Onward Christian Socialist
By Terry Wynn
"When our confidence is shaken
In beliefs we thought secure;
When the spirit in its sickness
Seeks but cannot find a cure:
God is active in the tensions
Of a faith not yet mature."
F. Pratt Green (1903 - )
COMING OFF THE FENCE
Politicians are public figures who have to make decisions. They aren't allowed to have confidential opinions on issues of public concern.
I said in the previous chapter that the subject of abortion would be discussed separately. Once again, what follows will offend some people. When I had to go public on the subject, the most vociferous criticism came from Christians.
One letter came from an organisation called ARROW - Action to Restore Righteousness over Wigan - which said, "You will be aware of the difference between 'nominal Christianity' and 'committed’, i.e. born-again Christianity. We feel it is important to decide which of these one is". One was obviously seen to be nominal because one was ignoring God's word according to them, which is the Christian fundamentalist position on abortion based on Psalm 139 (15, 16 ): "When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother's womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there - you saw me before I was born."
Now if you take every word in the Bible literally then I wonder how ARROW react to Psalm 137: (8) which says "Babylon you will be destroyed. Happy is the man who pays you back for what you have done to us - who takes your babies and smashes them against a rock." Does that mean it's okay to kill the babies of your enemy? Of course it doesn't, but neither should Psalm 139 be seen as the definitive word on abortion.
The following is a letter I wrote to the Methodist Recorder, on the 13th July, 1989, which even today needs little alteration.
"I've just become a Member of the European Parliament. Among the cards of congratulations were several expressing joy in having a Christian as their elected representative. One even said , 'It's nice to see that honesty pays, even in politics’ ... and it came from a politician!
"I'm filled with excitement at the task that lies ahead and I thank God for being given this opportunity to serve the people of Merseyside East.
"The campaign was, as expected, hectic. Public meetings with the likes of ‘Amnesty International’ and ‘Friends of the Earth’ were deeply rewarding. But one topic left me somewhat disturbed. That is the subject of abortion. On the night that I was selected to fight this controversial contest I realised that the euphoria would soon diminish when I had to go public on such things as abortion.
"I have always been content to sit on the fence, not liking the idea of abortion but agreeing that it was necessary. I found that I had to get off the fence.
"Within a couple of days SPUC, (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) were in touch. I met them on three separate occasions; on two of these there must have been twelve people present.
"At the first meeting I realised that if I wasn't for them, I must be against them. I went from that meeting and consulted several women, mainly Christians. I obtained a copy of the Methodist Conference statement on abortion and from all of this I sent them a letter. In it I tried to explain my dilemma.
"For them, the issue is quite clear-cut: life begins at conception, therefore any abortion is wrong. For me it isn't that clear-cut and to quote from the Conference statement: ‘In an imperfect world, where both individuals and society will often fail, abortion may be seen as a necessary way of mitigating the results of these failures. It does not remove the urgent need to seek remedies for the causes of these failures.’
"I realised that I would also need a statement on human embryo experiments. So, I informed them that Mary Warnock's recommendations are the limit of my approval.
"After my second and third meetings with them it was obvious that my Christian faith was being seen as a watered-down version. Here I was being ‘interrogated’ by Christians with good intentions who just couldn't see my point of view. Notes were being taken of my every word and I knew why.
"During this third meeting my agent came in for the last half hour. I was glad she did; at least now there was someone to confirm what I was saying.
"The result of my three meetings, my letters, my honest endeavours and my prayers was evident in most Catholic churches the Sunday prior to the election. Leaflets had appeared from SPUC giving the stance of all the candidates. My description read as follows: ‘Would not support moves to condemn the practice of abortion on demand in the EEC. Would not support moves to have a community-wide ban on experiments on embryos and foetuses.’
"That was bad enough. Then I received a letter informing me that the leaflet had been prepared in conjunction with SPUC's legal department. The letter added: 'We all realise the tremendous pressure you are under from your Party and couldn't help noticing at our last meeting that your every word was being monitored. Is this what we want in our free country?’
"Prayer and my faith have given me an extremely forgiving disposition. But SPUC momentarily gave rise to anger within me.
"They don't care what I think about any other issues. I could support the death penalty; want all hospitals closed; have all education paid for privately; support the nuking of Libya; just so long as I oppose all abortion.
"My own MP is anti-abortion and I will steadfastly defend his right to hold that opinion. It has nothing to do with party politics. If it had, then after ten years of Conservative rule, why have we still got the 1967 Act?
"If I was on the fence before, then I certainly know where I stand now thanks to SPUC.
"Abortion is not a subject to which many people give a lot of deep thought. I have been given that chance. Maybe we need a dialogue on it. That way may lead to an update of how the Methodist Church feels some 13 years after its last Conference statement. I for one would welcome it."
As a politician, I accept that I am fair game for criticism and I don't mind anyone having a go at me. What I do object to are people lying about me and, of course, the leaflet went to all the Catholic churches on the Sunday before the election with no redress until the following Sunday after the election.
At the 1994 European elections, I received a recorded delivery letter from SPUC asking for a meeting. I declined to meet them. The Sunday before the election their leaflet went out in the churches and even through letter boxes in some areas. Of the six candidates, three were not mentioned on the leaflet; the Conservatives hadn't given them an interview, so they said, the Liberal Democrat was committed to opposing abortion on demand and I was just about the Devil incarnate.
Of me it said, "As an MEP, Mr. Wynn voted for a resolution in the European Parliament which castigated other countries for restricting abortion, called for ‘abortion on demand’ throughout the EC and argued for an end to proceedings against illegal abortionists." Now this caused concern for some of my Roman Catholic supporters and what I had to explain to them was the context in which the resolution had been voted upon. It had come about because of the case in the press concerning a young Irish woman having to come to the UK for an abortion. Its attack was on "abortion tourism" taking place around Europe by women from Ireland, Spain and Germany. And the reference to illegal abortionists actually spoke about "the danger to health where abortions are carried out illegally or semi-illegally, and the women and the doctor concerned risk prosecution... recognizes that abortion is a distressing operation in desperate circumstances but is convinced that judicial prosecution is not an acceptable way of reducing its incidence". Consequently, it went on "measures should be taken to combat a resurgence of prosecution and sentencing of women and doctors involved in abortion in countries such as Spain and Germany."
One thing about SPUC, they certainly know how to use propaganda.
Just to clarify the reference to Mary Warnock. Professor Warnock's Committee's recommendations led to a licensing authority to regulate ALL pre-embryo research under strict guidelines. Note the term PRE-EMBRYO. This is a group of cells that form in the first 12/13 days after fertilization; it is no bigger than a pinprick. The embryo begins to form after fourteen days.
So you can imagine my reaction when I saw the SPUC leaflet, in that 1989 Campaign. I've read evidence from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Gynaecologists on the period at which an abortion can take place. From this, if I had been an MP I would not have supported David Alton's Bill to change the 1967 Act.
It is, indeed, a complex issue.
The SPUC supporters and ARROW would argue that life begins at the moment of conception; I don't know if that is so. If it is, then what should be done when a woman naturally aborts or has a miscarriage? Should there not be a funeral service for the embryo or foetus? Many women naturally abort and don't even know they have done so. It happens a few days after fertilization and before implantation has taken place. It is a natural phenomenon that a significant number of fertilized ova perish.
They also say that every child is wanted - tell that to Maria Colwell and those countless other children who have died because of child cruelty. To quote the Methodist Conference statement:
"It is right to consider the whole environment within which the mother is living or is likely to live. This will include the children for whom she is already responsible, and there will be occasions when she is unable to add to heavy responsibilities she is already carrying. Again, there are social conditions in our country which are offensive to the Christian conscience, particularly those connected with bad housing and family poverty. These conditions must be improved: meanwhile, it is clear that abortion is often sought as a response to the prospect of bearing a child and similarly intolerable situations. In the particular circumstances indicated in this paragraph, abortion is often morally justifiable."
An abortion is an awful occurrence and I believe that any woman who has gone through the experience has not done so lightly and that many suffer mental anguish long after the event. I don't think abortion should be regarded as an alternative to contraception nor is it to be justified as just another method of birth control.
The problems raised by abortion can only be resolved by a new and sustained effort to understand the nature of human sexuality and to encourage expressions of sexual relationships which are joyous, sensitive and responsible, and which do not tend to exploit others. It may sound fanciful and unrealistic but in conception and birth, parents are procreators with God.
I also believe in that old-fashioned concept of marriage and a child having parents who care about it - parents who can commit themselves to each other for the permanence of the marriage commitment.
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