By Dave Andrusko
Sometimes events that are truly momentous aren’t appreciated as such until much later. My guess is that will be the case–but shouldn’t be –with last week’s decision by delegates to the quadrennial General Conference meeting of the United Methodist Church who voted that two United Methodist entities withdraw immediately from membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
It was not a nail-biter. The vote was 61% to 39%. Delegates first turned down a move by opponents “to refer the petition to the General Council on Finance and Administration,” according to Jessica Brodie, the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, “but the UMC gives no money to RCRC.”
Writing in the Detroit News, Mark Tooley described what happened as “The Methodist surprise in Portland.”
Tooley is the author of “Taking Back the United Methodist Church,” and president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He offered background in addition to what we wrote about last week, beginning with how the delegates “also voted to delete the church’s 40 year old resolution affirming Roe v. Wade.
Tooley put the role of the UMC–and specifically the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church’s Washington lobby–in context. (Both are now bound to withdraw immediately from membership in RCRC).
Liberal Mainline Protestants denominations like the Methodists helped create the moral ethos facilitating abortion rights. They portrayed the pro-life cause as Catholic, and RCRC was founded partly to counter the Catholic Church’s pro-life advocacy. For decades RCRC gave religious cover to abortion rights activism. It opposed any legal restrictions on abortion, including parental consent laws, and portrayed abortion as a positive good, even “holy work,” supported by religious ethics.
Please re-read that paragraph. “Mainline” denominations such as the UMC were instrumental in the campaign to marginalize opposition to Roe–it was just “Catholics”; they provided religious cover for the abortion-on-demand crowd; and they were busy telling church folks that abortion was not only acceptable and legal but “holy work.”
As I understand Tooley’s op-ed, the margin of the vote is explained by two primary factors. Methodism is not thriving in the United States but is places such as Africa. Delegates coming from outside the U.S. are much more traditional. In addition while “Overseas delegates were important”
but so too are evolving abortion attitudes on abortion among religious moderates and some liberals. Defending RCRC and its zealous unqualified affirmation of abortion was unpalatable for many especially younger clergy.
The importance of those two developments cannot be over-estimated. Here is Mr. Tooley’s inspirational conclusion:
United Methodism’s departure from RCRC is historic. The once flagship Mainline Protestant denomination is steering a different direction from its longtime liberal church partners as it globalizes and becomes more evangelical.
But the departure also perhaps confirms that overall public opinion, religious and not, especially by the young, is shifting subtly towards pro-life. Many may not politically identify with pro-life advocacy, but they don’t resonate with RCRC-style unalloyed abortion activism.
Methodist lobbyists who in 1973 founded RCRC in the bracing days after Roe v. Wade would likely be surprised by their church’s departure. But history, and God, often have surprises.