- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached earlier this year by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, head of the Florida Area of the United Methodist Church, at the United Methodist Building in the District.

Pope John Paul II made a powerful Christian witness to God’s peaceable purposes in his 1995 encyclical on “The Gospel of Life.” He warned the world about creating a culture of life.” He warned the world about creating “a culture of death” that is rebellion against “the Gospel of life.”

He showed us that a culture of death is one that endorses abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment. He asserted that the commandment “You shall not kill” is integral to the revelation of God. He stated, “Only when people are open to the fullness of the truth about God, man and history, will the words “You shall not kill’ shine forth once more as a goal for man in himself and his relations with others.”

In the United Methodist Church, often many of us are silent and passive about abortion. At the same time, we can be outspoken and active in our opposition to war and capital punishment. Do we not perceive how opposition to violence requires us to be as vigilant in our witness against abortion as in our witness against war as a normal political tool and our witness against executions by the state?

I suspect that we are silent and passive about abortion because often we allow ideology to trump theology in forming our ethical positions on controversial issues. It’s no secret that abortion is captive to ideological and partisan political agendas in American life. The Republican Party is the party that embraces a position of moral concern about abortion in American culture. Those who do not agree with the Republican Party on its foreign policy and many of its domestic policies are reluctant to oppose abortion because they do not want to be supportive of this party on an issue that helps it to win elections. Yet we who are Christians cannot let our ideological or partisan political loyalties constrain our witness to the living God.

Can there be any doubt there is silence and passivity about abortion in our church? How often is a sermon about abortion or an educational forum on abortion offered in our congregations? How many congregations are involved in supporting crisis pregnancy centers in their communities or offering tangible support to women with unwanted pregnancies? What kind of pastoral counsel is being offered behind the closed doors of the pastor’s office?

When the bishops gave splendid leadership in the Bishops’ Initiative on Children in Poverty … not even scant mention was made of the deaths of unborn children because of abortion. At the 2004 General Conference, the Church endorsed our agencies’ continued participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice without much of a debate about how participation in this coalition compromises our public witness against abortion.

As a Methodist, often I am better at feeling than thinking. What I feel is revulsion at the moral horror that is abortion. I would like to be a bishop of a church that knows how to make philosophers and politicians feel the same revulsion of the moral horror of abortion.

We who are United Methodists have a responsibility to live according to our first rule, which is to do no harm. 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.

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