The face of ecumenism in the United States may be changing. Recently, the National Council of Churches (NCC) has taken a first step to broaden its reach to include conservative Protestants, Roman Catholics, and charismatics."It's time for the Christian community in America to kiss and make up," Bob Edgar, the General Secretary of the NCC told Ecumenical News International in May. "It is time to risk ourselves and examine what a national ecumenical organization could look like in a new century."NCC's new emphasis seems to have been spurred on by the organization's financial plight. Membership, funding, and staff have been declining for two decades. Last year was particularly tough for the 35-denomination, 50-million-member organization. Consulting fees, retirement fund errors, and an unexpected rash of burned churches drawing down the NCC's rebuilding fund have left the NCC with an estimated $6.4 million deficit. The NCC board is in the process of reinforcing financial accountability.In May the council received another blow when Church World Service (CWS), an organization under the auspices of the NCC, formalized its break from the council. As the NCC's relief agency, CWS was responsible for about 85 percent of NCC spending, thus eliminating a large part of the NCC's traditional mission.Taking a landmark step of its own in March, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) changed its bylaws to allow NCC members also to have a membership with the NAE if they commit to NAE's statement of faith and mission. This change gave rise to a bid by the Reformed Church in America in June to become the first member of both organizations."The Reformed church has historically been both ecumenical and evangelical," Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church told the Religion News Service. "I trust that we can build bridges between divided parts of the Christian community for the sake of our common witness to the world."But many evangelicals remain wary of the newly developing relationship, saying the NCC has traditionally focused on political concerns. As an example, some evangelicals point to a June speech at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, where NCC President Andrew Young reiterated his support for homosexual rights but spoke little about specifically spiritual matters."While the NCC has been making small overtures to the evangelical community for years, this new openess seems to be largely driven by financial considerations," says Brad Ericson, editor of Conversations, an Evangelical Free Church newsletter. "The real question is whether the new NCC will have a focus and goals that reflect what all Christians should agree is most important: the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ and his glory."

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Earlier Christianity Today articles about the National Council of Churches include:National Council of Churches Making Gun Control Top Legislative Priority | We must halt America's gun scourge says general secretary. (April 30, 2000) National Council of Churches Welcomes End to 'Miami Circus' Over Elián | General secretary laments use of force. (April 27, 2000) The War for Elián | Miami churches protest NCC's efforts to return Elián González to Cuba. (March 16, 2000) Methodists Freeze NCC Funding | Church says questions unanswered over organization's $4 million debt. (December 6, 1999)Click here for a list of current NCC members.The Associated Press story on the NCC's bid to form a new organization ran in The Dallas Morning News.The NCC's homepage links to all their policies and member organizations.The National Association of Evangelicals site displays NAE's changed bylaws .Stories about the NCC's involvement in the Elián González saga include NCC's involvement with Elián's family and NCC's control of Elián's Legal Fund .

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