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Has the church been betrayed?Betrayal is a harsh word, a dangerous word. It is, in some respects, the most serious charge which can be leveled against any person or entity. If the charge is correct the results can be serious. If the charges are frivolous, opinion can turn against the accuser. Therefore, betrayal is not a word to be used often or casually. Yet, sometimes no other term will do.
Has the church been betrayed when many of the church's bureaucracies, both Catholic and Protestant, have substituted political propaganda for God's message of grace and salvation and implied that the two messages are identical?
Has the church been betrayed when many of its leaders, bishops, and presbyters have used their credentials to transform the church into a political errand boy?
Has the church been betrayed when church boards and agencies pour millions of their members' tithes and offerings into radical political causes?
Has the church been betrayed when much of the clergy have valued loyalty to the system more than faithfulness to their message?
Has church been betrayed when the thousands in its membership suspect that something is wrong, but have failed to demand change?
The evidence of the last ten years demands an answer.
These are the questions on which this book will reflect and the facts which it will examine: has the church been betrayed, and if so, who is guilty of its betrayal?
It will also explore a related subject - the Religious Left; what it is, how it operates, and what effect it has on the American political scene and on American opinion.
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The Creation of the Religious Left
When people reflect on the Christian church they generally picture a fellowship of believers whose focus is on spiritual growth, spreading the faith, and good works. These were the church's primary goals until the last few decades. There is a wide gulf, however, between yesterday's goals and today's agenda. The American mainline churches the most prominent of which are the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopalians, the American Baptists, many Catholic leaders and orders, and the Lutheran Church in America - have realigned their priorities in a frighteningly political direction.
A growing percentage of Christian leadership has abandoned its role as spiritual shepherd because it no longer considers humanity's spiritual welfare its greatest concern. A great many bishops have rejected winning souls in favor of influencing political
issues. Church bureaucracy now neglects traditional mission in favor of lobbying for political causes. In fact, certain sectors of the church now make it their primary business to manufacture, widely distribute, and finance a radical agenda by which they hope to save the world. In doing so, they have created the Religious Left.
Main components of the Religious Left are organizations financed by the church. These organizations, such as Clergy and Laity Concerned (an anti-American, prodisarmament group), lobby the secular world and the American government on behalf of the Religious Left agenda. Unfortunately, church members are rarely aware of these organizations or their denomination's spending practices and would probably disapprove if they did know.
The Religious Left is a result of the cooperation between these church-created organizations and mainline
denominational bureaucracies (such as the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the United
Church of Christ Board for Homeland Ministries, the Presbyterian General Assembly Mission Board and the
Presbyterian Peacemaking Program), mainline church leadership, and the National and World Council of
Churches. The cooperation among these groups is not planned, but is the product of mutual agreement among
allies on what they consider true and important.
The transformation from classical Christianity to political advocacy has occurred gradually during the last twenty years and is the result of spiritual depletion. Christian leadership, for the most part, no longer believes that eternity is of prime significance. The emphasis is now on this world. The lack of metaphysical religious belief, a belief which was once the hallmark of Christians, is demonstrated in some church literature. Now bureaucrats tout the value of other religions while refusing to assert the uniqueness of Christianity. At the same time historic Christian mission is attacked as one which allegedly corrupted and oppressed native peoples.1 Mainline literature, in large measure, no longer teaches that the world must be saved for Christ, but from poverty and oppression.
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What The Religious Left Believes
These new concerns have produced, in turn, a fervent ideological conversion to socialism, pacifism at home, violent "liberation" abroad - the theological expression of which is liberation theology - and a determination to play power politics. Following these beliefs to their logical conclusions, church leadership continually attacks American government for its alleged indifference to the poor and American free enterprise for its alleged exploitation of the Third World. It continuously demands America rid itself of military defenses and seems determined to believe Marxist-Leninist regimes bring the new millennium.
Radicalism has become so strident on these subjects that in 1985 twenty of the fifty-seven Presbyterians in Congress protested to Presbyterian Stated Clerk James Andrews. The signers declared that the church was not "cognizant" of the expanding military nature of the international Communist presence in Central America, and protested the church's "peace" advocacy by admonishing that "peace at any price is not peace."
Charging that leadership is out of touch with its members, the five-page letter criticized the General Assembly and church social action agencies for their liberalism. It also stated that the Presbyterian stance on U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations is "ultimately self-defeating." They charged that the church's position was "based on the inaccurate belief that we can expect
perfection of countries," and the idea that the United States is "self-righteous and hypocritical if we denounce even the most atrocious actions of governments who declare themselves our enemies."
This, then, is the Religious Left: a group of allies who are in positions of leadership within the American mainline church and its bureaucracies, or who are leaders and members of like-minded organizations funded by the mainline church. If the Religious Left was only a harmless, loosely knit alliance which advocated far-left positions it would be bad enough. It has, however, caused active damage to the American psyche. Not only are the main issues of the Religious Left - such as the ones which the Presbyterians denounced - untrue and strident, their anti-Americanism directly affects what theologian C. S. Lewis termed part of one of the "four loves," patriotism.
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The Religious Left And The American Psyche
Lewis saw patriotism as a healthy and necessary attitude in sane, just societies; patriotism is not blasphemy, he maintained, and not idolatry. But the result of the church's attitude toward its country, and its country's enemies, has been the creation of an undue sense of guilt which has helped produce an atmosphere of self-doubt among church membership and the population at large.
A typical statement of this sort was made by United Methodist minister James Lawson in his keynote address to the 1982 National Assembly of Clergy and Laity Concerned. It was later repeated in its newsletter. "We face a time, now as Americans," he pronounced, "where we must either will the defeat of our nation's policies, domestic and international, in order that the human race might have a future of promise, or we will will the chaos of the human family. What seems very clear is that the number one enemy of peace and justice in the world today is the United States."
Lawson repeated the charge to a Methodist Council of Bishops meeting in May 1985, this time going further and stating that U.S. leadership had deliberately chosen, after World War II, to cynically accuse the U.S.S.R. of being an enemy of the U.S. in order to keep up a high level of defense spending. At the same meeting, The Rev. Barbara Green of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program declared that "The U.S. made the Soviet Union an enemy so it would have a reason to build its arms and have an evil entity it could find itself superior to."2
It is interesting that most council members did not openly protest Lawson's remarks, but not altogether surprising; Lawson was one of the people consulted by the bishops while they were gathering information for their pastoral letter concerning American defense and nuclear weapons.
Mainline leadership seeks to justify these sorts of attitudes, as exemplified by Lawson, by demanding "peace with justice," usually in the Third World. However, it seldom demands freedom. Liberty does not seem to have a high priority. The inequities of society disturb churchmen, and rightly so. But as statists, they seem to believe that government should remedy all injustice in this imperfect world. They have discarded the ancient Christian belief that hearts must be changed before societies can be reformed and therefore refuse to recognize that much suffering and poverty has root causes in moral, cultural, and spiritual problems. In Religious-Left thinking it logically follows that since the Third World is not responsible for its problems, some negative force must be in control. The negative force chosen as villain is, most often, the United States.
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The Religious Left Lobby, Its Goals And Effects
Perhaps the most injurious aspect of these attitudes is that they cannot be ignored. The Religious Left has become the most vocal purveyor of the above ideas, and the most powerful. It now has disproportionate influence over Central American policy, defense issues, and American perceptions of Marxist-Leninist societies and intentions. Its influence has made itself felt not by suggestions based on realistic political assessment, but by criticism which reflects both its negative view of American intentions and an implied threat from its constituency. Ironically, its shrill demands for a decisive voice in political decision making has been the identical process which has discredited it with many U.S. government officials.
Otto Reich, the State Department's coordinator of public diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, explained to the authors that the Religious Left has been so politically active that many in the Reagan Administration have concluded they are not religiously motivated at all. "It takes lots of political courage to say we will ignore advice from religious groups," he said, "but people in the administration have become very cynical because they believe many religious groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the U.S. Catholic Conference, are led or manipulated by individuals who have a political agenda and have taken advantage of a convenient cover.
"They have a political agenda there. Their actions appear to be actions of people who want to change this society. They don't like the way it is, they don't like the political, social or economic system. This is opinion, but they appear not to like those structures and that is what they really want to change, using peripheral issues. . . . The strictly political activists have been given a mantle of moral respectability which is not deserved."3
Sanctuary for illegal aliens is one example, Reich said, of church activists using an erstwhile religious issue to criticize American policy. Activists in the sanctuary movement (who are often persuaded to take the sanctuary course by church agencies and quasi-religious organizations) ostensibly believe the American government should change its immigration policy toward refugees from Central America, principally those from El Salvador - to accept automatically all such aliens who claim they are fleeing from war and persecution. It is, they say, the Christian thing to do. There are now an estimated forty illegal sanctuaries operated in the United States through approximately two hundred and fifty churches.
Reich suggested, however, that sanctuary workers are interested in refugees primarily as a means of combating U.S. government support for El Salvador's democratically elected government. By publicizing its alleged victims, they hope to gain support for the Marxist-Leninist guerrillas who are seeking its overthrow.
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Reich's viewpoint is confirmed by those in the ranks of the Religious Left itself. In an article for Monthly Review, a Marxist magazine, Sister Kathleen Schultz of the religious order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary declared that the most notable change in the United States over the last twenty years has been the emergence of Christians in radical politics.4
Schultz attributed the change to upheaval caused by
the civil tights movement and the verbal war over Vietnam. The major concerns of radical Christians now, she wrote, are the anti-nuclear and disarmament movements and the struggle against American policy in Central
America. The Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear arms, Schultz declared, is the "frontispiece" of the Christian Left. "The document signals a significant shift and development within the national hierarchy and
opens the door to even greater Catholic, and wider Christian, awareness of and dissent against U.S. policy in the same arms race.5
The change has been so notable, Schultz believes, that the church has split in half, the church in "solidarity" with the poor and exploited and the "church of the established order." She identifies four factions of the Christian Left. The first faction is "center-center" mainline Christians, who she implies are largely officials of the local church structure who believe in the Left's agenda. The second are center-left Christians whose activities are "based on anti-capitalist critique within a social-democratic framework," but who are "anticommunist." The third category is the "socially committed Christians," who have "begun to develop an alternative ecclesiastical and theological awareness (liberation theology)." Their activities are usually "prophetic denunciation and symbolic resistance.6
The fourth category is that of "politically committed Christians" who are "characterized" by "revolutionary left practice and socialist political commitment." These Christians, Schultz said, are Marxists* who, considering the "repression" in the United States, have not yet publicly admitted their political orientation.7
This is a revealing statement as Schultz reports that its "analysis of issues and of the role of the churches, along with their organizational capacity, gives this sector an influence disproportionate to their numbers. . . " In other words, Schultz believes that Marxists have a great, albeit subtle, influence within the Religious Left.8
There is a difference between Marxism and Marxism-Leninism. The former refers to the theory of Marxism, the latter to aggressive Marxism, a movement whose adherents attempt to impose Marxism an society by undemocratic means.
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Bureaucratic Manipulation Of Catholic Hierarchy
What Schultz did not explain is the way in which the bureaucracies have often manipulated mainline leadership to take Religious Left positions. The Catholic bishops are a case in point. While many Catholic bishops are more conservative than their Protestant counterparts, their political activism has been, as Schultz noted, a
"frontispiece" for the Religious Left. The Catholic pastoral letter on defense and nuclear war, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," effectively advocated nuclear pacifism by declaring that not only was the use of nuclear weapons wrong, but even the threat of using the weapons was wrong. The letter on the American economy which followed is a model for leftist thinking on economic matters.
These developments do not signify a sudden radicalization of most Catholic bishops. What they do signify is the abdication of responsibility by the bishops and their subsequent dependence on their more radical bureaucracy. Even in instances when the Catholic hierarchy seems to be leading, publishing letters on national defense or on the U.S. economic system, they are willing prisoners of staffs (largely of the United States Catholic Conference) who do the initial studies and recommend the consultants.
Edward Doherty, one of the Catholic Conference staffers who had great influence on the bishops' pastoral letter on defense, is an excellent example of Religious-Left thinking. He wants the bishops to advocate immediate unilateral disarmament in favor of conventional defense. If that is not enough to deter the Soviets, Doherty believes that it would be "preferable" for the United States to be in the position Afghanistan is currently in (occupied by the Soviet army) than for it to retain its nuclear weapons. This is all based on Doherty's conception of morality. If the Soviet Union occupied America it would be good from a moral point of view, he believes, because "it would force people to defend themselves on an individual, human level rather than ask their governments to take care of them by building more missiles."9
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In his excellent article "The Catholic Bishops, Public Policy, and the New Class," James Hitchcock traced both the attitudes which allowed staff members like Doherty to manipulate the bishops and the effect it has had on the decision-making process. Because the bishops found the world of the late sixties "daunting and bewildering," and because their education did not seem adequate to help them cope, many bishops began to defer to the "experts."10
"In most dioceses," Hitchcock wrote, "activities like religious education became semi-autonomous, for example, the bishop rarely 'interfering' with the work of people whose competence in a particular area he estimated to be superior to his own. Before long some bishops found themselves unable to act decisively in any area of church life where some definable competence could be claimed, since certified experts had staked out those areas for themselves."11
"Bishops have tended, in the midst of this predicament, to define their own rules in two opposite ways - on one hand continuing to exercise ultimate
budgetary authority in their dioceses, and on the other hand presenting themselves merely as kindly
grandfathers, holding the diocese together by bonds of personal affection."12
Hitchcock's observations are just as valid for the Protestant hierarchy. The United Methodist bishops decided in 1984 to write a peace letter. They used Alan Geyer of the Churches Center for Theology and Public Policy and listened to James Lawson's views. Lawson's political position has already been explored. The Center for Theology, as demonstrated by its own literature, is far left of center. The resulting letter was, unsurprisingly, left of center.
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Of Bishops And Issues
Further, many Catholic bishops seemingly do not understand the issues in which they are supposedly guiding their membership, making them even more vulnerable to manipulation.
After being picked at random by a writer of a conservative magazine, some Catholic bishops were asked their viewpoint on various questions which related to their pastoral letters on the economy and American defense. Bishop Edward O'Donnell of St. Louis
admitted, among other things, he doesn't know what percent of the national budget is spent on defense. He said he wants an "adequate non-nuclear defense" to protect Europe, but he is "alarmed at the information that conventional weapons cost more than nuclear weapons."13
Bishop Maurice Dingman of Des Moines, one of
the most radical bishops, told the writer that he is "going more and more pacifist" because of his realization, "Why can't we win wars without ever lifting a gun ?"14
"Confronted with the magnitude of the Soviet buildup
and asked to explain it," the writer said, "Bishop Dingman is not flustered. 'Megatrends gives me the answer,' he says, in reference to the best selling book. 'Both we and the Soviets have hierarchical systems that are outdated. We have to move into networking."15
It would seem that men whose ideas are so vague would be ignored by the public. If it were only bishops speaking, that would probably be the case. But much of the time the bureaucracies who speak for them provide the bishops with statements containing seemingly authoritative arguments. Those bureaucracies then reach out to millions of church members. They urge them to get involved with issues for which they supposedly, as Christians, are responsible; issues such as America's involvement with anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua and defense spending for weapons systems. The church-financed organizations, at the same time, preaching the same issue, reach millions in the secular world and are doubly effective because they wear the cloak of religious respectability.
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Where The Money Goes
They are also very well financed. Most mainline churches, as well as the National Council of Churches, now use a large percentage of their national income to finance the Religious Left. An analysis of Presbyterian grants for the year 1983, done by The Presbyterian Layman, revealed that 60 percent of Presbyterian Hunger Funds sent outside the United States ($1.9 million or 38.8 percent of the total) were used for direct hunger relief and agricultural support, but 55 percent allocated for use in the United States ($2.2 million or 82.6 percent) were directed to nonagricultural political action projects.16
Either because church bureaucracies could not fund their mission programs at former levels and still spend great amounts on Religious Left projects, or because church agencies simply lost interest, many denominations now spend almost as much on political projects as on missionary programs. In 1968 the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries had fifteen hundred career overseas missionaries. The mission force in 1985 was less than a third of its former size, with only four hundred and sixty career missionaries left in its ranks. This does not include short-term missionaries or foreign nationals. Between 1972 and 1981, the United Church of Christ nearly doubled the amount they spent on non-UCC projects - from $6.5 million to $12.1 million. According to UCC dissidents, rebellious UCC churches have become so disgusted at official church spending that they gave $800,000 more in 1981 for projects outside the church than they gave to the church itself. Unlike other mainline denominations, the United Church of Christ does not require its local congregations to support any of its bureaucracies.
The Methodist mission board spent only 16.9 percent - a little over $10 million - of its 1981 expenditures for missionaries. But they spent $29.9 million on grants, much of which went to politically active, ideologically committed organizations.
The largest recipient in 1981 was the World Student Christian Federation. It received a total of $120,900 and almost $170,000 more in the next two years. The amount dropped to $50,000 in 1984. The organization describes itself as an ecumenical Christian student organization with affiliates in ninety countries.
In August 1981, however, the Federation proved itself something more than a Christian organization. It passed resolutions supporting Cuba, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and the former Marxist-Leninist government of Grenada. The gathering decided that the Palestine Liberation Organization is the "sole representative" of the Palestinian people, supported a violent Marxist-Leninist organization (SWAPO), and said Puerto Rico should be freely allowed to determine its status (as if it had not been allowed to do so).
In 1984 the United Methodists gave Clergy and Laity Concerned $30,500. They also gave over $37,000 to Agricultural Missions, a program of the National Council of Churches so radical that in 1985 its officials were refused admittance to the island of Antigua. Officials of the Antiguan government later told the authors that the organization is not "compatible with government interests." Unofficially, the Antiguan government indicated it did not appreciate Agricultural Missions' intention of having Tim Hector, a well-known Caribbean radical and reported friend of Fidel Castro, as speaker at its annual board meeting. Nevertheless, Mr. Hector's organization, the American-Caribbean Training Institute, has received approximately $10,000 to $15,000 from Agricultural Missions since 1980.17 Agricultural Missions gets its money from other denominations who are members of the National Council of Churches and the National Council itself. Apparently a great number of people who know nothing about Mr. Hector's organization are contributing to his annual budget.
It is also a comment on United Methodist priorities that while the church was funding over $18 million in non-Methodist projects, it was announcing severe financial shortages. In April 1985, the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries announced funding of its overseas missionaries was in a "significant crisis." A special appeal in 1984 for $2 million for additional missionaries had been virtually ignored, the agency said, adding that United Methodist membership had given only $17,000. In order to support missionaries in 1986, the agency said, it would pass a "faith" budget because it was dependent on United Methodists giving $1 million more, a 20 percent increase, toward missionary salary.
When the appeal was launched in 1984, the agency said the $2 million would put fifty more missionaries in the field, but they later revised those figures to say that the $2 million would only insure a three-year salary for about twenty missionaries, due to increased costs. Furthermore, Global Ministries official Peggy Billings said a full 25 percent of the money had been designated for nonpersonnel projects overseas. As of 1984 the Board was spending $18.6 million for non-United Methodist projects and organizations and $20.4 million for persons in mission.
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The church's tilt toward the radical agenda has had two disastrous consequences: real damage done to the nation's strategic position, and the growing gap it has created between the church's hierarchies and church members, resulting in a loss of millions of members and potential members.
The strategic damage has been sustained by the Religious Left's creation of an atmosphere in which it
is much harder to justify defense spending, thus making it more difficult to maintain a balance of power.
Literature - churned out by the ream - claims that the United States does not need a military buildup and blames the United States for the arms race. This activity has had a decided effect on the weapons debate by making it appear to the public, the media, and Congress that a vast section of American citizenry favor disarmament.
The most common tactic used to defeat proposed defense spending is a massive mail-out of literature which urges concerned Christians to protest to their legislators. Readers are urged to concentrate on "swing votes," congressmen and senators whose vote will pass or kill legislation.
Most mainline denominations have passed endless resolutions calling for a nuclear freeze, a repudiation of the MX missile, and a halt to the Strategic Defense Initiative. Some resolutions have called for a halt to the placing of Pershing missiles in Europe; most mainline denominations have demanded President Reagan withdraw economic aid from El Salvador and financial
support from Nicaragua's antiSandinista rebels.
To be sure, most of the resolutions considered by the church conventions and bishops' councils are drafted and introduced by the bureaucracies, but they are meekly passed by delegates and leadership. The resolutions are then forwarded to Congress.
Worse still, however, has been the stance the church has taken against American influence throughout the world. Mainline leadership has actively worked against it, while piously stating they are only working for "peace." A typical example of this sort of hypocrisy is the National Council for Churches' effort to establish a "nuclear-free Pacific." The NCC is allied in this campaign with the Australian Council of Churches and a Dutch church group, as well as several Communist-controlled labor unions. They have now partially had their way because New Zealand, in Spring 1985, banned American ships carrying nuclear weapons from its harbors.
It does not appear disturbing to either New Zealand, the National Council, or other American church leaders that the Pacific swarms with Soviet submarines carrying nuclear weapons. Methodist bishops positively rejoiced in New Zealand's actions. In May 1985, they sent letters of support to New Zealand's prime minister and to Methodists and Presbyterians who had worked against American interests in the Pacific.
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The Church Touts Totalitarians
It is tragic enough for the church to adopt general anti-American attitudes, but it has compounded the tragedy by becoming a public relations firm for the Soviet Union, China, Nicaragua, Angola, Cuba, and a host of others. Since those regimes are among the most repressive and the most anti-Christian the world has ever known, it could be argued that the church (as Lenin predicted the Western businessman would do) is supplying the rope with which it - and the rest of the world - can conceivably be hanged. By showering its approval on these regimes, the church has also discredited itself with persecuted Christians in other parts of the world.
After returning from Cuba in 1977, former United Methodist Bishop James Armstrong, past president of the National Council of Churches, and seven other church leaders made the remarkable assertion that there is a "significant" difference between situations where people are in prison for opposing governments which practice inequities and ones in which people are jailed for opposing governments which attempt to remove inequities. The latter, of course, was a reference to Cuba."18
Such statements sound particularly ironic after hearing Cuban poet Armando Valladares recall his years in Cuban prisons. When his captors wanted to taunt him and the rest of Castro's political prisoners, Valladares said, the "communist indoctrinators" repeatedly used the statements of support for Castro's revolution made by representatives of American Christian churches.19
If greater or lesser culprits can be identified, the World Council of Churches should easily come to mind. When officials of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church - many of whom had been members of World Council committees - began to disappear after the 1974 Communist takeover of their country, no World Council official even protested. When the church patriarch, a man who had attended every World Council meeting since its founding, a man who in 1971 hosted the World Council Central Committee Convention in Addis Ababa, disappeared into the prison system, no World Council official even murmured a public protest.
Ethiopian Aradom Tedla attended the World Council convention in Vancouver in 1983 and begged ex-World Council General Secretary Philip Potter to help the patriarch. Potter, however, limited himself to investigating the patriarch's whereabouts. Then, putting his arm across Tedla's shoulders, he said, "Well, I have good news for you, the patriarch is still alive." He did not offer to mediate the patriarch's release from prison, nor did he seem particularly upset by the situation, Tedia said.20
In 1976, Soviet dissidents Father Gleb Yakunin and Lev Regelson pleaded to the Nairobi Assembly for help against religious persecution. They charged the Council had been silent when "the Russian Orthodox Church was half destroyed" in the early 1960s. The Assembly responded by voting to scrutinize religious freedom more closely. The resolution, however, did not mention the Soviet Union. The Council subsequently sponsored a low-key human rights program, but never spoke out openly against Soviet repression.21
At the 1983 Vancouver Assembly Potter again received appeals from Yakunin and from Russian Orthodox deacon Vladimir Rusak. This time Yakunin was pleading from a prison camp in the Soviet Ural mountains. He was sentenced to that unpleasant fate for his temerity in cofounding the original Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights. This time the Assembly was given little information about the appeals and "WCC spokesmen blandly explained that any action by the assembly would have amounted to intervention in the internal affairs of a member church."22
Christian activists are also some of the last defenders of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, one of the few groups which has not admitted the regime is totalitarian and anti-Christian. In this particular instance, it is difficult to tell which of the pro-Sandinistas are part of the Religious Left and which are simply naive, in view of the Religious Left's policy of leading idealistic Christians to Marxist-Leninist societies and introducing them to miracles of Christianity-in-Action that no one else has discerned. Maryknoll nun Peggy Healy, a longtime resident of Nicaragua, has been extremely influential in persuading Christian tourists that the Sandinistas are true democrats.
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The Opinion Gap
Religious radicalism might not be such an affront if it were representative of church membership as a whole. Such is not the case. The gulf between the political and religious opinions of mainline church leadership and the political and religious opinions of membership is wide; polls also reflect a difference in opinion between members and local clergy as well. This widening gap has resulted in a devastating loss of members and potential members.
The ideological disparity between bureaucrats and membership was underlined by a 1980 study of the attitudes of National Council of Churches membership. "Profiles By Faith," or "Surveying the Religious Landscape," prepared by the National Council of Churches' Office of Research, Evaluation, and Planning, asserted that members who thought of themselves as "liberal" constituted a group smaller than any other category. Labeled "confidential," the Planning Office asked that the study not be disseminated to the public because some people might use the findings to prove the National Council is "out of step" with its constituency "and censure us for it. To those who are hunting for such ammunition we need not supply a silver bullet."
The study was prepared using social indicator data researched by The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. The data was based on seven surveys conducted between 1972 and 1978. Since the country has become more politically conservative since the midseventies, it is possible that the disparity between attitudes of NCC bureaucrats and NCC member churches might now be even sharper than when the surveys were originally conducted. The Robert Johnson Company was later commissioned for a study, but that too was never released.
Episcopalians and Presbyterians have both made it clear they do not want their church involved in politics. A 1985 Gallup poll - commissioned by the Episcopal Prayerbook Society found that 76 percent of Episcopal laity oppose the church acting as an agent of political change in the U.S. However, a majority of Episcopal clergy disagreed.23
The Presbyterians regularly conduct polls through their research unit, and those polls usually indicate a wide gulf between member views and the views of clergy and bureaucracy. A February 1985 poll, for instance, revealed that while 74 percent of Presbyterian members either strongly agreed'or agreed that the security of the United States depends on its military strength, only 48 percent of clergy agreed or strongly agreed. The disparity was even more marked between membership and bureaucrats, religious workers and clergy assigned to special advocations.24
Although Catholic bishops have made their political views well known, their parishioners apparently disapprove by a wide margin. A recent poll proved that only 39 percent of Catholic membership believe their bishops should become involved in political issues. Catholic priests, however, disagree. Eighty percent of them are in favor.25
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Most rank-and-file membership suspect something is wrong. There have been numerous articles criticizing the Religious Left, small books written for esoteric circles, exposés printed in Reader's Digest, and a "CBS 60 Minutes" documentary detailing World and National Council of Churches. funding of Marxist-Leninist organizations. Mainline church membership as a whole, however, has not been transformed into a tidal wave of indignation. That is not to say that indignation does not exist. For the most part, church members have voted with their feet.
According to a study by Harvard divinity professor William Hutchison, the percentage of U.S. Protestant membership represented by the mainline churches has fallen 30 percent in the last sixty years. Mainline churches constituted 76 percent of the U.S. Protestant population in 1920. In 1984, mainline bodies only represented 49.2 percent.26 Further, the membership remaining in mainline churches is disproportionately made up of people above age fifty. Young adults comprise only 21 percent of United Church of Christ membership and 28 percent of the United Methodists. These figures are significant when it is considered that 40 percent of the nation's adult population belongs to the eighteen to thirty-four age group.27
Some experts predict that the United Methodist Church, already more than a million and a quarter members down from its 1968 level, will lose another 3.5 million by the year 2000, bringing its membership rolls below six million.
Figures from a recent National Council of Churches census showed the United Methodists losing 11 percent membership since 1970, the Lutheran Church in America 6 percent, the Episcopalians 15 percent, the Presbyterians 23 percent The Presbyterian Layman magazine places the figure at 27 percent), and the United Church of Christ 13 percent. During the same time period, the conservative Southern Baptist Convention gained 22 percent, the strait-laced Mormons 41 percent, and the evangelical Assemblies of God an astounding 85 percent. Unlike the mainline churches, these congregations are made up of a disproportionate number of young adults.
The Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative group which split from the Southern Presbyterian Church (now the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) in 1973, has doubled its size in its first ten years (it now has one hundred and fifty thousand members), and is expected to double again by 1991. The church originally split from the Southern Presbyterians due to its scheduled reunion with the Northern Presbyterian Church, which was considered more liberal.
It becomes clear where many of the lost mainline members are going when one considers that the Presbyterian Church in America has added more than three times as many members through transfers from other churches as it has through new congregations. It has gained membership through its mergers with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; but thirty-four thousand people transferred from other churches with which they felt an obvious dissatisfaction.
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Hutchison does not believe his figures necessarily indicate that Protestant liberalism is "enervated," nor that the growth of conservative churches and decline of the mainline church are related, nor that liberalism will continue to decline. Most of the professors and sociologists who have recently studied mainline membership loss strongly disagree. Wade Clark Roof, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, has predicted the decline will continue into the next century. He believes low birthrates among liberal Protestants, gains among conservative denominations, and an increase in the number of people growing up outside any religious tradition will keep the mainline churches from regaining their former numbers and influence. Conservative Protestants have a far higher birthrate than liberals. Methodists made up 16 percent of all Americans born at the turn of the century. By 1965 they made up only 7.7 percent.28 The other prominent mainline churches suffered a similar decline.
Some of the mainline decline can also be attributed to a growing number of people who do not belong to any church. A 1978 study seemingly proved that 41 percent of the American population is "unchurched." Most of those, the study said, are in some way religious, but have not chosen to become members of a denomination.29 It can be considered a major failure of the mainline churches that they have not been able to touch this group.
Some of the most radical activism has sprung from Roman Catholic clergy, and that church has also suffered a great decline. There has not been as much controversy about the activism among church members, but the quarreling between Catholic clergy and the Vatican over who will interpret doctrine has had its effect. Young men and women no longer opt for religious orders as they once did, and attendance at weekly Mass has dropped 23 percent in America since 1958.30 Although the number of Catholics has continued to grow because of a higher birthrate and because of immigration, younger Catholics do not attend Mass in the numbers their elders do.
The breakdown of authority on moral issues, such as abortion, contraception, and ordination of women, has also been an apparent factor in the Catholic decline, as well as the changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council. Discarding the ancient Mass which Catholics had used for centuries was a jarring experience for many. Nonetheless, the traditionally conservative anti-Communist American Catholic has been further alienated by theologians and priests who openly espouse a quasi-Marxist liberation theology, with some missionaries going so far as to take up arms with Marxist-Leninist guerrilla groups.31
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Religious Attitudes And Lost Opportunity
One of the real tragedies in religious radicalism has been the loss of opportunity. A 1984 Gallup poll proved that religious belief and importance of religion in individual lives has increased dramatically in the last few years. A majority of 56 percent told Gallup that they are more reliant on God than they were five years ago, and as many as four in ten said their spiritual well-being has improved.32
Religion for youth has taken a dramatic upturn, with the percentage of college students who say religion is very important in their lives increasing from 39 percent in 1975 to 50 percent in 1984. Gallup also reported that the proportion of college youth today who say their religious commitment has become stronger since they have been in college is twice the percentage of those who said it has become weaker."33
The authors of All Faithful People, a sociological study of religion in Muncie, Indiana, took Gallup one step further and proved, by comparative studies, that religion in America is actually stronger than in the 1920s. They suggested that religious upswings occur on a regular basis. If that is so, it is a fact that has not been capitalized on by the mainline church. If church leadership had encouraged godliness instead of participation in politics in the last two decades, it might have tripled its membership.34
It might have also revitalized morality in America. The Gallup poll showed that although religion was growing in importance in America, morality is losing ground. There is little difference in behavior between the churched and the unchurched, the poll said; it recommended that religious leaders channel people's new interest into "not simply religious involvement but into deep spiritual commitment."35 As long as mainline leadership stresses social awareness over spiritual commitment, that change will probably never occur in their denominations.
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Member Reaction To Controversy
Given the gap between mainline church leadership and the people in the pews, one would think that the latter would be outraged by the radical stance their leaders have, taken. It would seem that members who faithfully give to support their church and its Christian mission would react angrily when they find out where much of the money has gone. To a certain extent this is true; the church has lost many members. But it is not true of those who stayed. Many were angered enough by "60 Minutes'" "The Gospel According to Whom?" to demand an investigation into the funding practices of the National and World Council of Churches. But the furor soon died and the status quo has remained unshaken.
In September 1983 the United Presbyterian Council on Church and Race, obviously determined to defy negative opinion, voted $3,000 for the World Council's Program to Combat Racism. The child of that program, the Special Program to Combat Racism, funds the African National Congress (of South Africa) and the Southwest Africa People's Organization (of Namibia): both are Marxist-Leninist terrorist groups. The Presbyterians reasoned that the Council's "commitment to a cause" had come under attack from Reader's Digest and others who publicized what kind of organizations the WCC supported. The $3,000 was the Presbyterian Council's way of throwing down the gauntlet.
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Church leadership, including most pastors, supported the Council's decisions from the first, blindly defending them and maintaining that the charges were not true. The Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church named a blue ribbon commission (the Conciliar Review Committee) to study the charges directed at the National and World Council of Churches. The resulting report was largely a whitewash of the Councils. The report did include an inquiry into the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries which did contain criticism of that agency. The district superintendents of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the denomination subsequently petitioned the General Conference (governing body) of the church to name a commission to study the allegations. By a narrow vote, the Conference refused.
Moreover, the defense of funding practices and attitudes by mainline officials has been blindly hostile. Defensiveness has been so automatic that not only has nothing changed, there apparently is no suspicion that it should. Critics are often accused of not only being wrong, but evil to make such outrageous accusations. James Armstrong, then a United Methodist bishop and president of the National Council of Churches, protested the media exposure, charging that part of it "had been 'exploited' by right-wing forces bent on destroying the ecumenical voice for justice of the world."36
Ironically, the controversy itself has fueled organizations which are angered at the church's lack of response. A separate mission board has been created by conservative United Methodists, in response to frustration felt over the seemingly immovable Board of Global Ministries. Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Episcopalians have also created organizations designed to spur reform in their churches; the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Presbyterians United for Biblical Concerns, The Prayerbook Society of the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ's Biblical Witness Fellowship, and Good News, a United Methodist organization, are all having an impact.37 But these organizations only involve a small percentage of people. Most mainline church members have either left or ignore the situation.
Excuses can be made for the general lack of action by membership in responding to the radical transformation of their church. Most of the demands made by the Religious Left are made in the name of the church as a whole. The National Council of Churches also advertises itself as the voice of mainline Christian America and the World Council as the voice of world Christianity. It must seem difficult to oppose such intimidating numbers. It is unfortunate that such pretentions to representation should be believed because most of the grass-roots National and World Council membership has little knowledge of those institutions' activities and of the activities of their own National and World Council representatives.
Further, lay persons often do not feel competent to deal with such issues because the problem seems far away. If things are going well in their local church, they are hesitant to disturb the status quo. They hesitate making their pastor or priest unhappy and do not want to be thought rabble-rousers. But much of membership's obvious passivity can be attributed to a reluctance to get involved in battles that can get unpleasant and have no happy end in the foreseeable future. Some members also seem to want religion to be their comfort, but not their challenge. They want to attend church on Sunday mornings and feel they have done their duty toward God, but do not want to be accountable for action taken in their name. Knowledge is responsibility, and responsibility demands energy and commitment.
It is also possible that some members, who are not involved in charity work, or who feel guilty they are able to live in a safe, prosperous society, actually feel the church is their surrogate, fighting battles they abdicated long ago.
Pastors, on the other hand, often understand the issues, but many ate more concerned about their professional careers than being honest with their congregations. To be sure, many are concerned about the unity of their church and seek to protect the members from disillusionment; but they are all too willing to overlook what they disapprove in order to keep the peace.
It is easy to understand why members and clergy have kept silent. But if they do not demand change, the American mainline church will wither into a small, ineffective organization devoted exclusively to secular concerns. It will become only another failed political party devoted to pacifism, socialism, anti-Americanism, and allegedly favorable aspects of Marxist-Leninist societies. Those are the ideas which the Religious Left now preaches. This book will explore this thesis and examine these ideas. It will attempt to prove them wrong. It will, most of all, attempt to warn about the dangers of continuing this course.
Alexis de Tocqueville, that most astute observer of American democracy, observed one hundred and fifty years ago that it is extremely dangerous for clerics to become involved in politics of any persuasion. When they do, he said, they are identified with their politics instead of their faith. One of America's great strengths, he thought, was that the ecclesiastics had not compromised their belief by acting out their secular opinions. As a result, ". . . belief has remained unshaken." The church in Europe was not as wise, he pointed out, and has "allowed itself to be intimately united with the powers of this world. Now that these powers are falling, it is as if it were buried under their ruins. . . "38
The trend that Tocqueville observed has played itself out in Europe today where only a small percentage of people attend church or even believe in God. But Tocqueville had a solution, one which was never implemented in Europe. It is not too late for America.
He wrote: "A living being has been tied to the dead; cut the bonds holding it and it will arise."39
The Betrayal of the Church Copyright © 1986 by Edmund W. Robb and Julia Robb. Published by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois 60153
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.
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