UMAction Briefing HomepageMark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy




Fox News: Special Report with Brit Hume
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BRIT HUME, HOST: The key players in the Elian Gonzalez drama are the Cuban and American governments and the boy's relatives in Miami and in Cuba. But there are other players, far less obvious but perhaps no less important. One is the National Council of Churches, and the other is a related group, the United Methodist Board for Church and Society.

The National Council began campaigning for Elian's immediate return to Cuba soon after his rescue and arrival in Miami. The United Methodist Board hired Gregory Craig and is raising the money to pay his bills.

So who are these groups, and on whose behalf are they doing this? To answer those questions, we turn to Mark Tooley , director of the United Methodist Committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy , a watchdog group set up to monitor the actions of national church groups supposedly taken on behalf of member churches.

Mr. Tooley has just written an article on the subject in the new issue of "The Weekly Standard," our sister publication. Welcome.

MARK TOOLEY , UNITED METHODIST COMMITTEE: Thank you, it's good to be here.

HUME: Well, lot of people don't know this answer, but a lot of people won't. What is the National Council of Churches?

TOOLEY: National Council of Churches is a coalition of 35 U.S. church denominations...

HUME: All Christian, right?

TOOLEY: ... all Christian, whose combined membership is about 55 million church members. So one out of every three American church members belongs to a denomination that's a member of the National Council of Churches.

HUME: Now, does -- when this group takes actions and involves itself in a case with some political implications such as this one, where does it go for its authority? Are resolutions passed in churches that grant or what?

TOOLEY: Well, they have a general assembly that meets every year around the country, where all 35 denominations are represented, so they claim to be speaking for this broad constituency. But as we've seen with Cuba, as in other issues, they tend to be very much controlled by their permanent bureaucracy in New York.

HUME: Now, they have a -- National Council of Churches has some history with Cuba.

TOOLEY: Well, they do. The National Council is 50 years old, but they've been, I would say, very pro Fidel Castro for the last 25 or 30 years, completely unwilling to acknowledge any human rights problems in Cuba, not even willing to speak out on behalf of persecuted church members in Cuba.

HUME: Well, they do acknowledge in their materials that I've seen that it is a dictatorship and that freedom of religion is pretty scant there, for example.

TOOLEY: Well, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Joan Brown Campbell, the outgoing general secretary of the National Council, has been asked publicly several times recently to acknowledge human rights problems and really has declined to do so.

HUME: Now, describe to me, if you can, the process by which the National Council got involved in this case and brought this Methodist Board that you talk about into the case.

TOOLEY: Well, the National Council's very proud of having a relationship with the Cuban government and with the Cuban Council of Churches dating back many years. The outgoing head of the National Council, Joan Campbell, has been to Havana many times -- several times, has met with Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro came here several years ago and met with the National Council of Churches up in New York City.

So it's a relationship that's been maintained for several years now, and according to the National Council, it was the Cuban Council of Churches that invited them to become involved late last year.

HUME: And wanted them to -- and then the -- and their claim is that the call was to get the boy back to Cuba, correct?

TOOLEY: Right, right, to mediate the situation.

HUME: All right, now, and how did this Methodist Board, how did that come -- what did that group get involved...

TOOLEY: Well, the largest...

HUME: ... and what's its relationship to the National Council?

TOOLEY: The largest member of the National Council of Churches is United Methodist Church, which is actually the third-largest religious body in America, with 8.5 million members. And their Washington office, their lobby office here in town, is the largest church lobby office in Washington, D.C.

So I suspect that they approached the Methodist Church because of its size and influence here in Washington.

HUME: And asked them to what, hire Gregory Craig, or...

TOOLEY: Asked them to set up a legal fund to raise money for the attorneys' fees that Greg Craig will be incurring. So that allows the contributions to be run through a tax deductible organization.

HUME: Now, is there any way to determine where the contributions that are paying Mr. Craig's bills come from?

TOOLEY: No, the contributions are going to be anonymous. The church is not going to reveal who its donors are, so we will have no -- they'll have to tell us how much money they raised...

HUME: (inaudible)...

TOOLEY: ... but they can't tell us where it's coming from.

HUME: Is this the church version of soft money, so to speak?

TOOLEY: Well, sort of, yes. I hadn't thought of it that way, but that's a good way of putting it.

HUME: So -- and what are the politics, if any, of this Methodist Board? I mean...

TOOLEY: Well, it's been unfortunate, all the media coverage of the National Council, now of the Methodist Church agency, that they tend to just describe these church agencies as being sort of impartial mediators in the situation, when actually the board of church and society for the Methodist Church, like the National Council of Churches, tends to be almost reflexively left of center to far left on a whole range of political issues, domestic and foreign, Cuba being one issue that they've been outspoken on.

HUME: Now, what -- tell me about this -- I mean, how -- it's a little puzzling to me. I mean, an awful lot of churchgoing people, particularly Christians in America, are conservative. Many belong to evangelical parishes that probably are not affiliated with the National Council of Churches, or certainly with this Methodist Board.

TOOLEY: Right.

HUME: But how about the others? I mean, are there no -- is there no objection raised in these churches to these -- to the activities of these national groups? It's a little puzzling.

TOOLEY: Well, there often tends to be a wide chasm between what these national church agencies are doing and what the typical church or local church member happens to believe. In fact, poll after poll after poll shows that most mainline church members, which comprise the majority of the members of the National Council of Churches, tend to be more conservative than the general population, tend to be, if anything, more Republican voting than the general population.

So it's a very odd situation. These conservative church members are supporting a very liberal to left-wing church organization.

HUME: Now, there are very powerful arguments that one can imagine a person of deep Christian faith making that say this young child should be with his father.

TOOLEY: Right.

HUME: So why should we be so worried in this particular case about the activities of these two bodies?

TOOLEY: Well, if it were just a matter of restoring the son to a father, I would say maybe the Roman Catholic Church, another denomination that hasn't been so outspokenly supportive or apologetic about the Castro government, would be a more appropriate mediator for the situation.

But the fact that the National Council of Churches and the Methodist Board of Church and Society have been so close with the Cuban government, I would think, should rule them out as being appropriate player in this situation.

HUME: Now, is there any reason to suspect -- I mean, Gregory Craig is an interesting figure, and it is -- a number of people have remarked that he is a class -- was a classmate, I believe, of Bill and Hillary Clinton at law school. And of course he represented the president at a critical moment in the impeachment matter.

Is there anything about him other than that that might have -- I mean, I wonder how he got chosen, and what the administration may have had to do with it. Is there any way to know that?

TOOLEY: Well, I don't know. There has been a closeness between the administration and the Methodist Church agency because Hillary Clinton is...

HUME: Mrs. Clinton?

TOOLEY: ... a very active and devout Methodist and has entertained church officials at the White House and vice-versa. So there is a tie there. But in terms of how they connected with Greg Craig, I don't know.

HUME: We don't have any evidence to -- other than -- now, I've -- it has been -- one account has it that Greg Craig went to the National Council of Churches seeking a way to represent the boy's father, and was referred to the Methodist Board. Now, the Methodist Board's account of how this happened is what?

TOOLEY: According to the Methodist Board, the Cuban Council of Churches approached the head of their agency when he went to Havana a couple of weeks ago.

HUME: Right, right.

TOOLEY: Him and the head of the -- or outgoing head of the National Council of Churches, and asked them to first procure a lawyer, and then...

HUME: And they went after -- and they went looking for Craig?

TOOLEY: That's the impression they've conveyed, that they went out and found Greg Craig.

HUME: What's your sense of that?

TOOLEY: Well, I guess I would accept that at face value. But the fact that Greg Craig obviously has close ties to the White House, there must have some coordination there between the church groups and administration people for that to have happened.

HUME: And so what -- what is the -- what is the view -- what is it the view of your organization ought to be done here about this group, if anything, or is this all legitimate, in your view?

TOOLEY: Well, first of all, we're just trying to alert church members across the country as to what their church leaders and church agencies are doing on their behalf, and where their church dollars are going. This Methodist Church agency says no church dollars are going towards this legal fund, it's just voluntary contributions. But I have some suspicions about that.

HUME: Good to have you, thanks very much.

TOOLEY: OK, thank you.

HUME: Good to have you.

Let's take a quick break for the news headlines. When we return, we'll tell you how the latest Osprey crash could affect that aircraft's future. Stay tuned.


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