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The NCC & The UMC:  Name Your Price

by Michael L. Gonzalez

November 22, 2000

Politics, money, and power seem to be the more pervasive issues in the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (the NCC); yes, more pervasive than any kind of Christian concerns.  "A strong accusation!"  you might say to me.  What if I told you that the NCC is so desperate for money from the UMC that the NCC allowed itself to be blackmailed by the UMC.  Sounds very unChristian, doesn't it?  Read it and weep:

The saga has played out in just one week's time, as you can read below, but first we must preface the saga with some background.  The NCC has been a left-leaning organization for decades, and has been accused of aiding communists for about 40 years, and recently, the NCC was a key player in aiding Fidel Castro's efforts to obtain the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, from his Florida relatives.  The NCC has been in dire financial straits in the recent past, even nearing dissolution until the UMC and other major contributors agreed to stand behind the NCC.  At GC2000, the UMC voted to continue to contribute to the NCC.

However, the NCC has continued to operate on the edge of bankruptcy throughout the year 2000.  In order to search out a new source of money, the NCC has been trying to establish a relationship with Christian churches that are no where near the left-leaning position of their long-standing members.  One major effort by the NCC to bring in new conservative money has been a negotiation of a position statement on marriage in conjunction with with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and National Association of Evangelicals.

With this background, we now pick up the events of last week, November 14, 2000, as the NCC proudly announces their Christian Declaration on Marriage as part of their general assembly convention (excerpts follow):

We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God's help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last for a lifetime. God has established the married state, in the order of creation and redemption, for spouses to grow in love of one another and for the procreation, nurture, formation and education of children.

We believe that when a marriage is true to God's loving design it brings spiritual, physical, emotional, economic, and social  benefits not only to a couple and family but also to the Church and to the wider culture.

Our nation is threatened by a high divorce rate, a rise in cohabitation, a rise in non-marital births, a decline in the marriage rate, and a diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying, especially among young people. The documented adverse impact of these trends on children, adults, and society is alarming. Therefore, as church leaders, we recognize an unprecedented need and responsibility to help couples begin, build, and sustain better marriages, and to restore those threatened by divorce.

Motivated by our common desire that God's Kingdom be manifested on earth as it is in heaven, we pledge to deepen our commitment to marriage.

Further, we urge churches in every community to join in developing policies and programs with concrete goals to reduce the divorce rate and increase the marriage rate.

This declaration was signed by the three more conservative Christian organizations mentioned above, as well as by Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the NCC.  The signature by Edgar was somewhat unexpected, as he has publicly stated his support of same-sex unions (Edgar is a UMC pastor and former congressman).

Well, Edgar's support for the marriage declaration lasted only a matter of hours.  At a breakfast presentation with the NCC's homosexual advocacy group, a liberal speaker called on Edgar to retract his support for the declaration.

Just hours after this criticism by the liberal support base of the NCC, Edgar issued a letter retracting his support for the declaration.  In this letter, he attempted to ride the fence between his liberal base and the new sources for income represented by the more conservative churches:

November 16, 2000
Dear General Assembly Delegate:

I believe that churches must support Christian men and women in marriage--especially in our "disposable society," where marriage is often diminished and undermined, a practice contrary to Christian teaching and heritage. This statement signals that churches can do a better job of offering married couples the kind of support that helps them keep their commitments.

I would not want this statement to be misconstrued as if it were an oblique comment on same-sex unions. Even more importantly, it would be unconscionable if support for married couples, so desperately needed today, were to be twisted into a weapon that can be used to attack gays and lesbians, their families and friends and all in our churches who love and care for them.

There is disagreement between and among our member communions on many issues related to sexuality and marriage. Currently, several of our member communions are in discussion and discernment regarding same-sex unions.

In our dangerously fragmented society, I regret and will resist any attempt to interpret support for one beleaguered segment of society as an attack another. That is my appeal. Please help me in extending this call for mutual respect and love. Please pray for all who are today engaged in work that strengthens the one body of Christ.

Bob Edgar
General Secretary

This "trial balloon" letter floated by Edgar apparently didn't fly, as the next day he apologized at the NCC's General Assembly session for his support of marriage, which was considered by everyone (obviously) as indicating a lack of support for homosexual unions, and all other abominable forms of "marriage."  He then followed up his public verbal statements with another letter:
November 17, 2000

Bishop Anthony O'Connell, Chairman
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Committee on Marriage and Family Life

Dr. Richard Land, President
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southern Baptist Convention

Bishop Kevin Mannoia, President
National Association of Evangelicals

Dear Anthony, Richard and Kevin:

I write to remove my signature from the November 14, 2000, statement on "A Christian Declaration on Marriage."

I do so because I did not adequately consult with the 36 member communions of the National Council of Churches prior to agreeing to sign the statement.

A number of the NCC member communions interpret the document more as a  condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage. The  fact that the declaration omits mention of same-sex unions is taken by some as proof that all of the signatories disapprove of such unions.

Further, I am concerned that in our dangerously fragmented and violent  society, misinterpretation of the declaration may be used by some as a pretext for attacks on gay and lesbian persons.

My hope, when I signed the Declaration on Christian Marriage on November 14, was a sincere one that we could find ways to work together as Christians to reduce the high rate of divorce in our nation by better preparing people for marriage and supporting them in their marriage vows. I still hold that hope, even though I find that I cannot support this particular declaration.

My withdrawal should in no way be seen as a weakening of my commitment to building the larger ecumenical table about which we have talked. I have been heartened this week as Father John Ford, the Rev Jim is, and the Rev. Bernard Wilson spoke eloquently at our General Assembly from the Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions about the promise and potential of an expanded ecumenical vision.

I remain committed to that goal and confidant that we can find ways to work together.

May God bless you and may God guide us in our journey on the path of Christian unity.

Bob Edgar
General Secretary

Obviously, Edgar was pressured by his liberal support base to drop his newly-found evangelical position (or let's call it as it is:  the newly-found source of money).  You might ask, Just how much homage must Edgar pay to his liberal base?  As demonstrated in the following writing, Edgar and the NCC are wholly beholden to the UMC:
NCC's survival hinges on Methodist contribution
Council, in "deep, deep trouble," trims program areas, payroll
Nov 14 2000 2:48 PM
by Bill Lancaster

ATLANTA -- The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) will cease to exist if funding does not come through from one of its major supporting denominations, the United Methodist Church (UMC), according to Phillip Young, the NCC's outgoing treasurer.

The NCC is taking strong measures to reinvent itself because of its severe and chronic financial problems. On Tuesday, its executive board approved a reorganization of program areas and a reduction in NCC staff from 64 employees to 47, effective Nov. 20.

During the meeting of the NCC executive board, Young and Barbara Ellen Black, the NCC's interim general manager, told the board the ecumenical organization will finish 2000 with a surplus of $176,870, if -- and it's a big if -- the United Methodists come through with $400,000 of the approximately $618,000 remaining that they pledged in 1999.

During an interview after the meeting, Young said auditors have told the NCC that the UMC pledge is not a good account-receivable because it is more than a year old. Auditors already have required the NCC to write off "a significant amount" -- about $150,000 -- of other non-receivable pledges.

"If the Methodists don't come through," Young said, "we are in deep, deep trouble." 

The former treasurer said he "cannot conceive what this council would be like if they failed to do that. They are a major contributor.  Half of the money for this council comes from the Methodists and the Presbyterians. If the Methodists pull out, the Presbyterians are going to look like they sure made a mistake in September."

Bob Edgar, the NCC general secretary, said the UMC pledge is the only outstanding commitment in a $2 million debt-reduction plan put together by NCC member denominations. If the Methodist money isn't delivered, he said, "it will be very difficult, because we are counting on those funds to stay within our budgeted means. God still has work for the National Council of Churches, in its faith, justice and education arm, and its service-and-witness arm."

Andrew Young, the outgoing president of the NCC, a member of the United Church of Christ, said, "We've got to find a way to keep the National Council going and get all the member churches to fulfill their commitments."

Andrew Young said the NCC is "moving clearly in the right direction," adding that he thinks churches will be more willing to contribute. "We really can't do anything without the Methodists," he said, expressing hope that somehow the long-troubled organization will make it. "I don't think that anybody can afford to let the National Council of Churches die. I can't conceive of the United Methodists not living up to this obligation."

So, now you see the picture more clearly, don't you.  The NCC is near demise and so they've reached out to new sources of money (the more conservative churches), but as they reached out, their base felt abandoned.  The most significant member of their base is the UMC, and the NCC knows that they will live or die with the UMC.  Obviously, the UMC was the major player in strong-arming Edgar to back out of his marriage declaration that he made with the new money sources.

Who do you think is the personality behind this UMC strong-arm approach?  None other than the UMC's Melvin Talbert (retired bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference), as reported here:

Homosexuality surfaced in still another NCC discussion. During a roll-call on whether to accept the Alliance of Baptists, a former Southern Baptist dissident group, as a new NCC member church, two denominational representatives expressed regret that the homosexual Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) could not also be accepted into membership. (Previous NCC General Assemblies have rejected the UFMCC's membership application.)

One of the two was United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, who left his northern California jurisdiction in turmoil when he retired earlier this year. He had refused to discipline 68 of his clergy who participated in a lesbian "marriage" rite, while driving out of the denomination about a dozen evangelical pastors who objected to his policy. The United Methodist Church forbids clergy from performing same-sex unions.

As the ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Talbert implied he was speaking for his denomination when he supported the UFMCC's inclusion. But another United Methodist delegate corrected the record. Leland Collins, who heads the Georgia Christian Council, told the General Assembly that the United Methodist delegation had not authorized Talbert to speak for them on that issue. Talbert later angrily confronted Collins.

Talbert had earlier received an award from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Caucus at its breakfast. The caucus saluted Talbert for defying his church's stance against same-sex unions. In his acceptance speech, Talbert explained he was simply being "faithful as a follower of Jesus Christ." He said he was an introvert by nature and wanted to avoid controversy. But when "people of conscience present an issue before me I never walk away."

Mentioning the 68 clergy who performed the lesbian "marriage" rite in Sacramento last year, Talbert said his response was "not difficult for me at all." He acclaimed the lesbian couple as leaders in his United Methodist region. "The least I could do was be supportive despite the policy of my church," he said. He also said he "probably" would not conduct same-sex unions himself, but he believed clergy should be free to do so. Talbert is a former president of the NCC.

How much leverage did Talbert have in his possession to hold over Edgar?  Take a look at this:
United Methodist News Service
Nov. 20, 2000 News media contact: Joretta Purdue (202) 546-8722 Washington {522}

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (UMNS) -- Voting members of the United Methodist Church's finance agency have agreed to advance $400,000 to the financially struggling National Council of Churches (NCC).

That decision was one of several made during the Nov. 16-18 meeting of the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA).

The $400,000 for the NCC is an advance on the church's NCC allocation for 2001-2004 from the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund. The fund was included in the church's four-year budget approved by General Conference, the denomination's highest legislative assembly, in May.

Repayment of the advance will be deducted from the monthly distribution that GCFA makes to the NCC and will include a 7 percent interest rate. GCFA decided that it will give a full rebate of the interest collected as a grant to the NCC when the loan has been repaid and the NCC "demonstrates positive net assets and a balanced operating budget."

Before voting on the issue, GCFA members heard a report from Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, the denomination's ecumenical officer, who had just attended the NCC assembly in Atlanta.

Financial integrity has been restored to the National Council of Churches, Talbert assured the GCFA. He described the organization's efforts to establish new communication with the Catholic Church and evangelical groups, and he said the NCC is undertaking a 10-year focus on overcoming poverty.

That's right, just hours after Talbert, along with other homosexual advocates, cornered Edgar and forced him to tow the liberal line to the "T," Talbert presented "the goods" to the GCFA, and the UMC followed through by paying off the NCC with an advance of $400,000.

Yep, that's how the politics of the mainline Protestant denominations works; It ain't a pretty sight, is it? 


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