Institute on Religion and Democracy
November 29, 1999
At its Fall directors meeting, the General Board of Global Ministries disbursed several large grants for controversial projects. One of the largest was a grant of $1.5 million to the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Located at Bossey Chateau in Switzerland, the institute is a graduate school that trains future leaders of the ecumenical movement. The WCC is often controversial not only for its left-leaning political stances but also for its de-emphasizing evangelism in favor of interfaith dialogue.
Indeed, a board member and curriculum advisor for the "Bossey" institute is Wesley Ariarajah, a professor at United Methodist Drew School of Theology who told a GBGM meeting last year that evangelistic missions is an erroneous concept. The church should not attempt to convert people to Christ but should instead promote social justice with persons of all faiths, he said.
GBGM's grant to the institute will endow a faculty chair in mission. Leaders at the institute expressed appreciation to GBGM General Secretary Randolph Nugent for making the grant possible.
GBGM also disbursed $500,000 to the General Board of Church and Society's campaign to renovate and endow the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Church and Society had attempted to raise at least $5 million from individual United Methodists to enhance its lobby presence in the nation's capital. But the campaign fell considerably short of its goal. So Church and Society has appealed to other church agencies for support. GBGM has responded the most generously.
Some smaller GBGM grants also went to controversial politically oriented groups. The Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization, a pro-Fidel Castro advocacy group, received $5,000. The Global Justice Cross Functional Team on Cuba received $30,000 to campaign against U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba. The School of the Americas Watch received $5,000 to campaign for the closure of the U.S. Army's training academy at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which received $2,500, is a far-left legal advocacy group. The Antonio Valdivieso Center, which received $3,000, is closely tied to the Marxist Sandinista party in Nicaragua. The Committee on the Reunification of Korea received $3,000. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty received $3,000. The Jubilee 2000 USA Campaign received $5,000 to campaign for the cancellation of Third World debt.
The East Asia/Pacific Office of the National Council of Churches received $2,500 to focus attention on an alleged atrocity of Korean civilians by U.S. Army troops during the Korean War. The Eco-Justice Working Group of the National Council of Churches received $4,500 to promote environmental causes. And the Amity Foundation, an educational and relief group that supports the communist regime in China, received $42,864.
The vast majority of GBGM's grants go to less controversial humanitarian projects. But the grants cited above illustrate in part why many United Methodists are troubled by GBGM's frequent political activism and lack of evangelistic focus.
GBGM General Secretary Nugent, in his address to the directors, complained of media coverage that focuses on his agency's controversial actions. "Divisiveness, it would seem is deemed more newsworthy than reconciliation and unity," he caustically observed. He asked why the media did not report on the "changed lives" that result from GBGM's ministry.
But Nugent's definition of "changed lives" seems somewhat at odds with the understanding of traditional Christians. Salvation and transformation, according to the historic faith, means forgiveness of personal sin and entrance into an eternal walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. But Nugent seemed to equate "changed lives" with overcoming systematic and political ills, and accepting the modern egalitarianism of political correctness.
"The old life is based on exclusion, a conscious separation of people based on race, birthplace, ethnic identity, gender or sexual orientation," Nugent noted. "Under the standards and practices of the old life, some persons are sacrificed upon the altar of exclusion for sins judged to make them unacceptable."
"New life of inclusion is marked by empathy rather than apathy; by solidarity rather than separation," Nugent said "The new life of total inclusion recognizes that all members of the human family are interrelated." The "old life" is concerned with preserving the "abundance of the rich," he observed. While the "new life" focuses on providing food, medicine and safe environment to all people.
Nearly all Christians would agree with Nugent about caring for the poor and working for a just world. But he failed to explain how Christian missions, as GBGM understands it, is any different from the United Nations or any laudable, secular charity. And he did not acknowledge any need for personal salvation, personal morality, or a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that entails more than social work.
Nugent resented media preoccupations with controversies at GBGM. But he seemed not to recognize that media reports do so because GBGM is indeed deeply controversial, both politically and theologically.
In other examples of GBGM's political activism, the directors nearly unanimously approved resolutions for next year's General Conference that urged greater gun control in the U.S., urged national legislation against "hate crimes" and special protections against discrimination based on "sexual identity," urged greater government involvement in the provision of health care insurance, opposed welfare reforms that deny government benefits to illegal aliens, urged the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea, urged the U.S. to comply with an international ban on land mines, and called for the U.S. Navy to close its munitions training facility at Vieques, Puerto Rico.
As these resolutions were quickly voted through with no discussion, director Joe Whittemore of Hartwell, Georgia complained that the directors were given no time to review the statements. "This is important stuff," he observed as he asked that greater time be allowed at future meetings. Whittemore later observed that the resolutions were written by GBGM staffers and were distributed right before the meeting. There was never any possibility for a constructive examination of them by the directors, he said.
Less controversially, GBGM decided not simply to tout an anti-landmine treaty but also to invest in heavy equipment that would actually remove landmines from former war zones throughout the Third World. And the directors heard a spirited message from Roger Winter of the U.S. Committee on Refugees, who told of great human suffering in Sudan's civil war.
At least 2 million Sudanese have died, Winter told the directors. He explained that the Islamic Sudanese government is waging a brutal war against the mostly Christian and animist populations in the country's southern regions. "The government [of Sudan] views a significant portion of the population as not 'my people,'" Winter observed.
Although consuming more lives than any war since World War II, the horrors of Sudan has not gained widespread visibility," Winter said. The Sudanese government is now hoping its oil riches will help it destroy the opposition. Winter urged divestment of companies investing in Sudanese oil and greater U.S. action to persuade the Sudanese government that its war is unwinnable.
In more positive news, GBGM reported upbeat financial data for itself. At the end of 1998, its assets stood at nearly $407 million. In 1998 revenue was $199 million, which included the unrealized gains of nearly $43 million in assets, mostly in stocks. Expenses in 1998 were $172 million. This year income is expected to be over $155 million and expenses are expected to be about $148 million.
Although GBGM has touted an increase in its missionary force, most of it has come from short-term missionaries. The total number of persons in missions affiliated with GBGM total 1,812. But this figure includes not only short-term missionaries but also missionaries and other personnel who receive part or all of their salaries from other organizations.
The total number of full-time, career missionaries serving overseas stands at 306, slightly up from the figure of 282 of last year. In 1999 GBGM will spend about 13 percent of its total budget on the direct support of missionaries.