NRL News

RCRC’s Problem and The United Methodist Church’s

by | Dec 4, 2014


By The Rev. Paul Stallsworth

Editor’s note. This appeared in the December issue of LifeWatch. Rev. Stallsworth is the editor of LifeWatch.

The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth

The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth

It is no secret that two United Methodist institutions—The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and the United Methodist Women (UMW) – are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). And it is common knowledge that RCRC is dedicated to keeping abortion – all abortions, of all unborn children, for any reason or no reason – legal in American society. In other words, RCRC never, ever speaks or lobbies or writes against abortion.


Please consider two preliminary observations, from this United Methodist pastor, on RCRC and its work.

First, The United Methodist Church officially assigns its response to abortion to the General Board of Church and Society. And it seems that the General Board of Church and Society then largely subcontracts its work on abortion to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. That way, GBCS does not have to address abortion very often—which is good for GBCS, because abortion is always a controversial topic in the church. (GBCS’s infrequent engagement with abortion can be verified on its website. A recent search for “abortion,” that covers GBCS material that goes back to at least 2005, yields only eleven hits.) Therefore, like it or not, RCRC operates as the day-to-day, primary voice for The United Methodist Church on abortion.

Second, RCRC’s language pertaining to abortion is always changing. Every so often, RCRC does a make-over of its language on abortion. When it began in 1973, the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) was all about “abortion rights.” In its 1993 make-over, RCAR became RCRC, and “reproductive choice” replaced “abortion rights” as the key phrase of the day. The next make-over introduced “reproductive rights” as the marketing strategy of the moment. The most recent make-over has RCRC using “reproductive justice” as a marketing mantra. Another such mantra – “abortion care” – might be on the horizon, RCRC gets public relations.


On September 29, 2014, the Washington Post, under its website’s “PostEverything,” published “Reverends like us should never oppose access to abortion or sex ed” (sic). Rev. Harry Knox and Dr. Alethea R. Smith-Withers are co-authors of the column. Rev. Knox is the President and CEO of RCRC, and Dr. Smith-Withers is the founding and present pastor of The Pavilion of God – a Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and she is the chair of RCRC’s Board of Directors.

In their editorial, Rev. Knox and Dr. Smith-Withers offer a strong dose of rhetoric that paints a very unattractive picture of those of us who want to protect the unborn and their mothers from abortion. They make the following charges and claims. From those who are pro-life, “the shouting of a few strident voices” has ended calm conversation about life and abortion. Pro-life types support the “Hyde Amendment, which denies Medicaid coverage of abortion care…[and] discriminates against low-income women…[and] targets low-income people.” The biggest problem, according to RCRC, “is when one particular religious viewpoint gets written into law, in direct violation of our national commitment to religious liberty.” Finally, pro-life “politicians [should] get out of the business of playing doctor and preacher.” Again, this presents a very unappealing picture of all who try to be protective of each human being, no matter how small or defenseless or afraid. Evidently, Rev. Knox and Dr. Smith-Withers are not much interested in dialogue with others.


Even so, in response to their editorial, this pastor will offer three (comments.

First, RCRC has a theology. And RCRC’s theology has a theological anthropology (that is, a doctrine of humanity) and an ecclesiology (that is, a doctrine of the Church). RCRC’s anthropology depicts the human person as primarily a decision maker or consumer, who alone always knows what is best. RCRC’s “autonomous individual” or “sovereign self” gets to call all the shots for himself or herself; and he or she wants to do. Family, church, state, and everybody else simply needs to get out of the way, so each person can live however he or she wants to live, do whatever he or she wants to do.

Because of RCRC’s powerfully individualistic anthropology, its ecclesiology is insipid. That is to say, as RCRC understands it, the Church does no teach – except that each person should live however he or she wants to live. Nor, in RCRC’s view, should the Church witness in the public arena – except to declare that every person should get to do whatever he or she wants to do, without interference from anyone or anything. What counts, to RCRC, is that the Church get out of the way of The Individual, and the Church ask everyone and everything to get out of the way of The Individual, so that The Individual can make his or her own way in the world.

To simplify, according to the truths of the Bible and the Church’s doctrine, RCRC’s Individual is too large, and RCRC’s Church is too small

Second, there is a lot of talk about “justice” coming from RCRC these days. Reproductive justice. Healthcare justice. “Justice-work” (Dr. Smith-Withers).

With the word “justice” ringing in my mind, a word-picture comes to mind. The picture would feature the remains of an aborted unborn child. (This pastor has never been one to use such pictures, but they do represent reality in a powerful way. Such pictures demonstrate that abortion turns an unborn child into a horrifying, bloody, mangled mess.) Beneath this picture would be this simple caption: Justice? And the point of the picture and the caption is this: how could this kind of treatment of a tiny human being have anything to do with justice? Make 1,250,000 copies of that picture. That is what is happening in American society every year: 1.25 million abortions are occurring each year. And that is justice?

Along the same line, the article notes that the Hyde Amendment “targets low-income people.” This pastor believes that were there no Hyde Amendment, many more thousands of little, unborn people would become “targets” of abortionists; and these abortions would be paid for by all of us, the taxpayers. That is justice?

And third, RCRC is deeply concerned, year after year, about a religious position being enacted into law. Again, as the Knox-Smith-Withers article puts it: “The problem is when one particular religious viewpoint gets written into law, in direct violation of our national commitment to religious liberty.”

In response to RCRC’s concern, this pastor would suggest the following. In the United States, United Methodist legislators are free to introduce and /or support legislation that is consistent with United Methodist teaching. Baptists are free to introduce and/or support legislation that is consistent with Baptist teaching. Roman Catholics are free to introduce and/or support legislation that is consistent with Roman Catholic teaching. Jews are free to introduce and/or support legislation that is consistent with Jewish teaching. And secularists are free to introduce and/or support legislation that is consistent with secularist teaching. It is the duty of legislative bodies (which are composed of legislators who have various religious commitments) to consider the merits of each piece of legislation, access how each legislative proposal would affect the common good, and vote for, or against, each bill. Only if the necessary votes support the legislation, and it is signed by the required executive officer (governor or president), then the proposal becomes law. Politically speaking, that is the way American politics works. If legislation is consistent with the teaching of a religious community, that in no way rules the legislation out of order on religious-liberty grounds. Actually, religious liberty in the United States means that religious and moral voices in American public life should not be ruled out of order by those desiring a more secularized “naked public square” ( a phrase from the late Richard John Neuhaus)


Again, because The United Methodist Church allows The General Board of Church and United Methodist Women to belong to RCRC, and because RCRC is led by Rev, Knox and Dr. Smith-Withers, and because Rev. Knox and Dr Smith-Withers have written this aforementioned article for the Washington Post, United Methodism is officially standing with Rev. Knox, Dr. Smith-Withers, and their editorial. That is, The united Methodist Church stands with ideas that would totally eliminate the teaching authority of the Church, that call the destruction of the defenseless “justice,” and that demand that the Church get out of the public arena. It makes no sense. None.

Categories: Abortion Religious
Tags: abortion