United Methodist News Service
March 28, 2001
News media contact: Joretta Purdue ·(202) 546-8722
NOTE: For related coverage, see UMNS stories #149 and #151.
ARLINGTON, Va. (UMNS) - The president of the United Methodist social action and advocacy agency is calling for cooperation within the church, noting that divisive forces are at work in the denomination.
"Liberals and conservatives must stay together, must work together, must love and reach out to a hurting world together," Bishop S. Clifton Ives told voting members of the denomination's Board of Church and Society March 24. Some 170 social justice workers from throughout the church were also present, giving Ives an audience of about 250 church leaders.
The addition of the social justice workers represented the board's effort to connect with annual (regional) conferences and congregations.
Ives, who leads the denomination's West Virginia Area, emphasized that members of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society don't represent only the constituencies that elected them.
"We are not representatives. We are board members," asserted the bishop, who like many of the members, was newly assigned to the board last fall. He reminded board members that their responsibility is to the board and not to any other constituencies.
He recognized that United Methodists do not always agree on every point. However, the board members have a mandate to "show members of the church and the society that the reconciliation that God effected through Jesus Christ involves personal, social and civic righteousness," he said.
Addressing the need for civic righteousness, Ives observed, "When we bring the reconciling, justice-seeking Word to centers of power which control the church and society, we meet resistance from without and conflict within."
Ives said that the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has been attacking mainline denominations since 1981. Quoting the IRD's "Reforming America's Churches Project," the bishop said that the institute, working particularly through "UMAction," targets the Board of Church and Society by working to organize conservative board members "so as to have direct influence over permanent staff."
Acknowledging the presence of Mark Tooley of UMAction in the audience, Ives said Tooley has expressed the hope of getting 51 percent of the delegates to the denomination's next legislative assembly to vote for eliminating the board. Tooley persuaded 30 percent to vote that way at last year's General Conference, the bishop said.
"It is apparent that a group unrelated to our church wants to 'reform' us by getting some insiders to help accomplish their objective of eliminating the General Board of Church and Society," Ives declared.
He reminded board members that their responsibility is to the board and to the church - not to special interest groups. And, he said, he was reminding annual conference leaders that "UMAction is using - and will use - responsible evangelicals in your conference to bring resolutions that will inflame and divide the church for its own purposes. Their intent is not reconciliation, but division." However, Ives said that he believes God wants the board to be reconciled with Tooley.
Tooley, when contacted by United Methodist News Service after the meeting, responded, "UMAction is just one of dozens of independent caucus groups within the United Methodist Church, spanning the full theological and political spectrum, each one of which is attempting to influence the direction of the church.
"IRD/UMAction has called for a public policy witness by our church that acknowledges that Christians, in the absence of direct scriptural guidance, can and do disagree over a wide spectrum of political issues, from tax rates to defense spending, from agricultural policy to education initiatives. When our church and its agencies speak politically, they should do so with caution and precision, rooting those statements in Scripture and historic Christian teachings. And they should speak with the informed consent of the church's membership," Tooley said.
Speaking generally, Ives encouraged the board to persevere in its work. "The work of peace, justice and reconciliation is long and hard, but we will do it - together," he said.
Jim Winkler, who was installed as head of the board's staff on March 22, also addressed that theme. "Social justice and social action seem to be scary words for many people," he said. But, he said, acting faithfully has put the board and the church "on the right side of history."
"During the previous administration, the General Board of Church and Society expressed concern over and disagreement with a number of [administration] policies, including such major initiatives as heath care, welfare reform, military aggression and foreign policy, just to name a few."
Such disagreements are politely stated, and the agency always seeks to engage in dialogue, Winkler said. "We never criticize an individual on a personal basis. We never claim to speak for the whole United Methodist Church."
He reviewed the process of how church policy is created, beginning with the election to annual conference of delegates in every church, then annual conference election of delegates to General Conference, where church agencies have been created and their responsibilities delineated. Because of this process, Winkler said, the board represents every United Methodist, although at any given moment individuals may disagree with the form and substance of that representation.
"Christianity is not a spectator sport," Winkler commented. "There are no grandstand Christians in the New Testament. Everybody is expected to play."
In implementing his vision for the agency, Winkler said the May/June issue of Christian Social Action, the board's magazine, will be distributed to an expanded mailing list to include all congregations, bishops and a number of annual conference leaders.