Denominations whose officials tout leftwing politics have continuously lost members for 55 years. I don’t think the intemperate politics are causing the loss. Local church people are largely uninformed about those politics and mostly disaffiliate based on personal reasons. But irresponsible politics divorced from Christian wisdom are fruit of bad theology and errant spirituality.
The chief officers (John Dorhauer and Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens, General Ministers and Presidents) of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which are America’s fastest shrinking denominations, having lost over half their memberships (which Dorhauer blames on IRD), recently visited dictatorial socialist Venezuela. They loved it!
Here’s what they found:
It was important for them [Venezuelans they met] to have us understand that there are no current critical human rights violations. They spoke of previous conditions in which almost 90% of the people lived below the poverty line. A new constitution, which Christo helped write for his country, includes many human rights declarations. Among those are articles establishing legal protection for indigenous peoples. We also learned that over 70% of the local leadership council positions called for in the constitution are held by women. The literacy rate, once one of the lowest in the world, has improved greatly. There are universal health care and a social security system that upholds minimum income standards for the people of Venezuela. Even though they still confront issues regarding police action and the length of judicial reviews on cases, they told us that there is a more vigorous policy on human rights than decades before.
In contrast, here’s Amnesty International on increasingly impoverished and repressive Venezuela, from which millions have fled:
Venezuela remained in a state of emergency, repeatedly extended since January 2016. A National Constituent Assembly was elected without the participation of the opposition. The Attorney General was dismissed under irregular circumstances. Security forces continued to use excessive and undue force to disperse protests. Hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained. There were many reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence against demonstrators. The judicial system continued to be used to silence dissidents, including using military jurisdiction to prosecute civilians. Human rights defenders were harassed, intimidated and subject to raids. Conditions of detention were extremely harsh. The food and health crises continued to worsen, especially affecting children, people with chronic illness and pregnant women. The number of Venezuelans seeking asylum in other countries increased.
And here’s Freedom House on Venezuela:
Venezuela’s democratic institutions have deteriorated since 1999, but conditions have grown sharply worse in recent years due to the continued concentration of power in the executive, and harsher crackdowns on the opposition. Following a strong performance by the opposition in 2015 legislative elections, the powers of the National Assembly were curtailed by a politicized judiciary, and in 2017 the body was supplanted by a new National Constituent Assembly that serves the executive’s interests. Government corruption is pervasive, and law enforcement has proven unable to halt violent crime. The authorities have closed off virtually all channels for political dissent, restricting civil liberties and prosecuting perceived opponents without regard for due process. The country’s severe economic crisis has left millions struggling to meet basic needs, and driven mass emigration.
Here’s Human Rights Watch on Venezuela:
The accumulation of power in the executive branch that began during the presidency of Hugo Chávez has enabled Venezuelan authorities to intimidate, censor, and punish its critics. A brutal crackdown on dissent that intensified since 2014 has led to the arbitrary prosecution of political opponents, dozens of killings, thousands of arrests, and abuses against detainees that in some cases amount to torture. Venezuela is facing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency with severe shortages of medicine and food that Venezuelan authorities have failed to adequately address. In 2019, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó declared himself head of state and called on the public and the military to support him. The country remains at a political impasse.
No matter. The visiting American church prelates apparently had a great time in Venezuela. A staged children’s concert deeply impressed them:
The beauty of this project is to see how these children empower themselves and take their musical and collective tasks as a group so seriously. Particularly striking is how a process that in other countries can be highly elitist, such as formal music education, is available to all children in Venezuela, regardless of their social status. That is to do justice and love mercy, as the prophet Micah challenges us.
Sure, there are challenges, but it’s the fault of USA sanctions:
The US is a major cause of many health hardships for this proud nation. Our embargo is also draining their economy of precious funds that could, and that throughout their recent history, has sufficiently sustained them. We will lift their plight, and do what we can to tell their story to our churches. It is the people, the children, especially, who are suffering from this political game we are playing.
Venezuela’s commitment to social justice and health for all perseveres, despite USA petulance, we are told:
Venezuela spends 70% of the national budget on social investments with the aim of producing a healthy population with opportunities to live full, productive lives. This may be seen in programs to provide homes, universal access to health care, and education and literacy programs. However, all of these programs are being impacted by the blockade. Blockades hurt the most vulnerable within a country. The blockade affects food security, the ability of people to receive medical care and thus hurts the many programs that have been developed by women for women. It forces people to migrate, not because they want to leave their homes, but because they want life-giving opportunities for their children.
And apparently churches are quite free and unintimidated:
And as we traveled to meet with government officials, they [church leaders] were present to ask questions, provide context, challenge as necessary, and offer the voice of the church to raise issues to those in power. The church with whom we met was not silent. The Christian leaders with whom we ate, discussed and engaged with government leaders were not afraid to name the challenge and injustices faced by their communities.
What kinds of “challenge” to power did Venezuelan church leaders offer? We are not told. But apparently church and state are together building God’s Kingdom:
I was inspired by the solidarity of those we met, their willingness to speak up as the people of God for economic, social, and racial justice. Micah 6:8 famously reminds us of the Lord’s requirements: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God. Of such are movements made. I am grateful to have witnessed the power of the Christian movement among our Venezuelan partners.
Reputedly the USA church prelates met with Venezuelan opposition leaders, but there’s no mention of what they said. Instead, we are assured: “Venezuela is not facing a humanitarian crisis as published by mass media.” Right.
According to the Disciples of Christ chief:
The declaration that Jesus is with the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized is a primary tenet of liberation theology. No one labeled their perspective specifically in this way, but for me, a student of liberation theology, it permeated all of our conversations, especially during our gathering of ecumenical leaders in Caracas.
The UCC/Disciples of Christ propaganda visit to Venezuela recalls similar delusional Cold War era visitations by Mainline Protestant clerics to the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam and North Korea in the 1980s, where they also found nirvana, justified by Liberation Theology. The only problems they discerned were caused by USA policies.
It’s no surprise that leftist clerics prone to statism in America like overseas socialist regimes. But their decades long indifference to gross human rights abuses by those regimes, including murder, torture and imprisonment for regime opponents, not to mention the avoidable poverty caused by regime policies, is appallingly befuddling. Apparently God’s Kingdom is a police state.
Few of the over two million who have quit denominations led by these clerics are fully aware of these political pronouncements. But they rightly discern the deep spiritual confusion that fuels these politics and accompanying membership implosion.