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Published: Saturday, 4/28/2007

NCC leader says most Americans moderate

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. Bob Edgar will speak
in Toledo on Monday night. The Rev. Bob Edgar will speak in Toledo on Monday night.
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The purpose of the National Council of Churches is to manifest ever more fully the unity of the church, but some branches of the Christian church are not invited.

My full-time task is to attack fear, fundamentalism, and Fox News, said the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the NCC who will be the keynote speaker at the Spring Assembly of Toledo Area Ministries on Monday.

Founded in 1950, the NCC now represents 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historically African-American, and peace communions in the United States with 45 million members.

Mr. Edgar, an ordained elder and former pastor in the United Methodist Church who has been the NCC leader since January, 2000, said in an interview last week that he believes the organization s core values are in line with those of the vast majority of American Christians.

We re always thought of as the liberal guys, but if you really look at it deeply we re the middle church, he said.

That belief, in fact, provided the premise of a book by Mr. Edgar, published last fall by Simon & Schuster, titled Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right.

The book challenges people of faith to stop fighting over hot-button issues such as homosexuality and abortion, and to start focusing on eradicating poverty, preserving the environment, and promoting justice.

The good news for us is that the radical religious right is being divided from the evangelical community that actually gets the right message, Mr. Edgar said. There are a number of evangelicals who have broken away from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who want to work on poverty and environment and justice issues, and they ve read the Bible literally enough to discover God s edict to care for the poor people.

He said most people are unaware that the NCC has never taken a position on homosexuality, abortion, civil marriage, or intelligent design.

We leave all those issues up to our individual churches, Mr. Edgar said.

He said he was disappointed by the withdrawal from the NCC in July, 2005, of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. The group, which has 450,000 members, cited a widening gulf with the NCC on such divisive and dangerous issues as abortion, ordination of women, and justifiable or pre-emptive war.

It specifically cited Mr. Edgar s decision not to sign a document defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

There are a lot of reasons you might want to leave the National Council of Churches, but the Antiochians left the council, I think, for the wrong reasons, he said. My unwillingness to sign a homophobic document startled them, and then they mistakenly took the ordination of a gay bishop by the Episcopal Church, which is part of the council, and labeled it the position of the council, which is inaccurate.

Mr. Edgar pointed out that the other 12 Eastern Orthodox denominations did not quit the NCC.

Prior to taking over leadership of the NCC, Mr. Edgar was president of the Clarement School of Theology in California from 1990 to 2000, and from 1974 to 1987 he served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

I was the first Democrat since before the Civil War to be elected from the heavily Republican Seventh District, he said.

His time in Congress taught him that most people are not far right or far left all the time, he said, a lesson that also applies to Americans religious beliefs.

Mr. Edgar, 63, received a bachelor s degree from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., and a master of divinity from the Theological School of Drew University in Madison, N.J. He has received four honorary doctoral degrees.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the NCC general secretary called for prayers for victims families and also for meaningful gun-control legislation.

We would be for the lawful ownership of guns, but not the proliferation of guns that we see so easily without rules or regulations, he said. We don t want to take guns away from hunters; we think responsible people can have hunting weapons. But we see no reason why we need AK-47s or assault rifles to shoot a pheasant.

As for environmental issues, Mr. Edgar said the NCC created the What Would Jesus Drive? campaign to promote fuel efficiency, and called global warming the life issue of our time.

More information on the National Council of Churches is available online at www.nccusa.org; more information on Toledo Area Ministries is available at www.TAMohio.org.

David Yonke



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