The organization that sparked two major attacks on the National Council of Churches earlier this year launched yet another this week, again charging the council with "leftist" political leanings.
The latest attack by the Institute on Religion and Democracy came in a 100-page booklet released Monday at a Washington news conference. An initial printing of 1,000 copies of the publication, titled "A Time for Candor: Mainline Churches and Radical Social Witness," will be sent to religious leaders and church agencies across the country, said the Rev. Edmund Robb, a United Methodist evangelist from Marshall, Tex., who heads the institute.
The Washington-based organization, its platform based largely on anti-communism, prompted a controversial Readers Digest article and a "60 Minutes" television program in January charging the National Council of Churches (NCC) with aiding communism.
Focusing on NCC projects or statements involving Nicaragua, Cuba and Vietnam, the new publication makes more of the same charges. The NCC and member denominations are "engaged in projects which undermine democratic values and strengthen causes of the revolutionary Marxist left," states the publication.
"There's nothing in it that hasn't been in its literature much earlier," said Warren Day, a spokesman for the NCC. The booklet has "gross distortions," but the NCC does not plan a formal response, he said. It did respond to the magazine and "60 Minutes" pieces, claiming the reporting was slanted and inaccurate.
The controversy centers on a centuries-old debate on how the church should work for justice. The 33-year-old NCC, with a membership of 32 Protestant and Orthodox denominations representing 40-million people, is the largest ecumenical organization in the country.
Robb's contention is that the mainline churches--a large portion of the NCC's membership--no longer emphasize "church extension, evangelism." He said he wants "meaningful reform" of the NCC.
Pentecostal and evangelical churches "bringing persons to Christ" in Third World countries, he said, "will have a greater influence on changing the political and economic structures of those societies than the political involvement of the mainline churches in those countries."
"If they the NCC were supporting right-wing governments, we would be attacking that," he said. "But there is a difference. . . . A petty right-wing tyrant is not a threat to the United States or the whole world--he doesn't have a philosophy that is a threat to democratic societies throughout the world."
The institute charges the NCC with what Robb called a "double standard" of attacking human rights violations of right-wing totalitarian governments, but ignoring them under left-wing totalitarian regimes.
NCC actions, council spokesman Day said, have included condemnations of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and support for the plight of the group of Soviet evangelicals taking refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Last fall, an NCC delegation visited the evangelical group and prayed with them.
Out of 120 NCC resolutions condemning human rights violations in countries around the world, the NCC has never condemned violations in Cuba, the institute's new booklet charges.
"Why would you use a water pistol on a stone wall?" said Day. "You have to work in different ways. If a government has a lot of ties with our government, if it's dependent on aid, then a resolution from us carries more weight." One problem, he said, is the effect of resolutions: In some cases they could harm the people the NCC wants to help. "In some situations, we learned that people who were imprisoned were tortured more."
Not all of the NCC's condemnations are publicized, said the Rev. William L. Wipfler, an Episcopal priest who directs the council's human rights office. In some cases the NCC uses a quieter approach: letters sent directly to heads of governments, he said.
Day noted that some of the major NCC programs in recent years have included relief work with the people under communist attack in Afghanistan and Poland to resettlement of Cubans in the United States.
"They the institute are trying to prove the thesis that we're leftist, so they ignore everything that says we're nonpolitical," he said.
The institute focuses one section of its booklet on Nicaragua's mass literacy campaign. The campaign used a teaching manual that included a song with a verse reading, in part: "We struggle against the Yankee, enemy of humanity," according to the institute.
The institute says the NCC contributed money to the campaign. It acknowledges that other contributors included the U.S. government and the labor movement, but charges that when the Sandinista government announced it would not hold elections, the NCC did not speak out while others did.
The New York-headquartered NCC is headed by a 260-member governing board elected by the NCC's member denominations. NCC member denominations wrestle with the issues in local and national governing bodies of their own, with the results filtering through to the NCC.
"We had modest expectations," said the institute's Robb, whose two-year-old organization claims 1,000 members and an income last year of $352,659. The bulk of the funding came from the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, which gave $200,000, and the Smith Richardson Foundation, which gave $81,000, according to the institute. Both foundations are viewed as politically conservative.
The institute lists a 28-member board of advisers, who include pastors of large churches and university professors. Prominent theologians also are listed--evangelical Carl F.H. Henry, Catholic lay theologian Michael Novak, and Lutheran Richard John Neuhaus, who wrote a statement of principles for the institute that warns of "the drift of many American churches into cooperation with political absolutism communism ."