presses ahead despite financial woes
Payroll being cut by one-third to balance the 2002
by Jerry L. Van Marter, Presbyterian News Service
OAKLAND, CA - November 16, 2001 - Never let it be said
that the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) is
afraid to tackle the really big issues:
The persistence of poverty in America. Hurdles in the
way of ecumenism. Tensions in interfaith relations. And its own
During the NCC's Nov. 11-16 General Assembly here, 150
delegates from most of its 36 member communions stubbornly persisted in
addressing social and ecclesiastical issues that have dogged country and
church for the NCC's entire 52-year history.
On Nov. 13, in a draconian move to eliminate the
deficits that pushed the NCC to the verge of bankruptcy last year, the
Council's executive board eliminated 16 of the 54 staff positions,
effective by the end of this year. Two years ago, the NCC had 102 people
on staff. By New Year's Day it will have 39.
The staff cuts came on the heels of a report that the
Council finished its most recent fiscal year - which ended on June 30 -
with a deficit of $2.1 million. The staff reduction was part of a
package that trimmed the 2002 budget from $6.87 million to $5.7 million.
General Secretary Bob Edgar said the first $120,000 in
unrestricted giving above budgeted income this year will be held in
reserve "to begin rebuilding the long-term financial health of the
"I feel very confident that we're prepared to
restore the health of this organization," he said.
Although the Council's reserves were sufficient to
cover its losses -- an improvement over last year, when
"infusions" of cash from the United Methodist Church and the
Presbyterian Church (USA) saved the NCC from bankruptcy -- "There's
not much left to play around with," said the Rev. Phil Young, a
Presbyterian who serves as the NCC treasurer. "If we don't balance
this year's budget, we're facing a moment of very sober truth."
Even the deep cuts made so far may not be enough,
Young added. "The denominations are in trouble also," he told
the Presbyterian News Service. "The whole charitable-giving
situation has changed since Sept. 11."
The Presbyterians and Methodists, who together account
for almost two-thirds of the NCC's "member support," are both
undergoing budget cuts of their own. They contributed to last year's
bailout on assurances that this year's Council budget would be balanced,
and they greeted the news of the $2.1 million deficit by announcing that
they will be reassessing their NCC contributions.
Young led the Assembly in prayer for the employees who
lost their jobs.
Staff member Brenda Girton-Mitchell outlined plans for
the NCC's 10-year anti-poverty "mobilization," whose theme is
"Joining Hands and Voices to End Poverty in the United
States." The effort was authorized by last year's Assembly.
"We launched this program because we're
disturbed," Girton-Mitchell said, noting that 31.1 million
Americans (one in nine), including 13.5 million children (one in six),
live below the federal poverty level.
"Poverty is as abhorrent to us as slavery
was," said outgoing NCC President Andrew Young.
The mobilization will focus on six programmatic
elements: children, housing, health care, public education, hunger and
the environment. It has measurable goals for each, such as:
-- Cut the poverty rate in half by 2010.
· Housing --
Build, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, 200,000 units of
care -- Increase the number of insured Americans by 17 million,
including all of the 9.5 million currently uninsured children.
education -- Implement the goals of the NCC's 1999 policy statement,
"The Churches and the Public Schools."
· Hunger --
In partnership with Bread for the World and others, ensure "food
security" for all.
-- Win U.S. government support for the Kyoto Protocols and advocate the
cultivation of renewable energy sources.
Edgar unveiled a grass-roots "March March"
campaign, in which participating churches and other groups will dedicate
the month of March of each year to daily anti-poverty activities.
"Lots of our partners are enthusiastic about this," he said,
adding that the NCC is developing resources for the campaign.
The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the PC(USA) stated
clerk, urged that all NCC member churches take steps to endorse the
mobilization, "so there will be broad ownership and committed
partnership to achieve these goals."
The key to successfully addressing issues such as
poverty, several speakers said, is a unified approach by churches and
humanitarian groups. Others noted that the ecumenical movement in the
United States continues to be very diffuse.
Edgar reported on Sept. 7-8 conversations between the
NCC, which represents primarily mainline Protestant denominations, and
the Catholic church, the Salvation Army, evangelicals and Pentecostals.
Little progress was reported beyond an agreement to meet again next
April, but Edgar said he is upbeat about his efforts to help create what
he called "a new ecumenical something."
Edgar said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and
the Salvation Army have given the go-ahead for continued talks.
However, the largest group of U.S. evangelicals did
not attend the recent get-together.
"It is our policy not to engage in those
conversations," Richard Cizik, the president of the National
Association of Evangelicals, told a writer from the San Francisco
Chronicle. Cizik succeeded Don Argue as president of the NAE -- which
says it has 42,000 congregations and 10 million members -- after Argue
quit in frustration over the NAE's resistance to closer ties to the NCC.
The seeming inability of mainline Christians and
evangelicals to come together is not a matter of political or
theological disagreements, Tony Campolo, a leading evangelical, said in
his Nov. 14 keynote address.
"The first thing that needs to be affirmed is
that we have the same social vision: the Kingdom of God on earth as it
is in heaven," said Campolo, an American Baptist minister. "We
have problems with the NCC, but vision -- a society without racism,
without sexism, without ageism, without classism -- isn't one of
"Here's the problem," he continued. "NCC
statements are frequently not cast in Biblical language. We need to know
and speak what the Biblical imperative is; you are Biblically-based, but
you seem to avoid Biblical language."
Campolo said Evangelicals want to know, "If your
positions are Biblically based, why don't you say so? We're losing our
people because we are not using their language. Language is dividing us,
not the issues -- and it's a big problem."
Kirkpatrick said we are at a point in history where
"we're being called to far more creative efforts to find a fresh
institutional expression of Christian unity than we have found
In other actions, the Assembly, delegates:
two resolutions on the terrorism crisis: A call for the protection of
human rights and a rebuilding of Afghanistan through long-term
humanitarian assistance; and a call for American Christians to adopt
spiritual disciplines and make available material assistance to help
meet the needs of the world's poor people.
Elenie Huszagh, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, as the
NCC's 21st president.
· Passed a
resolution calling for a peaceful settlement of the decades-long civil
war in Sudan.
· Approved a
resolution calling for increased funding for food stamps and aid to
needy families in welfare-reform legislation to be considered by the
U.S. Congress next year.