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NCC’s Edgar Blasts U.S. News & World Report
For ‘Smear’ of Protestant Churches’ Activism
NEW YORK, October 14, 2004 -- Calling it a case of "journalistic malpractice," National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar today challenged the content and conclusions of a U.S. News & World Report columnist who had suggested the Council's criticisms of the government of Israel were "anti-Semitic."
Edgar, in a letter to the magazine's editor-in-chief Mortimer Zuckerman, pointed out that columnist John Leo, in the October 18 U.S. News edition now on newsstands, had wrongly attacked as biased criticism by four American Protestant churches and two ecumenical bodies (National Council of Churches USA and World Council of Churches) of human rights actions by both Israeli and U.S. governments.
Leo had obtained his information from a conservative political group, the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), but apparently had failed to check with church leaders the accuracy of the IRD's findings, which Edgar called "grievously off the mark."
"No one at the National Council of Churches was asked, in advance of publication or since, to confirm, clarify or refute any of the statements or statistics quoted as fact," Edgar said, adding that the column "employs the smear tactics of McCarthy-era propaganda, and contributes to the abuse of religious belief as a tool of partisan politics."
The column had claimed that 37 per cent of the churches' human rights resolutions (and 80 percent of the NCC's) were aimed at Israel. Yet, Edgar noted, in the entire 54-year history of the National Council of Churches, only two policy statements have referred to Israel and Palestine. And out of 650 resolutions adopted during that time, fewer than 40 have dealt with the Middle East, many of those concerned such matters as Christians in Egypt, hostages in Iran and Lebanon, and war in Kuwait and Iraq. Only five NCC statements about Israel were issued during the period of the IRD's survey, and several of those also criticized Palestinian leaders.
"This readily available public record, which the writer chose to ignore, hardly represents an anti-Israel bias," Edgar said, noting that the current NCC policy statement, adopted in 1980, explicitly calls on U.S. Christians "to work with Jews and Muslims toward cooperative relationships based on friendship and trust."
Leo, whose columns are nationally syndicated, also echoed the IRD's criticism of the Protestant churches' emphasis on U.S. government policies, saying that the faith groups failed to criticize other governments on similar policies.
In response, Edgar wrote Zuckerman: "The right and responsibility of our nation's churches to speak out on issues of national policy is as old as the Constitution," adding that such activity is "as vital to our public life as the freedom of the press which you enjoy. . . As we are an association of American churches, most of our statements on public policy logically deal with the work of our own government."
The reach of the U.S. government is so broad and powerful, the NCC leader noted, that "it touches issues of moral and spiritual concern as diverse as the environment, civil liberties, war and peace, poverty, foreign policy and national budget priorities."
The National Council of Churches, with 36 Christian faith groups, is the largest and broadest ecumenical association of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and African-American Christians in the United States, encompassing more than 100,000 local congregations in all 50 states.
The Council's Interfaith Relations Commission fosters extensive interfaith dialogue and joint action with Jewish, Muslim and other world faith groups. A number of other NCC programs also have interfaith components.
9/27/04 NCC News Release: NCC General Secretary Responds to IRD Report on Human Rights Advocacy
9/27/04 News Release from The Episcopal Church: Shea says IRD report uses 'flawed methodology'
8/2/04 Report from Media Transparency: The Money Behind the Media: Church & Scaife: Secular Conservative Philanthropies waging unethical campaign to take over United Methodist Church
NCC Media Contact: Carol Fouke, 212-870-2252; firstname.lastname@example.org
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