PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) The United Methodist Church has decided to withdraw from an interfaith group that advocates for abortion rights.
Delegates at the church's General Conference voted 425 to 268 on Thursday (May 19) to terminate its membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which opposes abortion, said in a statement that the move is proof that the UMC is "moving away from other liberal, declining, ‘mainline’ denominations."
Coupled with delegates' rejection Friday of a section in its Book of Resolutions titled "Responsible Parenthood," Lomperis said, "It was arguably the most productive conference ever from a perspective particularly focused on the pro-life issue."
In 1973, the UMC helped start the coalition, which includes religious organizations and individuals dedicated to reproductive rights, including abortion, comprehensive sex education and contraception, according to its website.
The vote was a response to a petition for the United Methodists' membership to be withdrawn from the coalition. The petition described it as "a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion" and said its advocacy often directly contradicts the church's Social Principles.
"Our United Methodist Church has a carefully nuanced official position on the difficult issue of abortion. It is not as strong as some of us would like nor as clearly pro-choice as others would like," said the Rev. Beth Ann Cook of the Indiana Conference, presenting the petition.
"This group is neither nuanced nor moderate."
The Social Principles recognize "tragic conflicts of life with life" that may justify abortion, but reject abortion as means of birth control, gender selection or eugenics, as well as the use of late-term abortion.
The General Conference eight years ago narrowly had decided to remain part of the coalition, Cook said. Four years ago, a committee voted to withdraw from the coalition, but plenary sessions ended before it could be considered.
Responsible Parenthood, voted down 445 to 310, called for a full range of reproductive health services to be available to women, including abortion. It had been in the Book of Resolution in various forms since 1976.
But resolutions must be readopted every eight years, and United Methodist Women took the opportunity to update its statistics and make it more applicable to women outside the U.S., according to Harriett Jane Olson, general secretary of the organization. Olson noted going into the vote that United Methodists had been refining their stance on abortion since the 1970s, but she said the resolution "contains so much more that helps women thrive. Women's health is so important to the health of families and the nurturing of children."
Responses to Thursday's vote in particular came not just from United Methodists at the General Conference, but also from prominent Christian leaders on social media. The Rev. Chuck Currie of the United Church of Christ invited those who "want a church that honors moral agency of women" to his church, while Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, thanked the church for cutting ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
The coalition responded on its Facebook page, saying it does not see the decision as binding for all members of the church.
"We welcome Methodists who share our views to stand with us and to use our resources and programs to benefit their churches and communities. In doing so, they will join a broad range of other denominations speaking out for women’s reproductive freedom on religious grounds," the statement said.