A new report about the human rights advocacy record of mainline churches out by the Institute of Religion and Democracy is creating something of a stir. The group charges that mainline churches have focused only on the US and Israel in their criticism of human rights abuses while ignoring Arab nations. Their conclusion reads:
The mainline churches are not adequately addressing the wide range of human rights abuses taking place in the world. Denominations are focusing on the United States and Israel as the primary perpetrators of human rights violations. Great attention to the United States may be expected from churches that find their homes there.
But the dramatic focus on Israel as opposed to many more repressive regimes, including other U.S. allies known for human rights abuses (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), must be challenged.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the churches made the mistake of supporting oppressive Soviet-sponsored liberation movements around the world. They largely ignored human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, instead focusing on U.S. policy as the primary source of abuse. It appears that mainline denominations may be making the same mistake today with the Arab and Muslim worlds, ignoring many of the most serious abuses while apparently laying heavy blame upon the United States and Israel not only for their own lesser abuses, but also for the abuses of others.
It is evident from the tone and language used by mainline church leaders in their statements and legislation that, as a group, they believe that the United States is often a malignant influence in the world. This pervasive anti-Americanism is demonstrated time and again in their public policy advocacy, and one need not investigate far to find it.
Given the dramatic unwillingness of the mainline churches to criticize states around Israel for their human rights abuses—not only the connections to worldwide terrorism, but also the oppression and brutality toward their own people—it is not unreasonable to ask whether anti-Jewish animus may play some role in the churches’ skewed human rights advocacy.
The Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, responded to these charges today in a statement:
The Institute of Religion and Democracy's report titled "Human Rights Advocacy in the Mainline Protestant Churches 2000-2003," released today (Sept. 27), addresses the important matter of human rights in a fatally flawed way.
The report assumes that all that the National Council of Churches USA does or says about human rights gets reported out in resolutions and news releases. It ignores the NCC's sound, comprehensive policy base on human rights, especially the foundational "Human Rights" policy adopted by the Council's highest governing body in December 1963, and that body's November 1995 reaffirmation and expansion of that policy, "Human Rights: The Fulfillment of Life in the Social Order."
In truth, the ideologically conservative IRD cannot claim to have produced an objective report, having among other things used another ideologically conservative group, Freedom House, as its barometer on human rights.
The NCC naturally addresses many public statements to the government of the United States out of concern about how our own country behaves as a global citizen.
The most unfortunate part of the IRD's report is its apparent attempt to hurt Jewish-Christian relations by quite blatantly planting seeds of suspicion that the mainline churches are anti-Semitic. The IRD wrongly and dangerously equates any criticism of the government of Israel and its policies with anti-Semitism.
The NCC seeks justice for all people in the Middle East. It is working for justice in the land where our Savior walked and where our Christian brothers and sisters, along with Jews and Muslims, are crying out for justice. The NCC grieves all loss of life, including Palestinians and Israelis, and has said so.
We regret the IRD's attempt to play partisan, secular politics with important matters of Christian faith and ministry.
The extreme conservative nature of the IRD is clearly reflected in their mission statement:
Since 1981 the IRD has worked to reform the social and political witness of the American churches, while also promoting democracy and religious freedom at home and abroad.
Our church reform work at times requires us to critique our churches. In particular, the “mainline” Protestant churches in our country have suffered shocking membership losses in recent decades. Once America's premier churches, the mainliners are now only one-third of US church members. This decline shows that something is seriously wrong. But despite the decline, mainline bureaucrats continue to push a secular agenda of the Left instead of the timeless message of Jesus Christ.
IRD “monitors” church bodies and ecumenical groups and uses their resources to point out what they see as flaws. Their major domestic issues include opposition to same sex marriage and support for the war in Iraq. Their board of directors is made up of anti-abortion activists and other well known conservative political activists.
This organization does nothing more than attempt to malign the faith of good Christians working to promote justice as called for by God. Their report is a sham issued during a tense political campaign to give theological cover for the political right.