Chicago’s historic Moody Church has taken action against a former member because of his abortion-related activities.

The issue surfaced when a few of the church’s members confronted Dr. Arnold Bickham in August about allegations that he was performing abortions. Bickham, a physician who joined the church in 1981, responded with a letter to the church’s executive committee, asking to be dropped from church membership.

When Bickham’s letter was received, pastor Erwin Lutzer was the only member of the executive committee who knew of the allegations against Bickham. The committee approved Bickham’s request while Lutzer was out of town. But church officials now say they would not have agreed to his request if they had known he was performing abortions.

Some church members, including Lutzer, say the process of church discipline was short-circuited. Others maintain there was nothing the church could do, since Bickham was technically no longer a member of Moody Church.

A few months after Bickham left the church, Lutzer confronted him, and the physician did not deny the allegations. Lutzer said the matter was then placed before the entire congregation. Members were encouraged to contact Bickham and to urge him to repent. Bickham did not return phone calls or answer letters. He also declined to discuss the matter with CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

The issue generated a flurry of activity. An ad hoc committee was formed to organize demonstrations at the clinics where Bickham works, and to urge the church to take action against him. Recently, the church did take action. A statement drafted by the Moody Church elders and delivered to the congregation reads in part that Bickham “is walking in disobedience to the Scriptures, and we urge the members of this church to have no fellowship with him until he is brought to repentance.”

Bickham was performing abortions long before he joined Moody Church. In 1979 he was sentenced to two years in a federal prison for defrauding the government of job training funds. In addition, his state medical license was suspended because of “professional incompetence” and “gross malpractice.” Among other allegations, Bickham was accused of performing fake abortions on women who were not pregnant.

While he was in prison, Bickham said he became a Christian. His medical license was later reinstated. His four-and-one-half years at Moody Church included a one-year term as head usher. He also served as a volunteer with Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship.

Gordon Loux, president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said Bickham served for a time as director for northern Illinois, but has not been active with the organization recently. “Arnold did a lot of good things for inmates and their families,” Loux said. “We had a good relationship with him. We’re very saddened and disappointed.” Loux added that Prison Fellowship has challenged Bickham to stop performing abortions, but that Bickham has not responded.

Lutzer expressed Moody Church’s view that it is not consistent for a person who claims a relationship with Christ to perform abortions. “Even though technically [Bickham] was no longer a member,” he said, “we felt that for someone who had been so much a part of the body of Christ here … we couldn’t just let it go.”

The ad hoc committee of Moody Church members plans to stage additional protests at the clinics where Bickham works. It also plans to distribute leaflets protesting his activities in the neighborhood where he resides.

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