United Methodist and Roman Catholic leaders are being accused of following a double standard when it comes to workers’ rights. Both churches have stood behind the trade union movement in the past. But when some of their own employees have organized to bargain for improved wages and benefits, the churches have not always been supportive.

The 9.5-million-member United Methodist Church has long stated its support for collective bargaining. In 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church—a forerunner of the United Methodist Church—issued a statement upholding the right of workers to organize. United Methodists supported California farm workers in 1976 and employees of the formerly antiunion J. P. Stevens Company in 1980.

But when denominational employees are involved, the support seems to falter. In 1982, employees of the church’s General Board of Global Ministries, with headquarters in New York City, voted 133 to 88 to join the United Auto Workers Union. However, their attempts to negotiate a contract with improved wages and benefits has been fruitless so far.

They say they are among the lowest-paid denominational workers in the nation. Although a wage increase became effective this year, it was less than the employees wanted, and they lost many benefits they had previously enjoyed.

In a letter to union members, the employees’ negotiating committee accused the Global Ministries’ director and its legal counsel of “outright deceit,” “a violation of good faith bargaining,” and a “patronizing attitude” toward its approximately 250 workers. Most of the employees are secretaries, receptionists, and clerical workers.

“There is definitely a discrepancy between the church’s teachings and its actions,” says Ron Stoner, a member of the union’s negotiating committee. “In nine months of negotiating, we have had 33 sessions, all called by management and none of them dealing with our list of problems. Our salaries start at around $150 [per week] and go to around $420, well below the wages for employees of the National Council of Churches, which our church supports.…”

“We have tried to be principled and forthright throughout the negotiations,” says Don Will, another union member. “Our most confrontative action was a 10-minute pray-in at the office of the general secretary. I feel we have been more in line with the principles of the church than the board, which has conducted itself in an authoritarian manner and hired an antiunion lawyer.”

The General Board of Global Ministries referred all questions to its attorney, Robert Lees. Lees is a Philadelphia lawyer who has defended major corporations in union disputes.

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“Global Ministries has a lot of employees,” he says. “They live in a very expensive city, and they see a lot of other people making a lot of money. Both sides are very serious.”

He denies the charge that the church is turning its back on its workers. “The employees had very favorable conditions of employment,” he says. “And I don’t think you can turn the workers’ right to organize into a policy that would inhibit the right of stewardship that the board exercises on behalf of the whole denomination. The board has acted in perfectly good faith.”

Stoner disagrees with Lees’s assessment. The negotiating committee member says the workers presented a wage and benefit proposal to the board a year ago. He says the board responded with a counterproposal that “started at point zero, removing any benefits that were not federally mandated. So we had to talk months just to reinstate what we had lost.”

United Methodist employees aren’t the only church workers who find themselves at odds with management. Many of the nation’s Catholic school and hospital employees are engaged in a similar struggle. Pope John Paul II has publicly supported the right of workers to organize. But the Catholic church in this country has opposed several efforts at collective bargaining among its school and hospital employees.

Many of America’s 120,000 Catholic lay teachers are organizing to try to improve their wages and benefits, says Rita Schwartz, secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers. The teachers’ salaries vary from $9,000 to $30,000 per year, she says, and many work without health benefits. Lay teachers are organizing or negotiating in Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Chicago; Saint Louis; Newark; Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana; and in other cities, she says. Their national union claims 3,000 members.

The teachers association has met with mixed success. Some of the teachers have gone on strike after contracts expired. And the church doesn’t always accept union negotiators with open arms.

“There is definite opposition to teachers organizing,” Schwartz says. “Catholic lay teachers have seen an amazing number of roadblocks and games.”

Like their counterparts in Catholic schools, organized workers in Catholic hospitals are meeting church opposition. Some dioceses have fought unionizing attempts by hiring one of 5,000 consulting firms that specialize in preventing or decertifying unions, says George Higgins, a priest who formerly headed the social action department of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Another tactic involves petitioning a federal court to prohibit the government from ordering union elections in parochial schools, he says.

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For the workers, unions mean more than the possibility of improved wages and benefits. Says Schwartz: “They want representation and something they can have a say in, not something handed to them in a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.”

North American Scene

A North Carolina judge has declared the state’s bingo law unconstitutional. District Judge Paul Wright dismissed gambling charges against an employee of a Goldsboro tavern after the defense lawyer argued that the law was unconstitutional. The law allowed churches and other tax-exempt groups to conduct bingo games and raffles. But that right was denied to other groups. Unless the state’s supreme court upholds Wright’s ruling, it might have no effect outside his courtroom.

The parents of a 13-year-old cancer victim are dropping their battle to have their daughter removed from court-ordered medical treatment. Larry Hamilton, a fundamentalist Tennessee pastor, had cited religious grounds for refusing to allow his daughter to be treated for a rare type of bone cancer. The girl is responding well to the chemotherapy she has been receiving since September.

Biology textbooks used in Texas public schools do not have to mention Charles Darwin. The state’s board of education rejected a proposal that would have required that biology texts mention Darwin and others “who have advanced biological science.” Critics accused the board of bowing to pressure from Christians who opposed any requirement that the theory of evolution be mentioned.

An antiwar group has won the right to counsel Chicago public school students against registering for the draft. Federal District Judge George Leighton ruled that the school board’s practice of giving military recruiters access to the school while denying antiwar groups the same privilege violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment. The Chicago school board has filed for reconsideration of the ruling.

Laws requiring parental consent before minors can obtain abortions have failed to increase parents’ involvement in such decisions, according to a report in Family Planning Perspectives. Abortion clinics and referral centers in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island report that 20 to 50 percent of their teenage clients choose court appearances rather than seek their parents’ consent for abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a state can require parental consent only if a minor is allowed to seek permission from a judge if she doesn’t want to consult her parents.

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The United Methodist women’s agency is organizing a nationwide drive to train women to run for political office and to work in political campaigns. Theressa Hoover, of the United Methodist women’s division, said the agency will conduct workshops in nearly every state to train 10,000 women in the basics of running a campaign. The agency hopes to train at least 250 women who will run for local and state offices in the 1986 elections.

President Reagan’s views opposing abortion will appear in a book to be published next month by Thomas Nelson. The book, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, will include an article by Reagan originally published in Human Life Review. The book also will include articles by Malcolm Muggeridge and U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Brain research has failed to develop evidence to disprove the Christian idea that man has a free will, a soul, and an eternal destiny, according to David Mackay, professor of communications and neuroscience at the University of Keele in Keele, England. Speaking in the United States, Mackay denounced the idea that once science develops a purely mechanistic theory of the brain, it could “debunk all religious and moral concepts of man.”

World Scene

Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu has called for an increased emphasis on atheistic teaching in his country’s schools. The action comes in the wake of evidence that young people are turning to religious groups, especially to the 200,000-member Romanian Baptist Church.

Leftist guerrillas in Colombia have freed an American missionary they held for five months. U.S. embassy officials in Bogotá said Russell Stendal, 28, was freed in early January. The guerrillas had asked for a $500,000 ransom. It isn’t known how much Stendal’s family paid for his release.

The Portugese Parliament has voted to liberalize the country’s abortion laws. Sponsored by members of the socialist party, the bill does not legalize all abortions. But it waives prosecution in cases of fetal deformity, pregnancy following rape, and when a woman’s life would be endangered by giving birth.

The city council of Gävle, Sweden, is experimenting with a civil ceremony intended as a substitute for infant baptism. In the ceremony, a text is read that reminds parents of their responsibility to raise their children properly and safely. “Even people who are not religious want to have traditions and festivity in life,” said Olle Melin, the city council member who wrote the text.

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A boycott against the Nestlé Corporation has been suspended after nearly seven years. However, the International Nestlé Boycott Committee said it will continue to monitor the company’s compliance with the World Health Organization code for marketing infant formula. Critics argued that unsanitary water supplies and illiteracy in developing nations led to the deaths of thousands of formula-fed infants.

China has canceled its formal campaign against “spiritual pollution.” The three-month crusade was intended to combat unwelcome foreign values and influences. However, it created more problems than it solved. Maoists were taking advantage of the opportunity to criticize changes brought about by increased Chinese trade with the West.

The United States has approved the sale of $28.3 million in arms technology to South Africa. The American Friends Service Committee and the Washington Office on Africa say the sale violates the United Nations embargo on arms and related material going to South Africa. The white-ruled country enforces a form of racial segregation known as apartheid.

An Excommunicated Scholar Reveals Errors In The Jehovah’S Witnesses

From 1971 to 1980, Raymond Franz was a prominent member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses governing body. A nephew of the society’s president, Fred Franz, and a well-known Witness in his own right, Raymond Franz was a highly influential figure.

Franz was one of the sect’s foremost scholars. But in 1980, after being forced to resign from the governing body, he left the sect’s headquarters in Brooklyn. The following year he was excommunicated, supposedly for dining with his friend and employer Peter Gregerson. Gregerson already had resigned from the Witnesses and was officially regarded as an apostate.

Franz says that his own excommunication was designed to keep him from talking to his Witness brethren. If they had been allowed to associate with him, he says, they would have learned about the problems at the sect’s headquarters. To get the story out, Franz wrote Crisis of Conscience (Commentary Press).

In the recently published book, he describes the 14 years he spent at Watchtower headquarters. He writes that legalism dominates the thinking of the sect’s leaders. They are constantly concerned with violations of Watchtower sexual morality; they are hostile to the academic world; and they are preoccupied with their predictions of the end of the world, he says.

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One of Franz’s most shocking accounts deals with the governing body’s double standards. The sect has long taught that adherents must not belong to political parties, vote in elections, salute flags, or perform military service because of their supposed Christian neutrality. As a result, when Malawian President Kamuzu Banda demanded that every Malawian buy a party card from the Malawi Congress Party, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused. They were assaulted, raped, and tortured for their stand. Thousands of them were driven out of the country, and many of them died.

Yet, at the same time, Franz writes, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico were illegally buying military service cards. The cards falsely indicated that they had fulfilled their military service obligations and were members of the Mexican military reserves. Strangely, the governing body refused to allow Malawian Witnesses to compromise their faith by buying a 25-cent party card. But it sanctioned bribery and membership in the military reserves for Witnesses in Mexico.

Franz also discusses the sect’s past insistence on picking apocalyptic dates. He writes that the governing body refuses to deny their “biblical chronology” in the face of overwhelming evidence against it. He describes a brutal 1980 purge of Witnesses who wanted to discard the apocalyptic date setting. In some cases, he says, members wanted to abandon the society’s teaching of salvation on a paradise earth and adhere to the Christian teaching of a heavenly hope.

The book goes far beyond recounting Franz’s personal crisis. It describes the much larger crisis that faces Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.


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