February 19, 2015

United Methodism’s Human Rights Hat-Trick of Early 2015

I have often been critical about very systemic problems with the way in which my denominational leaders have typically chosen to approach global human rights advocacy.

So it is worth highlighting and celebrating instances when positive steps are taken in a corrective direction.

Three such pleasant surprises came last month.

The United Methodist Church’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits has long been under intense pressure from anti-Israel activists – which at times borders on outright anti-Semitism – to single out the world’s lone Jewish state for punitive divestment efforts. At a church conference last year, activists pushing divestment from three targeted companies for their business with Israel (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola) basically admitted that this was part of their wider agenda of Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS), or in one conference speaker’s own words, “boycotting all things Israeli.”

However, in January, the Board announced the implementation of new ethical guidelines for decision-making about investments and divestments with the $21 billion in assets it manages, according to concerns about human rights abuses. But rather than singling out Israel, these guidelines will be applied in a globally and morally consistent way.

United Methodist News Service explained that the Board’s new guidelines may lead to divestments from companies doing a large amount of business with countries that are among the world’s most egregious human rights abusers, using Freedom House’s annual “worst of the worst” list. Unsurprisingly, most of the countries that this well-respected human rights advocacy organization found, relatively speaking, to be the worst abusers were Communist or Islamic nations. While no less prominent liberals than Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were among its leading early supporters, unlike more ideologically leftist human rights groups, Freedom House has stayed away from treating elective abortion or same-sex marriage as “human rights.”

Also, according to UMNS, a senior Board official expected that these “new rules are highly unlikely to lead to the exclusion of Motorola, Hewlett-Packard or Caterpillar.”

Hooray for moral consistency!

Secondly, our denomination’s controversial, liberal D.C. lobby office posted an article online highlighting the problem, long overlooked in our denomination’s official “social justice” advocacy, of the global persecution of Christians. Given the GBCS’s history, it is especially gratifying to see the GBCS finally willing to publicly admit the facts that North Korea has long been the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, that “an estimated 70,000 Christians remain in prison for their faith” in that Stalinist dystopia, and that “Islamic extremism is the main source of persecution” in the bulk of the areas of greatest concern. Let alone how the GBCS used an article entirely relying on as strongly an evangelical organization as Open Doors, directing its own constituency to the latter’s website.

Thirdly, the GBCS also posted an article by the Rev. Jacob Dharmaraj, President of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists (NFAAUM), calling for prayerful concern for Christians persecuted for our common faith. He made clear that we must be especially concerned for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are thus suffering, more so than we are for anyone else “suffering from bigotry and violence,” and even expressed concern for American society going in a direction that will bring serious anti-Christian persecution. This is NOT typical GBCS-speak!

I do give credit to the GBCS’s new CEO, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, for the posting of these two articles.

Does the posting of these articles signal a positive change in direction for the GBCS, or will it be a temporarily blip before returning to business as usual?

Time will tell.

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