National Council of Churches Chief Assails Church Split

In an exclusive interview with the News-Press Tuesday, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the USA, Dr. Bob Edgar, quipped that “Jesus must role his eyes when confronted with things like this,” referring to the move of 11 Virginia churches, including a majority of members of the giant Falls Church Episcopal, to separate from the Episcopal Church denomination recently.

 Edgar, a former six-term U.S. congressman in his seventh year at the helm of the NCC, said he “is saddened” by the defection, noting that the mainstream Episcopal denomination “is a faithful member” of the huge, ecumenical body he leads.

The NCC was founded in 1950 to be “the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States,” according to its website. The NCC’s member groups, from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches, include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations.

“It is not hard to divide. It is hard to build,” he told the News-Press in a phone interview Tuesday, saying that it would be better if churches found issues, such as ending “poverty that kills,” to unify around.

“There is a lot more conversation about this in the Scriptures than on the matters these groups use to divide,” he added. “We should be focused on the core values and issues that Jesus talked about, such as addressing the needs of ‘the least of these my brethren.’”

He blamed the rise of radical conservatives in numerous denominations with the push to divide over secondary issues, such as gay or female clergy. These elements, he said, have been encouraged by groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization that “gets a lot of its money from secular conservatives like the Scaife, Bradley, Smith Richardson and Coors family charities.”

This group, he said, is “all about creating division,” designating staff to work in Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian and other denominations to shadow their operations and promote schism.

He said that mainstream churches failed to take the rise of the radical right within their ranks seriously until recently. “The more defensive we have been, the more we have encouraged more attacks,” he said. “It is time to stand up and go nose-to-nose with them.”

Writing in his new book, “Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right,” Edgar calls on “progressive people to take back the moral high ground from the right-wing extremists and make America a better, not more divided, country.”

He adds, “The Bible seldom mentions homosexuality, doesn’t mention abortion at all, but discusses poverty and peace more than two thousand times.”

Ordained as an elder in the Methodist Church, he was present of the Claremont School of Theology in California for 10 years before becoming the NCC’s general secretary in 2000.

“The church needs to reject fear, fundamentalism and Fox News and instead focus on the issues of peace, poverty and Planet Earth,” he said.

The congregations that voted to separate from the Episcopal Church “should be careful who they associate with,” he added. “If caught, homosexuals are executed in Nigeria. How is associating with that being faithful?”