The NCC website acknowledges significant differences in doctrine and practice among the 35 denominations. Nevertheless, through the council all those denominations are said to "cooperate in many joint programs of education, advocacy and service that address critically important needs and that witness to our common faith in Jesus Christ." In recent years, the NCC has also committed itself to "expand the ecumenical vision." A resolution of the 2000 NCC General Assembly sought to include Roman Catholics, evangelicals, and Pentecostals in a "new national expression of Christian life, faith and action."
The reality of the NCC has always fallen short of its high ideals. Articulating a "common faith in Jesus Christ" has not been a high priority for the council, as measured by its budgets, news releases, and publications. Instead the stress has fallen upon a "prophetic" social witness (i.e., taking positions on controversial political issues).
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Of the $5.4 million in program expenses reported by the NCC for its fiscal year 2005-2006, only $350,000 (6.5 percent) went for "Faith and Order"--the core enterprise of seeking unity in doctrine and mutual recognition of ministries among the various Christian denominations. (See Chart 3 below. See also Appendix B.) By contrast, $2.1 million (39.1 percent) went for "Justice and Advocacy"--by far the largest category of expense.
In addition, much of the $1.2 million (22.6 percent) spent on "Communication"--the second largest category of expense--also dealt with political issues. "Faithful America," the council's web-based political advocacy program, is counted as communications. So are the strongly political NCC news releases (see analysis below). Meetings sponsored by the NCC Communications Commission often feature political speeches.5
Likewise, training for political advocacy figured prominently in the $690,000 (12.8 percent) spent on "Education and Leadership." A political agenda was also a factor in the $300,000 (5.6 percent) spent on "Interfaith Relations."6 (Relief and development work is no longer done by the NCC. That work is carried out by the administratively and financially independent Church World Service. The NCC also has no programs in the area of evangelism, in the sense of inviting non-believers to place their faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.)
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