws tens of thousands of pro-lifers each year, will be aired live (beginning at 11 a.m. ET) on EWTN, the Roman Catholic cable/satellite TV channel. (EWTN’s coverage will be repeated at 10 p.m. ET.)

Go here for live audio and video online.

The March for Life has been held annually since 1974.

Many churches will observe this Sunday as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.


Related posts
Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace
‘Church and Society’ decries pro-life amendment to health bill
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ’08
Party platforms and the UMC
Democrats, Methodists, and abortion policy
Bishop Mike Watson: ‘The Methodist Christian Way’

Related articles
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker (Feb. 9, 2009)
United Methodism on abortion | Paul T. Stallsworth, On the Square—First Things (May 29, 2008)
Abortion opponents speak out during national rally | United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2008)
Mainline churches participate in abortion rights march | John Lomperis, Good News (July/August 2004)
UMC holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say | Melissa Lauber, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 24, 2002)
Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)
Justice Harry Blackmun was active United Methodist | United Methodist News Service (March 4, 1999)
Justice Blackmun and the little people | Mary Meehan (originally published in Human Life Review, Summer 2004)
The sanctification of human life (a historical overview of the Christian church’s position on abortion and other issues related to the sanctity of human life) — Chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World | Alvin Schmidt (Zondervan, 2004 — via Google Books)
Why is the New Testament silent about abortion? | Michael J. Gorman, Good News (May/June 1993)
‘Durham Declaration’ asks for ‘Scriptural approach’ to abortion in the UMC; Signatories include Bishops Ole E. Borgen and William R. Cannon | United Methodist News Service (March 12, 1991)
Text of the Durham Declaration (January 1991)

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In the wake of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s triennial missions conference, Urbana 09 (held Dec. 27-Dec. 31 in St. Louis), a leader with The Mission Society (formerly The Mission Society for United Methodists) notes that the Urbana conference offers a clear and encouraging sign that “God is calling a new generation to His mission.”

“I just finished attending the huge Urbana 2009 student missions conference,” wrote Jim Ramsey, the groups’s senior director of field ministry, on The Mission Society blog.

“Over 15,000 young people gathered to learn about and explore commitment to God’s mission in the world. It has been an amazing time,” Ramsey wrote.

He said his time at the Urbana conference made it clear that not only is “calling a new generation to His mission,” but that this particular generation has “an exciting passion among students to confront issues of injustice and poverty with the power of the Gospel.”

This isn’t a fuzzy “do-gooder” type of approach, trying to come up with human solutions — the approach that has characterized various “social gospel” attempts of the past. This generation seems to be gifted with a radical abandon to Jesus Christ and a willingness to confront systems of poverty and injustice with the light of the Gospel. They seem to experience the deep offense that such systems are to the Creator and feel compelled to challenge and change….

Those of us who are a bit further along in years — parents, church leaders, mission leaders — need to recognize what God is doing and do all we can to encourage, to advise, and to release this incredible energy and passion.

Meanwhile, Riley B. Case of the United Methodist Confessing Movement writes that the passion and strong sense of mission exhibited at the Urbana Conference serves as sober reminder about the declining state of official UM missions.

[When I attended by first Urbana Conference in 1955,] the Board of Missions of The Methodist Church was very visible and active in recruitment of persons for service in the Methodist Church. The board at that time was recruiting evangelical students as missionaries….

Dr. Riley B. Case

The Methodist Church in 1955 had nearly 1,800 overseas full-time missionaries on the field. The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM, the successor to the Board of Missions) now has fewer than 200 full-time overseas missionaries in service….

InterVarsity seeks to work in cooperation with other parachurch groups and other denominations. In the light of this nearly 150 mission agencies and educational institutions exhibited at Urbana 09. However, The United Methodist Church was conspicuous by its near-absence.

Numbers of evangelical seminaries recruited students at Urbana, but few mainline seminaries. One has the feeling that United Methodist seminaries either are not aware of conferences like Urbana 09, or are not interested in pursuing evangelicals as students.

That is most unfortunate, because The United Methodist Church could benefit from the commitment and enthusiasm that comes out of conferences like Urbana.

Of the more than 15,000 attendees at this year’s Urbana conference, more than 2,600 committed themselves to long-term missionary service. Another 5,000 committed themselves to short-term service.


Related posts
The Mission Society celebrates 25 years
‘Refocused on our divinely appointed mission': GBGM and The Mission Society co-sponsor missions conference in Atlanta

Related articles and information
‘Justice generation’ puts Jesus into social action | Heather Sells, CBN (Jan. 12, 2010)
Thousands of Urbana attendees bring in new year with commitment to missions | Steven Lawson, Charisma News Online (Jan. 1, 2010)
Going worldwide: For 25 years the Mission Society has helped the church discover its mission | Dick McClain, Good News (September/October 2009)
There must be more: Mission Society ‘campus missionaries’ are helping feed the spiritually hungry at several U.S. colleges | Anna Egipto, Unfinished (Spring 2009)
The demise of the world’s greatest mission agency | Mark Tooley, Touchstone magazine (November/December 1998)
An open letter to the United Methodist Church from The Mission Society | The Mission Society, via the UM Confessing Movement (May 8, 1998)

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