NCC's Edgar looks to 'Middle Church' to restore values
Oct. 5, 2006
The Rev. Robert Edgar
By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) — The Rev. Bob Edgar has a wake-up call for those he thinks can help restore America’s moral values.
The call can be found in his new book, Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right, published by Simon & Schuster.
Edgar, 63, has announced he will leave his position as chief executive
of the National Council of Churches at the end of 2007. The United
Methodist pastor also served six terms as a congressman from
Pennsylvania and was president of Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology.
While depictions of sex and violence on television are a measure of
morality, so are “hunger, illiteracy, disease, war and environmental
degradation,” he writes.
As Edgar defines it, the "Middle Church, Middle Synagogue, Middle
Mosque" that he addresses in the book represent "the many millions of
faithful people who do not always connect their spiritual values with
political issues and whose voices are, as a result, often drowned out by
the far religious right.
"This faithful majority must have the courage to confront their
government when it makes bad decisions and have enough confidence in
their own judgment not to believe unquestioningly the ‘expert’ political
leaders, who most Americans assume know more than they do," he writes
in the preface.
Edgar is not shy about naming those "bad decisions," and he is convinced
that others of faith are unhappy with direction the country has taken.
"I think there’s a faithful majority out there who has finally
discovered the emperor has no clothes," he tells United Methodist News
Edgar, who characterizes himself as being on "the right wing of the
left," says he wants his book to inspire those in the middle who are
concerned "but who haven’t been energized" and progressives "who need
To reclaim the nation from an increasingly isolated radical religious
right, "we must shake ourselves from our complacency and connect the
values of the faith we share with the policies of the nation we
cherish," he writes.
Edgar says he would like to see the United Methodist Church return to
its commitments of the 1950s and '60s of attacking poverty and
unemployment and promoting civil rights.
His problem with the denomination today, he notes, is that United
Methodists are so reflective of U.S. society, they have been sidelined
by "what I call the piety issues" at the expense of Methodism founder
John Wesley's call to care for the poor. The piety issues include
homosexuality, civil marriage and abortion.
When bombs fall
Throughout the book, Edgar blends his personal experiences and
encounters with discussions of poverty, global warming and the
environment, war and peace, terrorism and torture.
He remembers Caroline, a playful little girl he met on New Year's Eve,
2002, at a Presbyterian church in central Baghdad. He was part of a
13-member NCC delegation making a humanitarian inspection of Iraq less
than 90 days before the United States declared war.
"As I looked into the face of this 4-year-old Iraqi girl, who was
distinguished from any one of my grandchildren only by her olive-toned
skin and her Arabic heritage, all I could think was: This is the face of
those who may die if my country goes to war," he writes.
"When the bombs begin to fall, they will be equipped with the most
advanced military technology in the history of humankind, but not one of
them will bear a sensor telling it how to avoid Caroline."
who has made campaigning against poverty a hallmark of his leadership
at the NCC, reports that he was a na´ve 18-year-old the first time he
saw "poverty that kills." A youth delegate to the World Methodist
Conference in Oslo, Norway, he was part of a group touring mission
projects and other sites in 11 European countries.
He found himself overwhelmed by the slums of Naples, Italy, and equally
overcome by an orphanage there run by Methodist ministers and
deaconesses that provided an oasis in a desert of despair.
"All that separated the children on the inside from those huddled under
cardboard boxes within shouting distance from the gate was luck – and
love," he writes. "It was a day of stark contrasts and stirring
inspiration, the first time I fully contemplated the tremendous impact
people of faith could make on their world, and it cemented my decision
to enter the ministry."
It is such an impact that Edgar is trying to stimulate. "The question
Middle Church must ask, that mainstream Americans of all traditions must
ask, is simple: Do we value our faith enough to reclaim it? ... Do we
believe our family values – peace, poverty and planet Earth – deserve
equal billing with the so-called values agenda of the far religious
What's needed to reactivate the mainline denominations is not money,
according to Edgar, but "vision and mission." If Protestant churches
"want to be relevant, they have to be more effective."
More information about Edgar’s book can be found at www.middlechurch.net online.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rev. Bob Edgar