Institute on Religion and Democracy
May 8, 2000
In the midst of their governing General Conference meeting in Cleveland, United Methodist Church officials have sharply condemned the U.S. Navy for its maintenance of a training facility on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. In response, the chairman of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has called the reaction by church officials just one more example of unthinking, left-wing bias aimed at the U.S. and its military.
"The United Methodist statements regarding Vieques reflect lingering Cold War-era attitudes and pacifist idealism by church officials, who reflexively denounce anything relating to the U.S. military or U.S. security interests," IRD Chairman Tom Oden said. A United Methodist theologian, Oden chairs the ecumenical IRD, which includes a United Methodist committee, UMAction.
"The world is more complicated than their hyper-reductionist politics would imply," Oden added. "The church should focus on more compelling causes than support for one more 1960's style demonstration." He observed that many Vieques activists, along with United Methodist officials, support Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., which the vast majority of Puerto Rican voters have repeatedly rejected.
Several hundred demonstrators had been encamped illegally for many months on U.S. Navy property on Vieques, with support and funding from the church's missions board, in protest against the U.S. Navy presence on Vieques. Last week, the FBI and U.S. marshals removed the demonstrators.
At that conference, several United Methodist bishops, with the church's General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society, joined together to condemn the U.S. government action against the demonstrators. These church agencies, along with the full Council of Bishops, have demanded an immediate withdrawal by the U.S. Navy from Vieques.
The U.S. government, in an agreement with the Puerto Rican government, has already agreed to cease testing of live-fire munitions on Vieques and to transfer one fourth of the U.S. Navy land to the Puerto Rican government. Next year, a referendum on Vieques will decide whether the U.S. Navy will remain on the island. The U.S. Navy has maintained the training site since World War II. It is the only current site where the Atlantic Fleet can test-fire. Demonstrators have prevented any U.S. Navy training there for most of the last year, since a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy was accidentally killed.
"Almost nobody wants a munitions testing site in their own community," Oden acknowledged. "But the safety of U.S. Navy personnel requires that they be able to train somewhere. What are they to do? Neither the demonstrators nor their church allies have suggested any constructive alternative."