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Methodists for MoveOn By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 04, 2006

Early this summer, the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church convened, representing 120,000 Methodists in the greater New York area. Based on its resolutions, the meeting sounded more like a MoveOn.org rally than a church convention.

The Methodists called for President Bush’s impeachment, commended divestment in firms doing business with Israel, and urged support for “progressive” Latin American regimes like Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez. And, oh yes, they demanded an expeditious U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

What does all that have to do with Christianity? Arguably, not much. But liberal Protestantism, which denies or minimizes the transcendent doctrines of the faith, is often left with just a stale political agenda of the Left. Evangelism and spiritual growth are displaced by the causes du jour.

Viewing Israel as the chronic oppressor and all of Israel’s opponents as merely victims is always a cause du jour. And bashing Israel remains a major theme for the Religious Left. The resolution from New York United Methodists, in typical fashion, celebrated that the “new” Palestinian leadership (i.e., Hamas) brought “some renewal of hope.” But that hope was crushed by Israel’s supposed intransigence. Citing boycotts against apartheid South Africa, the New York Methodist resolution urged divestment in firms that profit from Israel’s “illegal and violent activities,” of which there are many.

New York Methodists were quite displeased with Israel but apparently fairly happy with Venezualan leftist strongman Hugo Chavez and his socialist allies throughout the region. “Several countries in Latin America have elected progressive governments based on Christian values such as shared wealth and helping the poor;” the Methodist resolution chirpily observed. But “the Bush administration has undermined democratic processes by supporting the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002 and used the National Endowment for Democracy to support right-wing political parties in Venezuela.”

The U.S. must change its Latin American policy from “subversion” to “supporting…democratically elected governments” such as Venezuala’s and Chavez’s new ally in Bolivia, the resolution insisted. As examples of past U.S. “subversion” in the region, the resolution cited “recent” U.S. actions in Chile, Cuba, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These “subversions” included U.S. opposition to the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua, removal from power of drug lord Manuel Noriega in Panama, and the liberation of Grenada from a hard-line Marxist putsch. Most of Latin America’s old Marxist movements have died, and even Fidel Castro has become somewhat passé. But Hugo Chavez is the new rage.

New York Methodists are pleased with President Chavez, even though he once led his own military coup and is hardly finicky about protecting democratic freedoms. But these Methodists, in contrast, are perturbed with President Bush, who “misled this country with manipulated intelligence into a precedent- breaking preemptory war against Iraq.” Bush also authorized “illegal secret wiretapping,” “lied about his knowledge of hurricane Katrina’s threat to the levees of New Orleans,” and has “promoted the disappearance of thousands of people into Guantanamo and Abu Gharib prison.”

Quite logically, then, the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church considered these presidential acts “to be high crimes and misdemeanors and urges the impeachment of George W. Bush.” Perhaps, more simply, there should have been a single omnibus resolution that called for the deporting of President Bush to Israel, and the installation of Hugo Chavez as the new chief executive of the United States, constitutional niceties aside. But the New York Methodists were not shy in terms of number of resolutions.    

The Methodist resolution on Iraq at least, temperately by comparison, allowed for another 10 months before mandating that the U.S. evacuate Iraq. But it claimed that 24,000 U.S. citizens have “died” in Iraq. Perhaps it meant to say these were casualties. There is also a resolution about Global Warming, which is “one of the greatest threats to God’s Creation.”

These New York Methodists were quite busy indeed with their political statements. But as their bishop, Jeremiah Park, noted in his address, New York Methodism has lost 4,000 members over the last two years. In fact, over the last 40 years, as the church has lurched further and further to the Left, it has lost tens of thousands of members in the New York area. New York Methodism has declined from over 200,000 to today's 120,000. Nationally, United Methodism has lost 3 million members since 1964.

Liberal churches in the U.S. and Europe are fast becoming empty museums. Unwilling to acknowledge their problems, they respond by becoming ever more vitriolic in their political hysterics, to prove they are still relevant. Fortunately, few are listening.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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