July 20, 2022
The 1908 Methodist Social Creed – adopted by United Methodism’s predecessor bodies through the early 20th century is a testament to Methodism’s concerns for the life and wellbeing of women and children, as well as for workers. From 1908 there was a call for a living wage, time for sabbath and rest, and safe working conditions, and a call against child labor.
But there is also a basic tenet of the creed which is: “For equal rights and complete justice for all (people) in all stations of life.” This idea of being concerned for everyone, and particularly those who are more vulnerable in society, has been at the heart of Methodism. The close of the Social Creed is a theological one – with the sense that the “Golden rule” should be our guiding principle – to treat others as you would like to be treated – and a call to put on the mind of Christ.
Today, the Social Creed tradition continues through the Social Principles and Book of Resolutions and other social teachings of The United Methodist Church. This tradition offers theological grounding and time-honored wisdom for social justice.
By 1964, the Methodist Church’s General Conference began to initiate a process of integration of the formerly racially segregated Central Jurisdiction, a process that would be ongoing through 1972. The country was also reckoning with its racist structures of segregation.
In this same era, the Methodist Church became increasingly concerned about the realities of a culture and society capable of extraordinary developments both in the ability to extend life far longer than before and the continued increase in the world’s population. Humanity was facing down a question of how the call to be fruitful and multiply had perhaps been a command that was in need of some stock-taking.
New ethical questions emerged about the realities of making sure that resources and support would ensure care for families, regardless of economic status. While the emerging social policies related to population have (rightly) come under some critical discussion since then, the concern for making sure that women and families have the ability to plan their families and make decisions that would ensure the health and welfare of their families is one worth remembering.
On the issues of family life and health care, the 1964 Discipline of The Methodist Church states the following:
OUR THEOLOGICAL BASIS
The Methodist Church must view the perplexing times and problems which we face today in the light of the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors and seek justice for them as well as for ourselves. To be silent in the face of need, injustice, and exploitation is to deny him.
a. The Family. We seek equal rights and justice for all persons; protection of the individual and the family by high standards of morality; Christian education for marriage; parenthood, and the home adequate housing; improved marriage and divorce laws.
– We believe that the church must be vitally concerned with the health and welfare needs of all people, first within the family, and when necessary, through institutional care with high standards of scientific review and Christian dedication.
– We believe that *planned parenthood, practiced with respect for human life, fulfills rather than violates the will of God. It is the duty of each married couple prayerfully and responsibly to seek parenthood, avert it, or defer it, in accordance with the best expression of their Christian love. Families in all parts of the world should have available to them necessary information and medical assistance for birth control through public and private programs. This issue must be seen in reference to the pressing population problem now before the whole world.
These Resolutions were passed and are contained in the 1964 Book of Discipline.
Paragraph 1821.3e of that Discipline states:
*Planned Parenthood. – Parenthood is a Christian privilege and responsibility; and the highest ideals of the Christian family can be achieved when children are wanted, anticipated, and welcomed into the home. We believe that planned parenthood, practiced in Christian conscience, fulfills the will of God. In the light of the population explosion, a more responsible attitude toward family planning is called for.
For many, there was a sense that while some nations were utilizing a disproportionate amount of resources to sustain life, other nations were not given the information and resources to make decisions that were available for the health and planning of their families and communities.
In 1977, The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) called on United Methodists to oppose the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal funding for abortion services. GBCS argued that it was a form of discrimination when some would be able to access health care services due to economic opportunity while others could not.
Today we see the alarming rise in maternal mortality rates just since 2018 in the United States. Racial disparities have also increased with non-Hispanic Black women now three times higher than both non-Hispanic white women and Hispanic women. With our history of support for families, women and children, how can we go back and allow the erosion of women rights to determine the destiny of their own bodies? How can we sit idly by and watch leaders of this country (the USA) divide the Union around equal and equitable access to health care, rights to portable, transferable medical treatment, and long-lasting care of families and of children?
This travesty is far more than a set-back. It is an unravelling of decades of work, prayer and progress. We will not allow this lack of concern and caring for family, women and children to go unchallenged. As United Methodists, our beliefs, our determination, and response to our biblical teachings, Social Creed and Social Principles are called upon once again to stand up for what is right, what is fair and what is just. Take action and contact Congress here.
Our concern for the welfare of families, women, and children is a comprehensive one, in which Methodism has always seen the inter-related social structures that can hinder the quality of life of our communities and the equal rights of all persons to access the resources and care they and their families need. While nuanced and complex, perhaps tragic and difficult, women and their families have the right to be responsible for their own decision making when it comes to the future of their family. All families should have equal access to the resources, information, and medical procedures regardless of economic status or circumstance.
*The term “Planned Parenthood” in the 1964 Book of Discipline may not necessarily mean the organization Planned Parenthood, but it does indicate some shared values with the Methodist Church. According to the Planned Parenthood Organization, they believe since 1916, that all people of every race, religion, gender identity, ability, immigration status and geography are full human beings with the right to determine their own future and decide, without coercion or judgement, whether and when to have children.