I Think This Qualifies as Sophistry

Two publications, both associated with The United Methodist Church (one official, one unofficial) arrived on the same day and dealing with exactly the same matter.  Providential?

“Faith in Action’s” (the official one from the General Board of Church and Society) “Quote of the Week” from the Rev. Amee Paparella opines: “We are a church that is pro-life, not pro-birth.”

Huh?

A colleague (thanks Betty!) translated “pro-birth” for me.  Those accused of being “pro-birth” don’t care about other pro-life concerns, like opposition to the death penalty or concern for health care.  The Rev. Paparella ends with this comparison: “Unlike pro-birth proponents, we do not believe in forgoing the life and safety of the mother.”  (That “and safety” probably allows for ample wiggle room.)  This statement seems to gather all pro-life positions (there is more than one, you know) in to only one – that she then calls “pro-birth.”

If you read on, you will see how the Rev. Paparella explains this view.  Here’s the link:

http://umc-gbcs.org/quotes/on-the-united-methodist-church-and-abortion.

Even with my colleague’s helpful explanation of the term, this sort of reductionist argument really grates.  No doubt, we will always be able to find some people who fit the description Ms. Paparella gives.  But it is far more a caricature than an adequate description of what pro-life people actually think.

For comparison, consider this letter from Ms. Nicole Cooley, published in the September 1 edition of “Lifewatch” (the unoffical publication) where she tells her story of being raped, becoming pregnant, and going to her UM pastor for advice.  (For the super politically suspicious, let me go out on a limb and assume that she really is who she says she is and that she really had the experience she claims to have had.  Her name and contact information are listed in the publication.)  Because she was raped, the pastor said, she should have the abortion.  She had it and regrets it.

Her plea: “Our UM pastors should never encourage abortion except in the direst of circumstances to save the mother’s life.”  In this sentence, I take Ms. Cooley to promote, agree with and encourage the actual United Methodist position.

Given the track record of our GBCS on this issue, and given that they made Ms. Paparella’s quote the quote of the week, I have a sneaking suspicion that almost anything published in “Lifewatch” would be labeled (and dismissed) as “pro-birth.”

Let me make one point as clear as I know how to make it: people of integrity, faith and deep principle can disagree on this sensitive and difficult dilemma.  I, myself, take a narrow reading of our official view – that the life of the mother must be in question in order to countenance abortion.  If that is the case, the mother’s prayerful, considered choice ought to prevail.  Others of deep principle can take a much more expansive stance than mine and we can talk, argue, disagree and still love each other.  At least, I hope so.  I’m committed to it.

But “Faith in Action,” publishing stuff like this “quote of the week” and its justification makes a mockery of principled dialogue.  It is unacceptable sophistry.   I plead for better from our United Methodist publications.

 


 

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: