From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist social action agency refutes accusations of IRD

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 05 Oct 1998 14:13:46

Oct. 5 1998	Contact: Joretta Purdue*(202)546-8722*Washington

NOTE: This story is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS #568.

WASHINGTON  (UMNS) - The United Methodist Board of Church and Society
temporarily set aside its usual business during a recent meeting to
respond to an attack by a group that wants the agency shut down.

At their Oct. 1-4 meeting, voting members of the Board of Church and
Society agreed to a statement presented by their executive committee and
asked that their signatures be added to it. The directors favored the
document by a 44-2 vote.

Their statement was in response to a Sept. 21 fund-raising letter
written by David Stanley and Mark Tooley with the United Methodist
Action group. Stanley is chairman and Tooley is executive director.
UMAction's letterhead bears the description "the United Methodist
Committee of the Institute for Religion and Democracy" (IRD).

"As the officially elected members and staff of the General Board of
Church and Society," the board stated, "we are engaged in ministries
mandated by the General Conference (the denomination's highest
legislative body) on behalf of the United Methodist Church. As such, we
challenge the deceptive claims in the Sept. 21, 1998, letter."

In its letter, sent to 65,000 households, the IRD members called for
shutting down the board and closing the United Methodist Building in
Washington, which is operated by the board. 

Stanley and Tooley particularly took exception to the board's $7 million
capital campaign. That amount includes $5 million for a renovation of
the building, currently under way, and $2 million for future
maintenance, according to board records.

"The United Methodist Building is well known as the headquarters of
radical church groups. . .," Stanley and Tooley wrote. "They are united
in a rigid political agenda that is often more secular and political
than it is United Methodist. Space is rented to other left-wing
religious lobby groups, such as the National Council of Churches."

UMAction also attacked the board's general secretary, the Rev. Thom
White Wolf Fassett, for stands taken by the board. Stanley and Tooley
maintained that the board "is not accountable to the church's members,
to traditional Methodist beliefs or to the Bible." 

In its response, the board noted that, unlike the IRD, its task "is to
implement the actions and decisions of General Conference." The board
members called on all United Methodists "to reject IRD's efforts to
undermine the board," which is elected to provide oversight. The board's
reply to IRD refutes the UMAction claims by pointing to General
Conference as the source of the positions it promotes.

The board noted that UMAction is not an official organization of the
denomination. Rather, "it is a privately funded, self-appointed, secular
lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., that attacks the Bible-based,
prophetic efforts officially authorized by the General Conference."
Efforts to delete all or part of this sentence were overwhelmingly
defeated. No other amendments to the response were offered.

The board cited two paragraphs in the Book of Discipline, the
denomination's book of law. In one, the board's purpose is outlined,
including the directive to "seek to bring the whole of human life,
activities, possessions, use of resources, and community and world
relationships into conformity with the will of God."

In the other paragraph, the book notes: "The prime responsibility of the
board is to seek the implementation of the Social Principles and other
policy statements of the General Conference on Christian social
concerns." This authority calls on the board and its executives to
"provide forthright witness and action on issues of human well-being,
justice, peace and the integrity of creation. . . ."

The board members asserted in their response that they believe they are
being faithful to the mandate given them "as Christians and as elected
stewards of this ministry." They closed with an invitation to honest
dialogue about the ways Christians live out their witness.

Members of the board immediately proposed and passed a resolution
supporting Fassett's leadership and the staff's work.

On the first night of the semi-annual meeting, board members heard the
Rev. Jim Lawson, a civil rights activist and minister at Holman United
Methodist Church, Los Angeles, speak on "The Spirit of Nonviolence
Today." Lawson's speech was given at a Congressional Conversation on
Race, held with the bipartisan Faith & Politics Institute at the Library
of Congress. (See sidebar.)

In adopting new policy statements, the board resolved to:
*	promote participation in the 1998 Holiday Season of Conscience,
a campaign against buying goods manufactured in sweatshops;
*	support the 1999 International Year of Older Persons;
*	oppose Washington state's Initiative 200, which would prohibit
state and local governments from using affirmative action;
*	observe World Population Awareness Week 1998, Oct. 24-31;
*	encourage sports teams that use stereotypes of Native Americans
as mascots to change their mascots and logos;
*	seek relief for the farm crisis, pass the Africa Seeds of Hope
Act, address minority farmers' complaints and remove from an
appropriations bill a prohibition against trying to control global
*	work for U.S. Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention to
Combat Desertification (the transformation of arable land into desert);
*	have the board recycle paper and use recycled paper.

Board members also learned about two new programs developed by staff to
help the church serve the community. The United Methodist Institute
(TUMI) and Children of Peace in Action (COPIA) are designed to bring all
parts of the board together in offering training and resource linking
with local churches and annual conferences. COPIA focuses on social
justice issues for children ages 8 to 12. 

The board endorsed several upcoming events, including a small colloquium
on "human rights, (de)colonization and faith implications," set for Dec.
9-10 in New York to coincide with the United Nations commemoration of
the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Colloquium participants will represent islands and nations ceded to the
United States by Spain in the Treaty of Paris, Dec. 10, 1898. Those
include Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines.

In other action, board members voted to:
*	affirm the continuation of Human Relations Day and Peace With
Justice Sunday as special days with offerings of the denomination;
*	apply for World Service Special Gift status to help fund some of
the work of the Coalition Against Legalized Gambling and the Rev. Tom
Grey, the coalition's executive director; and
*	participate in the signature campaign on the U.N. Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.

Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan is president of the board. The next meeting
will be March 3-6.
United Methodist News Service
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