See also Part Two: The Core of the Problem
The recently announced changing of the guard at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) of the United Methodist Church is a good occasion for reviewing what has made this offering-plate-apportionments-funded agency so controversial in the life of our denomination.
This first (non-comprehensive) list is of some of the GBCS’s most striking approaches to social issues under the leadership of its outgoing General Secretary, Jim Winkler, who has been in charge since 2000.
Such incidents are of concern for anyone concerned about the faithfulness and integrity of the United Methodist Church. They also raise serious questions, some of which I raise below, for liberal United Methodists who have reflexively defended Winkler and the GBCS as if they are incapable of wrongdoing.
Without further ado, here are some of the greatest hits of the last thirteen years of GBCS advocacy:
Steadfastly defending and supporting the work of the atheist-funded Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which opposes any and all legal restrictions on or even moral opposition to abortion. The UMC’s official abortion stance is a mixed bag, which we at IRD regret, although pro-lifers are hopeful for the future and it already contains pro-life elements that contrast sharply with the extremism of RCRC. But rather than challenge RCRC’s lack of moderation, the GBCS touts RCRC’s one-sided party line against key parts of the UMC position, devotes articles to promoting RCRC, and even pays summer interns to work for RCRC. I was told by one former GBCS staffer there that daring to challenge some of RCRC’s un-nuanced one-sidedness was the likely cause of this staffer’s being fired (under Winkler’s watch).
Does RCRC truly “speak for” even progressive United Methodists (let alone the rest of us) with its harsh descriptions of pro-life Christians?
Defending grisly partial-birth abortions/infanticides. The 2000 General Conference amended the UMC’s abortion position by adding a call for ending most “partial-birth” abortions, a practice the GBCS had previously defended. In such procedures, which annually claimed the lives of a comparable number of Americans to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, a normally healthy, late-term baby with a healthy mother is induced into premature labor, partially delivered, and then the little guy has his skulled punctured and brain vacuumed out. Many horrified abortion-rights defenders within and beyond the church joined calls for banning such barbarism.
But in 2002, Linda Bales, the GBCS’s main staffer assigned to defend abortion, unsuccessfully lobbied the liberal-dominated GBCS board to try to repeal the UMC’s opposition to partial-birth abortions/infanticides. After they were banned in the U.S., a GBCS article argued against the UMC’s stance, reducing to a virtual footnote a cursory acknowledgement of our official position.
Is such an act of dehumanizing, lethal violence the best expression of Christian mercy and compassion towards defenseless children created in God’s image? Are supporters of such blurring of the line between abortion and infanticide at least bothered by the fact that Ron Fitzsimmons, then the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted that he “lied through [his] teeth” in espousing the widespread, politically convenient myths falsely portraying this procedure as exceptionally rare and denying the fact that it was usually performed on healthy mothers and healthy, unborn babies 20 weeks or more into the pregnancy?
Denigrating America’s men and women in uniform by broadly denouncing U.S. troops as constituting an “oppressive imperial army,” while decrying any U.S. military spending. In a speech at the partisan, GBCS-supported Ecumenical Advocacy Days in March 2004, Winkler declared that the money spent by the U.S. military from 1948-1991 was “the equivalent of burying money in the ground,” because redirecting all of those dollars elsewhere would have achieved “paradise” on Earth. Since 2000, official United Methodist teaching on war has shifted but can be summarized as a strong bias against war combined with elements of Just War teaching and honoring military service members. However, on this issue (and others) the neo-pacifist GBCS staff openly opposes the parts of UMC teaching with which they personally disagree.
What sort of “paradise” would South Koreans have enjoyed under the communist Kim regime?
The GBCS staff endorsing and participating in an April 2004 abortion rally – without consulting or even notifying their directors. Press accounts described this DC rally as focused on defending abortion against any legal limitations (especially protesting the federal ban on partial-birth abortions/infanticides) and promoting partisan election campaign efforts. Speakers and marchers repeatedly denounced pro-life Christians with hateful rhetoric while making countless crass references to sex acts and female anatomy. My own eyewitness account is apparently archived here on a website to which I have no connection while a more extended account by a United Methodist pastor is here. Another account, by a pro-legal-abortion columnist, noted how “[s]ome of the protest signs were crude to pornographic” while “[p]rofanity and obscene gesturing toward the pro-life [counter-protesters] were commonplace” among the GBCS-supported marchers. Here is a compilation of observations the hateful-mob character which many of the GBCS-supported marchers adopted (warning: not G-rated).
Should there be no minimal standards for the tone, decorum, and level of enemy-love for the events into which the GBCS drags our church’s name? Where is the validity in GBCS defenders saying it is accountable to its directors when it does such activities without their knowledge or consent?
Equating “so-called Christian academies and home schooling” in America with extremist, terrorism-breeding Islamic madrassahs in Pakistan. Jim Winkler at a Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) 2005 event.
Are GBCS/MFSA loyalists really so socially isolated that they actually believe that American Christians who home-school their children or teach in private Christian schools are commending terrorist violence to their students?
Promoting an “anything goes” sexual ethos. Instances of the GBCS staff’s going out of their way to oppose the biblical United Methodist Social Principles stance that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” are far too numerous to list. In 2009, the GBCS went further, inviting (and paying?) radical Unitarian Universalist sexologist Debra Haffner to write a column promoting her sexual ethic that broadly endorses any sort of homosexual practice, pre-marital sex, and (implicitly) non-monogamous sex — as long as “[i]t is consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected….” In 2010, GBCS ran another column from “An ordained single woman” protesting United Methodist Church rules not letting her have pre-marital sex.
Does the liberal/GBCS faction of the UMC have any core values or beliefs that are contrary to Unitarian Universalism?
Intensifying its ongoing anti-Israel campaign. The GBCS has long been very outspoken in promoting a one-sided anti-Israel stance without subjecting Hamas, neighboring Arab regimes, and state sponsors of Palestinian terrorism to a similar standard of scrutiny. In 2004, Winkler even blamed the Iraq war (on which IRD took no position) as a sort of Zionist conspiracy. In their February 2011 meeting, GBCS directors, with the apparent support of Winkler, voted to join a far-left campaign of targeted boycotts and divestment against Israel, putting themselves to the left of even the very liberal leadership of the Episcopal Church. At that same meeting, GBCS directors also voted to make the GBCS a member of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which promotes “comprehensive divestment” against the world’s lone Jewish state as part of its efforts “to isolate Israel economically, socially, and culturally.”
How extensively did the GBCS staff and the liberal majority of its board of directors research the most troubling aspects of the U.S. Campaign’s stances and activities before rushing to bestow them with the GBCS’s blank-check endorsement?
Supporting the most indefensible parts of “Obamacare.” Many grassroots United Methodists were probably first awakened to the reflexively partisan, unrepresentative nature of the GBCS when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly thanked “the United Methodist Church” (meaning GBCS) for helping pass the Affordable Care Act. The GBCS not only lobbied for the controversial bill, but also lobbied for forced taxpayer funding of elective abortions in Obamacare. Meanwhile, in response to the massive bill’s provisions now threatening our clergy and church staff’s health coverage, the GBCS neither dampened its zeal in urging Congress to hurry up and pass the bill nor made much effort (if any) to fix these problems before the bill was passed.
Where is the moral consistency in promoting an absolutist opposition to the U.S. military, out of professed commitment to non-violence, while at the same time agitating to devote taxpayer funds to deadly violence that specifically targets children being fearfully and wonderfully knit together (Psalm 139:13-14) in God’s image? Even if one supports the positions taken by the GBCS, shouldn’t its staff at least take the time to read and understand the implications of specific bills before lobbying for or against them?
Taking money from a restricted fund devoted to alcohol abuse to instead pay for general expenses. In 1965 the Methodist Building Trust Fund was established with the stipulation that many of the specific assets now controlled by the GBCS would “in perpetuity” be used solely for work in “areas of temperance and alcohol problems.” Yet the GBCS under Winkler and his predecessors chose to blatantly violate this restriction, devoting these restricted funds to their general expenses. Winkler led the GBCS in opposing the legal judgment of the D.C. attorney general and a plea from the Western North Carolina Annual Conference by going to court to defend their defiance of the financial restriction, for the sake of siphoning funds away from their legally restricted purpose of combatting alcohol abuse and into funding the GBCS’s activism on such things as promoting taxpayer-funded abortion, opposing biblical and United Methodist teaching on sexual morality, and attacking fellow United Methodists. You can read more about that here and here and here and here.
Even if one supports the GBCS’s divisive activism, is it a problem when leaders of a United Methodist agency demonstrate that they cannot be trusted by donors to honor explicit restrictions on certain funds? Do the GBCS’s supporters have such unqualified faith in the without-exception flawlessness of our justice system that they really believe that just because someone may be able to ultimately get away with something always means that he necessarily has done nothing wrong?
Did I leave out a “greatest hit”? Or are you a self-described progressive United Methodist bold enough to respond to any of these questions? I welcome your comments below!