(CNSNews.com) - A leading religious organization that "seeks to promote Christian unity" in the U.S. has yoked itself to liberal groups that now provide most of its funding and help it promote a liberal social and political agenda, a conservative group alleged Wednesday.
Among the groups funding the National Council of the Churches (NCC) are the liberal People for the American Way, Tides Foundation and "U.S. Action, whose president spoke at the 2005 convention of the Communist Party USA.," according to a report released by the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
The study is entitled "Strange Yokefellows," a combination of the saying that "politics makes strange bedfellows" and the biblical injunction that believers not be "unequally yoked" with those who don't believe (2 Corinthians 6:14), IRD Vice President Alan Wisdom told Cybercast News Service.
Wisdom, co-author of the document, noted that the NCC has 45 million members from 35 denominations.
While most active church members hold moderate to conservative views on social and political issues, the NCC had increasingly received funding from secular foundations and other non-church organizations, he charged.
During the 2004-2005 fiscal year, the NCC received $1.75 million from member communions and, for the first time, slightly more - $1.76 million - from other groups.
In addition, donations from member churches have declined 40 percent since the 2000-2001 fiscal year, Wisdom said.
The NCC "really depends now more on the likes of the Tides Foundation and the Sierra Club than on the Reformed Church in America or the African Methodist Episcopal Church," he said. It gets more funding "from the Ford Foundation than 32 of its 35 member denominations."
"We found numerous common themes among the dozens of non-church entities from which the church council has recently sought or received funding," said John Lomperis, co-author of the report.
"These groups have very little demonstrated interest in religion beyond recruiting faith communities to support their favored social and political causes," Lomperis noted.
"There's nothing wrong necessarily with accepting support from non-Christians if they understand what your mission is and support it and don't steer you away from it," Wisdom said. "The problem is when support from non-church organizations takes a Christian organization away from the gospel purposes for which it was established."
According to its website, the NCC defines itself as "a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord."
Over the 2004 Memorial Day weekend, the NCC held interfaith services for all who had died in the Iraq war "to encourage people in the faith community who supported the war and those who opposed it to pray, reflect and work for peace in this troubled time."
Later that year, the council ran an advertisement in newspapers in five states urging people of faith to "pray for a change of heart and direction" on environmental issues and encouraging political candidates to make "caring for creation" a priority.
Last February, the NCC released a report outlining ways to work with the United Nations' Millennium Project. The conservative organization Concerned Women for America responded by warning the council not to become an advocate for the U.N. and its "misguided attempts to eradicate global poverty."
Wisdom said that such activities are "extremely divisive to the Christian community, do not represent the NCC's own constituency and certainly alienate a lot of other Christians. The council is becoming less and less a body of Christian unity and more and more a political action committee."
'Jesus would not be happy with that'
Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, told Cybercast News Service the IRD report is "a very interesting document, and I'm very pleased that they validated the fact that we've raised a lot of money over the past few years."
"They're trying to make the case that we were bad because we were taking money from the AARP to deal with issues of Social Security and seniors, and we were bad for taking money from the Ford Foundation to work on global issues, and we were bad for taking money from the Knight Foundation to work on poverty," Edgar said.
"They're playing semantics when they say that we're not talking about baptisms and funerals and theological questions," Edgar said. "We have a very active faith and order commission that works on those issues, and that's the first priority of the funding we receive from our member churches.
"Yes, we are about Christian unity, and that's why we've said since May of 2000 that the unifying advocacy issues we're working on are ending poverty that kills, and stewardship of the planet," Edgar added.
People working for a minimum wage have been kept in poverty, Edgar said. "Jesus would not be happy with that. God would not be happy with that."
Edgar said the NCC's fund-raising "is no different than the IRD's fund-raising. A significant chunk of their money comes from donors and foundations, and a significant amount of our funds comes from donors and foundations."
While agreeing that both the NCC and the IRD do fund-raising, Wisdom said the two organizations were very different.
Individual members of churches belonging to the NCC "would not support its one-sided political focus," he said. "The IRD receives most of its funding from church members who know and support its theological and political positions."
"And in its lobbying, the NCC claims to speak for 'the churches,'" Wisdom added. "The IRD has never claimed to speak for anyone other than its own friends and supporters."
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