True or False? (Abortion doctor)

A medical doctor who is a covenant member of The Wesleyan Church and regularly performs abortions in a nearby abortion clinic can say he is not violating any of the "Membership Commitments." True or false?


Left Coast Drury said...

What? No takers? You need to publicize this blog more.

Obviously this is supposed to be a softball questions that offers an obvious but apparently troubling response. However, your question is ambiguous for a number of reasons. I still like it because it offers a great start for digging deep into this issue and to think about how the Wesleyan Discipline could and should be interpreted.

I think the answer depends partly on what you mean by "abortion clinic." Also, it would seem that it is important in what context the discussion over abortion is taking place, Membership class or disciplinary proceeding.

I can see a medical doctor who is a covenant member saying yes to this questions for two reasons

1) Taken out of context (a serious hermeneutic problem), Dr. A could say the word abortion does not appear in Paragraphs 260-268. Therefore there is no violation.

2) Dealing with this question in a larger context of the Discipline, Dr. A could still say yes as long as he/she were doing so only in pregnancies where the life of the mother was threatened (whether this could ever happen regularly at an abortion clinic is another question).

The contextual question arises because Wesleyan Special Directions have a specific section on abortion. Para. 410(11) opposes "induced" abortions and affirms the "sanctity of human life from conception" and supports the passage of legislation "guaranteeing protection of life" to unborn children.

This leads to the question of how can (or do) Special Directions play into Covenant Membership Commitments and whether there are any other provisions of the Discipline that might come into play.

While paragraph 400 says that Special Directions are not covenant membership commitments it does say that they are "official admonitions of the church." Further it says that they are intended to be a witness to contemporary society of the life and character "required by its Articles of Religion and Covenant Membership Commitments."

This "required" language is important because it gives the Special Directions a status of authoritative interpretation.

I would argue that unless Dr. A can prove that he is only performing abortions that save the life of the mother, he has a serious problem and without question could be subject to judicial discipline.

Here are three arguments for a problem with his membership committments:


The Articles of Religions Para. 220 affirm a belief that all persons are created by God with equal natural rights and that all persons should promote and assure the enjoyment of these rights. Interpreting this Article of Religion in light of Para. 410(11), there is a clear interpretation that abortion on demand is an infringement of the rights of unborn children who are considered persons from the time of conception. Therefore opposition and lack of participation in abortion on demand can be connected to an Article of Religion which must be upheld by all members.


Membership Commitments directed toward others 265(10) & (11) require a member to "do good" to "all people" and to "respect the inherent individual rights of all persons" Taken in light of the Special Direction on abortion, these are clearly connected to the notion that unborn children are part of the definition of all people and have individual rights that must be respected.

Third as part of the membership process, members "covenant to support the Church." See Para. 295(4). This is a capital "C" for Wesleyan Church not a small "c" for catholic church. In light of the statement of Para 400 using the term "required" it would seem that a flagrant rejection of such an "official admonition" would be a violation of this covenant to support the Church.

In addition to these three arguments, there is another argument that regardless of interpretation of membership covenants, Dr. A could be disciplined for performing abortions.

The section on offenses for which a church member can be disciplined opens a whole range of problems for Dr. A. See para. 5050.

One of the offenses is to hold a doctrine contrary to the Wesleyan Church as stated in in the Discipline--no limitation to any specific section or group of sections. Therefore this would seem to encompass all of the Special Directions.

Another offense is to be disobedient to the provisions of the Discipline--again no limitation to sections or groups of sections.

Finally, "insubordination" or "willful refusal to recognize Church authority." This would especially seem to encompass violations of Special Directions since they are "official admonitions" of the Church. According to the assignment of penalties section in Paras. 5350-5370 it would appear that Dr. A could be dismissed for violating a Special Direction.

Great question Keith.

Keith Drury said...

Answered like a true lawyer! Well done LCD Esq.!

The issue you raise (the power or force of the special directions is the real one... most have let them be "advice" more than having the force of law--sort of "the ideal." You are arguing that they have stronger force than that--and you may (in a lawyerly sense) be right on that--I wonder if this has ever been tested? Are we satisfied with that for all the SDs? And if they have the force of the MCs then why have them in a separate list?

For what's it worth, the SDs used to say (before 1980 I think") the SDs "are not tests of membership" and Lee Haines argued for stronger wording-- what (I thin) they now say "While the SDs are not the MCs) That might support your position?

Man Scott--you shoulda been a Catholic! They could use you in Rome! (Actually we could all go home if they'd fix only 67 things, or is it 99?)

Scott, as the non-Wesleyan who knows most about The Discipline (actually perhaps more than any Wesleyan alive but six) I wonder how you'd change the discipline--especially the MCs.

(historical note: when the statement against abortion came into the Discipline in the 1980's there were 2 GBA members opposed to it saying we "non-medical people" didn;t understand the issues here. I was designated as the support-speaker to take them out when they spoke on the floor of the Gen'l conference--but by that time they decided to keep quiet since it was only in the SDs. Interesting twist in history--it would be harder to find a pro-abortion Wesleyan now than a alcohol-consuming Wesleyan!

Left Coast Drury said...

In light of my analysis, you might make some inquiries around campus. I'll bet you can find that one of your friends like Ken Schenck or Russ Gunsalus doesn't have a will or a trust. Then we can urge their District to bring them up on charges for violating the SD on "giving careful attention to the preparation of a will." I kind of like that idea considering my current endeavors in planned giving--threaten to excommunicate everyone who doesn't have an estate plan!

Actually, this highlights a key difference between the SDs and MCs. I don't think you could make a credible argument that the SD on estate planning (even thought in intimates that everyone should have a will) can be hooked to a specific MC. Abortion may be unique since it does not offer any wiggle room to be "pro-choice" and it uses such strong "rights" oriented statements.

I think it makes sense to have two lists. Conceptually, I like having a "core" list and a group of policy oriented statements that are more easily changed. Since MCs are constitutional, they require 2/3 votes of General Conf. and the districts. Special Directions can be changed by the General Conf. by majority vote.

As for how I would change the Discipline, it seems that every time I look at it, I see something that I would like to see changed--usually something minor that only a lawyer would fret over.

As for MCs, I'm not sure. I'll have to think on that more. I tend to respect what has been given and look to modify. I do like having alcohol, tobacco and gambling in the MCs. More than just vices, I am seeing these as having a unique demonic component that makes them worthy of MC. Since most North Americans snicker (in our hearts) at the idea of demon possession as taught by Jesus--this probably will seem absurd to many who read this.

As for blending my lawyerly interests with the church--next time someone gets brought up on charges and needs a defense attorney or has a church property dispute--have them call me.


Anonymous said...

Quite honestly, I'm surprised and concerned that this is really even a question. Abortion is the taking of life and as such I think scripturally wrong. Therefore, the doctor would be in the wrong and should be held accountable in ANY church.

Secondly, I hope that the xian lawyer suing the church was tongue in cheek. I believe there's scripture.