The Miami Herald
January 26, 2000
Controversy surrounds national church alliance


 The National Council of Churches has long been identified with controversy, to the
 point that dissident members last year called for the group to disband itself
 because its ''extremely liberal theological and political views are a hindrance to
 the cause of Christian unity.''

 The group's secretary general, Robert Edgar, is a former congressman from
 Pennsylvania who likes to say his tenure ran ''between Watergate and Irangate.''

 Its president is Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador, Atlanta mayor and a
 United Church of Christ minister. His election to a two-year term in November
 prompted the call for dissolution from seven of its member denominations.

 But the group did not disband, and the NCC's leaders remain unrepentant.

 ''Any association that tries to involve itself in civil rights and human rights is going
 to have critics, within and without,'' says the NCC's director of communications,
 Randy Naylor. ''But we as churches try to do what governments cannot do -- find
 ways out of problems.''

 Founded in 1950 in Cleveland, the organization is an alliance of 35 denominations
 with 52 million members. It has championed civil rights legislation and helped
 resettle thousands of refugees. Notable recent efforts include helping to rebuild
 150 black Southern churches destroyed by arson and sending aid to flood victims
 in Venezuela.

 It has opposed the Cuban and Iraq embargoes, the NATO bombing of Kosovo, the
 Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, and religious school vouchers. It
 has advocated for universal health care, affirmative action, gun control, bilingual
 education and a nuclear test ban.

 The NCC's Church World Service ministry is involved in more than 80 countries
 through community development projects, emergency response and refugee
 assistance -- including $7 million in humanitarian aid to Cuba.

 One controversy resurrected this week on some Miami radio stations was the
 NCC's efforts to provide medical supplies to Nicaragua's Sandinista government
 during the Reagan administration's backing of the contra war in the 1980s.

 Though tied to liberal causes, the council is rooted in the American mainstream.
 Among its member denominations are the African Methodist Episcopal Church,
 American Baptist Churches, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the
 Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical
 Lutheran Church in America, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., the
 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the United
 Methodist Church.

 Religiously, it is best known for two Bible translations that have sold nearly 70
 million copies -- the 1952 Revised Standard Version and the 1990
 gender-inclusive New Revised Standard Version.

 But as it struggles with an internal debt of $4 million, two huge sectors of U.S.
 Christianity remain outside its reach -- Evangelical Protestants and the Roman
 Catholic Church.

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald