Methodist Agency speaks truth to power against IRD propaganda
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Tue May 23, 2006 at 11:43:45 AM EST
[ editor's note : this story, by TTA member cross and flame, has been promoted from the member post section ]

"Earlier last month, the Institute on Religion and Democracy sent a letter to most (if not every) United Methodist conference and leader urging a petition of censure against the agency of the UMC that speaks out regularly on social justice issues and is often the counter-opinion to the IRD.  The following is the rebuttal and point-by-point response by that agency: the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC.

 Here's a teaser:We alert you to a resolution attacking the GBCS that is being circulated by the IRD.   The IRD has forwarded this draft resolution to United Methodists around the United States asking them to submit it to their annual conferences for consideration and approval. The hostile nature of this resolution and its inaccuracies concern us and demand a response...We are providing you with the text of the IRD draft resolution along with a point by point response from the GBCS.
NOTE: Cross-posted at StreetProphets.  Thanks to Frederick Clarkson for the call to post it here.

Here it is, formatted for your pleasure.  The Entire Letter is encased in the #### with the IRD's accusations in italics.


  Dear Annual Conference Leader:

Greetings in the name of ourLord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We alert you to a resolution attacking the General Board of Church and Society that is being circulatedby the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). The IRDhas forwarded this draft resolution to United Methodists around theUnited States asking them to submit it to their annual conferences forconsideration and approval. The hostile nature of this resolution andits inaccuracies concern us and demand a response.

No one at the IRD has directly contacted or informed The General Board of Church and Society aboutthis resolution or its accusations. Neither our General Secretary northe Board's directors have been invited to respond to its charges.We have, however, been asked by numerous United Methodists for helpin responding to and defeating this resolution if it is presented onthe conference floor.

We are providing you with the text of the IRD draft resolution along with a point by point responsefrom General Board of Church and Society. The actual resolution sentto your conference leadership may vary slightly. As you consider thisresolution, please keep the following in mind:

1. Many people mistakenly believe that the IRD has some official standing in relation to The United Methodist Church. It does not. Most members of the IRD board and most of their staffare not even members of The United Methodist Church. The IRD is in noway accountable to the General Conference or any other United Methodistbody. According to the IRD website there are three United Methodistsemployed by Institute for Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley, JohnLamperis and Jerald Walz.

2. The IRD has focused its work on "reforming" the Washington public policy offices of the mainline denominations. These include The Presbyterian Church (USA), TheEpiscopal Church and The United Methodist Church. IRD program budgetfor 2004-2008 is $3.76 million --71 percent of whichisto be used to target the United Methodist Church.

A study by indicates that a great deal of IRD's financial support comes from conservativefoundations. Citing a profile by the International Relations CenterPublicEye says: "IRD received about $3.9 million between 1985 and2002 from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation,John M. Olin Foundation, Castle Rock Foundation, The Carthage Foundation,and JM Foundation."


Also - Right-Web,<wbr>/profile/1496;see also, Andrew Weaver and Nicole Seibert, "Special Report: `Followthe Money' Documenting the Right's Well Heeled Assault on the UMC,"

Zion's Herald
, January/February 2004.

3.Roman Catholics make up the single largest denomination represented on the IRD board even though the IRD focuses it's work on "reforming" United Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians.

 IRD Board includes six Roman Catholics, three members of thePresbyterian (USA), one member of Presbyterian Church in America, two Episcopalians, and one Anglican. The United Methodist board members are: Helen Stumbo, Rev. Ira Galloway, Rev. EdRobb III and David Stanley. No member of the IRD board has been appointedby any official body of the United Methodist Church.

4.The newly appointed IRD President, James Tonkowich, is not a member of any of the targeted denominations. Mr. Tonkowichis a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, not the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Presbyterian Church in Americais described by the Handbook of Denominations as "a separationfrom the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) becauseof the southern Presbyterians' perceived liberalism, lack of commitmentto Scriptural inerrancy, openness to women clergy, affiliation withNational Council of Churches, and movement toward merger with the UnitedPresbyterian Church in the USA (Northern). (Handbook of Denominationsin the United States, Frank S. Mead, Nashville: Abingdon Press,1985. pages 215-216

5. The General Board of Church and Society, by contrast, is an official body of the United Methodist Church, established by and fully accountable to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The Board is comprised of 63 elected United Methodist members representing each of the U.S. jurisdictions: NorthCentral Jurisdiction--13,  Northeastern Jurisdiction--14,  South CentralJurisdiction--17,  Southeast Jurisdiction--18,  Western Jurisdiction--9,as well as 5 members from jurisdictions beyond the United States. SixUnited Methodist Bishops serve on the board, one from each of the UnitedStates Jurisdictions and one from the Central Conferences.

Resolution drafted by Institute for Religion and Democracy

(Text of the resolution is italics and our response is in bold.)

April 3, 2006

Methodist Resolution Calling for Accountability

Steve Rempe, Institute for Religion and Democracy

    WHEREAS the staff of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) of the United Methodist Church has at different times advanced political positions that are directly contrary to the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church (such as promoting neo-pacifism and lobbying for U.S. taxpayer funds being used to promote abortion as a means of birth control);


  • The IRD implies  that the GBCS staff members act alone and without accountability in  responding to current social issues. In fact, all staff are accountable  to the General Secretary who, in turn, is accountable to the elected  members of the Board. The authority of the General Board rests  in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,  The Social Principles and the nearly 1000 pages of  The Book of Resolutions which are all official statements of  our General Conference.

  • The word "neo-pacifism"  is an invented term without meaning. Nonetheless, concerning war,  both in general and in the present time, the  United Methodist Church and its General Conference have not been silent.

  • In the  unchanging General Rules, printed in the  Discipline of 1808, it states, "We believe war and bloodshed  are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ." (Paragraph 103,  Article 16 Civil Government)

  • The Social  Principles state, "We believe war is incompatible with the  teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an  instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last  resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression  of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. We insist  that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means  every dispute that arises between or among them..." (Paragraph  165, B)

  • The Book  of Resolutions 2004

       provides further guidance on the current war. One example reads,  "The United Methodist Church strongly protests all unilateral first-strike  actions and strategies on the part of any government or military force  and calls on the President and Congress of the United States to cease  and desist from such actions without ratification by and collaboration  with, the United Nations." (Resolution 339) The General Board  of Church and Society uses guidance such as this to formulate its positions.

    The General Board of Church and Society does not and has neversupported using U.S. taxpayer funds to promote abortion as a means ofbirth control. Our Social Principles explicitly say that abortion shouldnever be used as a means of birth control (Paragraph 161. II. J). "Wecannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, andwe unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection." TheIRD's statement is patently false.

WHEREAS the GBCS has taken one-sided positions on controversial political issueson which the General Conference has not taken a position, and on whichthe grassroots United Methodists who fund the GBCS are not of one mind(such as opposing the war in Iraq);


  • The IRD implies  that the General Board of Church and Society should not speak unless  a majority of United Methodists have expressed agreement with a given  position. Elected members of the General Conference, seeking the guidance  of the Holy Spirit, and through a process of "holy conferencing",  express the will of the church through the Discipline and the Book of  Resolutions when it directs the General Board of Church and Society  and its executives to "provide forthright witness and action on issues  of human well-being, justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.."  (Paragraph 1004) . Ministry calls us to  faithfully transform the world, not simply confirm the status quo.  The Christian call to prophetic ministry will indeed sometimes be controversial.Just  as pastors and congregations must not shy away from prophetic preaching  and action, so the church as a whole must boldly speak to the challenging  issues our world faces.

  • The Biblical model of propheticministry clearly supports the role of the church as a voice of challengeto "the powers that be." It is an uncomfortable role tobe sure, but one faithfully assumed by Moses, Esther, Nathan, Jeremiah,Isaiah, Micah as well as Jesus, Peter, Paul, and many others.The church continues to affirm a place for prophets in today's world,critiquing the actions of those in positions of leadership, and boldlyspeaking truth to power.

  • It is important  to remember that The United Methodist Church is an international body,  made up of members in the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Philippines.  The positions of the church cannot be bound or accommodated to the public  policy positions of particular nations. The Church through the General  Conference speaks, to the best of its abilities, for peace and justice  throughout the world.

WHEREAS GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler equated "so-called Christianacademies and home schooling" in America with Islamic madrassahsin Pakistan known for breeding terrorism (March 6, 2005 speech to MethodistFederation for Social Action Spring Event);


  • The actual text  of Jim Winkler's speech is here. What  he said was this:

    Now, it occurs to me that extremist, shall we say "Christianist," forces have been encouraged in thiscountry as well. Certainly, politicians work hard to curry favor withthem and their increasing cries of persecution--they can't get the10 Commandments posted in public places or have crèche sets placedin the town square or have their floats entered in public parades andthey have to put up with gay and lesbian people and so forth has createdquite a stir. Meanwhile, they are building a virtual alternative societyclosing themselves off insofar as possible from the rest of us. In Pakistan,the United States is deeply concerned with the madrassahs, that is,the private fundamentalist Islamist schools. Here we have so-calledChristian academies and home schooling, our own form of madrassahs.

  • United Methodists have  been consistent proponents of public education stating strong support  for policies that "ensure access for all persons to free public elementary  and secondary schools and to post-secondary schools of their choice." (Social  Principles, Paragraph 164.V.E)

  • The Book of  Resolutions further states, "As a consequence of inequities  in our society, we have a moral responsibility to support, strengthen,  and reform public schools....Our heritage should lead us to defend the  public schools, and to rejoice that they now more nearly reflect the  racial, ethnic, and religious diversity of our country than they have  ever done before." (Resolution 263, I)

  • Opposition must  be expressed toward any fundamentalist groups--Muslim, Jewish,  Hindu or Christian--that use religion to instill  in students a spirit of hatred, intolerance, or violence toward persons  of other nations, races or  faiths. Groups that absent  themselves from engaging in civic dialogue or who reject the value of  a society made up of a plurality of  beliefs, do not express the love we believe is due to all of God's children.  The United Methodist Church should not be intimidated by those who would  say it cannot speak out against any educational curriculum that  may promote hatred, violence, and exclusion embedded in religious instruction.  

WHEREAS without the consent of the full GBCS Board, the GBCS staff gave theagency's unqualified endorsement to an April 25, 2004 abortion-rightsmarch that included much hateful rhetoric against "pro-life"Christians and repeated defenses of partial-birth abortions opposedby the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church (Paragraph 161J),as well as explicit endorsements of Senator John Kerry's Presidentialcampaign;


  • The Social  Principles say: "In continuity with past Christian teaching, we  recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion,  and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper  medical procedures." (Paragraph 161.II.J)

  • The March for  Women's Lives addressed many issues strongly supported in the  Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions, including comprehensive health care for women, reproductive  rights and family planning including safe and legal access to abortion,  freedom to choose to have or not to have children, justice (freedom  from poverty, racism, trafficking, sexism, incarceration), freedom from  oppression and violence, and civil and human rights for women around  the world. At  any event, participants may be participating for a variety of reasons--even  conflicting reasons. Had the march been exclusively to preserve the  right to abortion under all circumstances, the Board would not have  endorsed it.

  • The General Board  of Church and Society never endorsed the campaign of Senator John Kerry  for President. Nor would it ever endorse any other candidate for public  office. The church does not endorse candidates for public office.

WHEREAS in subsequent public correspondence with United Methodist pastor Paul Stallsworth, GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler refused to apologizefor endorsing the abortion rights march and refused to repudiate anyof the hateful rhetoric employed at that event against abortion opponents;


  • As already stated,  the March for Women's Lives was endorsed because it fit the criteria  of supporting the preservation of "the legal option of abortion."  GBCS does not pre-screen the speeches of other participants in marches  and would not do so. Neither Jim Winkler, nor any staff member  of the GBCS engaged in any hateful rhetoric against abortion opponents.  Rev. Stallworth, who heads Lifewatch, a group that advocates an end  to all abortion rights for women, was apparently offended by other speakers  and should have addressed his comments to them.  Even though the Lifewatch position is contrary to the  "abortion as a legal option" position of the United Methodist Church,  the GBCS welcomes Lifewatch to The United Methodist Building each year  when the group hosts a worship service in  Simpson Memorial Chapel.  

WHEREAS GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler has denigrated America's men andwomen in uniform, denouncing the"oppressive imperial army" ofthe United States ("The World in Which We Wish to Live" sermondelivered March 5, 2004 at Ecumenical Advocacy Days for Global PeaceWith Justice);


  • In this charge,  the IRD quotes three words from a paragraph that is actually about economics.  It addresses the enormous slice of U.S. defense spending as a portion  of the nation's budget. He was not speaking about troops.

  • General Secretary  Winkler has never denigrated "America's men and women in uniform."  This is a false statement.  The Book of Resolutions states, "General Conference honors,  supports, and upholds in our prayers those men and women who serve in  our armed services..." (Resolution 268)  At the same time, Jim Winkler, along with our United Methodist Council  of Bishops and many other United Methodist leaders, has forthrightly  opposed the war in Iraq and subsequent US military occupation.But, the  responsibility for war must lie with those in authority, not the soldiers  on the ground.

WHEREAS GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler endorsed an advertisement that denigrated the Christian faith of fellow United Methodist George W. Bush simplybecause of disagreements over public policy decisions (Christian Centurymagazine April 5, 2003);


  • Jim Winkler has  never denigrated the validity of the U.S. president's religious faith;  only God can know the heart of any individual. He has called into question the Christian  nature of the President's actions. In considering the actions of the  U.S. president, it is important that one be able to ask,  "Are the actions taken by the U.S. president (or  any other public official) in  keeping with "the Gospel and Spirit of Christ and the Social Principles of the church?"  

  • The IRD implies  that criticism of the policies of the President is not acceptable if  the President is a Christian. All Americans  - including members of the United Methodist Church  - have a constitutional right to express their opinions in public,  even if they disagree with the President. It is, therefore, perfectly  appropriate to join in the public debate about actions taken by the  U.S. president and his administration which are judged to be contrary  to the positions taken by the General Conference of The United Methodist  Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our bishops and other leaders  of The United Methodist Church have also found  it necessary to make statements which are critical of the administration's  policies and actions.

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the _ Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church hereby calls on GBCS General Secretary Jim Winkler to publiclyapologize for and repent of harsh and unloving public statements thathe has made against more conservative Christians;


  • The Bible challenges all Christians to"speak the truth in love."(Ephesians 4:15)True love at times requires that one speak words that challenge theactions and words of others.

    "God's world is one world..." and "We commit ourselves as a church to the achievementof a world community that is a fellowship of persons who honestly loveone another. (Social Principles, Paragraph 165.VI) Whenconservative Christians leaders or groups reject the concept that, "Asindividuals are affirmed by God in their diversity, so are nations andcultures." (Social Principles, Paragraph 165, VI A), then,in the name of love, their positions must be challenged.


_ Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church calls on the GBCS to refrain from taking positionson divisive political issues on which the General Conference has notspecifically spoken;


  • United Methodists have always been called upon to apply the positions of the church in particular contexts and situations.As the Preface to the  Social Principles states, "members have often taken forthright  positions on controversial issues involving Christian principles."  John Wesley preached boldly and advocated in the public square against  slavery, beverage alcohol, war, economic injustice, colonialism, debtors'  prisons, illiteracy, and environmental degradation. Nineteenth century  Methodist women took the lead in organizing for temperance, suffrage,  child labor laws, and workers' rights, as well as  against gambling.

  • It is the assigned purpose of the GBCS "to relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the members of the Church and to the persons and structures of the communities  and world in which they live." (Discipline, Paragraph  1002) Using the guidance of United Methodists throughout the world,  as expressed through their General Conference, the General Board of  Church and Society will continue to "speak to the human issues  in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation  as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions." (Social  Principles, Preface)


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be sent to GBCSGeneral Secretary Jim Winkler as well as to each current GBCS Boardmember.

Date: 3/2/2006


Well, there you have it.  Thoughts?"

their argument is to throw Biblical passages right back at them. The beauty (if you can call it that) of the Bible used for argument's sake is that it is rather contradictory and all over the map as far as politics, family values, personal responsibility, ethics, etc. Whether Christians agree with this or not, the IRD and many conservative (and fundamentalist) Christian groups have used the Bible's passages to justify the most atrocious view and actions (a practice not unique to Christianity). Liberal Christian scholars need to come back at them with passages fast and furious - perhaps this can make the whole "it says it in the Bible so it must be true" argument moot.

But, alas, I doubt it. We just end up with endless Hatfields and McCoys shooting at each other, USING religion as the excuse (when, for the IRD, just like Alkida, it's really politics after all).

by joelp on Tue May 23, 2006 at 01:14:33 PM EST

Is that the Christian right has greater broadcast capability, so it can desseminate it's "Biblical" slant more widely.

It's necessary to go after the frames themselves - in this case ( at least ) the claiming of the term "biblical".

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 24, 2006 at 08:58:13 AM EST

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