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At its founding in 1950, the New York City-based National Council of Churches (NCC) absorbed its predecessor, the communist front-group known as the Federal Council of Churches. At one time an overt supporter of the communist cause, NCC has today recast itself as a leading representative of the “religious Left.” It claims a membership of 35 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox Christian denominations, and some 50 million members in over 140,000 congregations. Among the more notable member denominations are the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the American Baptist Churches in the USA.
In the 1950s and 1960s, under the rubric of charity, NCC provided financial assistance to the communist regimes in Yugoslavia and Poland, funneling money to both through its relief agency, the Church World Service. In the 1970s, working with its Geneva-based parent organization, the World Council of Churches (WCC), NCC earmarked money for Soviet-sponsored guerrilla incursions - which it characterized as "liberation movements" - into Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, and Angola.
Using the Evangelical Committee for Aid to Development (CEPAD), an organization established to distribute the charity donations collected by U.S. churches in Latin America—and whose leadership openly professed solidarity with the Sandinistas’ Marxist aims—NCC made common cause with the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, contributing nearly $400,000 to the Sandinista Party between 1981 and 1983. Documents seized from El Salvador’s guerrillas in 1983 revealed yet another Communist group on the take from the NCC’s collection plate.
A staunch supporter of Communist Cuba, NCC has pushed for the United States to normalize relations with the Castro regime since 1968. In 1977, after heading a delegation of American church officials to Cuba, the Methodist bishop James Armstrong, who would be elected NCC President the following year, stated: "There is a significant difference between situations where people are imprisoned for opposing regimes designed to perpetuate inequities, as in Chile and Brazil, for example, and situations where people are imprisoned for opposing regimes designed to remove inequities, as in Cuba."
An advocate of “liberation theology” in the 1980s, NCC was silent about the depredations of Ethiopia's Marxist government, which left 10,000 dead and shuttered 200 churches. Nor did it criticize the Soviet Union's 1978 invasion of Afghanistan. Not until after the Soviet Union's collapse did NCC speak out on the subject of Communist oppression, when in 1993 Joan Brown Campbell, a former NCC General Secretary, said: "We did not understand the depth of the suffering of Christians under Communism. And we failed to really cry out under the Communist oppression."
Nonetheless, to this day NCC's human rights charges are aimed mostly at the U.S. and Israel. One study, conducted by the Institute of Religion and Democracy in September 2004, found that "of the seven human rights criticisms [NCC] issued from 2000-2003, Israel received four, the United States two, and Sudan one."
NCC was a signatory to a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military reprisals. Ascribing the hijackers' motives to alleged social injustices against which they were protesting, this document explained that "security and justice are mutually reinforcing goals that ultimately depend upon the promotion of all human rights for all people," and called on the United States "to promote fundamental rights around the world."
NCC claims that the Patriot Act, instituted shortly after 9/11, tramples on the civil liberties of Americans. "We believe it is time for us to stop and think about where we should draw the line in our search for security," said the NCC in 2004. "… Only a self-obsessed society pursues security at all costs."
On December 8, 2003, NCC General Secretary Robert Edgar asked the Department of Defense for permission to send a small interfaith delegation to visit the prisoners being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. When his request was denied, Edgar vowed that the Council would "continue to advocate for the due process rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees." On January 14, 2004, NCC was part of what it called "a broad coalition of domestic and international religious, legal and human rights organizations that filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court ... asserting that foreign nationals being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge the legality of their detention."
Citing the counsel of the New Testament — "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Matthew 5:9) — in 1991, the NCC played a central role in opposing the first Gulf War, claiming that the risks of such an action were "out of proportion to any conceivable gain." Its assessment of the second Gulf War was identical. In January 2003, NCC's President, the Methodist Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., joined 46 other religious leaders in signing a letter to President Bush expressing "continuing uneasiness about the moral justification for war on Iraq." NCC is a member organization of United for Peace and Justice and the Win Without War anti-war coalitions.
In February 2005 NCC condemned Israel for having "established hundreds upon hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks, and gates across the Occupied Territories, making daily life and travel extremely difficult for ordinary Palestinians." Proclaiming that "[s]tereotypes of all Palestinians as terrorists must be broken," the Council explained that "[t]he crushing burden of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory contributes to deep anger and violent resistance, which contributes to fear throughout Israeli society."
In March 2006 NCC General Secretary Robert Edgar joined other prominent Christian and Jewish religious leaders in Washington, DC to support legislation that would legalize illegal aliens in the United States.
While proclaiming the virtues of the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, NCC's then-General Secretary, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, insisted that an acceptance of the radical environmentalist movement's assertions about global warming ought to be made a "litmus test for the faith community." In 2002 NCC was a party to "What Would Jesus Drive?" — a campaign that exhorted car manufactures to embrace stricter emissions standards.
NCC has been plagued by a history of financial mismanagement. The organization's leadership has long spent beyond its means, and gifts from member denominations dropped throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By 1998, the Council faced a deficit of $1.5 million. The following year, its expenses exceeded total revenues by some $4 million. These budgetary shortfalls compelled NCC to appeal to its member denominations—seven of which account for 90 percent of NCC's budget—to step up their contributions. For instance, in 1999 NCC requested that its chief sponsor, the United Methodist Church, increase its yearly contribution of $2.5 million by an additional $700,000. But the Council's member donations nonetheless continued to drop -- by 40 percent between 2001 and 2005.
In an effort to offset this decline, General Secretary Edgar sought out new income from secular foundations and other non-church sources. As a result of his efforts, NCC's "other" income grew from $800,000 in fiscal year 2000-2001, to $2.9 million in 2004-2005. During the fiscal year ending in June 2005, NCC received slightly more money from non-church sources than from its member communions.
Recent contributors to NCC include ACORN, the Connect US Network, which has ties to George Soros' Open Society Institute, MoveOn.org, the People For the American Way, Sierra Club, and TrueMajority. Foundation contributions to NCC have come from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Rasmussen Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation, the United Nations Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
According to the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), the Council "is more dependent financially upon the Ford Foundation than upon 32 of its 35 member denominations." Says IRD: "Most of the NCC-supporting groups share several characteristics:
(a) They are not affiliated with an NCC member communion, or any other church body.
(b) Christian unity and common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ do not appear to be among their principal aims.
(c) They have a much stronger interest in addressing social and political issues.
(d) Their positions on those issues, insofar as they can be discerned, lean overwhelmingly toward the left."
In August 2007, NCC's Interfaith Relations office sponsored an Ecumenical Study Seminar for “reflecting and learning together” at the 44th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), held in Rosemont, Illinois.
On November 8, 2007, Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon was installed as NCC's ninth General Secretary, replacing Robert Edgar.
After U.S. Navy SEALs had tracked down and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, NCC declared:
"Just as Christians must condemn the violence of terrorism, let us be clear that we do not celebrate loss of life under any circumstances, [since the] ultimate justice for this man’s soul — or any soul — is in the hands of God.... Let us turn to a future that embraces God’s call to be peacemakers, pursuers of justice and loving neighbors to all people.”