Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

A Tale of Two Fundraising Letters

John Lomperis

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In 2005, the NCC provoked controversy with a strident fundraising letter sent to thousands of churches earlier this year. The Antiochian Orthodox Church quit the NCC in part because of the letter's pungent political tone. The NCC sheepishly explained that its "development office" had not properly cleared the letter before mailing it over the signature of its chief, Bob Edgar.

But the hyperbolic fundraising tone is nothing new for Edgar. A fundraising letter for his 1982 re-election campaign as a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, like his 2005 fundraising letter for the NCC, begins by sounding the alarm about the scary plans for America of his allegedly powerful "right-wing" enemies. In both letters, Edgar then goes on to extol his own leadership in bravely standing up to these foes while stressing the urgency of supporting him in his fight.

Both letters carry an alarmist tone that portrays Edgar's opponents as terribly sinister and warn of dire consequences for America if Edgar does not fight back hard enough. In both letters, Edgar denounces his enemies for allegedly having a "fundamentalist" and "radical right" perspective that fails to adequately appreciate "diversity" and "tolerance." And in both letters, Edgar stresses that he strongly opposes the current (Republican) U.S. President and other prominent political conservative leaders.

While this central focus on us-against-them divisiveness is standard fare for partisan election campaigns, it hardly seems appropriate for church leaders.

In fact, at an NCC-supported conference on "Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right," Edgar was asked directly if "we" should reach out to religious conservatives or only fight them. In his response, Edgar indicated no desire to do the former, and only spoke of how he wanted political liberals to focus on becoming better organized. He also shared that he instructs NCC staffers to ignore criticisms of the council raised by conservatives.

In his role as NCC leader, Edgar has repeatedly referred to his past career as an elected politician, boasting of having been one of the "most liberal" members of the House of Representatives. It appears that Edgar has sought to use the NCC to continue the same political struggles from his time in Congress.

Many of the themes in Congressman Bob Edgar's 1982 fundraising letter (left) are revisited in an NCC fundraising letter from 2005 (right). (Click on letter to view. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.) For instance, As NCC general secretary, Edgar has attacked the "narrow" morality of pro-life activists. As a congressman, Edgar attacked pro-lifers for "demand[ing] totalitarian dedication to a narrow fundamentalist vision of morality."

Given the partnerships that Edgar has built between the NCC and liberal groups like MoveOn.org and People for the American Way, and his preference for their kind of rhetoric, perhaps he would be happier working for them than for an ostensibly ecumenical Christian church council.

Read the entire article on the Institute on Religion and Democracy website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission of The Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Posted: 04-Dec-05

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