Church and Society secretary says church must seek justice

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church and Society secretary says church must seek justice

July 13, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0702}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

TAMPA — When Jim Winkler accepted the position of general secretary for the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society seven years ago, he told the board of directors he wanted to accomplish three goals: connect the board of directors with local churches and annual conferences around the globe, strengthen the tie between justice and mercy, and root the church’s Social Principles firmly in the minds of United Methodists.

After working for the international public policy and social justice agency of The United Methodist Church since November 2000, Winkler told groups of Floridians in May those goals are still a priority.

Jim Winkler, general secretary of the denomination’s General Board of Church and Society, considers a question from the audience after his presentation to a group of Florida United Methodists at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa last May. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0624.

Winkler spoke at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, College Heights United Methodist Church in Lakeland and Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa during a recent trip to Florida.

His most passionate remarks were reserved for demonstrating the connection between the church’s role in the global community when it comes to justice and mercy, or what the secular world refers to as social action.

“How do we bring conditions on earth ‘as it is in heaven?’ ” Winkler asked shortly after his opening remarks at Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

Supplying the answer himself, Winkler said it is best achieved when United Methodists actively voice their concerns, such as when The United Methodist Church boycotted Mount Olive Pickle Company in eastern North Carolina for its treatment of migrant workers, the primary source of labor for harvesting the vegetables at the company. The owner of the company, a practicing United Methodist, was shocked that his church was advocating a boycott.

Winkler said a group of United Methodist women from the area relayed a story to him that best summed up the reason for the sanctions. A woman receiving much-needed items from the United Methodist women thanked the group, but said what she really wanted was to make enough money to afford food and clothing on her own.

The Mount Olive Pickle Company, as well as Taco Bell and other companies, eventually adhered to reasonable wage increases for their migrant workers.

“That’s the gospel value that we seek to connect to justice and mercy,” Winkler said, adding that none of the companies have “gone broke” after the modest increases for workers.

Winkler said someone has to speak up in these unjust cases. That someone should be the church. When it does, he said, the church adds an inherently different voice to the debate.

Centuries-old debates in the Middle East bear that out, according to Winkler. While leading a delegation to areas of Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine, Winkler said the church was well received.

“We hear all the time that our day in The United Methodist Church is over, our numbers are dwindling, we are steadily losing members, but I have found great respect for our church,” he said.

The United Methodist Church must now use its voice in ending the war in Iraq, as well as preventing war in Iran, Winkler said, because the church’s position is one of peace.

“Our role, in part, as the church is to speak truth to power,” he said. “Moses was a social lobbyist — he went to see Pharaoh, the person in charge, on behalf of the Jews, the migrant workers living in Egypt.”

Winkler also spoke of Queen Esther from the Bible, who helped save the Persian Jews from being killed by King Xerxes’ prime minister, and John Wesley, who was very concerned with the plight of workers during his time.

“From the very start we have been involved in social justice,” he said. “It’s in our DNA to speak for the last and the least. We need to be firm, yet polite, and give moral, ethical witness for those impacted by pandemic poverty and environmental degradation.”

During the question and answer period, Winkler said it’s up to individuals to contact their representatives and inform them of their stance on issues of justice and mercy.

He said each day members of Congress ask their staffs for the current tally of e-mails, faxes, letters and telephone calls from people in their district about certain issues. They care what people think, he said, because the only thing they enjoy more than being elected to serve is being re-elected.

Winkler said it’s up to people of faith to express their concerns and make a difference in areas that require improvement because Washington bureaucrats won’t — even if that means the church must be dragged kicking and screaming into an era of change. Winkler cited the civil rights movement, when the church had to be urged along to do the right thing, as an example.

After Winkler’s comments, Barbara and Roy Funkhouser, who attended Community United Methodist Church in Naperville, Ill., where Winkler’s father was pastor, many years ago before retiring to the Tampa area, said they found the talk both challenging and engaging.

Winkler greeted others in attendance, then expounded on the importance of justice and mercy.

“We have got to work for people to be paid a living wage,” he said. “We need to work for affordable housing. We can’t just focus on mercy. It’s all connected.”

He said the church has played a key role in advocating for legislation to increase minimum wage, decrying alcohol marketing to teens and speaking out against gambling. He said The United Methodist Church is “there at the table” discussing decisions that will affect millions of people.

“We are claiming modest victories,” Winkler said. “I’ve had members of Congress say that legislation passed because of us, but we don’t celebrate that.”

What Winkler would like to do is increase the implementation and profile of The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles. Since he began working for the agency, he said he and his office have led hundreds of seminars on the subject and practice of the Social Principles through advocacy, education and witness.

“They are the best kept secret in The United Methodist Church,” he said. “I don’t think anyone, myself included, will agree with every one of them, but they are the social teachings of our church, and it’s a shame how well hidden we have kept them.”


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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