Anti-abortion protests end in Adventist church member’s ouster

Seattle Times, Apr. 28, 2003
By Janet I. Tu, Seattle Times staff reporter

Steve Decker, a 54-year-old Renton man, says he has demonstrated against abortion outside several local Seventh-day Adventist churches weekly for most of the past year for the same reason he joined the church in the first place: his belief in the Bible.

But now his demonstrating has led to his ouster from the church, and ire from a neighborhood.

Decker said he was expelled April 19 from membership in the Redmond Seventh-day Adventist Church because, he believes, “our church is embarrassed and humiliated that I’m exposing the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s position on abortion.”

Pastor Chad Carlton of the Redmond church said it is not Decker’s anti-abortion stance that led the church to make its move. Rather, “we’ve communicated with Steve that we disagree with his methods.”

For confidentiality reasons, Carlton would not confirm that Decker has been expelled, only that he “is not a member.”

That means Decker cannot hold church office. But he still is allowed to go to church, socialize with church members, worship and partake in the open communion service.

Decker and a few others have demonstrated on sidewalks in front of churches, holding up signs with pictures of aborted fetuses and anti-abortion slogans. They ask those coming to church what they think of the church’s position on abortion.

This has upset not only some in the church but others in the community as well.

It’s not about abortion, said Katie Walter, an elder in the Redmond Presbyterian Church, which rents its space each Saturday to the Redmond Adventists. “It’s about the inappropriateness of the material.”

The demonstrators have sometimes dressed in costume, including one person who dressed as a surgeon carrying a baby doll with fake blood and a dagger stuck in it, along with a bucket of baby dolls, Walter said.

Each time the demonstrators appear, the Presbyterian church gets angry phone calls from people who think the church sponsored the demonstrations, Walter said.

Many residents also are upset because the church is across from a junior high school.

“I don’t think a neighborhood where there’s a church and children are attending Sunday school and there’s a junior high is the right place for these kinds of images,” said Diane Bierman, mother of a 9-year-old daughter.

Bierman is incensed by the graphic nature of the signs, some as large as 3 by 5 feet, placed on both sides of the street near the church.

“You drive down the street and whammo! You can’t avoid it,” she said of the signs bearing photos of aborted fetuses.

Decker, manager of a painting company, defends his group’s methods, saying, “America is not going to stop abortions until the people are appalled.”

Decker joined the church five years ago. He decided on the Adventists, he said, “because they carry out the seventh-day Sabbath teaching. They’re more in tune with the will of God than other churches I’d been looking at.”

For that same reason, he finds it “appalling” that the church would allow for abortion — something he believes violates the biblical commandment against killing.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has about a million members in the United States, including about 18,000 in Western Washington, came up with guidelines on abortion in 1992. Those guidelines state, in part, that “prenatal human life is a magnificent gift of God” and that “abortion should be performed only for the most serious reasons.”

It also states that “abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection or convenience are not condoned by the Church.” The final decision whether to terminate pregnancy, the guidelines say, should be made by the woman.

That statement “brought a great deal of consensus for the Adventist Church,” which previously took no stance on abortion, said Kermit Netteburg, spokesman for the church, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md. “At this moment, we are not actively considering our position on abortion.”

Church-affiliated hospitals, the closest of which are in Walla Walla and Portland, set their own policies on whether to perform abortions. The church does not prohibit them.

While Netteburg isn’t familiar with the specifics of Decker’s case, he says the church “believes deeply in religious freedom and freedom to express your views.” But “we don’t uphold the right of people to come and disrupt church services.”

Decker and frequent fellow picketer Ben Owen, a member of Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church, said the demonstrations were a last resort after they felt stonewalled by church leaders. Decker said he didn’t know about the church’s stance on abortion until he learned of it from Owen about a year ago.

Owen and Decker belong to Positively Pro-Life, an informal local group of a half-dozen people who have recently concentrated on demonstrating outside churches.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 28, 2003.
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