(Photo: UMNS/Kathleen Barry)
The highest court for the United Methodist Church will look at a request from one conference to make a legal decision on the relationship between the denomination and a pro-choice group.
The Judicial Council of the UMC will consider a request from the North Alabama Annual Conference regarding the UMC's connections with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Pastor Junior Plunket, who oversees Old Brashier Chapel UMC in Arab, Ala., submitted the request on June 2 regarding what he believed were apparent contradictions between the views of the RCRC and the principles of the UMC.
"WHEREAS the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice advances abortion rights in any and all circumstances without exception; and, WHEREAS the Methodist movement has historically affirmed all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God," wrote Plunket.
"I … am requesting a ruling from the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church as to the legality of the membership in and/or the membership dues (and/or any monetary support or support of any kind) being extended to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice."
Diane Degnan, director of public relations for the UMC, told The Christian Post about the specific groups within UMC that are connected to the RCRC.
"The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women are both member organizations of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC)," said Degnan.
According to its website, the RCRC was founded in 1973 in part by Methodist clergy and laity leaders, with many present day UMC clergy finding "value and meaning" in their involvement in the organization.
The Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told The Christian Post that the organization's ties are "of great value to us."
"Our relationship with our United Methodist sisters and brothers is of great value to us, especially as we advocate together for reproductive justice for all women," said Knox.
"We hope that the Judicial Council will concur that the missions of RCRC and the UMC are not in opposition."
At the 2012 UMC General Conference in Tampa, Fla., in April, a resolution was proposed to withdraw from the RCRC. While the Church and Society legislative committee passed the resolution in a vote of 42 to 32, the measure was never brought up for a floor vote.
The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, pastor of St. Peter's United Methodist Church and editor of the pro-life website www.lifewatch.com, said in a statement that was a "disappointment."
"Yes, we will have to wait another four years. During that time, church members and friends will be harmed by the practice of abortion, and others will leave our denomination out of the discouragement that affiliation with RCRC brings many United Methodists," said Stallsworth.
"The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice will continue to use and abuse our church's name to advance its pro-choice political agenda."
Plunket's request regarding the RCRC is one of 18 cases brought before the Judicial Council. Other issues include the debate over guaranteed full-time appointments for clergy and a request from the California-Pacific Annual Conference regarding a resolution in opposition to the General Conference's position "that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
Plunket's request is not the first time the Judicial Council has had to consider the denomination's ties to a pro-choice organization. In October 1990, the Judicial Council affirmed the decision of the Wisconsin Annual Conference to provide funds to the Wisconsin chapter of the RCRC, then called the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (WRCAR).
The United Methodist Judicial Council will be in session from Wednesday, Oct. 24, until Saturday, Oct. 27, at Elk Grove, Ill.
Neither Pastor Junior Plunket nor the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church returned comment to The Christian Post by press time.