©1991 Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, Inc. Downloaded Nov 26, 2012 from lifewatch.org/abortion.html


Serious theological and moral reflection during a session of a United Methodist annual conference is about as rare as a March snow at Cape Hatteras. The word is rare, not impossible.

During the l990 meeting of the North Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, rarity (reflection, that is, and not snow) became reality. At the invitation of the Evangelical Fellowship of the N.C. Con- ference, Professor Stanley Hauerwas, who teaches theo- logical ethics at Duke University Divinity School, lectured on abortion and the church. Hauerwas’ lecture was deliv- ered on the second night of conference, a tropical June 14th, in the Science Auditorium of Methodist College. Since Hauerwas’ presentation was not a part of the “offi- cial” agenda of the conference, he did not begin speak- ing until the official program of the day had ended–at approximately 10:00 p.m. What follows is an edited text of the lecture that theologically and morally challenged a group of North Carolina Methodists to reconsider the problem of abortion from within the faith and life of the Church. It is hoped that this lecture will serve as a start- ing point for strengthening our churches’ ministries with regard to abortion.

Thanks is due Ms. Carole L. Stalnaker, the Secretary of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Morehead City, North Carolina, for her faithful labor in transcribing the lecture. Thanks also to the Pastor of St. Peter’s Church, The Reverend David A. Banks, who, as President of the Evangelical Fellowship, oversaw many of the logistics in setting up this important and unique event.

Reverend Paul T. Stallsworth, President Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality

Lent 1991

Professor Stanley Hauerwas

Abortion, Theologically Understood

You are blessed indeed to be here, listening to this, at this time of the night . . . Since you have had a long day at annual conference, I will try to be as brief as I can.

I’m going to start with a sermon. Every once in a while you get a wonderful gift. About a month ago a former student, who is now a Presbyterian minister, mailed to me a copy of a sermon on abortion. This evening I could not do better than read you this sermon and then give you an ethical commentary on it. [The author of the following sermon is The Reverend Terry Hamilton, formerly the Chaplain of Queens College, Charlotte, NC, and now of Kansas City, KS.]


The text for the sermon is Matthew 25:31-46. I will be reading from the Revised Standard Version.

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was na- ked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my

brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eter- nal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not wel- come me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will an- swer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or n stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minis- ter to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal pun- ishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”

As a Christian and a woman, I find abortion a most diffi- cult subject to address. Even so, I believe that it is essen- tial that the church face the issue of abortion in a dis- tinctly Christian manner. Because of that, I am hereby addressing not society in general, but those of us who call ourselves Christians. I also want to be clear that I am not addressing abortion as a legal issue. I believe the issue, for the church, must be framed not around the banners of ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life,’ but around God’s call to care for the least among us whom Jesus calls his sisters and brothers.

So, in this sermon, I will make three points. The first point is that the Gospel favors women and children. The second point is that the customary framing of the abor- tion issue by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible for both herself and for any child she might carry. The third point is that a Christian response must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights.

Gospel, Women, and Children

Point number one: the Gospel favors women and chil- dren. The Gospel is feminist. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus treats women as thinking people who are worthy of respect. This was not, of course, the usual atti- tude of that time. In addition, it is to the women among Jesus’ followers, not to the men, that he entrusts the initial proclamation of his resurrection. It isn’t only Jesus himself who sees the Gospel making all people equal, for Saint Paul wrote, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).

And yet, women have been oppressed through recorded history and continue to be oppressed today. So when Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40), I have to believe that Jesus includes women among ‘the least of these.’ Anything that helps women, therefore, helps Jesus. When Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,’ he is also talking about children, because children are literally ‘the least of these.’ Children lack the three things the world values most– power, wealth, and influence. If we concern our- selves with people who are powerless, then children should obviously be at the top of our list. The irony of the abortion debate, as it now stands in our church and society, is that it frames these two groups, women and children, as enemies of one another.

The Woman Alone

This brings me to my second point: the issue as it is gen- erally framed by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ulti- mately responsible both for herself and for any child she might carry. Why is it that women have abortions? Women I know, and those I know about, have had abortions for two basic reasons: the fear that they cannot handle the financial and physical demands of the child, and the fear that having the child will destroy relation- ships that are important to them.

An example of the first fear, the inability to handle the child financially or physically, is the divorced mother of two children, the younger of whom has Down’s syn- drome. This woman recently discovered that she was pregnant. She believed abortion was wrong. However, the father of the child would not commit himself to help raise this child, and she was afraid she could not handle raising another child on her own.

An example of the second fear, the fear of destroying relationships, is the woman who became pregnant and was told by her husband that he would leave her if she did not have an abortion. She did not want to lose her husband, so she had the abortion. Later, her husband left her anyway.

In both of these cases, and in others I have known, the woman has had an abortion not because she was exercising her free choice but because she felt she had no choice. In each case the responsibility for caring for the child, had she had the child, would have rested squarely and solely on the woman.

(About 1,500 words)


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