Bishop says include unborn in ‘radically inclusive church’ mission

By Wayne Rhodes*

WASHINGTON —Bishop Ken Carter Jr. told the 26th annual Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service that the mission of a radically inclusive church must include the unborn in its inclusiveness.

The bishop went on to issue a call for United Methodists to seek a coherent social teaching, a consistent ethic of hospitality and a compassionate witness to and for life.

Bishop Ken Carter Jr. of the Florida Annual (regional) Conference.

Bishop Ken Carter Jr. of the Florida Annual (regional) Conference speaks to the Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service of Worship.

Carter, the episcopal leader of Florida Annual (regional) Conference, spoke a the annual Lifewatch Sanctity of Life Service of Worship  in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. His sermon was in the morning before afternoon rallies in the nation’s capital for and against the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark abortion decision in Roe vs. Wade, which was handed down Jan. 22.

The service is sponsored by the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, an unofficial caucus of the United Methodist Church. The taskforce’s goal is to create esteem for human life at its most vulnerable, specifically for the unborn child and for the woman who contemplates abortion.

Carter described The United Methodist Church as having “incoherent social teaching” that stems from “theological chaos.” “We are polarized,” he said, “and here we mirror the culture, as Methodists so often do.”

Carter said this polarization creates two theological camps: one a theology of prevenient grace and social holiness and the other a theology of repentance, justifying grace and personal holiness.

The first leads to “a kind of works righteousness,” which the bishop said is a difficult path. “The world resists all of our efforts to bring about change,” he said, “and a malaise or depression ensues.” He said some point to this as what’s “killing the mainline church” in the United States.

Carter explained that the second approach takes one aspect of the evangelical movement, then “separates it from the necessary social and contextual realities that shape us.” He said those realities undergird a call for engagement that “runs like a thread” from the eighth century prophets to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to the Letter of James to the journals of John Wesley.

Neither approach “captures the fullness of our rich and robust theological tradition as Wesleyans,” Carter said, “which includes a grace more pervasive than we can imagine, in space and time, and a holiness that is more comprehensive than we are inclined to grasp.”

Carter said recovery of a coherent theology of grace and holiness and a rejection of the partisan political captivity of the church could lead to a coherent social teaching. “I do wonder if Methodism could abandon its present partisan political captivity and join the evangelical and catholic consensus in regard to life?” he asked.

The bishop explained that a consistent ethic of hospitality “represents a continuum from conception to death, from the individual to the creation, from interventions in and support of the lives of unborn children and their pregnant mothers, trafficked and enslaved young people, endangered coal miners, incarcerated young men on death row, tortured prisoners of war, the dignity of the aged, and the fragile ecosystems upon which we all depend.”

A consistent ethic of life cuts across political proclivities, Carter said, and moves to a deeper level of values and principles. “The gospel is always on the side of life because God is creator of life,” the bishop emphasized, “Jesus comes so that we may have life, the Spirit descends to renew the face of the Earth.”

Carter asked whether the rhetoric of inclusion would be more coherent, possess more integrity and “become more cruciform” if it were to include all strangers we are to welcome in the language of Matthew 25.

“A consistent ethic of hospitality would call us to welcome the unborn as the stranger,” Carter said.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“A consistent ethic of hospitality would call us to welcome the unborn as the stranger.” — Bishop Ken Carter, Florida Annual (regional) Conference[/pullquote]

The bishop added a caveat.

“We must acknowledge the complexity in calling women to be agents of hospitality in making space for the unborn,” he said, “when they have often been the victims of brutal hostility.” It is important to confess that this context is present more often than is acceptable, he pointed out.

“Violence toward women demands our systematic, communal and individual responses,” Carter stressed.

The bishop said he reread the Social Principle on abortion in the “Book of Discipline,” the denomination’s book of laws. Carter said he read the 1988 and the 2012 versions. In those ensuing years, he said the statement has gone from one to nine paragraphs.

“It is more nuanced,” the bishop said, “and yet it is an imperfect statement. We have not adequately examined what it says about creation, covenant and context.” He said the denomination would benefit, for example, from the language of gifts instead of rights.

“There are aspects to this work in progress for which I give thanks,” Carter said, and cited those as encouragement of adoptions, lament of high abortion rates, opposition to late-term abortion and affirmation of crisis ministries.

The bishop said it nonetheless could be more coherent with who we are. “The statement [¶162J] is silent on the role of Christian community in welcoming children,” he said, “and it fails to reflect on the context of violence and poverty that shape the lives of expectant mothers across the planet.”

The church can and must pay more attention to contexts, among the violation of sexual boundaries, violence and poverty, according to Carter. “And we need not pit these against one another,” he said.

The bishop called for a renewed engagement with the very ground of the abortion argument. “To offer a compassionate witness in word and in action,” he said, “is to come alongside persons in their season of greatest vulnerability.”

Carter said the sanctity of life is so important. “We must find a coherent way, as United Methodists, of bearing witness, of, in the language of the New Testament, ‘giving an account for the hope that is within us’ (1 Peter).”

“A consistent ethic of hospitality is possible only as it is set within the context of a compassionate witness to and for life,” Carter said, “which we believe to be a gift, a fragile and sacred trust.”

*Rhodes is director of communications for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. News media contact: Linda Bloom (646) 369-3759 ornewsdesk@umcom.org.


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  1. Dan

    Paul Dorsey has raised some very important, historically accurate points regarding the Methodist Church in America. In the northern part of the U.S., the church was always more interested in social holiness than scriptural holiness over the last 150 years. Starting with radical abolitionists, and continuing on to Socialists and then close association with Communists, the Methodist Church in the North has always been at the forefront of progressive social change.

    The unfortunate part of this is that the Socialist and Communist movements of the 20th century have directly caused the deaths of more millions than any other reason. Thinking that holiness and justice is brought about by using the law and political system to coerce behavior usually does not end very well.

    I find Wesleyan/Arminian theology to be a system that breeds this type of “social” holiness at all costs according to “my” views, and social works as a means of justification. It all seems to lead to bitter, angry people who cannot be at peace unless they get their way. You are not going to earn your way to salvation, and heaven on earth cannot be achieved with the efforts of a totally depraved humanity. Be content with a sovereign God who knew you before you were born and has predestined you to faith. Do as much good as you can and leave the rest to God. His will cannot be thwarted in any case.

    1. Greg

      The Methodist church also strongly supported the eugenics movement (Bing it and you will find a thorough apology for it on the UMC site). Another reminder of what happens when people rely solely on their “reason” and “superior intellect” (which somehow always leads them to agree with the fad-ish political movements of the day) rather than applying their reason in consultation with the revelation we have access to via Scripture.

  2. Caleb

    AMEN BISHOP! Abortion is the biggest human rights violation present in the world today.

  3. James Dzur

    I don’t have a big problem with what Bishop Carter says. I have a problem with the fact that he is talking about the unborn and yet our society throws children under the bus after they are born. According to the gospels Jesus was very concerned about the born children. Many of the born children are unwanted and live horrific lives and die bad deaths unwanted, unloved and never affirmed. Our efforts should be in prevention of pregnancy and care for the born. I don’t condone abortion but all this rhetoric does little good for the born children. I think Jesus would be appalled at the talk without the walk.

    1. Jan

      James, you are correct in saying that our efforts should be in prevention of pregnancy and care for those already born. But, we also need use our pulpits, our Sunday Schools and our youth groups to reinforce intact,biblically structured families that include fathers. We have far too many young men fathering children for whom they take no emotional or financial responsibility. We also have far too many young women willingly getting pregnant outside of marriage. Our UM churches, in addition to other Christian churches, are failing miserably on this account, and the impact on those children and on our society is becoming devastating. .

  4. Nancy M.

    I am very saddened to read all of the e-mails posted here.

    1. krg1959

      I understand.

  5. Nancy M.

    My posting was submitted before I could complete it. I am very saddened to read all of these e-mails. God is all about love and so was John Wesley. Yet, I see none of that in the posted e-mails. We should be able to find some common ground rather than saying each side should go somewhere else rather than remain a Methodist. Perhaps, we should be thinking about grace.

  6. Otter

    We can see what the protection of the “unborn” comes to with the case of the brain dead woman who was being kept alive as an incubator for her malformed and non-viable fetus. All too often the protection of the fetus comes at the denial of basic rights of the mother.

  7. K.R.G.

    Recently becoming a new member I find a lot of this interesting and also disturbing. One thing that comes to mind are the comments to politics. I have been belonged to both parties. Frankly I’m tired of politics in the church. Jesus was crucified under the then political regime and thought that dominated the world. It was ordained by the Father for our specific reason, salvation, forgiveness, His love for us and a new gift of life. No person can change themselves spiritually with self effort. I think we all know the Holy Spirit does this. A decision must be made on the abortion issue I agree. I am pro-life not condemning. This we do ourselves without any help. In conclusion isn’t life, life, no matter the circumstance. I think there are more justifications than solutions presented. In truth human nature dictates. As usual the human mind has been conditioned over the years to the acceptance of many things. One may call it progressive. I call it a slow acceptance when things are done that in our hearts feel wrong just for self. The self has been so indoctrinated in the church in so many ways in my humble opinion. I will tell every last one you my life was saved and spared at 50 and In the world not knowing I was here. I did not have a choice in the matter but here I am. A saved life and at the beginning doctors did not know how I would turn out. They say I’m a miracle. I work and I am a published poet before and after a traumatic brain injury. There is a reason and many more miracles to be born. The way I see it most of us including me have been conditioned to convenience. I do not claim to know each women’s circumstance in such a volatile topic but one thing I firmly believe the excuse of who’s going to feed, cloth, house and educate them is no excuse to take away a chance of the living nor is a deformity. I think this might be called genocide. Is there apostasy or faith amongst the church. What this about I see is adopting a centralized article of faith or stay neutral. Take a stand or be quite. Some will leave some will come. We are all sinners. We must give compassion either way. If you don’t agree with my opinions or views that’s fine. This is not the 3rd Congressional District nor State or White House.

  8. Janet Stephenson

    If men would take responsibility for the children they create there would be fewer abortions. Janet

  9. Clark

    It is way past time for the congregations of the UMC to throw off the shackles of a monarchy-based church structure with all the old trappings of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church. It is obvious that the leadership of the church is willing to disregard the Bible and the Book of Discipline, therefore, those of us to hold the Bible as the good and perfect source of understanding of God’s will for our lives to go our separate way.

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