United Methodist Board of Church & Society Awards $115,300 in Ethnic Local Church, Human Relations Day Grants

October 01, 2009

Board of Directors approves 2010 budget, hears report from task force on homophobia and heterosexism.

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. - The board of directors of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) meeting here Sept. 23-27 awarded $115,300 in Ethnic Local Church and Human Relations Day grants, introduced a new resource for opposing homophobia and heterosexism, and adopted a budget for 2010.
 
In response to projections from the denomination's General Council on Finance & Administration that World Service Fund receipts are expected to be lower than previous estimates, GBCS's directors voted unanimously to hold only one board meeting next year. That meeting will be March 23-27 in Arlington, Va. It will involve sharing facilities and some joint meetings with the board of the General Commission on Religion & Race.
 
GBCS has traditionally held both spring and fall board meetings. Jim Winkler, the agency's chief executive, praised the move to only one meeting "as the most prudent financial decision."
 
The budget adopted by GBCS's board reflects similar fiscal restraint. A 2010 budget of $5,664,319 represents a 6% decline from the audited total for 2008. The board also voted unanimously to continue an initiative begun at its spring meeting to reduce paper produced for meetings by relying more on e-mail and other digital communications.
 
President's remarks
 
In her remarks to open the meeting at Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center, the board's president, Bishop Deborah Kiesey, addressed a question that she said is asked of her frequently: Why do we do what we do? "There is, of course, a General Church mandate," she said. "That part is clear, but Romans 12:2 has a mandate that is even more compelling: 'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect.'"
 
That verse states the why of GBCS's ministry unambiguously, according to Kiesey. "We are here for the transformation of our lives, the lives around us and the world," the bishop declared.
 
Kiesey told stories about poverty on a Native American reservation in the Dakotas, global climate change that is causing different types of birds to migrate through a farmer's property, and the need for health-care reform. "These are not just my stories," she said. "They are the world's stories. The world needs the transforming love of Jesus Christ."
 
General Secretary's report
 
Winkler reported that he had been asked recently if the board's advocacy in the halls of power ever yields any results. "The answer is yes," he said. "Several months ago, after 10 years of work on our part in coalition with many other faith groups and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the U.S. Congress finally approved federal regulation of tobacco."
 
Just two days before the board meeting a ban on candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes took effect. "These 'cigarettes' have been a marketing tool to attract young smokers," Winkler pointed out. "This victory for federal regulation of tobacco comes some 45 years after the U.S. Surgeon General released the famous report tying cigarettes to cancer. We've come a long way!"
 
Winkler said that a GBCS legislative priority for 2009 has been to increase U.S. funding for international family planning. "Fortunately, we are having some success," he said, "at least in the U.S. House of Representatives." He said the House approved a 2010 funding level for family planning 19% higher than 2009.
 
"Additionally, the House approved $60 million for the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund," Winkler said, "something for which GBCS has advocated for years."

Advocacy continues unabated, according to Winkler. "Today, we are in the midst of a ferocious battle to secure health-care coverage for everyone in the United States," he said. "And, we continue to urge the U.S. Congress to pass strong clean-energy legislation this year."
 
Winkler said the agency has a balanced ministry of education, witness, advocacy and action. He said directors and staff have traveled three times to Africa to conduct Social Principles training events, have taught at the United Methodist Seminary in Russia and at Africa University. Similar Social Principles training has been conducted in the Philippines and in the United States.
 
Ethnic Local Church and Human Relations Day grants
 
GBCS's board awarded $83,100 grants to 11 Ethnic Local Church programs. Purpose of the program is to strengthen the ethnic local churches through education, advocacy or leadership training and development as they engage in social justice.
 
This year's grants ranged from $20,000 for Central Conference Social Principles seminars down to $4,000 for a Native American Women's conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.
 
The $32,200 for the Human Relations Day grants was shared by two programs. Funding comes through the United Methodist Special Sunday offering, which helps church-based community developers work in racial- and ethnic-minority communities in the United States and Puerto Rico. The offering also ensures a second chance for youth offenders.
 
GBCS administers funds directed at youth-offender rehabilitation programs. This year's recipients were $7,200 to a program that provides mentors for youths whose parents are incarcerated, and scholarships for Central Conference seminars on restorative justice, $25,000.
 
Homophobia and heterosexism
 
The United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's highest policy-making body, adopted a resolution last year that instructs GBCS to provide resources to educate members of local churches about effects of homophobia and heterosexism, which contribute to marginalization of their victims. GBCS's task force to respond to the resolution reported on its work.
 
The task force announced a web page will go live later this month on the GBCS website. It will offer resources on "Opposing Homophobia and Heterosexism." In making its report, the task force conducted a workshop during the board's meeting that addressed language and definitions, and also included testimonies about the detrimental effects of homophobia and heterosexism.
 
A member of the task force, the Rev. John Denmark from Largo, Fla., introduced the workshop. "We looked at eliminating homophobia and heterosexism as a call to faithfulness," he said. "We looked at it from the framework of John Wesley's first general rule, 'Do no harm.' It is important to acknowledge that heterosexism and homophobia are out there. We need to know how we ourselves have done harm to be able to stop that harm."
 
The workshop featured presentations from persons who have experienced the two behaviors steeped in sexism. Videos of their presentations will be included on the new web page, along with other resources to assist with opposing actions rooted in the two behaviors, such as violence, threats, ridicule, humiliation, discrimination, isolation and rejection. "Opposing Homophobia and Heterosexism" is #2043 in the 2008 Book of Resolutions.
 
Action items
 
The board approved sending a letter to the Washington Post asking it to stop using the name "Redskins" in its articles about the National Football League team in Washington, D.C. The action stemmed from a report of the Native American Task Force that some other newspapers have stopped using the team's name in articles.
 
The board approved a recommendation from the Economic & Environmental Justice working group that a letter be sent to Reynolds American Co. urging dialogue with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. "Rights of Farm Workers in the U.S.," #4134 from the 2008 Book of Resolutions is to accompany the letter. The letter emphasizes that Reynolds has an opportunity through such dialogue to improve the lives and working conditions of farm workers in North Carolina who labor in the tobacco fields.
 
The board approved a recommendation to put all funds to be received from the estate of Wilma Johnston into the Social Justice Ministry Endowment Fund, which is managed by the United Methodist Church Foundation. The fund's purpose is to ensure that The United Methodist Church's prophetic voice on justice ministries will not be stilled by any future economic downturns.