Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Appendix C
Nicaragua - A Case Study

An article in the January 13, 1989 issue of The United Methodist Reporter says in bold letters "UM BISHOPS PLAN MISSION TO NICARAGUA." The article goes on to say "that eighteen United Methodist bishops from the United States, East Germany, and the Philippines... will spearhead a 'mission for peace' in Nicaragua... Objectives of the meeting are:
  • 'To witness the call of Jesus Christ for peace and justice, freedom and self-determination;

  • 'To be in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and Central America in their aspirations for a decent life through the sharing of the gospel;

  • 'To reflect the legitimate urgency for peace, the factors that hinder this process and consequently take the necessary steps to assure its total implementation." Bishops who were to attend were: "Ernest T. Dixon, San Antonio, Texas, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; Elias Galvan, Phoenix, Ariz.; Lloyd T. Knox, Birmingham, Ala.; C. P. Minnick, Raleigh, NC.; Melvin G. Talbert, San Francisco; Neil L. Irons, Pennington, N.J.; Joseph H. Yeakel, Silver Spring, Md.; J. Woodrow Hearn, Lincoln, Neb. ; Kenneth W. Hicks, Topeka, Kan.; Robert C. Morgan, Jackson, Miss.; Paul A Granadosin, Baguio City, Philippines; W.T. Handy Jr., St. Louis; Leroy C. Hodapp, Indianapolis; Ruediger R. Minor, Dresden, East Germany; Felton E. May, Harrisburg, Pa.; Rueben P. Job, Des Moines, Iowa; Jack M Tuell, Los Angeles; and Woodie W. White, Springfield, Ill."(l)

The article goes on to say that "three of the United Methodist bishops-Dixon, Minnick, and Hicks-were members of a nine-member, United Methodist fact-finding delegation to Nicaragua in 1985. After Bishop C.P. Minnick's return from Central America, he had a glowing report of Nicaraguan communists building "a model society for Central America."(2) Later the Council of Bishops registered their 'strong protest' against U.S. support of contra activity that they said was bringing 'torture, terror, and death to many innocent civilians."

The bishops also protested President Reagan's trade embargo and urged him and the U.S. Congress to open discussions with Nicaragua "seeking a negotiated, non-violent settlement of issues of conflict that threaten peace between the two countries." The article finishes with "Expressing concern for human rights, the delegates called on the U.S. Government to recognize the conflict in that region as struggles for human rights and self-determination rather than confrontations between the superpowers of East and West."(3) It should be noted that Dr. Kalmin D. Smith, who is a labor specialist for the Michigan House of Representatives and President of the Lansing District Council of Ministries, visited Nicaragua from October 17-28, 1984 under the auspices of the Board of Global Ministries; in his report "Observations of the Central America Trip" he was highly critical of the lack of objectivity of the trip. Dr. Smith wrote on page five of his report "Many Sandinista leaders told us that the revolution in Nicaragua should not be viewed as part of the East-West conflict."(4) This idea, originally expounded by Sandinista leaders, was the same one put forth to us by our bishops when they returned from their trip. It is doubtful that this was the bishops' original idea, yet it was given to us as their analysis of the situation.

These people, fourteen of whom were American United Methodist bishops-a third of the total here in the States-subsequently spent a week in Nicaragua, where there is not a single United' Methodist church. They went to Managua and proclaimed, "We will demand and expect that our government act with compassion and justice.

"We will publicly challenge our governments to be peacemakers and not peacebreakers.... We will work for the sovereign rights of other nations to govern themselves without interference." They went on to say, "We are here to express our joy for what the Nicaraguan people have accomplished in their long struggle for self-determination and justice."

The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) best introduces the analysis of the grandiloquent pronouncements of these bishops: "Joy? Accomplishments? These self-appointed prophets are not speaking the whole truth. They know there is no basis for joy, only tears."(5) To portray reality, a collection of events in Nicaragua is as follows:

  • A teacher earns $12.00 per month; various estimates of the average wage range from $7.50 to $10.00 per month, down from the pre-Sandinista figure of $100.00 per month.

  • There are between 7,000 and 10,000 political prisoners, according to Catholic bishop Bosco Vivas.

  • The Catholic radio station is prohibited from giving the news (Vivas).

  • La Prensa, the country's only truly independent newspaper, is heavily censored, and closed on an arbitrary basis. This is the same newspaper run by Jaime Chamorro, whose brother's murder on January 10, 1978 by Somoza henchmen precipitated the actions that ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the government. The Chamorro family, who has had four presidents in its history, came to oppose the Sandinistas when they failed to carry through on their promises of freedom and reform.

  • Divine mobs("turbas divinas") regularly harass, terrorize, and beat, up politicians and others opposed to the government.

    1. On July 24, 1982, Horacio Ruiz, a La Prensa editor, was forced into a car by four men-two with submachine guns-and taken to a remote place and beaten up.

    2. Luis Mora Sanchez was locked in a cell with a gang and beaten up.

    3. Alejandro Cordonero and Enrique Garcia, two reporters for La Prensa, were arrested, detained for fifteen days, and questioned about their activities on the newspaper.(6)

  • Ration cards are confiscated for non-attendance at Sandinista rallies.

  • In Chinandega, Daniel Ortega branded talk of inflation as "counter revolutionary." He stated that a pound of beans could be bought for five cordobas; a man in the audience offered him five cordobas for a pound, and was arrested and taken off later that day.

  • On May 1,1984, a May Day rally attended by thousands of workers, peasants and young people chanted slogans like "El frente y Somoza son la misma cosa. (The Sandinistas and Somoza are the same thing)." (7)

  • On June 26, 1986, La Prensa was closed.(8)

  • The Nicaraguan government executed 200 people it caught rummaging for food in a Managua dump. (9)

  • During January-February, 1988, 15,000 workers marched during a massive protest in Managua against the Sandinista government. They demonstrated against food shortages and lack of government response to demands for improved economic, social, and political conditions.

  • Inflation in 1988 was 22,500 percent.

  • On January 23, 1989, Daniel Ortega said he was laying off 23,000 workers to cut a budget deficit.

  • In May, 1989, 5,000 opposition supporters marched through the town of Masaya shouting, "Democracy Yes, Sandinismo No."(10)

Dr. Jaime Bengoechea, president of the Chamber of Industry and a pharmacist, stated, "We have a human tragedy in Nicaragua. Our society is disintegrating. When a country is abandoned by 16 percent of its people including 60 percent of its professional and technical people, that's a tragedy. A bottle of milk costs a half day's pay. A thousand companies have been expropriated. A circus visited here three years ago and had its tent confiscated as a 'public utility'! Can you imagine anyone investing here with that behavior?" (11)

A report by the Puebla Institute, a lay Catholic human rights organization, confirms the above mentioned information. It also regretted the massive exodus of people from Nicaragua. In interviews of people in refugee camps in Honduras and Costa Rica as described in its fifty-two page report entitled "Fleeing their Homeland", it gave the following reasons for fleeing their native country:
  • Restriction on freedom of religion. "Religious activists suffered harassment and discrimination by the Nicaraguan government, including prohibitions on preaching, evangelizing, and attending prayer meetings.

  • "Sandinista military attacks against civilians.... The attacks occurred indiscriminately and without warning.

  • "Arbitrary arrest and detention... without due process as a method of harassment and intimidation.

  • "Torture and ill treatment in detention. Among the methods used were severe beatings during interrogations, prolonged deprivation of food and/or water, and mock executions.

  • "The military draft. Religious pacifists are given no opportunity for conscientious objector status in violation of their religious rights."(12)

Yet, contrary to these and other sources of information on the state of affairs in Nicaragua, the Methodist bishops summarized their thoughts in a signed statement entitled "A Declaration of Peace and Solidarity." This Declaration sharply contrasts with a pastoral letter that Nicaragua's Roman Catholic bishops released in June, 1988. It should be noted that all of the Methodist bishops live outside of Nicaragua; the Catholic bishops are all from Nicaragua. The Methodist bishops who traveled to Central America to investigate the "Nicaraguan reality," as they called it, came to completely different conclusions from those of the Catholic bishops, who are actually a part of the Nicaraguan reality, since they live there for 365 days a year, and are not there for just a five day visit. (13) The Methodist bishops state that "peace for these Central American] nations is our deepest desire and our greatest hope," and go on to define peace in terms of Psalm 85, citing verses 10,11. They then assert that "peace with justice is possible in our time." From this point it is worthwhile to quote the analysis of the Religion and Society Report:

"The authors of the Methodist Declaration are convinced that the responsibility for achieving peace in Central America lies squarely on the shoulders of our governments." Again, the Declaration's prescriptions seem to assign no particular peacemaking responsibilities to the government of Nicaragua. That is rather unusual, since the Nicaraguan government has been engaged in a civil war-sometimes at high-intensity levels-since the demise of the Somoza regime. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that if peace... is to be achieved in Central America today, it will require the full cooperation of the government of Nicaragua, as well as the cooperation of other governments in the Americas. The point is that peace in Central America cannot be premised on the notion that the government of Nicaragua is a defenseless victim of geopolitical realities and not a crucial political agent in its own right."

In sharp contrast to the Methodist bishops, the Catholic bishops address specific problems present in Nicaraguan society, but, significantly, begin on a note of martyrdom. The Nicaraguan government has for the past ten years conducted a war against the Catholic church by banning Catholic radio newscasts, expelling foreign priests on charges of treason, shut down Catholic social organizations, and as illustrated in the April 1986 Readers Digest article "The Lonely Struggle of a Nicaraguan Priest," encouraged mob violence against the church and priests themselves. Nicaragua's Catholic bishops decry the economic deterioration, alienation, desperation, administrative deficiency, high military expenditure, and the "materialistic and atheistic education." In addition they criticize the so-called "people's churches" that combine the Christian faith with a materialistic ideology, and is controlled by the state; these provide the illusion of the government's cooperating in propagating religion. (16) In addition, the Nicaraguan Catholics lament many of the problems in the life of their society: the so called "trial marriages," abortion, increasing disunity of the family, alcoholism, "delinquency, sexual debauchery, violence, and amorality."

The fact that the Methodist bishops have decided to ignore the contents of the Catholic bishops' letter to present a favorable picture of the Sandinista government raises serious questions about their purpose in issuing their statement on Nicaragua in the first place. Again, to quote the Religion and Society Report, ".... the Methodist work and the Roman Catholic work are dramatically different. Though that is not surprising, it is disappointing for one basic reason. That reason is ecumenical in nature. It appears that the position of the Methodist bishops does not take seriously the concerns of the Roman Catholic bishops. By largely ignoring most of the expressed concerns of the Roman Catholic bishops of Nicaragua, the Methodist bishops might be understood to be neglecting their assigned duty to be leaders 'in the quest for Christian unity' (The Book of Discipline, 1988, p.284). The Methodist bishops call for their 'congregations to stand with the poor and the oppressed: to pray with them, share with ;them, and to suffer with them as the Gospel demands.' That call, which is certainly valid, would be authenticated by Methodism's bishops standing with the poor and oppressed Roman Catholic Church of Nicaragua, which is presently under the thumb of a Nicaraguan government that fears and thus perverts democratization."(14) This means that the Methodist bishops have ignored the concerns of the bishops of a fellow Christian religion in deference to a political government. That would constitute a political decision, and consequent political activism. Further, that government is a Marxist-Leninist government which is professedly atheistic. An all-important question is "Why are religious leaders of our church, nominally a Christian church, supporting an atheistic government and movement to the detriment of a fellow Christian movement?" That is a question that must be answered.

A review of the information contained in the summer, 1989 issue of The Christian Methodist Newsletter will quickly dispel the idea that Nicaragua is a defenseless victim of events in Central America: the picture of the Soviet-made 122mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL), the copies of the grade school math books that show Nicaraguan children are taught using Soviet AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades, and the extreme anti-U.S., and revolutionary rhetoric shown on the Sandinista posters and in the interpretation of the Sandinista hymn. In addition, the two pages reproduced from the publication Soviet Military Power give the tonnages of military equipment shipped to Nicaragua over the space of several years, describing the types of weapons, the quantities, sources, and the progressively increasing amounts. This corresponds with the revelations contained in Major Roger Miranda Bengoechea's disclosures of Daniel Ortega's intentions: after having signed an agreement to bring peace to Central America in August, 1987, Ortega returned to Managua, convened a closed meeting of the National Assembly, and laid out his plan - "The peace plan is a weapon to eliminate the Contras. First, it should be used to influence the U.S. Congress to cut off funds to the Contras. Once that happened, the Contras would cease to exist. Then the Sandinistas would build active and reserve forces of 600,000 soldiers (remember, Nicaragua has a total population of 3 million people). By 1995 they would have received flame throwers, 122mm self-propelled howitzers, and a squadron of MiG 2lBs from the Soviets. This military might would help them establish a Soviet Central America."The Nicaraguan offensive against the United States also takes the form of massive drug shipments. Under the sponsorship of the Ministry of the Interior, and Tomas Borge in particular, it is designed to undermine and corrupt America from the inside. To use the words of Humberto Ortega, "It's a way of waging war on the United States. It also provides a profit."(15,16,17,18)

As shown previously, the Marxist war of revolution is not limited to Nicaragua alone: in February, 1988, a courier for the communist guerrillas in El Salvador was captured, and a number of important secret documents fell into our hands. One of these provided an extremely interesting picture of what is planned for the United States and for the countries of Central America. This document was evidently prepared for the guidance of the top guerrilla leaders in El Salvador. It observes that the surrender of the anti-communist freedom fighters in Nicaragua "will be a strategic defeat of the gravest importance for the United States." It says that this will have global impact, producing "a global strategic reversal." It predicts that this will help the efforts of the communist insurgents to overthrow the government of El Salvador. It declared the Arias peace plan for Nicaragua-in its own words-"was and will continue to be a positive political instrument for the revolution so long as the revolutionary forces use it offensively to divide and weaken the enemy. Now we have the advantage, the war (in El Salvador) will become more intense and soon will become the dominant one in Central America after the negotiation period." Subsequently, Robert Pear, diplomatic correspondent of The New York Times, pointed out that the new FMLN offensive was fueled by arms shipments from Nicaragua. Pear noted that although the Arias peace plan, signed by Daniel Ortega, committed Nicaragua to stop sending arms to the Salvadoran rebels, a truckload of arms being shipped from Nicaragua to El Salvador was intercepted in Honduras on October 18, 1989. It had included AK-47 assault rifles, 19,000 rounds of ammunition, and more than 500 rockets, detonators, and radios. The truck driver, under interrogation, admitted delivering weapons every month since August, 1988. Pear also reported that the five top FMLN commanders had been seen in Managua two weeks prior to the attack on San Salvador. (19)

The importance of the propaganda war to try to influence people in the United States into thinking that Nicaragua is harmless and constitutes no threat to the region nor to the security of the United States is best illustrated by a statement made by Daniel Ortega himself, "The real war for Nicaragua is being waged not in Nicaragua, but in the United States." Anyone with the least bit of knowledge and background about Marxist-Leninist theory, and the history of Central America can understand the sequence of events: they have been repeated over and over and over. I believe it was George Santayana who said, "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." Yet Bishop Ernest T. Dixon of San Antonio, Texas is outspoken in giving advice to the President on Central American Policy; a few weeks ago, Spurgeon M. Dunnam, III, Editor-General Manager of The United Methodist Reporter, waxed eloquent about America's failed policy in Central America. The information contained in this Newsletter is completely unclassified: taken from sources available to everyone, to include members of the Methodist clergy. The President has available to him the information from these same sources plus all of the intelligence gathering sources of the Nation at levels not available to the common people: For Official Use Only (FOUO), Confidential, secret, and Top Secret. He is in a far better position to judge the true state of affairs in Central America, and more particularly, in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Yet Bishop Ernest T. Dixon, Bishop C.P. Minnick, and the other members of the clergy who presume to speak out on these issues, have evidently not availed themselves of even the basic sources of information used in The Christian Methodist Newsletter. Furthermore, had the bishops done their homework, they would have discovered that the use of so called "fact finding tours" have long been used by communist countries as means of propaganda to influence people into supporting their causes; this technique pre-dates the 1917 communist revolution and has its origin in Czarist Russia. During Catherine the Great's 1787 tour of the newly annexed Crimean territories, her statesman and favorite Grigory Potemkin undertook elaborate measures to make this area appear to be wealthier and more populous than it was in reality. Among other things, he ordered several fake villages to be constructed along Catherine's route. The phrase "Potemkin village" has since then become a common designation of a fraud designed to deceive outsiders. (20) The question remains, "Why were the bishops so easily deceived?" Combined with the above information, it appears that there is a decided political bias common among the group. What else would explain the fact that they so strongly support the Marxist Nicaraguan government, which has never once been elected to power, and Oppose the Nicaraguan freedom fighters("Contras"), and yet in El Sa1vador they consistently oppose the democratically-elected government, and support the FMLN guerrillas, who are communists. Why do they oppose U.S. involvement in Central America, yet have said absolutely nothing about support given by the Eastern Block countries, which completely outstrips that provided by the United States in both dollars and manpower? They decry the 55 military advisory personnel in El Salvador yet say nothing about the 69,000 Warsaw Pact personnel in Nicaragua. These questions also need to be answered.

It is the position of Concerned Methodists that the public political pronouncements made by the bishops based on their "fact finding" trip to Central America are not credible. This study utilizing only a small percentage of information available on Nicaragua proves conclusively that the situation there has nothing whatsoever to do with "self-determination," and is nothing more than a buildup by the Soviet Union of a staging base for Marxist-style revolution throughout Central America. This our religious leaders have failed to grasp.

Our bishops and other church personnel consistently speak well of the Sandinistas, but what do the Sandinistas really think about them? After all, these well-meaning people travel all the way from the United States, take time out of their busy schedules, and spend church money to go to Nicaragua and get the whirlwind "Potemkin Tour." They then return to the States dedicated to work on behalf of the Sandinistas. Tomas Borge, the previously mentioned Interior Minister, chief of the Nicaraguan Secret Police, and head of their propaganda operation calls them "tontos utiles." This translates literally to "foolish useful ones," or more commonly "useful idiots."

That is a sad testimony on the leadership of our church - "useful idiots."

[Original signed by]
Allen 0. Morris, Chairman
Concerned Methodists

NOTES:

  1. The United Methodist Reporter, January 13, 1989.
  2. The Fayetteville Observer, April 11, 1986, p. 5a
  3. Reporter.
  4. Paper "Observations of the Central America Trip," by Dr. Kalmin D. Smith, p. 5.
  5. Religion and Democracy newsletter, pub. by the IRD, March, 1989. p. 2.
  6. "Our People Cannot Be Silenced," Readers Digest (RD), May, 1987.
  7. "Disillusion in Nicaragua," Readers Digest, March, 1985.
  8. "Silenced," p. 174.
  9. Notable Quotables, pub. by MediaWatch, April 1, 1989, p. 1.
  10. The Fayetteville Times, May 29, 1990, p. 2a.
  11. Religion and Democracy newsletter, p. 2.
  12. Wichita Falls Record, May 6, 1987, p. 13a.
  13. The Religion and Society Report, June, 1989, p. 3.
  14. Ibid., p. 4.
  15. "High Stakes in Central America," David Reed, Readers Digest, Aug, 1983.
  16. "Triple Threat to the Western Hemisphere," Defense/86, May/June 86, p. 7. This article was based on a speech by Hector D. Sanchez, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Inter-American Affairs) to the Council on Foreign Relations.
  17. "On the Ramparts in Central America," Army, L. James Binder, ed. May, 1987.
  18. Nicaragua's Secret Plan, by Trevor Armbrister, April, 1988.
  19. The AIM Report, Accuracy in Media, November-B, 1989, p. 4.
  20. The Gulag Archipelago-Three, Aleksander I. Solzhenitsyn, p, 537.


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