Magazine article The Christian Century

Digesting Digest's WCC Attack

Magazine article The Christian Century

Digesting Digest's WCC Attack

Article excerpt

A READER'S DIGEST article claiming that the World Council of Churches was manipulated by Soviet agents received new and widespread attention when the magazine touted the piece in a full-page advertisement in the january 19 New York Times. Bearing the headline "Do you know where your church dollars go?," the ad summarizes the article's contents.

U.S. church leaders supportive of the council have strongly criticized the Digest article, while longtime critics are saying it underscores some of the same points they have made about the council for years. According to WCC supporters, the article--in the magazine's February issue--essentially rehashes old charges answered years ago and unfairly exaggerates the influence of representatives from communist-bloc countries who were members of the ecumenical agency's top administrative group, the Central Committee.

Jan Love, a United Methodist academic from Columbia, South Carolina, and a WCC Central Committee member, said she served side-by-side with a member identified by the Reader's Digest as a KGB agent, Alexei Buevsky of the Russian Orthodox Church. Most of the proposals Buevsky made, she stressed, were regularly defeated. "If he was planted there by the KGB, they surely could have had better talent."

Said Diane Knippers, vice-president at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative Washington think tank critical of the WCC: "I agree that the KGB has done damage to the WCC and its witness in the world." But she added, "The fact is that a lot of the WCC's nutty theology, its animosity to Western political and economic systems and its attraction to radical socialism has come from Western church leaders all by themselves.... WCC leaders listened favorably to the Soviet line not because it was cleverly presented or slyly insinuated but because those WCC leaders were predisposed to believe it."

Dan Sheldon, operations director for the Lay Committee, a conservative renewal group within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), commented, "What concerns us is with the collapse of communism we do not see any recognition or admission by the church that they were maybe misled in the direction they were going." And James Heidinger, director of Good News, a similar group within the United Methodist Church, said after reading the article, "Many of us wonder why WCC leaders have been so hospitable and protective of the failed Marxist/socialist ideology while at the same time seemed to be strangers to those embracing orthodox, evangelical theology. For many of us, the WCC seemed to have put ideology above theology."

Konrad Raiser, the new WCC general secretary, has also responded to the article, charging in a letter that it offers an "extremely distorted" and "one-sidedly negative view" of the ecumenical organization's work. Sent to some 320 member denominations around the world, his letter was accompanied by a six-page rebuttal to the article.

The rebuttal acknowledged that on some issues the council had taken positions similar to those taken by socialist governments. But the council had formulated those positions independently, "on the basis of Christian convictions and the experience of the churches in Third World countries." The rebuttal noted that many of those churches had been active "in struggles for justice and peace," and that the initiative for those actions "invariably" came from Western church leaders and not Russian Orthodox representatives who supposedly were acting as KGB agents.

The rebuttal also criticized the article's claim that the WCC was "strangely reticent on racism and oppression in Marxist countries," citing instances where the council had spoken out. Pointing out that the council has stated publicly that it would "welcome and facilitate an independent inquiry" on the matter of infiltration by the KGB, the rebuttal also questioned whether adequate opportunities to "set the record straight" have been afforded people accused of being agents. …

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