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Church holds ambiguous stand on abortion, speakers say

1/24/2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available. *Lauber is associate editor of the UMConnection, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

By Melissa Lauber*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) -- On the 29th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, a group of United Methodists gathered in the nation's capital to voice opposition to legalized abortion and commit themselves to changing the church's position.

About 50 people attended a Jan. 22 worship service in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill sponsored by Lifewatch, an unofficial task force of United Methodists.

The United Methodist Church, in its official position in the Social Principles, recognizes and respects the sanctity of unborn human life and the sacredness of the life of the mother. In limited situations, it supports the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. The denomination opposes late-term or partial-birth abortions.

Lifewatch, and many of those attending the worship service, believe that the United Methodist stance is ambiguous and inconsistent with the denomination's position on other issues such as cloning, stem cell research, physician-assisted suicide and the death penalty.

"We're speaking out of both sides of our mouth," said Michael Gorman of Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church in Odenton, Md., who attended the service with his son. "It's time to reconsider this issue in light of the bigger picture."

The Rev. Paul Stallsworth, pastor of St. Peter's Broad Creek United Methodist Church in Morehead City, N.C., and editor of the Lifewatch newsletter, preached at the worship service. He called on United Methodists to respect and protect unborn children and their mothers.

"Throughout the ages, the church has maintained a stop sign in front of abortion," Stallsworth said. "The church maintained that sign, kept it up, kept it painted, kept it visible, gave reasons for the sign being there."

But in recent years, Stallsworth said, even those who oppose abortion have been silent. "As millions of unborn children are lost to abortion and their mothers are damaged in countless ways, most United Methodists remain quiet about it," he said.

If the church shrugs off its complacency, Stallsworth said he is confident that the General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, will continue to revise the official stance on abortion, stated in Paragraph 161J of the Social Principles.

"For the past 20 years, every General Conference has revised the church's position in the pro-life direction," he said. "In 2000, it added the ban on partial-birth abortion."

Lifewatch also hopes that the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries will end its support of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Stallsworth said.

Following the worship service, members of Lifewatch joined an estimated 100,000 people, on both sides of the abortion issue, in a march to the Supreme Court.

The pro-life demonstrators gathered for the march at the base of the Washington Monument, many of them waving crosses and "Stop Abortion Now" placards.

Speaking via telephone from West Virginia, President George Bush told the crowd that his administration opposes partial-birth abortion and public funding for abortion. Bush is a United Methodist.

"Our society has a responsibility to defend the vulnerable and weak, the imperfect and even the unwanted," he said. "Our nation should set a great goal that unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law."

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