The last two meetings of the board of directors of the United Methodist Church’s most controversial agency, the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), showcased this group’s continued focus on the agendas of a small group of left-wing, white-collar Americans, while also highlighting some issues related to the GBCS’s funding that should concern any United Methodist who would like our church agencies to operate in ways that are more transparent, accountable, and representative of our church and its values.
Both of these last meetings differed from normal GBCS board meetings, which typically include the full board of directors and take place near the GBCS’s D.C. headquarters. The fall 2017 board meeting was convened in Chicago as an abridged meeting of only the executive committee, acting on behalf of the entire board of directors. The spring 2018 board meeting was in Berlin, Germany, and official notes from that meeting have only recently become publicly available.
Between these two meetings, there was talk of the GBCS defending the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) and the board adopted, with one dissenting vote, a statement supporting the recent, somewhat controversial “March for Our Lives” calling for some gun-control measures. But as in other board meetings in this 2016-2020 period, there was little done to focus attention on supporting persecuted Christians. Some had hoped that the GBCS might redirect at least some of its attention to such a common-ground cause, particularly with the selection of the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe as the GBCS’s new General Secretary a few years ago, and with the 2016 General Conference having overwhelmingly voted to amend the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline to instruct the GBCS to include a new priority in its work: “The board shall promote education, prayer, and advocacy on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who suffer persecution for their faith.”
However, under the leadership of Northern Illinois Bishop Sally Dyck (president of the GBCS’s board of directors) and Henry-Crowe, we have not observed much substantial change in the GBCS’s zeal for using the name and apportionments of our denomination to support more divisive, even partisan causes. Defending persecuted Christians was conspicuously absent from Henry-Crowe’s list of priorities for 2018, shared at the GBCS’s spring 2018 board meeting.
In the fall meeting, staffer John Hill briefly noted the GBCS’s work in recruiting bishops around the denomination to write op-eds and speak at press conferences to bring political pressure to help the GBCS’s favored positions on various political controversies of the day. But the issues and positions that are prioritized in the GBCS’s work are not really determined by the UMC, but rather by the GBCS’s own monolithically left-leaning programmatic staff.
The GBCS and its supporters often claim that the agency is simply promoting the UMC’s own official Social Principles. But this is highly misleading.
First of all, for several recent hotly debated proposals in the U.S. Congress and various state legislatures, there were clearly certain positions that would have been more in line with such parts of the UMC’s official Social Principles as how “We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman” (¶161C), “We also support efforts by governments to reform divorce laws and other aspects of family law in order to address negative trends such as high divorce rates” (¶161D), “we unconditionally reject [abortion] as a means of gender selection or eugenics” and we are more generally committed to “the diminishment of high abortion rates” (¶161K), and “The Church opposes assisted suicide” (¶161O).
But can anyone point to any instance in recent years of the GBCS lifting a finger to support proposed traditional-marriage-definition laws, reforms of family law designed to lower divorce rates, or even mild abortion regulations that would restrict abortions targeting babies for sexist or eugenic reasons, or otherwise work to reduce abortion rates? What about expressing any concern about abortion being used for the eugenic purpose of killing most Down Syndrome babies in some European nations in which the UMC has a presence? Or has the GBCS done anything to directly oppose, or to encourage bishops to speak out against, recent U.S. state laws to advance physician-assisted suicide?
Seriously, if I missed anything, please let me know in the comments. But I won’t hold my breath.
So when the GBCS demonstrably ignores key parts of UMC Social Principles—and in other instances documented on this site (such as here), actively opposes official UMC values—then the GBCS’s stances and agendas are not really set by the church but rather by the GBCS’s own monothically left-wing, minimally accountable programmatic staff.
Secondly, while the GBCS can selectively cite some parts of the UMC’s official Social Principles and resolutions to support some of its lefty political lobbying, it is intellectually dishonest to ignore how much of this content is actually written by the GBCS itself and quickly rubber-stamped at General Conferences, in a deeply flawed process.
At the fall board meeting, two of the GBCS’s own executive committee members openly admitted that the GBCS submitted such a large volume of lengthy petitions to the last General Conference that they did not have time to read them all (outside of the ones from their respective sub-committees). While this is no excuse, it can help explain such embarrassments as an earlier GBCS board meeting adopting a series of resolutions calling for divestment from democratic Israel, investment in totalitarian North Korea, and the legalization of prostitution.
And while others have made contributions to writing and amending the Social Principles over the years, the GBCS is now moving aggressively to wipe out all of these contributions from others, by completely replacing the entirety of the UMC Social Principles with a new set of Social Principles more in line with the GBCS’s biases. At this point, the GBCS’s proposal for rewriting the Social Principles includes deleting ALL of the more “conservative” language quoted above. For more on that process, click here.
All of this raises troubling questions about the stewardship of forcing congregations around the United States to support this agency’s work, no matter how little its political activism reflects the values or the people of the church it claims to represent.
Meanwhile, a major point of discussion at its last two directors meetings was the GBCS’s moving into active fundraising. While on some level, I would prefer the GBCS to be funded by the voluntary contributions of people who actually agree with them, rather than forcing all United Methodists to support their work through apportionments, the GBCS’s fundraising raises its own concerns.
First of all, the GBCS still insists on taking its millions from offering-plate apportionments, so adding fundraising on top of that does not diminish that stewardship concern.
Secondly, the GBCS’s work to actively seek individual and foundation donors has the risk of making the GBCS more responsive to supporters who may be driven by values and priorities very different from, or even contrary to, those of the UMC. There is nothing inherently wrong with non-profit fundraising—that’s how all nonprofits, including IRD, stay in business. But as long as the GBCS officially remains an agency of the United Methodist Church and all United Methodists, then it needs to especially take care that its funding from outside normal church routes does not in any way compromise its keeping its positions on various issues and the work it prioritizes within the boundaries and expectation of the denomination who remains the GBCS’s main sponsor.
The GBCS has already received significant grant funding from the United Nations Foundation, which has in turn been founded and largely been funded by famously irreligious billionaire Ted Turner. That grant money was for some of the GBCS’s work on health-care and “family planning” issues, which has been related to the GBCS’s opposition to more pro-life parts of our UMC Social Principles on abortion.
During part of the Chicago meeting, the GBCS executive committee was joined by phone by Nadine Gabai-Botero of Focus Fundraising. Gabai-Botero explained that she had been hired by the United Nations Foundation to help the fundraising efforts of some of the foundation’s grantees, including the GBCS. Among other things, she mentioned helping the GBCS find “new prospects” in terms of “individuals and foundations” willing to fund the UMC agency as well as “some corporate potential.”
After Bishop Dyck asked her a couple of times if she had ever done such professional consulting with a church or religious group, Gabai-Botero admitted that she had not, shared that she was Jewish, and said she had been “more involved in the advocacy side.” The consultant specifically mentioned her connection with the United Nations Foundation’s “Universal Access Project,” which she said “funds various projects working with reproductive rights and women’s health.” This Project of the U.N. Foundation has Planned Parenthood Foundation of America – America’s largest abortion provider recently plagued by numerous scandals – on its short list of formal “Partners” and also has a political agenda that includes strongly opposing U.S. policies that help reduce abortion rates (an explicit goal of the UMC Social Principles) by redirecting U.S. taxpayer dollars away from organizations that perform or encourage abortions.
So to recap: The GBCS only exists because the UMC has established this agency to promote the values of the UMC Social Principles, and the denomination has now charged the GBCS with making a priority of defending persecuted Christians. But under the leadership of a relatively small, minimally accountable, and very unrepresentative group of people, the GBCS is being redirected to a different set of agendas, which sometimes overlap and other times conflict with the mission to which the church has directed the agency. And in this redirection of the GBCS away from the church’s values and priorities, this small group is being majorly aided and abetted by a powerful, politically left-leaning, secular foundation that openly opposes some of the Social Principles. Although the church has charged the GBCS with promoting ALL of the UMC Social Principles, the GBCS staff has refused to promote some of the Social Principles which its U.N. Foundation funders oppose. Now this same secular Foundation is working to help the GBCS raise new non-church funders, who may further redirect the GBCS away from being responsive to and representative of the United Methodist Church.
And it’s not like the GBCS does not already have plenty of money. It receives well over $2.5 million a year in annual funding from UMC apportionments, on top of “Human Relations Day” and “Peace with Justice Sunday” special offerings. An endowment related to its building gives hundreds of thousands of additional dollars each year. It brought in another nearly $2.5 million last year from renting out parts of its building. That’s plenty of money, without seeking to become dependent on non-Christian foundations and billionaires who the GBCS may seek to please by ignoring or opposing certain UMC values.
At the Berlin meeting, it was reported that 2017 was “an excellent year financially” for the GBCS, and its 2018 budget of $6.9 million represents a 4 percent increase from 2017.
And if the GBCS tried taking on even a slightly narrower range of issues so that it could do less advocacy, better, would that be such a terrible thing?
When it is already rushing through more petitions and resolutions than its own executive committee has time to read, is that really a sign of them needing to take on more?