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by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society board met last weekend for its annual meeting. Board members from across the world—though primarily from the United States—met at the historic Methodist Building and the famous L’Enfant Plaza Hotel to offer the required oversight and guidance to GBCS. Committees and work focus groups tried to tackle a vast panoply of political issues in both domestic and international contexts.
As usual, the domestic programs of GBCS resemble the Democratic Party at prayer rather than a non-partisan church organization. Staffers championed looser immigration policies, increased welfare programs (especially SNAP food stamps), income redistribution, multiculturalist affirmative action, environmentalism, strict gun control, and abortion under the guise of “women’s justice.” Regarding the immigration issue, Civil and Human Rights director Bill Mefford advised his taskforce “to soften the soil” when it comes to conservative United Methodists concerned with a secure border. He referenced the General Conference, muttering, “They like the African vote, but not the Hispanic vote.” A more excitable Jad Denmark exclaimed, “The Bible trumps the Constitution! The Bible, the Bible, the Bible!” He likewise labeled opponents as Marcions for refusing to obey the hospitality commands of the Old Testament.
GBCS’s international perspective proves to be a bit more complex. In one work session, a resolution called for an end of “drone warfare.” A young delegate voiced concerns over an “arms race” with drones “just like nuclear arms.” More seasoned board members were dissatisfied with the distinctions. They wanted distinctions between intelligence gathering and lethal strikes. These nuances were hastily dismissed by a Desert Southwest representative who approved of drones for “scientific endeavors,” but not for purposes “offensive or defensive.”
Thankfully, the representatives from the Global South have expanded the field of vision for the usually myopic lobbying organization. GBCS joined with United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries to fight violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Board members met with Congressional staffers Gregory Simpkins (R-NJ) and Eric Williams (D-CA) at the Methodist Building, which stands across the street from the Capitol Building. Both work on the House Africa Subcommittee and hope to build bipartisan support to oppose cruel violence in the DRC. Williams urged people of faith to advocate for a special US envoy to the DRC. Simpkins declared, “You and the churches you represent are very important on this issue.” This was not empty praise. Earlier, Simpkins brought in Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda to testify before congressional lawmakers on the problem of violence and exploitation in the DRC.
“Every hour, 48 [DRC] women are raped, often publicly,” Simpkins revealed. These abominable acts are made that much more severe by the tribal custom of shunning rape victims. United Methodists and others have responded to the situation with great mercy. They have created and advocated for a purification ceremony by which victims are re-integrated into the village. Simpkins believed this mixture of sensitivity, creativity, and cultural awareness would be impossible to enact on the level of state politics. The Rev. Guy Mande Muyombo, who joined the meeting by telephone, praised the GBCS’s effective advocacy in this area. No doubt all Methodists, regardless of political stripe, appreciate these efforts as well.
This less partisan focus on Global South needs reflects the GBCS’s “glocal” initiative. For situations like the DRC, widespread victimization and child soldiers are a local crisis, not merely a problem to be solved by benign prosperous Westerners. Local United Methodist contacts are much more effective in dealing with issues with international UMC support. On the other hand, GBCS hopes to motivate Global South representatives to approve the lobbying arm’s narrowly political aims in the United States. As influence continues to grow in Africa, time will tell if the aging lobbying arm can rope the Global South into its controversial American endeavors.