May 11, 2015

Methodist Lobby: Divest from Israel, Invest in North Korea, Legalize Prostitution

The world’s lone Jewish state must be singled out for punitive divestment campaigns, while we should at the same time promote economic investment in North Korea, whose government has done absolutely nothing in the area of human rights worthy of specific criticism. And we should take our broad support for sex outside of marriage one step further by advocating to legalize prostitution.

This was the moral vision offered by our United Methodist Church’s apportionment-funded D.C. lobby office, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) at its Spring 2015 board of directors meeting.

The main business of this semi-annual meeting was adopting, rather hastily, dozens of petitions and resolutions that will be submitted for consideration at our denomination’s 2016 General Conference. The GBCS’s head staffer, since early 2014, is the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, while its board president is Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert-Southwest Conference.

A resolution they adopted on the ongoing conflict in the Korean Peninsula manages to run over 3,000 words while awkwardly avoiding any specific acknowledgement of the brutal human-rights abuses by the world’s most repressive dictatorship, the North Korean regime. The statement purports to “adequately acknowledge the Korean people’s long suffering” but places the blame entirely on “external powers fighting for colonial expansion and military hegemony,” while avoiding acknowledgement of the suffering inflicted by the North Korean government.

At one point, the GBCS resolution goes out of its way to highlight a feel-goody symbolic gesture of unity between representatives of the two Koreas over a decade ago, to help promote a factually selective narrative about both national governments’ commitments to peace and reunification. Meanwhile, this GBCS resolution simply ignores more recent actions of the North, such as its murderous shelling of a South Korean island, its infamous cyber-attacks on an American company, its calling South Korea’s female president a “crafty prostitute,” “bitch,” and “cold-blooded animal,” and its likening U.S. President Barack Obama to “a monkey in a tropical forest.”

Why does the GBCS choose to be silent about blatant sexism and racism when the perpetrators are Communists?

At one point in this resolution, the GBCS even cites the unreliable, uncontrolled Wikipedia open-source website as its sole source of information for a certain factual claim. Such lack of care in getting the facts straight is not limited to this resolution. Other GBCS resolutions from this meeting make very strong, detailed factual claims without bothering to cite any sources.

On the positive side, this Korea resolution, quotes another group “reject[ing] any form whatever of dictatorship” while urging democracy and human rights (albeit without being clear if there are any dictatorships in the region), calls for assistance in North Korean refugees seeking asylum (albeit without calling out China’s horrific treatment of them), and notes as problematic North Korea’s withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the Communist regime’s violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework (albeit while also making a show of even-handedness in casting blame on the United States for other things).

At the insistence of one more conservative director, the resolution was amended to specifically call on the North Korean government “to abide by all internationally agreed principles of human rights and humanitarian law.”

But the GBCS’s choice to avoid acknowledging the Stalinist nature of the North Korean regime serves as a foundation for some ill-informed policy agendas. In this resolution, the GBCS calls “for the removal economic sanctions against” North Korean and encourages foreign investment to economically help that nation. One of the few stated reasons offered for this GBCS goal is that it is “a high priority” of the Communist leadership.

Shamefully, this resolution also uncritically treats the North Korea’s Korean Christian Federation (KCF) as simply a legitimate Christian body rather than acknowledge its true identity as a puppet of the Communist government that serves, with the help of its enablers like the GBCS, to create a false impression of religious freedom existing in that Stalinist police state.

The GBCS’s so willfully turning a blind eye to the brutal ways in which Christians are singled out for imprisonment and torture is mind-boggling. But it follows a sad pattern of this UMC agency using the banner of “social justice” to perversely white-wash and cover for some of the worst human rights abuses in the world. Last year, the GBCS co-sponsored a panel in which a key speaker actually defended the North Korean regime against “demonizing and propaganda.”

I recently wrote about how if the GBCS is unwilling to listen to the cries of tortured North Korean Christians, couldn’t it at least raise its moral vision to the level of  stoner comedian Seth Rogen. Is even that too much to ask of a United Methodist Church agency?

Meanwhile, the GBCS continues to pile on in its years-long campaign of one-sidedly singling out the world’s lone Jewish state for critique.

After some dissent by a minority of directors from the GBCS’s usual left-wing echo-chamber culture, directors adopted a petition calling for divestment from the construction-equipment company, Caterpillar, because of how the Israeli government uses its products in managing in maintaining “the occupation.” The resolution also broadly opposes construction of Israel’s security barrier (which has involved disruptive incursion into Palestinian land) without expressing any concern for the Jewish lives it has saved from suicide bombers.

A main aim of another resolution adopted by directors also appeared to be to further advance divestment against Israel, although this specific target was not explicitly named in the resolution.  Entitled “Establishing a Screen to Remove and Avoid Investments in Illegal Settlements on Occupied Land,” the resolution would demand all UMC denominational agencies pull out divestments from any companies that operate factories or use resources from “occupied land,” or that have any direct or even subsidiary presence in, are at all involved in construction, financing, or “[p]roviding support services to “an illegal settlement.” Given Israel’s complex political and economic realities, such sweepingly worded restrictions could make it especially difficult to allow United Methodist investment in a number of companies doing business with Israel.

At the last General Conference, the GBCS and other liberal caucuses pushed for divestment from Caterpillar and two other companies (Motorola and Hewlett-Packard) over their business with Israel, and were overwhelmingly defeated. Both a senior officials of the UMC’s pension-investment board and a leading Palestinian activist in the anti-Israel divestment movement have indicated that the human-rights records of these three specific companies are not worse than others in which the UMC invests.

Not deterred by moral consistency, the GBCS not only rushed through the anti-Caterpillar resolution at its most recent directors’ meeting, but in August heavily promoted and took part in a conference where speakers admitted that the push to divest from select companies like Caterpillar was part of a wider agenda of Boycotts, Sanctions, and Divestment, which one speaker defined as “boycotting all things Israeli,” and where another speaker was not above resorting to anti-Semitic stereotypes about greedy Jews. Other highlights of that GBCS-related conference were the conspiratorial claim that the U.S. Congress “is an occupied Israeli territory,” the assertion that “it is not Hamas’s rockets,” and “it is not Hamas’s underground tunnels” that were responsible for “why we don’t have peace right now,” and a speaker refusing to condemn the anti-Jewish hatred and violence promoted in the Palestinian media.

Oddly, the blame-Israel faction of our denomination, with which the GBCS has completely identified, has strongly rejected the path of “positive investment, not divestment” when it comes to Israel, but now advocates that path for North Korea. The difference, according to the GBCS’s moral vision, is that democratic Israel is the one who should be treated as a villainous, human-rights-abusing rogue regime.

At this spring meeting, the GBCS directors went further in its campaign to de-legitimize Israel by approving grants for “Peace with Justice Sunday” (with funds to be collected from United Methodist offering plates on May 31) to help fund, among other beneficiaries, the Nakba Museum Project of Memory and Hope and United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR). The former is devoted to promoting ideologically pro-Palestinian narratives about the “Nakba” (the Arabic word for “catastrophe” which some Palestinians use to refer to the establishment of Israel). The latter is an unofficial caucus of United Methodists for the Palestinian cause, who forbid United Methodists who disagree with their agenda from attending their meetings, but which is now being funded by the GBCS, an agency of the whole church that once again has chosen to act more like a caucus only serving a particular political faction of United Methodists.

The longtime general tendency has been for GBCS to be very pointed and specific in calling out alleged wrongdoing of the Israeli government, without adopting a morally consistent standard of scrutiny for Islamic or Communist regimes.

All in all, directors adopted over 100 General Conference petitions (including many to delete and consolidate older parts of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions), rushing through to get them completely a day earlier than scheduled. At least one director bravely spoke out against the extensive length of these political resolutions the GBCS adopted.

If the super-majority of other directors had taken time to do their work carefully, they may have noticed some more controversial things in the petitions they adopted:

  • Blanketly demanding the legalization of “public drunkenness, drug use, [and] prostitution,” as non-criminal “personal conditions or behaviors.” Some of us had hoped that fighting human trafficking could be a common-ground cause for liberal and conservative United Methodists. But now the GBCS has committed itself to a political agenda that effectively empowers ruthless pimps and makes human trafficking harder to legally fight. To be fair, this resolution did say in a separate sentence, “Moreover, individuals forced or coerced into criminal behavior [which would include sex-trafficking victims] should not be criminalized.” But the structure made clear that the very broadly-worded call to legalize prostitution was over and above this more narrowly worded concern for those facing coercion.
  • Completely opposing any “discrimination against people with criminal records” without any exception for day-care centers or Sunday-school classrooms doing background checks to screen out individuals with histories of abusing children.
  • Ironically, the GBCS also went on record to both broadly call for NO tolerance of ANY “discrimination people with criminal records” and explicitly support a clear form of discrimination against people with criminal records: restricting the gun-purchasing abilities of individuals with violent criminal records. Thoughtful arguments could be made for either of these mutually exclusive positions. But the GBCS evidently was not paying close enough attention to its own work to notice the contradiction, even though the two resolutions came through the same committee of directors.
  • Promoting expanded access to elective abortion under the banner of the misleading euphemism, “reproductive health care services.”
  • Endorsing the controversial U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, even though probably no more than one or two of the dozens of directors voting in favor of the resolution (if that) have actually read that treaty.
  • Endorsing President Obama’s controversial, unilateral 2014 executive order to simply stop enforcing parts of U.S. immigration law.
  • Deleting a current official UMC resolution which acknowledges documented abuses by U.N. personnel, such as the “Sex for Food” scandal, and calls for such reforms as “zero-tolerance” policies against such abuses.
  • Demanding significant withdrawal of the post-World-War-II U.S. military presence in Japan.
  • Insisting that “[c]hildren must never have access to or opportunity to use guns.” While this sounds like a generally good principle, does the GBCS really believe that men must “never” be allowed to take their teenage sons (who are technically still children) hunting in rural areas where that is part of the culture?
  • Broadly and helpfully decrying religious persecution, but without any indication that United Methodists should be especially concerned about the persecutions of Christians. Rather, this resolution even-handedly asserts that there is a dangerous rise of extremism “from all of the established and nontraditional religions.”

Another group of resolutions commendably encouraged abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs, and called on UMC institutions of higher education to reduce college drinking. But this concern is expressed almost entirely within a secular public-health framework, while ignoring biblical and spiritual concerns about the sinfulness of intoxication.

That points to a fundamental problem: at the end of the day, how is the GBCS much different from any other secular, partisan political lobby group, other than getting its funding from churches?

The well-documented fact of the matter is GBCS openly ignores and opposes biblical, historic Christian values on issues like sexual morality (supporting both homosexual practice and extra-marital sex more broadly) and abortion that conflict with its secular, partisan political loyalties. In framing its concerns, the GBCS seems too embarrassed to stray too far beyond the language of secular 21st-century, upper-middle-class, American, secular liberal culture into the language of the church. And its attempts to sound more spiritual involve embarrassingly out-of-context biblical proof-texting and non-Christian “Mother Earth” prayers.

Is this really the best we can expect for the social and political witness of our church?

27 Responses to Methodist Lobby: Divest from Israel, Invest in North Korea, Legalize Prostitution

  1. Greg says:

    John, the answer to your last question in the article is, “Yes.”

  2. Tony Holmquist says:


  3. gh says:

    The UMC NEEDS TO DIVEST IN THE GBCS AND SHUT THEM DOWN PERMANENTLY! We have allowed these apostate members to function too long….it is time to gut the GBCS and start over….only allowing Christians on the board!

  4. the_enemy_hates_clarity says:

    1. How many directors of the GBCS are there?
    2. How are they elected?
    3 Would it be feasible to try to electorally change the makeup of the board of the GBCS?

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

    • 1, There are about 63 members of the GBCS board of directors.
      2. The GBCS chooses to structure itself so that Africans are limited to only 3 of those slots, even though some 40% of our denomination lives in Africa. Formally and officially, the non-US folk who get to be on GBCS is decided by the American-majority Council of Bishops. US membership is NOT similarly subject to international input. Most US members are decided by nominating committees at the 5 jurisdictional conferences that follow each General Conference.
      3. Concerned United Methodists may express their concerns to GBCS directors from their jurisdiction, ask how they voted on the above, and work to make sure their annual conference’s General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates work to elect/nominate good new people to GBCS next time:

  5. Andreas says:

    I’m sorry but I can’t find the/a link to the resolution(-s). Can you include one?

    • The GBCS had all their plenary adopted resolutions from this last meeting in an online dropbox, from which I downloaded them. But then they took it down, and last I checked, did not have the resolutions full text available online. if you are interested in seeing one, I can email it to you if you email me: jlomperis at theird dot org

  6. Jerry Kliner says:

    Was it not the director of the GBCS who marched with the sign that said “I March for Sandwiches” at the most recent March for Life in Washington?

  7. Mark Brooks says:

    It sounds like this particular body needs to be eliminated. Based on what i’ve seen about how its members are chosen, it is clearly a self-perpetuating body and therefore unlikely to change.

  8. Pudentiana says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that creatures such as these can thrive in a denomination founded by luminary John Wesley

    • Troy says:

      By ‘creatures,’ I am assuming you mean the letter writer. Mr. Lomperis cannot stand to see any good in his fellow Christians even when they agree with him. John Wesley said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

      • Pudentiana says:

        Au contraire, Mr. Lomperis has represented himself in person and in his writings to be a singular devoted Christian brother who possesses a surprising fairness when dealing with corruption within the agencies and lobbies of Methodist Officialdom. We are creatures, but the GBCS seems to have forgotten their Creator.

  9. David Tiffany says:

    Those Methodists who vote against Israel obviously don’t know or read their Scriptures, or they would understand that God curses those who curse Israel.

  10. says:

    It’s easy to find an outlet for one’s anti-semitism by bashing Israel. After all, Jews are supposed to convert or die, not to fight back

  11. greatj says:

    A fine article that I hope all those mentioned would read very carefully. The Methodist lobby is a group of ignorant fools that only disgrace themselves.

  12. Paul Whalen says:

    Churches need to stay out of politics and foreign policy and look at ways to welcome more people to the love of the risen Christ!

  13. Alexander Darby Mothershed says:

    They are a bunch of ungodly persons trying to do the work of the church. Get them out of leadership ASAP. It is a disgrace that they call themselves United Methodist

  14. Syttende Mai says:

    What. Are the Methodists just trying to keep up with the Episcopagans in self-destruction?

    God is NOT at work here in this.

  15. Arbuthnaught says:

    It is getting too easy. Every time I hear about this GBCS outfit I have the same reply: If the Wesley brother were to come forward in time to our day, they would fire everyone in the building and pad lock the doors.

  16. DARgirl says:

    This is one of the reasons that “Christianity” has fallen in numbers…the leaders are politically driven and not Christ oriented. Get rid of these so-called CINOs

  17. TJC says:

    An Email sent to West Ohio Conference Bishop Gregory Palmer:

    I was quite surprised to see the recent appointment by Bishop Palmer of Rev. Laura Young to lead The Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice as the Executive Director. This signals a change in our WOC policy regarding abortion. I find it quite disturbing that our Connectional Giving dollars are being used to essentially promote abortion, and an organization that measures part of it’s
    success by the number of children that are “protected” by being aborted. “PROTECTING AND EXPANDING ACCESS TO
    ABORTION CARE” –Rev. Harry F. Knox.

    In fact, we have appointed an ordained elder of the UMC to an organization who’s stated goal is to be the leader in the field. RCRC is poised to be the leading multi-faith voice for reproductive rights, health, and justice,.

    “In the face of anti-abortion legislators, you have remained steadfast. In the face of a Supreme Court that ruled against access to contraception, you have remained steadfast. In the face of signs condemning women to hell, you have remained steadfast. In
    the face of bombs at abortion clinics, you have remained steadfast.”

    Rev. Harry F. Knox
    and CEO
    Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

    It would be with great sadness if we found there was any sort of movement within the UMC to “condemn women to hell” for choosing the unfortunate and regrettable path to abort a child for any reason. Quite frankly I have witnessed quite the opposite effort within the UMC and larger faith community to rally, support, council and pray
    for the baby, mothers, fathers and families that felt it necessary to make this unfortunate decision. Many times the decisions are made while mired in a “spiritual void.” This is often addressed by our faith community prior to a family making the decision to abort.
    As a denomination we have opposed abortion except under extreme circumstances. Unfortunately that has changed somewhere along the line. We are now endorsing and promoting abortion as being compassionate. There is only one sure way to keep a child out
    of poverty, and our once principled denomination has chosen to facilitate that.

  18. Neena says:

    As a United Methodist I find this very disheartening. I only wish I had been more informed when Rev. Henry-Crowe spoke at our annual conference last week. I would have asked her to explain the anti-Israeli stance of the GBCS, as well as the other issues you brought up.

  19. Janju says:

    After more than 20 years as a member of the UMC, I am praying about my continuing membership because of the money given toward such entities as the GBCS within the church. I see no purpose in supporting something that is diametrically opposed to God’s Word.

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