The National Council of Churches (NCC) suffered a stinging rebuke last month when the North American Archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church decided to sever all ties to the organization. “It got to be too much,” said Antiochian spokesman Rev. Thomas Zain. “They have an almost politicized agenda…that opposes conservative Christianity.”
Zain was being generous. The NCC plays a duplicitous game. Its public statements are laced with the language of Christian benevolence but its policies read like a laundry list of hard-Left causes. It’s a pattern that took a while for the Orthodox to see.
Disguising a Marxist past
NCC cooperation with the far-Left began in the last century. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the NCC was one of the leading contributors to the Program to Combat Racism (PCR) created in 1939 by the World Council of Churches (WCC), an NCC affiliate. PCR subsidized revolutionary Communists governments in the Third World, shuffling more than $5 million to 130 organizations in 30 countries – all under the guise of Christian charity.
When Reader’s Digest exposed the ruse in 1982, they reported more than half of the money that went to the PCR wound up in the hands of Communist guerillas. In the 1970’s alone: in excess of $78,000 went to the Cuban sponsored MPLA fomenting Communist revolution in Angola; $832,000 to Nambia’s Communist regime; and $108,000 to the Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) to support a Communist guerilla force responsible for a campaign of terror that killed 207 white civilians, 1,721 blacks, and nine missionaries including their children.
NCC contributions toward the PRC were collected from member churches and funneled through the NCC treasury. When the Reader’s Digest report was published, the WCC frantically tried to cover the paper trail and to this day refuses to release the names of contributors and beneficiaries.
The fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent exposure of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of Marxism caused donations to dry up. Throughout the 1990’s the NCC teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. A last minute cash infusion by a wealthy benefactor saved it from ruin.
The fall also forced the NCC to account for past sins and it fell to Rev. Joan Campbell, NCC president during the early 1990’s, to offer the mea culpa. “We did not understand the depth of the sufferings under Communism,” Campbell said. “And we failed to really cry out under the Communist oppression.”
Like many of its left-wing counterparts, the NCC displayed a slavish devotion to Marxist ideas and anti-American cant. It strove to become the official dispenser of religious respectability to those who adopted either. Dispensing respectability made NCC bureaucrats feel important and offered the rationale that justified the NCC’s existence.
“Liberation Theology” was the dominant fad in the late 1960’s and 1970’s – a patchwork of ideas that claimed that the Christian obligation to care for the poor was synonymous with Marxist social dogma. Liberation Theology dressed Marxist ideas in the Christian moral lexicon convincing gullible activists that Christ was really a crypto-Marxist. The ideology swept through the religious left like wildfire. The NCC was front and center.
Pope John Paul II fought Liberation Theology tooth and nail in Catholic circles (his first public rebuke being the scolding of an El Salvadoran priest). “Christian” Marxists would have none of it. Substituting Marx’s secular millennialism for the Gospel, these religious Marxists did what all Marxists do: they refused to take any responsibility for the suffering their ideas generated. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
Campbell was no exception. Her apology was a lie. The NCC not only understood the suffering caused by Communist oppression, it funded and gave religious cover to the oppressors. The NCC wants us to believe that when it crawled into bed with Marx the affair was not consummated, when in fact it adulterated the Christian Gospel and thereby joined the ranks of those who foster evil in the name of religion.
The NCC continues the affair even today, mostly with Fidel Castro, revealing that the utopian delusion is as strong as ever. Castro’s seduction of the NCC goes back decades.
The NCC wrote educational tracts for American children that praised Cuban totalitarianism. It lauded Cuban health care. It was front man for the deportation of Elian Gonzalez. It condemns the American economic embargo on Castro’s behalf.
Several years ago, NCC operatives exploited a visit to Cuba by Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I by protesting American policy at Guantanamo, but refused the pleas of an Orthodox delegate to protest Castro’s human rights abuses at a Cuban prison. The list goes on and on. It is impossible to find any substantive criticism of Castro’s brutal regime in nearly three decades of NCC documentation.
Given this history, why did the traditional and conservative Orthodox Church sign on with the NCC in the first place? The Orthodox Church, the second largest church in the world, with 216 million adherents, was long divided in North America along ethnic lines. Only three American jursidictions -- the Antiochian Orthodox, which is primarily composed of Arab Christians; the Orthodox Church in America, which is of Russian heritage; and the Greek Orthodox -- have belonged to the NCC. The answer is that most Orthodox in these jurisdictions were unaware of the NCC's activist past. Despite having a presence on American soil for more than 200 years (through Russian missionary work in Alaska that spread to California, then New York), the American Orthodox are only now coming into their own. The majority of Orthodox Christians came to America during the great waves of immigration early in the last century and it took several generations for assimilation to take place. Only recently have American converts joined the ranks.
The fall of Communism prompted an NCC makeover that obscured their leftist orientation. Brown’s mea culpa was part of this effort, as was the toning down of radical language and the relative silence on divisive moral issues that threatened to alienate a more conservative constituency. The NCC went shopping for social respectability at the same time that the Orthodox sought a venue to make their faith more visible in American society. Each found the other and decided to give union a shot.
It was an uneven marriage from the star, with the NCC acting as hen-pecked suitor. The Orthodox contribute no funding to the NCC; a problem the NCC overlooks because Orthodox history and tradition lend an air of moral legitimacy and authority that the NCC could never muster on its own. Clearly the NCC needs the Orthodox a lot more than the reverse.
Most informed Orthodox have always been uneasy of the relationship with the NCC but reasoned that an imperfect relationship might be better than none at all. However, when word got out that NCC President Rev. Bob Edgar was actively courting George Soros and other like-minded benefactors, the Antiochian Orthodox Church took notice and began to ask questions.
Then Edgar signed a declaration against gay marriage along with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Association of Evangelicals, causing outrage in his Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender delegation. They demanded he change his tune, and Edgar dutifully complied. He apologized, removed his signature, and assured the delegation that the NCC stands behind gay marriage. The proved the last straw for the Antiochian Orthodox.
The dustbin of history
The Antiochian withdrawal may be a sign of things to come. Within the Orthodox communion, only the Orthodox Church in America (OCA – formerly Russian Orthodox Church) and the Greek Orthodox remain NCC members. The OCA is debating the issue behind closed doors, with some rancor if reports are correct. A parliamentary maneuver narrowly avoided a vote at their national assembly earlier this summer that observers say would have resulted in an NCC ouster. Given that many OCA families have first hand experience with Communist oppression, the exposure of the NCC as a Communist fellow traveler should help close the question.
Complete Orthodox withdrawal leaves the NCC beholden to the declining mainstream of American Protestantism. (Catholics and Evangelical Protestants refuse to join.) NCC member churches comprise about a quarter of American Christians and their numbers decline every year. Only the conservative churches are growing. The Antiochian Orthodox decision pushes the NCC one step closer to the dustbin of history – where it belongs.