Delegates consider Iraqi civilian deaths, post-abortion stress, meaning of marriage

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Delegates consider Iraqi civilian deaths, post-abortion stress, meaning of marriage

June 26, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0321}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz** and Tita Parham

LAKELAND — The resolutions considered at the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event June 2-5 ranged from asking the General Board of Church and Society to research the number of non-combatant Iraqi deaths to urging church officials and laity to help individuals cope with post-abortion stress to defining the difference between a marriage and civil union.

Regardless of the topic, all three were debated, with at least one labeled political in its origin. Only one passed.

LAKELAND — Delegates vote on resolutions brought before them at the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #05-207.

Stephanie L. Smith said in a phone interview with e-Review after the conference that she wasn't attempting to cause an uproar with the resolution she submitted about post-abortion stress, which was approved by delegates. It stated, "Be it therefore resolved that the Florida Annual Conference hereby calls on its elders, local pastors, deacons and ministerial candidates to 'become informed about the symptoms and behaviors associated with post-abortion stress' and to 'make available contact information for counseling agencies that offer programs to address post-abortion stress for all seeking help.' "

The member of Keystone Heights United Methodist Church said she knows from personal experience there can be healing from post-abortion stress. When she was a young wife, married at the age of 18 and far from family, she was forced into having three abortions by her then husband. She has since divorced and remarried and has several children.

The daughter of a Southern Baptist minister, Smith said didn't find healing until many years later while participating in a Bible-based healing ministry through the Women's Resource Center in nearby Gainesville. She said the church should provide that type of service, and it's one of the reasons she proposed the resolution.

"I know there are women in the church who have had abortions who have not found healing," said Smith, who is outspoken about her life choices. "I know they are sitting in the pews."

One delegate who has found healing shared her story and the pain she felt after having an abortion early in her adult life during debate at the conference. "I welcome and embrace this resolution ... to encourage women and men to help people caught up in the pain of abortion," she said.

Those who spoke against it said they felt its passage would open a floodgate of resolutions dealing with similar issues being brought before future annual conference sessions. Others felt it addressed the issue "a little too late." One delegate asked, "Shouldn't we have pre-abortion counseling, instead of post-abortion counseling?"

For Smith, who attended the annual conference session, the resolution passing was "one victory down." She has also written a resolution urging the Florida Conference to sever ties to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Elizabeth Ann Jenkins, a member of First United Methodist Church, Orlando, submitted a resolution urging the Florida Conference to ask the General Board of Church and Society to "research means to lead a call by people of faith and goodwill for a full and widely broadcast accounting of non-combatant Iraqi deaths since March 20, 2003, and for a Congressional investigation of such deaths in order to protect the weak in the future."

The resolution failed after heated discussion both for and against it. Delegates who spoke against it said it implied members of the military and U.S. government do nothing to protect innocent civilians and puts U.S. soldiers at risk. Others felt the deaths of Iraqi civilians are regrettable, but a part of war, and the lives of Iraqis are better as a result of U.S. intervention.

"Three hundred thousand people are not being slaughtered, children are not being taken away, women are allowed to vote and run for office," the Rev. Al McGowen, pastor of United Methodist Temple in Lakeland, said. "The implication of the resolution is that American troops can't be trusted, or our government. As one who has had to bury troops, I don't think this helps our soldiers one bit. I think it shames them."

The Rev. Brett Opalinski, pastor of Rader Memorial United Methodist Church in Miami, spoke in favor of the resolution. "As people of Jesus Christ we have a duty to protect the weak and innocent and to stand up where and when we can. This resolution give us a chance to stand up for those (who are weak)," he said. "It seems to be we're falling into categories for or against the war, and that's not the point of the resolution."

Jenkins said she felt, as a Christian, it is important for the church to question actions that are not in accordance with scriptural teachings. The public school teacher, who did not attend the annual conference, said she heard the resolution was accused of having political overtones.

"Of course I have a political opinion, and so does everyone else," Jenkins said. "I thought the resolution was very carefully worded. I did not think it was even remotely anti-American."

The resolution was not submitted lightly, Jenkins said.

"I felt called to do something and not remain silent," said the native of England, who became an American citizen in the 1990s. "I think in circumstances, and not just some circumstances, we, as Christians, should have respect for the sanctity of life. I know there have been losses on both sides of the war. I just wanted us to examine how we could do even more."

The Rev. Ronald D. Thomas Sr., pastor of Sebastian United Methodist Church in Sebastian, said he has a strong desire for the church to have a definitive stance on marriage and civil unions.

Thomas was author of the resolution seeking an official "forum to discuss and debate the role of our Church in helping our representatives to better understand the difference between a marriage and a civil union; and to gauge our response as a Church as it relates to continuing the practice of signing a marriage license."

Thomas spoke to the resolution several times as the debate progressed.

"Historically, the church has agreed with the separation of church and state," he said. "To allow legislators to use the term 'gay marriage' is an oxymoron. We, as the church, cannot allow this to go unchallenged. The legislators are off track. The state has every right and authority to recognize unions of all sorts, but the word 'marriage' is a Biblical term. We, in the church, define marriage as the union between a man and a woman."

Despite Thomas' efforts the resolution failed. For many against it the major point of contention was the suggestion that clergy signing marriage licenses should be reconsidered. Not signing licenses could be construed as the church not sanctifying marriage.

Despite the resolution's failure, Thomas said he succeeded in getting the church to ponder the difference between church and state.

Thomas said he would not rework his resolution or submit it again next year. He did say, however, that he expects the church will be forced to examine the issue more closely at some time in the future.

"I have gone on record," he said. "I am comfortable with my conscience, and I hope the church will be comfortable with hers some day."

For more information about post-abortion stress healing contact Smith at


This article relates to 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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