Boycotts, budgets garner attention of social action board
By Joretta Purdue*
General Board of Church and Society. Photo number W03004, Accompanies UMNS #442
No Long Caption Available for this Story
HERNDON, Va. (UMNS) - Good Christians often disagree, especially when discussing social concerns.
was the case when United Methodists who determine the actions of the
denomination's international social advocacy agency gathered Sept. 11-14
for their semi-annual meeting.
Although unanimous in their
opinions on several matters, a potential boycott drew extensive
discussion by voting directors of the Board of Church and Society. Other
subjects, including globalization, homelessness in the United States
and support for farmers, garnered more general agreement.
careful explanations of the agency's need for budget cutbacks and staff
reduction, needed actions passed without argument on recommendation of
the finance committee.
Voting directors readily agreed to abandon
an agency boycott against Kraft Foods entered a few years ago, but
ongoing consideration of labor conditions on farms that supply the Mt.
Olive Pickle Company was another story.
The Kraft boycott
involved tobacco-marketing practices by Kraft-owned Philip Morris, which
has changed its name to Altria. Proponents of dropping the boycott
noted changes in the public and political climate regarding tobacco.
While emphasizing that they do not endorse Altria or its practices, they
said they are satisfied with worldwide progress that makes the boycott
no longer an appropriate tool.
Voting directors had more
difficulty with a proposed boycott against Mt. Olive Pickle Company
aimed at improving the working conditions of farm laborers involved in
growing and harvesting cucumbers on farms that have contracts with Mt.
At a previous meeting, board members had heard the point
of view of the president of the pickle company, and a visitation team
from the board and the North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference had
been with workers days before the most recent meeting. The board's Peace
with Justice Work Area recommended that directors authorize the board's
executive committee to join the boycott if further progress is not made
by early 2004.
Laura Little, a board member from Greenville,
N.C., and a member of the visitation team, objected. Little read a
letter to Bishop Marion M. Edwards of Raleigh, N.C., from the Rev.
Charles Smith, director of connectional ministries for the North
Carolina Annual (regional) Conference, reporting his observations as
part of the visitation team and questioning the effectiveness of the
Louis Caballero of Century, Fla., cited the
board's March 2001 vote to boycott if conditions did not improve and
noted that improvements have not been made.
"A secondary boycott
is wrong," Hank Shelton, a lawyer from Memphis, asserted, noting that
agriculture is not included in the church guidelines about secondary
boycotts. Others questioned Mt. Olive's responsibility, since it does
not own the land where the workers are employed.
of Portland, Ore., chairman of the Peace with Justice Work Area, said
documents from the pickle company indicated that it was adding worker
treatment to the conditions of compliance in grower contracts, but
remained unwilling to engage in conversation including workers.
team member Jo Ann Yoon Fukumoto of Pearl City, Oahu, Hawaii, said one
woman there expressed appreciation for food and clothing from the church
but pleaded for the chance for workers to provide for their own
After almost an hour on the topic, board members voted
18-17 to authorize the executive board to join the boycott if progress
is not sufficient by early 2004.
Much of this meeting was
devoted to preparing resolutions that will be forwarded to the next
General Conference, the denomination's highest legislative body, for
consideration when it meets April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.
resolution reflects the cessation of U.S. Navy bombing practice on the
island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and calls for cleanup and a return of
land taken in 1941.
Likewise, a new resolution on terrorism for
General Conference consideration recognizes recent terrorist attacks
including those of Sept. 11, 2001, unequivocally condemns all acts of
terror and urges world leaders to repudiate violence. It supports the
United Nations as an agency for conflict resolution rather than
resorting to war or terrorism and encourages participation in the
"Decade to Overcome Violence" program of the World Council of Churches.
resolutions become United Methodist recommendations or policy only if
adopted by General Conference, whose own legislative committees may
recommend passage or rejection when they forward resolutions after their
Board members also approved rewritten or newly
created resolutions on such widely diverse topics as alcohol
advertising, the United Nations, suicide and separation of church and
Extensive discussion in committee sessions focused on
efforts to find solutions to the financial dilemma facing the board. In
the opening session, the board's top staff person, Jim Winkler, had told
voting members that, like other denominations and church agencies, the
social action board is facing a financial crisis.
combination of reduced World Service funding for the board during the
2001-04 quadrennium, the forced spend-down of our reserves, the rise in
health care expenses and the decline in the General Agency Benefit Trust
has hit our agency all at once," he said. The board is allocated about
$8 million from the World Service Fund for 2001-04, down from $10
million each for the preceding quadrennia. "Ours is the only agency
receiving fewer World Service dollars now than it was receiving in
He said the 2005-08 budget being sent to General
Conference, the church's highest legislative body, includes an
allocation of $11.7 million for the board, but $16 million is required
to maintain the current staff levels.
Acting on recommendations
of the personnel and finance committees, board members passed measures
including the transfer of $185,000 from board designated reserves to the
2004 operating budget and a move of $600,000 from the emerging issues
category to undesignated net assets to balance the 2003 operating
The 2004 budget the board approved was $1.3 million less than the 2003 budget.
other business, directors voted to partially fund requests from six
organizations through grants from the Ethnic Local Church Fund. A total
of $67,500 was awarded in response to applications totaling $223,000.
Some grants address particular areas; others, like a $15,000 grant to
the Inter-Ethnic Strategy Development Group to assist ethnic caucus
volunteers who will observe General Conference, serve the broader
church. Three grants extend the assistance of the global church to
justice issues in Vieques, Korean immigrant communities, and work with
families affected by atomic testing in the Marshall Islands.