The financially and demographically struggling National Council of Churches (NCC) is mulling over a new "Social Creed for the 21st Century" that will succinctly articulate its left-leaning political activism. Many of the NCC's heterodox officials and activist supporters could not affirm traditional Christian theological creeds. For them, political creeds are the desired alternative.
This new creed is supposed to update the Social Creed of 1908 developed by the NCC's predecessor church council, and which focused on rights for laborers, child labor laws, and old age pensions. The NCC, and its predecessor Federal Council of Churches, were founded by religious and political progressives. Not until the1960's did far-left radicalism began to displace the NCC's formerly mainstream liberalism.
"It is not enough to celebrate the centennial of the 1908 social creed," a Presbyterian drafter told the NCC's General Assembly in November 2007. "It can strengthen the common witness of our communions on a broad range of social concerns -- far broader than in 1908." NCC officials commonly believe that their declining council can be rejuvenated by new injections of left-wing causes. But the more estranged the NCC politicized officers and staff become from the still largely conservative members of its denominations, the faster the NCC's decline accelerates.
The recently departed NCC chief the Rev. Bob Edgar, now the new head of Common Cause, supposedly had rescued the New York-based NCC from financial ruin. Temporarily, Edgar had succeeded by gaining left-wing foundation funding for the NCC's political programs, even as denominational money continued to decline. But eventually, the NCC's growing addiction to secular left wing dollars could not be sustained. And even the NCC's board was discomfited by Edgar's high octane activism. The new NCC chief, the Rev. Michael Livingston, is taking power amid reorganization and staff reductions. According to a report by my colleague Ralph Webb, Livingston warned the NCC's General Assembly of further turmoil: "It's been frustrating, the tension, conflict, and we're surely not beyond that ... in the future," while another NCC official regretted that the NCC "face[s] difficult days ahead." The new Social Creed will not likely ignite a sufficient revival to restore the NCC to its former prestige.
Supposedly this new Social Creed responds to the "concerns of churches and peoples around our globe." But actually, it expresses the skewed and statist fixations of left-leaning mainline Protestants in North American. The NCC explained the need for an updated Creed by asserting "some challenges seem greater [than in 1908], as the costs and consequences of war and the persistence of racism meet massive environmental degradation." In explaining the new Creed, the NCC intoned: "Global warming threatens our very existence; and "divisions of wealth [are] etched along lines of race and gender;" and most people seem resigned to accept the "present shape of our global market system and fail to see that any alternatives may exist." The NCC claimed that "divisions between the rich and the poor grow wider by the day," and explained that he Creed was "written in the face of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan , and the danger of additional war in the Middle East and elsewhere."
The Creed itself demands "employment for all at a family-sustaining living wage, full "economic rights" that are "protected by new governance structures," greater emphasis on public education, a "de-racialized" criminal justice system, "universal healthcare," more effective social security, "tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor," "equitable global trade," "sustainable" and "alternative" energy sources, "mutual security rather than unilateral force," a "strengthened United Nations, and a "redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses."
Unmentioned by the updated Creed is the vast improvement in living standards for all Americans since the 1908 manifesto. Every segment of American society is wealthier, healthier, longer-lived, has access to greater educational possibilities and has better occupational, domestic and transportation safety. The 1908 creed omitted any reference to racism and segregation, but racial discrimination is now banned and organized racism is now largely banished, though the new Creed claims the criminal justice system perpetuates it. By many measures, the world is also less prone to war than it was a century ago, when countless colonial wars raged, and when the great powers were busily arming for the impending disaster of World War I.
Accurately, the NCC's new president, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian told the NCC's General Assembly in November, "We Christians, we thought the 20th century was going to be a century of peace and prosperity, and we were wrong! ... [The 20th century was] a century of bloodshed." But the left-leaning mainline Protestants who dominate the NCC are loath to recognize the persistence of human sinfulness. Instead, they assume an array of government or multilateral initiatives, backed by the right motivations and sufficient funding, will extinguish poverty and war forever.
Now, as in 1908, the church council focuses nearly exclusively on the power of the state to impose its secularized vision of God's Kingdom. Universal health care, more public education, more social security, redistributive tax policies, and restricted global trade. The only wars that seem to concern the NCC's Creed writers are those waged by the U.S. That U.S. power, and not the United Nations, deters countless other wars goes unacknowledged. The role of church, family, cultural traditions, and other mediating institutions in creating a more just society are likewise and revealingly unmentioned.
Even more lost upon the clueless NCC is the disastrous impact on mainline churches by the Social Gospel, as embodied by the 1908 Creed, upon mainline churches. Setting aside the transcendent truths of Christianity, the Social Gospel's proponents shrank and enervated America 's once leading religious bodies by promoting materialistic and statist solutions to what are ultimately spiritual problems.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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