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UMC’s outward focus attractive to others

FLORENCE – People tend to join congregations more than denominations these days, and, as people move more, it becomes harder to bring them into the church.

But the Rev. Jim Winkler, general secretary of the UM General Board of Church and Society, brought hope: “People like our church because we’re outwardly focused.”

Social action and evangelism are two sides of the same instrument, Winkler said at a special dinner at Annual Conference. “Part of our Wesleyan DNA is social holiness.” In his travels, however, he hears people say they don’t think there’s a place for social justice issues in the church.

“People advocate for the homeless, but never advocate for a living wage for them.” A church group goes to Mexico and does wonderful arts and crafts for kids there, but never talk about the maquiladoras (industry) creating negative environmental impact on the people living there. “I want people to make the connection – ministry and mercy with acts of justice.”

“Moses, demand freedom for your people,” God demanded. Queen Esther, a secret Jew, sent a basket of food and clothing to her uncle, a Jew facing death, but at first was unwilling to stop the plan to kill all Jews, said Winkler, who also spoke at a morning worship service.

“John Wesley went to death row, to where people were sick, ignited a movement that changed the world. … The success or failure of this project depended not on increase in numbers and influence, but on an increase in faithfulness. By Wesley’s own standards, the Methodist movement must be reckoned a failure.”

In his book, Claims in Conflict, David Hollenbach said, “The needs of the poor take priority over the wants of the rich. The freedom of the dominated takes priority over the liberty of the powerful. The participation of the marginalized groups takes priority over the preservation of an order that excludes them.

Winkler said the church’s social teaching may not be the most popular bedtime reading, but members may want to know that the past six General Conferences have called for economic justice for a new millennium in our teaching; the whole church is called to work with people to identify local economic issues, especially those that impact women and include efforts for jobs with living wages and benefits, debt, plant closings, public education, homelessness, affordable housing and meeting sanitation, clean water and energy needs. These are to be addressed with prayer, study, service, advocacy, community organizing and economic development.

Using today’s dollars, the nation has spent $670 billion on the “War on Terror.” Winkler quoted the late President Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made… signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed. This world in arms is spending … the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Church property

Fighting criticism of a Capitol Hill location where much of their church work is done, Winkler said, with a staff of 22 people at the General Board of Church and Society, the organization operates on five percent of one cent of each of The UMC dollars. The UMC had $15 billion in property in South Carolina in 2007 and spent $155 million on its preachers, staff, buildings and benevolences. Winkler said he struggles with whether the idea of selling all the property off to feed the poor is the right thing to do; however, he knows “it would free us up to be the church and not worry about property as much as we do.”

The Society of St. Andrew that leads gleaning efforts in farm fields for the poor, trying to bridge the nation’s gap between the 96 billion pounds of food wasted every year and the nearly 40 million Americans who live in poverty.

The last eight Gen-eral Conferences have called for health care reform and took note of the anger now in America, he said.

“Really, what it’s all about is love,” the general secretary said. Substitute “redemption” for “punishment,” make eliminating hunger an inherent part of our economics and abolish war as the supreme expression of hate, he urged. “If we are faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we will live in love with the world, because the most famous passage of the New Testament declares that ‘God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son into the world.’”

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