The Institute on Religion and Democracy has issued a background report on the drafting of a new “Social Creed for the 21st Century” by members of the National Council of Churches. As Alan Wisdom and Ralph Webb point out, the “strong ideological tilt” at the NCC (that would be to your left) “contrasts sharply with the careful efforts at balance evident in public policy guidelines produced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals.”
What kind of society does the NCC, the longtime institutional voice of the Religious Left, hope to establish? The 20 goals of the new creed, IRD says, read “like a laundry list of primarily progressive causes.”
The new creed proclaims “a message of hope for a fearful time.” That hopeful message, according to the NCC, is “a vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination, and finds security in joined hands rather than massed arms.” What follows is a list of 20 broad social and political goals, ranging from “sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety” to “cooperation and dialogue for peace and environmental justice among the world’s religions.”
… There is a call for “an end to the death penalty.” There is a demand for “binding covenants to reduce global warming.” Blessings are pronounced upon “alternative energy sources and public transportation.” Censure is directed at “greed in economic life.” The United Nations must be “strengthened,” according to the new NCC social creed.
On the other hand, the creed makes no mention of any causes usually identified with more conservative Christian viewpoints. There are no echoes of the Hebrew prophet Samuel’s warning against an all-consuming government that levies burdensome taxes (1 Samuel 8:11–18). There is no concern expressed about regimes like North Korea and Iran that repress their own peoples and threaten annihilation of their neighbors. There is no sense of the need for a strong military to deter such threats.
The 2008 creed says nothing about the importance of upholding marriage as a fundamental social institution. (Virtually all NCC member communions define marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.) While the creed advocates sparing the lives of convicted murderers, it does not speak up for the lives of unborn children being aborted, human embryos destroyed through experimentation, or the old and the infirm vulnerable to euthanasia. In seeking more liberal “immigration policies that protect family unity [and] safeguard worker’s rights,” the creed makes no request for enforcement of laws controlling who crosses U.S. borders.
The new creed also glosses over the deep theological divisions — if not political activism — that divides the NCC member churchs. As IRD notes: “The theology of the new creed is fairly minimal and bent toward a liberal social action perspective. That same combination — theological laxity and political one-sidedness — led the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America to leave the NCC in July 2005. The new social creed does not address the doctrinal or social policy differences between the member communions of the council.”
Writing in 1950, the late historian Henry Steele Commager observed that the Social Gospel movement in the United States naturally de-emphasized theological concerns in favor of a practical humanitarianism. “Americans naturalized God,” Commager wrote, “as they naturalized so many other concepts. Because they were optimistic, they insisted upon His benevolence … No American could believe that he was damned.”
It’s unclear if Commager considered that a positive development. In any case, he wouldn’t be surprised by anything in the NCC’s new “Social Creed.”