This post is by the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter.
Mr. Stallsworth has served as the editor of three books: The Church and Abortion: In Search of New Ground for Response (Abingdon, 1993), The Right Choice: Pro-Life Sermons (Abingdon, 1997), and Thinking Theologically About Abortion (Bristol House, 2000).
This post is adapted from Mr. Stallsworth’s remarks at a May 2010 public forum on The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a manifesto issued by Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders in November 2009.
The forum, held at North Carolina’s Carteret Community College, was sponsored by the Carteret County Ministerial Association.
Links in the text below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.
The first contemporary matter addressed at length by The Manhattan Declaration is human life and abortion. The Declaration puts this issue in historical, political, and legal context.
In the years leading up to 1973, American society had reached a basic consensus on abortion: state laws, more or less, restricted abortion. The states, just before 1973, were routinely turning back legislative attempts to legalize abortion; so the consensus held.
But on Jan. 22, 1973, this national consensus on abortion was shattered. On that day, the United States Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision knocked down all state abortion laws and made abortion available on demand throughout all 50 states of the union.
In 1973, one institution in American public life that stood against Roe v. Wade and against abortion on demand: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All the other major institutions in our society — public education, colleges and universities, the movie and music industries, prestige journalism, the mainline Protestant denominations — favored Roe. Even the Southern Baptist Convention backed abortion rights.
But since 1973, the abortion debate has continued. And over the years, the American people have become increasingly pro-life. Just over a year ago, a Gallup Poll found that more Americans now identify themselves as “pro-life” than as “pro-choice.”
Today in American society the greatest ally and advocate of the pro-choice position is the United States government:
Those supporting the pro-choice position have helped to create what John Paul II called the “culture of death.” The culture of death renders some human beings, especially the weak, “imperfect, immature or inconvenient” — as the Manhattan Declaration puts it — to be “discardable.”
Abortion is ground zero in the culture of death — but that culture now extends far beyond abortion. The “slippery slope,” which some feared would be created by abortion, has become a reality. The Manhattan Declaration speaks to the fact that many human lives are now at risk.
In frontally challenging the moral truth of the dignity of the human person, abortion has opened wider the door to massive human indignities around the world.
As the Manhattan Declaration declares, “Genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS” are made possible by a diminished sense of the dignity of the human person.
This diminishment begins with abortion.
So what are we to do about this culture of death — at home and abroad? We begin, at ground zero, with abortion. In the words of The Manhattan Declaration:
We will be united and untiring in our efforts to roll back the license to kill that began with the abandonment of the unborn to abortion. We will work…to bring assistance, comfort, and care to pregnant women in need and to those who have been victimized by abortion….
Our message is, and ever shall be, that the just, human, and truly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike.
At the same time, the Declaration calls on the government to exercise its first duty: “to protect the weak and the vulnerable.”
The Bible, reinforced by reason, demands that the people of God defend those who have no defense, to speak for those who have no voice. So we must defend and speak for the unborn child, the disabled girl, the elderly man.
The Manhattan Declaration boldly challenges: “We must be willing to defend, even at risk and cost to ourselves and our institutions, the lives of” the vulnerable — no matter their ages, no matter their circumstances.
Read and sign the Manhattan Declaration here.
The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth helped Richard John Neuhaus launch the Center on Religion and Society in 1984 and the Institute on Religion and Public Life in 1989.
Mr. Stallsworth, a clergy member of the UMC’s North Carolina Conference, founded Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality/Lifewatch in 1987.
In addition to his work with TUMAS/Lifewatch, Paul Stallsworth is a member of the National Pro-life Religious Council and serves as the pastor of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Morehead City, N.C.
Lifewatch holds its annual worship service and board meeting today at the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C.
The group rents the space used for the service and the meeting. Use of the facility is not donated by the UMC’s General Board of Church and Society, which is a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a group that supports legalized abortion.
|•||United Methodists praying, speaking, and marching for life|
|•||Why aren’t UM leaders supporting the Manhattan Declaration?|
|•||UM pro-life group urges Sen. Ben Nelson: ‘Do no harm’|
|•||Bishop Timothy Whitaker: Abortion and the gospel of peace|
|•||Party platforms and the UMC|
|•||How a pastor might first broach the abortion issue with his congregation | Paul T. Stallsworth, Remarks at the 2010 Convention of National Right to Life, Pittsburgh, Pa. (June 2010)|
|•||United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones addresses pro-life event | Connor Ewing, IRD (Jan. 22, 2010)|
|•||Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 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)|
|•||The pro-life pulpit | Lynne M. Thompson, At The Center (Winter 2005)|
|•||Roe ruling: More than its author intended | David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times—via HispanicPundit.com (Sept. 14, 2005)|
|•||Diversity of life: Opposition to abortion spans ideologies and ethnic groups | Gene Edward Veith, WORLD—via National Pro-Life Religious Council (Nov. 6, 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)|