Institute on Religion and Democracy
|General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist
Q: The United Methodist building in Washington, D.C. has been called by United Methodist Action, a committee of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a "waste of United Methodist money" that supports a "lobby office... that promotes a wide array of controversial and often radical political causes." Is that true?
A: To the extent that the agenda of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church is controversial, so are the actions of the General Board of Church and Society, housed in the United Methodist building and the Church Center for the United Nations in New York. The General Board of Church and Society has its purpose defined by the Book of Discipline in paragraph 1002: "The purpose of the board shall be to relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the members of the Church and to the persons and structures of the communities and world in which they live. It shall show the members of the Church and the society that the reconciliation that God effected through Christ involves personal, social and civic righteousness." The General Board of Church and Society, meeting in early October 1998, passed a statement that read, in part, "We particularly decry the efforts of United MethodistAction to discredit the financial campaign to renovate the United Methodist building in Washington, DC., and thereby undermine the church's stewardship of a unique United Methodist treasure."
Q: The United Methodist building is undergoing a $7 million renovation. Where is this money coming from?
A: The money is not coming from the General Board's program budget, or, in other words, apportionments. The United Methodist Building campaign depends on the contributions of individuals and foundations. Five million dollars are earmarked for the renovation project; $2 million for development and permanent endowment, enabling this strong witness to remain in Washington, D.C.
Q: Is it true that the United Methodist building, as the IRD letter calls it, is "well known as the headquarters of radical church groups"?
A: The United Methodist building houses several tenants. As the largest nongovernmental building on Capitol Hill, it is utilized by numerous organizations, such as the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, the General Board of Global Ministries - Womens Division, and others. The building is home to a chapel, located on the main floor, literally the closest "church" to Capitol Hill. The building also leases a handful of residential apartments, occupied by members of Congress, such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Fact sheet - page 2
Q: IRD accuses The General Board of Church and Society of practicing its ministry under the guise of "partisan politics." How can that be?
A: It can't and it isn't. The actions of the General Board of Church and Society are mandated by the actions and resolutions of General Conference, the only body that can officially speak for The United Methodist Church. The General Board of Church and Society follows the direction of the General Conference, regardless of its political impact on either party.
Q: Is IRD correct in suggesting that the General Board of Church and Society has done something wrong in its role in shipping computers to "communist Cuba, despite the U.S. embargo?"
A: No. The computers were legally shipped to Cuba following three months of negotiations by General Board of Church and Society General Secretary, Thom White Wolf Fassett, with the United States government. Nearly 500 computers were sent to our Christian brothers and sisters in Cuba to form a healthcare network to track aspirin, antibiotics, and others medicines to save the lives of people. The computers went to the Christians of Cuba, not Mr. Castro. Further, The United Methodist Church, in 1996, petitioned the "President and Congress of the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba by repealing the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992." (1996 Book of Resolutions, "Recognition of Cuba," pgs 674-676).
Q: Where does the General Board of Church and Society stand on the issue of homosexuality?
A: The General Board of Church and Society reflects the actions of the most recent General Conference. Paragraph 65G of the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline states that "Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." However, the same statement also states, and the Board affirms, that "Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church." The Board is committed to this ministry, and to be in ministry "for and with all persons." Further, the Social Principles state, and the Board affirm, that "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. (Para. 66H)."
Q: Where does the General Board of Church and Society stand on abortion?
A: The official policy of The United Methodist Church is reflected in the advocacy efforts of the General Board of Church and Society. The General Board of Church and Society does not advocate abortion of any sort except in those cases supported by our church policy, found in paragraph 65J of the Social Principles. The official policy does not affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control or gender selection and calls the church to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy. It further adds that the church is bound "to respect the sacredness of the life and the well-being of the mother." See also Judicial Council ruling 821, reprinted in this packet.
Q: The IRD letter says the "Board refused to endorse the Defense of Marriage Act, which simply defined marriage as the union of one man with one woman." Why is that?
A: The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress in 1996. It adds a new section to the United States Code stating that states are not required to recognize any "public act, record, or judicial proceeding... respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage... or a right or claim arising from such a relationship." According to the 1996 Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, paragraph 66H, "Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, liabilities, and equal protection before the law." Based on the Defense of Marriage Act, several rights are denied to homosexual persons: jointly owned real and personal property; equitable division of property in case of separation; joint rental leases with automatic renewal rights; the right to be on each other's pension plans; and numerous other rights. Because of the conflict between the Defense of Marriage Act and the Social Principles, the General Board of Church and Society was not able to support the Defense of Marriage Act.
Q: IRD states that the General Board of Church and Society is "not accountable to the church's members, to traditional Methodist beliefs, or to the Bible." Is this true?
A: No. The General Board of Church and Society is directly accountable to United Methodist church members through two main channels: the General Conference and the Board itself. The General Conference, composed of nearly 1,000 clergy and lay delegates duly elected from Central and Annual conferences, has directed the General Board of Church and Society to carry out its ministry "consistent with the Social Principles and policies adopted by the General Conference (Discipline, para. 1004)." The Social Principles, found in the Book of Discipline, are the fruits of a long history of biblical concern for social justice by The United Methodist Church. Early Methodists expressed their opposition to the slave trade, to smuggling, and to the cruel treatment of prisoners. In 1908, a social creed was adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church (North). Within the next ten years similar statements were adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and by the Methodist Protestant Church. The Evangelical United Brethren Church adopted a statement of social principles in 1946. In 1972, four years after the uniting in 1968 of the Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted a new statement of Social Principles, which is revised at each General Conference. By its continued faithfulness to these Social Principles today, the General Board of Church and Society affirms and advocates long-held Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren beliefs. The Board of Church and Society is composed of 63 members, constituted of clergy, laywomen, laymen, and bishops from around the world. The Board is duly elected by Jurisdictional and Central Conference vote.
Q: IRD calls for "abolition of unnecessary agencies such as the Board of Church and Society." What would this do?
A: To eliminate the General Board of Church and Society would mute a remarkable history of the long-standing witness and advocacy the church has maintained for decades. Time and time again, Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses of love, justice and peace. The General Board of Church and Society helps coordinate those ministries throughout the world on behalf of The United Methodist Church.
Q: What does the General Board of Church and Society do?
A: The General Board of Church and Society, as an evangelical witness to the work of God in the affairs of society, calls itself to be faithful to United Methodist doctrine and tradition all the while nurturing its ministry of social action from the core values found in United Methodist doctrinal standards derived from the Scriptures and the Discipline.
The General Board of Church and Society is in ministry in numerous ways around the United States and the world:
* anti-alcohol and anti-drug efforts in 11 nations;
* United Methodist Child Advocacy networks in the United States;
* opposition to sweat shops and child labor;
* anti-gambling initiatives and work throughout the United States;
* the Environmental Justice Network;
* the Peace With Justice Network;
* the Genetic Science Task Force;
* a mental illness network;
* work on the Holy Boldness initiative, dealing with urban issues;
* work on agriculture and the farm crisis;
* advocating health care concerns, with particular concern around tobacco issues;
* the National and International Seminar Programs, designed for local churches and Annual conferences, which deal with major social issues and policies of the Board;
* publication of a series of booklets on combating the sins of racism;
* the Legislative Hotline (1-800-455-2645), which offers frequent updates on legislation pending on Capitol Hill, and United Methodist positions on the issues found in the Book of Resolutions;
* a presence on the World Wide Web (www.umc-gbcs.org), updating the ministries of the General Board of Church and Society;
* The United Methodist Institute (TUMI), which provides a forum for local churches and annual conferences to network on behalf of social justice, and the Children Of Peace In Action (COPIA) program, which resources local churches and annual conferences on social justice issues for children ages 8 through 12.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does indicate a few of the efforts the General Board of Church and Society engages on behalf of The United Methodist Church. For more information about the ministries, please contact us at 202-488-5600