BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Current events in Iraq and North Korea commanded attention when the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries met April 7-10.
Board directors also forwarded a raft of social resolutions to be considered by the denomination's top legislative body next year and decided to have a first-ever telethon to raise money for mission projects.
As the war in Iraq continued, directors adopted a resolution affirming the belief that war is incompatible with the teachings of Christ but acknowledging "the divisions within the household of faith in time of war."
Looking toward the war's end, the resolution supported the distribution of humanitarian aid primarily through non-military channels and called upon the occupying powers to work with the United Nations. The governments involved are asked to respect international agreements, such as the Geneva Convention; devote sufficient resources to cleaning up land mines, toxic wastes and other dangerous legacies of war; and let the Iraqi people determine their own system of government.
Churches are encouraged to continue engaging in interfaith dialogue, "create sanctuaries where all are welcome, even in our differences," and support humanitarian aid through the United Methodist Committee on Relief's "Iraq Emergency" Advance No. 623225-4.
In a resolution on North Korea, directors affirmed the longtime relationship between the Board of Global Ministries and the Korean Christian Federation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as well as the denomination's continuing work toward a peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
They urged the United States and North Korea "to reopen a dialogue to resolve all issues related to nuclear proliferation and work toward a non-aggression pact." The U.S. government also was urged to lift economic sanctions against North Korea and provide humanitarian assistance there.
United Methodist congregations are invited to join in the humanitarian aid efforts as well and to work closer with Korean United Methodist congregations in that effort. Funds can be directed to UMCOR Advance No. 226435-0, "North Korea Emergency."
The telethon, to be filmed as a live show but broadcast later, would be used to raise funds for mission initiatives begun by the New York-based Board of Global Ministries since 1989. Those new mission projects are in Cambodia, Cameroon, Honduras, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Senegal and Vietnam.
Directors approved a transfer of funds from money currently in reserve for the recently postponed Global Gathering to cover the cost of the telethon, budgeted at $239,840. The Global Gathering was to have been held in Birmingham, in conjunction with the board meeting.
The Rev. ST Kimbrough Jr., staff executive for mission evangelism and telethon director, told directors that more than 320 faith communities had emerged from the new mission initiatives since 1989. But the cost of maintaining those programs in 2003 is estimated at $1.78 million, and current funds are about $1 million short, he said.
A fund-raising goal of $2 million has been set for the telethon. Broadcasting possibilities include the Inspiration Network, which recently acquired access to Direct TV. The program also may be distributed on CD-ROM.
Board members devoted part of their meeting to an exploration of Birmingham's place in the history of the civil rights movement. It was in that city that Eugene "Bull" Conner led violent attacks on civil rights protesters and where four young girls were killed when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed in September, 1963.
Doug Jones, an active layman from the United Methodist Church's North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference, spoke to directors about how he built cases against two of the three men eventually convicted in the church bombing. As a U.S. attorney, Jones led the prosecution against Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry, found guilty in 2001 and 2002 respectively. Both cases currently are under appeal.
Directors also heard a reflection on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement from a theological context by the Rev. Josiah Young III, professor of systematic theology at Wesley Theological Seminary.
A re-creation of the cell where King wrote his famous "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" can be found at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, across the street from both the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park, once a starting point for many civil rights marches. Board directors toured the institute, which also includes information on the role that the Rev. James Lawson, a United Methodist pastor, played in the movement. Lawson, a former missionary and Board of Global Ministries director, is retired and living in Los Angeles.
In other business, the board considered resolutions to be submitted to the 2004 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, which meets April 28-May 7 in Pittsburgh.
Twelve new resolutions were approved. A "Mission Plan for Restorative Justice Ministries" outlines actions related to the criminal justice system that United Methodists should take at various levels of the denomination. A resolution on peace and justice in Okinawa focuses on relations with the U.S. military there. The board also updated a resolution regarding U.S. policy toward asylum seekers from Haiti.
The board continues to call for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba. A resolution focusing on "Africa Reconstruction and Development" encourages United Methodists to increase their support of church programs for the continent as well as deal with specific issues such as HIV/AIDS and land-mine removal. Another resolution gives guidance to local churches facing the situation of a child sex offender returning to or joining the congregation.
A resolution on "Drugs and AIDS" reaffirms the church's commitment to a holistic approach to problems involving alcohol, drugs and HIV/AIDS. Another resolution recognizes the need to care for a variety of population groups suffering with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Congregations and other church-related groups are encouraged to adopt policies dealing with issues of "Violence Against Women and Children."
Other new resolutions recognize the problem of binge drinking on college campuses; discuss the implications of "charitable choice" and deal with issues related to immigrants and refugees.
Board directors approved re-submitting eight resolutions currently in the Book of Resolutions with no changes and approved another 11 current resolutions with slight revisions.
Legislative proposals for changes in the Book of Discipline also were considered and approved. A proposal to study the possibility of offering a minimum survival allowance for people appointed in charge of congregations in the denomination's central conferences outside the United States is being recommended to General Conference.
By Albert H. Lee