There are many people, clergy and laity, who have a strong witness for life. Most never speak their witness before an audience or in front of a camera. Even so, their life-affirming words and deeds are heard and seen every day. Here is the story of one such witness.
During the dog days of August, an envelope from an unidentified writer arrived in our mailbox. Eagerly tearing into it, I discovered a letter from Rev. Gladys R. Williford. Gladys and I have known each other since our seminary days fifty years ago.
As young woman, Gladys married Raymond Williford; in time, they were blessed with four children. Sadly, when Ray was only 47, his lungs filled with massive blood clots and, almost immediately, he “crossed the Jordan,” leaving his wife with four children to raise.
Gladys, sensing a call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church, enrolled at Duke Divinity School. She completed her studies the hard way: by serving as a student pastor. During the week, she studied theology on campus. On weekends, she pastored a local church. She graduated from seminary in 1975 and was ordained an elder, the first woman appointed to serve a local church in the North Carolina Conference. From her student-pastoring days until her retirement in 1993, Reverend Williford served many congregations throughout eastern North Carolina. Now over 90 years old, she enjoys an active life in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
With her letter, Rev. Williford had enclosed an untitled commentary she had written. With her permission (and minor editing), I offer it here.
Strange. Strange that I have seen no mention, in all the controversy about abortion, of a simple fact. The simple fact is that Roe v. Wade was never valid, because it was in direct violation of a long-standing law.
I am not a lawyer, although that was my original hope for a profession.
I am not a theologian, although a divine call to ordained ministry placed me in that profession.
However, I am a believer in the Triune God and His ultimate authority. Through creation, God instills a moral sense in each person. Through revelation, to Israel and to the Church, He issues a concise, moral, loyal way of life. That way of life is established by The Ten Commandments. They are not The Ten Suggestions, as many would prefer. The Sixth Commandment clearly states: “You shall not murder.” (NRSV) Those four words do not refer to the extermination of bugs, snakes, other pests, or animals. They are not concerned even with the use of animals for food. In that commandment, the murder that is forbidden pertains to human beings. Exceptions for age, condition, or place of residence are not mentioned.
That makes abortion—and, furthermore, euthanasia—murder. Abortion and euthanasia now result in the elimination of much of each generation of humanity. They result in the violent diminishment of God’s creation.
I hold the belief that abortion is too often evidence of immorality. As I grew up, my world was formed by certain standards of behavior. For instance, it was considered not moral to engage in sex as a favorite indoor sport. Rather, intimacy was intended, by our holy heavenly Father, as the means to renew marriage and to have children who would care for God’s creation and live in His love. Immoral living generated demand for abortion, since abortion attempts to hide evidence of wrongdoing by eliminating unwanted results.
Honesty requires we acknowledge this: The need for abortion can only be lessened, if not erased, by moral behavior. When a man and a woman are living morally, and married, they most often want, welcome, and celebrate a little one. Such parents would seldom understand their little one as a matter of inconvenience and shame.
I may be a retired preacher. But, obviously, the tendency toward preaching lives on!
My conclusion: The time is long overdue to return to God’s law for life, in this world and for this world.
With these words, Rev. Gladys Williford, writing from her quiet apartment, takes us forward to basics in our thinking about life and abortion.
“Thou shall not murder.”