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Social Agency Bishop Blasts UMAction For Efforts Of Conservative Reform In The UMC

Address by Bishop S. Clifton Ives, President of the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church to a joint meeting of the Board and annual conference Church and Society leaders March 24, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia

On Thursday , during the opening session of the General Board of Church and Society, we talked about principles which might guide our life together and our work.

· We said that it is important to speak clearly and to listen to each other.

· We said we need full and accurate information in order to make decisions.

· We said we will do better work if personal prejudices and agendas do not cloud our listening and block creative decision-making.

Unlike some, I am a relative newcomer to the General Board of Church and Society. At my first meeting last October you elected me your president. At the conclusion of that meeting I reminded the Board that we had completed one eighth of our time commitment to Board meetings. Today we completed one fourth of that commitment. As we conclude the Board Meeting and begin our Legislative and Public Policy Briefing, I remind Board members that our commitment to the United Methodist Church and to this Board extends beyond meetings.

· Six of us are here by assignment from the Council of Bishops.

· Four of us were nominated by the Council of Bishops.

· Forty-four of us were elected or assigned by the Jurisdictional and Central Conferences.

· Nine of us were elected as additional members by the Board itself.

We are not representatives. We are Board members. Our fiduciary responsibility is to the Board and not to other constituencies. Some may be here because they hope to find leverage to move the United Methodist Church in a particular direction. Some may be here hoping to nudge the Board in a new direction. The Board is not perfect, but we are, in accordance with our Wesleyan tradition, going on to perfection, and we are committed to helping our churches and our denomination to do the same. As Board members and as Conference Church and Society leaders we are on a journey “into conformity with the will of God.”

We do not all agree at every point on the journey, but on this we must be together:

We are here to “show members of the Church and the society that the reconciliation that God effected through Jesus Christ involves personal, social, and civic righteousness.” These words are from Paragraph 1002 of the United Methodist Discipline, which states the purpose of the General Board of Church and Society. If any Board member is here for a different purpose, I wonder how you can fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to the Board.

Although we are different and sometimes divided, we can quickly agree that reconciliation begins with personal righteousness. Love, kindness, forgiveness, caring, compassion, and holiness of heart are common expectations and values. Defining social righteousness may cause some discord, but we find common ground in our concerns regarding care for children, protection of personal freedoms, respect for the environment, peace on the planet, honesty in government, the right to work, the value of education, and the evil of racism.

But the “reconciliation God effected through Christ” also demands civic righteousness. When we bring the reconciling , justice-seeking Word to centers of power which control the Church and society, we meet resistance from without and conflict within. Powerful voices say, “Keep your talk of justice and reconciliation within the church. Leave society alone!” However, we are the Board of Church and Society, concerned for “personal, social, and civic righteousness.” We have been chosen, sent, or assigned by the United Methodist Church to do that on behalf of the church. We have a fiduciary responsibility as members of the Board – guided by the Social Principles, informed by the Book of Resolutions, grounded in Scripture – “to bring the whole of human life … into conformity with the will of God.”

As we seek to do justice-seeking work in conformity with God’s will, we face resistance within the Church and within society. Within the church we are committed to reconciliation and to moving forward in making disciples – to following Christ, despite our differences. Forces from outside the church may not be committed to reconciliation and may in fact be committed to the destruction of justice-seeking ministries.

Since 1981, the Institute on Religion and Democracy has been relentless in its attacks upon social justice ministries of mainline denominations, including Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and United Methodists. The IRD, as part of its “Reforming America’s Churches Project,” works through UMAction “targeting the Washington-based Board of Church and Society. Observers attend meetings of the agency and will increase work to organize conservative Board members.” Even more pointedly, “We will assist conservatives who serve on the Board…so as to have direct influence over permanent staff.”*

Most of us have observed that activity by Mark Tooley of UMAction. Mr. Tooley makes it clear that in 2003 UMAction’s “main target will be the church’s Washington lobby office, which is the largest church lobby in the nation’s capitol. At the 2000 General Conference we persuaded 30% of the delegates to vote for the elimination of the lobby office. We believe we have a chance at getting 51% in 2004.”

The IRD expects to spend $3.6 million over a four-year period, and UMAction expects to spend $486,000 in the current year in its United Methodist initiatives. While we are expanding circulation of our Christian Social Action magazine to reach more United Methodist homes, UMAction expects to reach half a million United Methodist households with its publication by 2004.

It is apparent that a group unrelated to our church wants to “reform” us by getting some insiders to help accomplish their objective of eliminating the General Board of Church and Society. I say this to remind Board members that we have a fiduciary responsibility to the Board and to the Church -- and not to special interest groups. I say that in this context to remind Conference Board leaders that UMAction is using – and will use—responsible evangelicals in your conference to bring resolutions that will inflame and divide the church for its own purposes. Their intent is not reconciliation, but division. Do not allow a force from outside the church to separate you from brothers and sisters in your conference. Liberals and conservatives must stay together, must work together, must love and reach out to a hurting world together.

Mr. Tooley is often among us. I thank members of the Board for offering him hospitality and pray that that might continue. I believe God wants us to be reconciled with him, but his stated purposes and his tactics make that difficult. Nevertheless, the God of Justice wants us to make “enemies our friends” for the sake of the Gospel.

We have much justice-making work to do. I thank the Board for its faithfulness these past three days. I thank the annual conference leaders who now gather for this briefing. The Board staff under Jim Winkler’s leadership has prepared for this event. On Thursday evening we installed Jim as General Secretary in a Winkler family event, with his father preaching in the church served by his uncle, and other family members participating as well.

The Board is committed to forging new relationships with leaders like yourselves all across the church. The work of peace, justice, and reconciliation is long and hard, but we will do it – together. We all remember Charlie Brown during football season, ready to kick the ball, but worried that Lucy will pull it away. She assures him that she won’t, but then of course she does. Charlie cries out in anguish, “How long, oh Lord.” Sometimes we too cry out, “How long, oh Lord.” And the answer comes to us, as it did to Charlie Brown, “All your life, Charlie Brown, all your life.” How long will we have to work to protect the environment, to build human relationships, to give voice to the voiceless, to bring in peace with justice? All your life, Charlie Brown, all your life.

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