Board of Silly Walks, Part 5


The last couple of months have been quite busy, and between work, freelance projects and painting I have not had as much time as I normally would like to perusing the annals of the Board of Silly Walks. The Board of Silly Walks, of course, is my affectionate term for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, which, like the Ministry of Silly Walks of Monty Python fame, is an enshrined bureaucracy whose seemingly sole intent is to engage in a great deal of silliness.

Previous installments can be found here:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,

Imagine my incalculable delight, then, to discover one of the Board of Silly Walks’ most recent statements:

Gosnell’s actions are reprehensible.

(Quotes from the statement are in red)

It is certainly good to describe Gosnell’s actions as reprehensible, as they certainly are, and I have no quarrel there. However, it is here that we seem to part ways, and we begin to get a glimpse into exactly which actions of Gosnell are ‘reprehensible.’

The verdict has been released and Doctor Kermit Gosnell has been convicted of the grisly murder of newborn babies who will only ever be known as Baby A, Baby C, Baby D and Baby E. He was also found guilty of the drug overdose of a Bhutanese immigrant, Karnamaya Mongar. We mourn this tragic loss of life, as well as the pain and loss Dr. Gosnell has caused countless other women and families.

As much as I would love to be proved incorrect, and as hesitant as I am to infer anything beyond what is mentioned here, given the GBCS’ statements on abortion elsewhere, one cannot help but wonder why it is only the deaths of these four ‘newborn’ babies and Mongar which are deemed tragic. Actually, the statement goes on to deride the pain caused to other women and families, but conspicuously absent are babies AA, CC, DD, EE, et al., who were killed in exactly the same grisly manner as A, C, D and E (not to mention Baby B), yet somehow didn’t manage to get out of the birth canal and whose deaths are somehow not as ‘tragic.’

Granted, I do not expect a statement like this to cover every aspect of the situation, but in light of other statements by the GBCS it falls into a rather unfortunately predictable pattern.

More on this in a bit.

Although justice has been served – a murderer has been convicted and tougher regulations and inspections enforced in Pennsylvania – this case has become the latest battlefield in the abortion debate, but it is unclear why.

I’ve always suspected that the GBCS simply isn’t that interested in being taken seriously, and statements like these would seem to confirm such a suspicion.

That botched abortions by an abortionist performing abortions on women seeking abortions in a clinic where abortions are performed has nothing to do with abortion is about as tendentious as one can be. Granted, the type of abortions that Gosnell got nailed for are supposed to be illegal, but the point is that these are the types of abortions he regularly performed, and more to the point is that the same procedures would be performed on infants in and out of the womb. The line separating the ‘tragic’ deaths of babies A, B, C and D and babies AA, CC, DD, EE, et al. is that the former managed to clear the cervix while the others were killed before they could cross that threshold. In the case of Baby A, Gosnell’s actions are ‘reprehensible,’ but in the case of baby AA (or even baby B) they are… not reprehensible?

Why yes, it is sooooo unclear why this has anything to do with abortion, especially since the reason babies A, C, D and E were killed outside of the womb is that Gosnell didn’t have the chops to kill them in the womb and so would induce labor so the abortion could be performed at his skill level.

Yep, nothing to do with abortion at all.

Both those who oppose abortion and those who support it find the illegal and immoral actions of Dr. Gosnell reprehensible. The biblical teachings of the 10 Commandments is quite clear: “Do not murder.” (Deuteronomy 5:17)  What he did was not just against the United Methodist Social Principles; it was against the basic laws of this country and edicts of humanity.

Just so we’re clear, is it only the actions for which he got nicked (killing babies outside of the womb) that are reprehensible (being both illegal and immoral, evidently), or would the same action performed on an infant in the womb be considered just as ‘reprehensible?’ Given that such actions would not necessarily be illegal, would they there therefore still be deemed immoral by the GBCS?

It is somewhat difficult to tell since the Social Principles allow that there are “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.” Obviously Gosnell’s actions for which he has been found guilty do not meet this criterion, but the same action could be performed in the womb and could theoretically meet it.

Nor are late term abortions completely off the table, as the Social Principles state:

We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.

Leaving aside for the moment the blatant contradiction with the Social Principles’ initial statement in the Abortion section with the last clause of this sentence, one might wonder how much teeth a principle actually has if it can be professed in the best of circumstances but be obviated in extremis. After all, the supposed function of abortion (as Gosnell’s attorney argued) was to provide “those desperate young girls with relief. He gave them a solution to their problems.”

Conflicts of life with life, you know.

Christians should not use this case as an opportunity to point fingers or cast stones at one another. Rather, all members of The United Methodist Church must take seriously our shared responsibility for the sanctity of all human life – at all stages of life. Each of us must give an account to God for what we do (or do not do) for our fellow brothers and sisters.

And here is where the teeth of the Social Principles are shown to be nothing but gummy nubs. Here we are told that there is a sanctity to human life, and further that this extends to all stages. In the Abortion section of the Social Principles the lead-off is this:

The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence.

Good as far as it goes, but apparently some stages of life are more equal than others, since the Social Principles then move on to carve out areas in which the previously asserted sanctity (which ostensibly extends to unborn life) can be obviated according to certain circumstances. This is the ‘tragic conflict of life with life,’ which a rather vacuous aphorism, as I have noticed elsewhere. Yet even though the Social Principles state that life and death are the God-given boundaries of human existence, when it comes to situations of extremis those boundaries can be permissibly moved as the situation warrants.

Hence, even though an infant may actually have life- which the Social Principles define as sacred- if that life is not the right kind of life (“fetal anomalies incompatible with life”) then the sacredness of that life is apparently now voided and the God-given boundary of death can be visited upon that life by means of human decision.

Taking the sanctity of life seriously and taking the responsibility that we share seriously runs completely counter to the carved out exceptions in the Social Principles, and makes rubbish of the GBCS’ previous celebration of the passage of Roe vs. Wade. If Gosnell’s actions against 5 lives is reprehensible (which it certainly is), what can we say about the actions against 50+ million lives in the United States alone, let alone the nearly incalculable global body-count that has been the fruit of abortion access? Or what can we say about Social Principles that essentially agree with those same actions if the situation is extreme enough to void the sanctity of life, or about an ecclesiastically funded agency that supports the right and advocates for the availability and permissibility of such actions against the sanctity of life?

As far as not pointing fingers– this is merely hand-waving, as Gosnell’s actions are merely the logical culmination of the logic of abortion. Lest his activities be branded as an outlier, the philosophical dimensions of such actions are defended in the Journal of Medical Ethics under the euphemism of ‘after-birth abortion.’ One might note some of the similarities to the Social Principles exceptions, here presented as normative:

“[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.” (J Med Ethics 2013;39:261-263 doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100411)

I doubt the Social Principles would be wiling to go this far, but it appears more a matter of stomaching the outcomes than having any necessary philosophical disagreement. And while it might be nice to have these action performed under certain conditions and in certain places, that is really more an exercise in aesthetics than a robust moral stance.

‘Pointing fingers,’ as much as it is decried in this statement, is perhaps more appropriately labeled by its more fitting appellation: holding to account. Part of the ‘shared responsibility’ is to point out when others go awry in their thinking or askew in their advocacy, especially as it relates to the sanctity of life and most especially for life which is innocent, helpless and has no voice. These would seem to be one the principles that the GBCS would rally around, but in the case of abortion we instead get celebrations of expanded abortion services since the 70’s which have resulted in the silencing of over 50 million of those voices.

But poo-poo on you for pointing this out. How childish! It’s not like the prophets or the apostles or even Jesus ever pointed fingers when faced with injustice.

Oh, wait!

Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. (Isaiah 1:15-16)

Oh snap!

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. (Acts 2:23)

Oh crap!

You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:33-35)

Silly Isaiah. Silly Peter. Silly Jesus. Didn’t you know, pointing fingers is a no-no!

The Spirit of God is calling us to put down our stones and get busy doing the hard work of transforming the world for Jesus Christ.

Or maybe the Spirit of God is calling us to repentance and righteousness, which is another one of those silly things Jesus says:

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:8-9)


Silly Walks 5

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