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The Church of the Latter-Day Leftists

Jacob Laksin

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No sooner was George W. Bush declared the winner of a hard-fought presidential election than National Council of Churches General Secretary, Rev. Robert Edgar, proffered the following counsel: "This election confirmed that we are a divided nation, not only politically but in terms of our interpretations of God's will."

That Edgar's message was reminiscent of a concession speech was no coincidence. After all, had God's will been more congenial to the famously left-wing NCC, John Kerry would be president of the United States. Yet Edgar declined to own up to the NCC's sectarian role in the nation's political divide. Animated by a religious ardor that takes its cues as much from left-wing dogma as any higher power, the NCC today finds itself jarringly at odds not only with most religious voters, who overwhelmingly voted Republican, but also with the mainstream of American political culture. To understand this reality, one need only consider the NCC's history.

Founded in 1950, the New York City-based NCC has, for more than half a century, remained faithful to the legacy of its forerunner, the Communist front-group known as the Federal Council of Churches. At one time an unabashed apostle of the Communist cause, the NCC has today recast itself as a leading representative of the so-called religious Left. Adhering to what it has described as "liberation theology"--that is, Marxist ideology disguised as Christianity--the NCC lays claim to a membership of 36 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christian denominations, and some 50 million members in over 140,000 congregations.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the NCC has soft-pedaled its radical message, dressing up its demands for global collectivization and its rejection of democratic capitalism in the garb of religious teachings. Yet the organization's history suggests that it was--and remains--a devout backer of a gallery of socialist governments. In the 1950s and 1960s, under cover of charity, the NCC provided financial succor to the Communist regimes in Yugoslavia and Poland, funneling money to both through its relief agency, the Church World Service. In the 1970s, working with its Geneva-based parent organization, the World Council of Churches, the NCC supplied financial support for Soviet-sponsored incursions into Africa, aiding the terrorist rampages of Communist guerillas in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, and Angola.

As well, NCC coffers played a key role in the establishment of the Program to Combat Racism (PCR)--later to become one of the primary founts of revenue for Marxist fighters in the Third World. In 1978, $85,000 from the PCR helped underwrite a chain of atrocities in Rhodesia perpetrated by the Marxist guerrilla force, the Patriotic Front. An August 1982 report by Reader's Digest showed that during the 1970s the PCR disbursed over $5 million to some 130 organizations in 30 countries. The NCC's line was that the funds were directed solely toward those organizations dedicated to fighting racism. In fact, over half the money wound up in the hands of Communist guerrillas, with over $78,000 going to Cuba's Soviet-sponsored MPLA to foment Communist revolution in Angola; some $120,000 directed to the Marxist FRELIMO in Mozambique; and another $832,000 to Namibia's communist regime, the SWAPO.

Other beneficiaries of the NCC's leftist philanthropy included El Salvador's Sandinista guerrillas. Using the Evangelical Committee for Aid to Development (CEPAD), an organization established to distribute the charity donations collected by U.S. churches in Latin America--and whose leadership openly professed solidarity with the Sandinistas' Marxist aims--the NCC made common cause with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, contributing nearly $400,000 to the Sandinista Party between 1981 and 1983. Documents seized from El Salvador's guerrillas in 1983 revealed yet another Communist group on the take from the NCC's collection plate.

Another of the NCC's leftist faith-based initiatives is support for Communist Cuba. Having pushed for the United States to normalize relations with the Castro regime since 1968, the NCC throughout the Cold War pressed its considerable authority on moral issues into the service of whitewashing the hard-line regime's record of oppression. In 1977, after heading a delegation of American church officials to Cuba, the Methodist bishop James Armstrong, who would be elected NCC president the following year, issued a report that may justifiably be described as supportive of the murderous dictatorship. "There is a significant difference between situations where people are imprisoned for opposing regimes designed to perpetuate inequities, as in Chile and Brazil, for example, and situations were people are imprisoned for opposing regimes designed to remove inequities, as in Cuba," Armstrong insisted.

On the rare occasions that the NCC didn't provide public rationalization for Communist repression, it communicated its support through silence. For example, despite its oft-declared commitment to human rights, the NCC could find little to say about the ascension to power of Ethiopia's Marxist government, which left 10,000 dead and shuttered 200 churches. Likewise, on the matter of the Soviet Union's 1978 invasion of Afghanistan, the NCC kept conspicuously mum.

Not until the Soviet Union's collapse did the NCC see it fit to weigh in on the subject of Communist oppression. In 1993, Joan Brown Campbell, a former NCC General Secretary, made a striking admission. Acknowledging that the NCC had failed to challenge the brutality of Communist rule, she explained, "We did not understand the depth of the suffering of Christians under Communism. And we failed to really cry out under the Communist oppression." Campbell's comments, however, did not prompt the NCC to withdraw its support for Communist totalitarianism. On the contrary, to this day the NCC remains an unwavering ally of the Cuban government. Still pressing for the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba--the NCC's Edgar has condemned President Bush's hostility to the Castro regime, insisting that "this president is blind and continues to encourage blindness in others"--the NCC continues to evince scant concern for the plight of victims of the Castro regime. On occasion, the NCC has even turned against them. Not long after the NCC used its charity arm, the Church World Service, to establish a Cuban Refugee Emergency Center in Miami, it soured on the center. The reason was that Cuban refugees had regularly denounced the Cuban government--an outcry that was intolerable to the NCC's Castro-friendly executives. In the words of one NCC declaration, such outcries "abetted our government's effort to discredit Cuba" and "encouraged humanitarian sentiment that generated hostile attitudes toward Cuba among U.S. congregations."

In January of 2000, eager to affirm its Castroite sympathies, the NCC forced itself into the controversy over the fate of Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, becoming one of the loudest voices demanding that the boy be sent back to Cuba. Most recently, in January of 2004, the NCC dispatched a delegation of church leaders to Cuba for a six-day visit. NCC spokesmen claimed that, in addition to paying a visit to Havana churches, the delegates intended to discuss with Castro himself the fate of 75 political prisoners jailed by the dictator in 2003. But if an NCC statement was any indication, the delegates had no intention of seriously pressing for the prisoners' release. The NCC's only bone of contention was, "We find [their] sentences excessive."

This should not be taken to mean that the NCC has been wholly silent on the issue of human rights. The organization continues to issue press releases decrying abhorrent human rights conditions around the world. However, the countries that the NCC chooses to single out for opprobrium show the extent to which the organization's religious mission has been corrupted by its radical leftist politics. One study, conducted by the Institute of Religion and Democracy in September 2004, found that "of the seven human rights criticisms it issued from 2000-2003, Israel received four, the United States two, and Sudan one." Moreover, the study noted, "Fully 80 percent of the NCC resolutions targeting foreign nations for human rights abuses were aimed at Israel."

The NCC's programmatic opposition to U.S. foreign policy is another manifestation of its deep-rooted leftist politics. Taking refuge in the counsel of the New Testament -- "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9) -- the NCC has repeatedly condemned U.S. military interventions. In 1991, the NCC played a central role in The Return of the Peace Movement, a coalition of leftwing religious groups arrayed against the first Gulf war, when American forces repulsed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. At that time, the leaders of 32 NCC churches announced that the risk of military intervention was "out of proportion to any conceivable gain."

The NCC's assessment of the second Gulf War was equally dismissive. In January of 2003, the NCC's current president, Methodist preacher Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr, joined 46 other religious leaders in signing a letter to President Bush. The letter expressed the signatories' "continuing uneasiness about the moral justification for war on Iraq," and suggested that the President accord them the "opportunity to bring this message to you in person." Citing scheduling conflicts, Mr. Bush, through a spokesman, politely declined. John Kerry, on the other hand, proved a receptive vehicle for the NCC's pulpit pacifism. During an October 2004 campaign swing through Florida churches, the Democratic candidate, still struggling to stake out a tenable position on the Iraq war, found himself incanting from an NCC-authored list of 10 "Christian principles in an election year." The first principle held that "war is contrary to the will of God." In what was arguably the most desperate bid to rally religious opposition to the war, the NCC's Edgar even took to claiming that the U.S. military intended to massacre Iraqi civilians, declaring that, "The ordinary people in Iraq are going to be the targets of the bombing." Having failed to thwart U.S. military intervention, the NCC did not reconsider its reflexive opposition to U.S. policy following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. Rejecting the notion that America could play the role of a post-war peacemaker, the NCC, in May of 2004, issued yet another letter--which it encouraged member pastors to read to their congregations-- urging the U.S. to abdicate authority in Iraq in favor of the United Nations. "We would ask that members of our churches, as they feel appropriate, contact their respective congressional delegations to urge the U.S. to change course in Iraq," the letter noted.

Even as it has dissociated itself from U.S. foreign policy, the NCC has continuously injected itself into debates on domestic policy. Here, again, the NCC's strategy involves veiling its leftwing politics in expressions of religious faith. In 2002, the NCC was a party to an environmentalist campaign against the automobile industry. Called "What would Jesus drive?" the campaign, which exhorted car manufactures to embrace stricter emission standards, was engineered by the Evangelical Environmental Network, a coalition of left-leaning religious groups that views "'environmental' problems as fundamentally spiritual problems." The NCC also levied an opposition campaign against the Bush administration's environmental initiative, the Clean Air Act. In an ad placed in The New York Times, the NCC leadership wrote, "In a spirit of shared faith and respect, we feel called to express grave moral concern about your 'Clear Skies' initiative--which we believe is the Administration's continuous effort to weaken critical environmental standards to protect God's creation." Nor was this the first time that the NCC employed such tactics. While proclaiming the virtues of the Kyoto protocol in 1998, the NCC's then-General Secretary, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, insisted that an acceptance of the [radical] environmentalist movement's assertions about global warming ought to be made a "litmus test for the faith community."

Recently, however, the faith community has fallen prey to doubts about the NCC's mission. Prominent religious figures have voiced concerns that the NCC is less a spiritual than a political organization, consumed less with securing the souls of its parishioners than in attaining a future in line with its leftist agenda. Criticism of the NCC has issued from a number of religious groups, including Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and evangelicals, all of whom charge the NCC with elevating political activism above its spiritual calling.

Further complicating the NCC's situation is its history of financial mismanagement. Despite doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of various leftist causes, the NCC been saddled with fiscal woes. The NCC's leadership has long spent beyond the organization's means, and in 1998, the NCC found itself facing a deficit of $1.5 million. In 1999, NCC expenses exceeded total revenues by some $4 million. These budgetary shortfalls have compelled the NCC to appeal to its member denominations--seven of which account for 90 percent of the NCC's budget--to step up their contributions. For instance, in 1999 the NCC requested that its chief sponsor, the United Methodist Church, increase its yearly contribution of $2.5 million by an additional $700,000. Despite such stopgap measures, the NCC has proved incapable of reigning in spending. In 2002, records showed that the NCC continued to spend 30 percent more than it received, with the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA responsible for 64 percent of NCC revenues. The support of the United Methodist Church is of particular importance to the NCC. According to the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, a chronicle of church membership published by the NCC and edited by the NCC Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning, Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, the United Methodist Church has recently experienced small declines in membership. Other NCC member churches have not faired as well. Partially as a consequence of growing dissatisfaction with the radical agenda espoused by the NCC's leadership, many of these churches have suffered a precipitous decline in their membership.

That has prompted the NCC to turn elsewhere for support. Compensating somewhat for sagging private donations, the NCC has received funding from a handful of left-wing foundations in recent years. In 2000, the NCC took in $100,000 from the Ford Foundation; $149,400 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2000-20001; $150,000 from the Beldon Fund in 2001; $500,000 from the Lilly Endowment in 2002; $50,000 from the Rasmussen Foundation in 2003 and $75,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund that same year.

Such support has allowed the NCC to stave off some of its fiscal troubles. However, it has done little to counter the contention of critics that the NCC, far from doing God's work, serves as little more than a vehicle to advance the left-wing interests of its leaders. The NCC's November 1 event in Miami did little to dispel these charges. Under the banner of "Let Justice Roll: Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty," the pre-election gathering became a makeshift rally for the John Kerry campaign, with Democratic Senator Bob Graham serving as the Democratic candidate's personal envoy. But it was the presence of another activist that revealed volumes about the NCC's controversial position within the religious community, and indicated just how, as Robert Edgar puts it, the organization interprets God's will. That activist? None other than Michael Moore.

Read this article on the Front Page Magazine website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

Posted: 1/15/05



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