July 22, 2009

Missions and Marxism

The following article originally appeared on the the FrontPage Magazine website, and is reproduced with permission.

During the 1980’s, United Methodist Church missionaries toiled in Nicaragua, not planting churches or winning souls, but flaking for the Sandinista experiment with Central American Marxism.  Today, some of those missionaries have reemerged to agitate for Honduras’ ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya, whom the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court, with the military, removed for attempting unconstitutionally to prolong his presidency.   

Zelaya’s “overthrow was carried out in violation of Honduran law,” and “those who today control the de facto government of Honduras have no legitimate right to do so,” declared 36 United Methodist missionaries currently or previously in Latin America, in a public statement. Conspiratorially, they implored President Obama to investigate “any involvement of U.S. government-related agencies, including the International Republican Institute, in encouraging or preparing the rupture of the democratic process in Honduras.”

The independent IRI, along with its Democratic Party counterpart, receives U.S. Government funding to promote democracy overseas.  The missionaries’ reference to IRI is a little odd.  But a World Council of Churches story about their pronouncement darkly recalls that IRI allegedly “supported and trained opposition parties and leaders during a 2004 coup in Haiti,” which sent radical ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide into early retirement after his third time as president.

“Given the long record of the U.S government in subverting genuine democracy throughout the region, it is important that your commitment to justice and democracy be reflected by the entire U.S. government,” the Methodists told Obama. They insisted he “take whatever diplomatic and economic steps are necessary” to restore Zelaya to power.

The missionaries commended Obama for having condemned the coup as “illegal,” while lamenting that the U.S. and others had “failed to restore democracy in Honduras, and the Honduran people have paid a heavy price, suffering from media censorship and other serious restrictions to their fundamental human liberties.”  They urged a “precedent throughout the region that democratically elected governments cannot be overthrown without a robust and timely regional response.”

For some of these missionaries, the interest in “human liberties” and democracy is selective, as they spent years defiantly defending Sandinista tyranny in Nicaragua, despite its repression of political opposition, churches and independent media. Missionary signers Paul Jeffrey, Lyda Pierce, Howard and Peggy Heiner penned a different letter in 1985, addressed to their United Methodist bishops, decrying U.S. “aggression” against the Sandinista regime, and claiming religious and political freedom in Nicaragua.  They nonchalantly asserted:  “If you are not a Contra [anti-Sandinista rebel] you don’t have anything to worry about.”  

“We witness no general repression of religion in Nicaragua today,” the pro-Sandinista missionaries insisted then.  “There is, however, repression of the right to commit treason.”  They even condemned “some sectors” of the Nicaraguan religious community, including the Roman Catholic hierarchy, for having “abused their freedoms of religion and speech to actively work in support of the counterrevolution.”  The Methodists faulted these defiant religious counterrevolutionaries for failing to “register” publications and “misrepresenting draft evaders” as seminarians.   Religious leftists evidently support the draft, and oppose conscientious objection, when the military is upholding Marxism!  The missionaries also defended the Sandinista imprisonment of several Protestant pastors who had supposedly urged breaking the law by “not complying with the Patriotic Military Service,” which is “similarly illegal” in the U.S.  The pastors denied the allegation, but naturally the missionaries believed the Sandinista claims.

According to the 1985 Methodist missionaries’ letter, religious dissenters had “forced” the Sandinista regime to act in a way “easy to misconstrue outside the country as repression of religious freedom.”   The Sandinistas have “the right to protect the Nicaragua people from sabotage and aggression,” the missionaries insisted.  In Nicaragua, there is only “repression of the right to commit treason.”  After all, the Sandinistas were “building a society which makes a positive option for the poor,” a popular buzz phrase for Liberation Theology zealots.  Standing with the Sandinistas  was a “painful privilege,” the Methodists boasted,” as they “bury the victims of terrorism,” and yet still “ love” the U.S. missionaries, despite America’s “evil policy in Central America,” which is the “cause of their martyrdom.”

The Methodist missionaries in Nicaragua during the 1980’s worked for a pro-Sandinista relief group, CEPAD, which was also funded by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.   Said one CEPAD official in 1984:  “We not only support the Sandinista government, but we are immersed in the revolution.”  The missionaries and CEPAD faithfully hosted visiting delegation from the U.S. to highlight supposed revolutionary successes while pointing to the “terrorism” of anti-Sandinista counterrevolutionary activity.

In 1990, when international pressure and the global collapse of communism compelled the Sandinistas to allow free elections, they were defeated.  Wilson Boots, one of the Methodist missionaries who signed the recent letter demanding restoration for the ousted leftist Honduran president, in 1990 faulted the Sandinista electoral defeat on the “aggressive U.S. policy of armed intervention by mercenary soldiers – the contras – and the economic embargo,” which was an “effective weapon of destruction and domination in the war against Nicaragua.”   His wife Nora Boots, another signer of the Honduran letter, was director of United Methodism’s Latin American missions in the 1980’s and infamously declared that the “press is much freer in Cuba” than in the U.S.

Years of Cold War support for the Sandinistas, as well as their Cuban patrons, should have inspired ideological reevaluation by these Methodist missionaries.  But the fall of old-style Soviet-backed Communism evidently taught them little.  In their recent letter about Honduras, the missionaries hail “recent governments in the region that now give adequate attention to those on the margins of society,” obviously referring to leftist regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere.  The rise of a new Latin Socialism, embodied by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, who is now patron to ousted Honduran President Zelaya, has evidently fired up the once stilled embers of aging missionaries, who still dream of revolution.

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