While still defying predictions of its demise, the National Council of Churches (NCC) has been significantly scaled-down and is finding new funding sources.
An article in the conservative magazine Touchstone (March) notes that the NCC has escaped from near-bankruptcy by significantly trimming its staff and budget (from over $10 million ten years ago to $6.5 million today). Under its president Bob Edgar, the ecumenical organization instituted draconian spending cuts, but has not yet reversed the decline in denominational funding. For this reason, the NCC now receives more funding from private foundations than from its member denominations.
For 2005, the NCC received $1,761,714 from foundations compared to $1,750,332 from its 35 member churches. Most of the foundation giving, from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, has gone to the NCC’s political and social action work. These include the council’s activism on environmentalism and multilateralism in foreign policy. Edgar, a former Democratic congressman, has maintained and strengthened the NCC’s political advocacy work, drawing a new round of criticism from conservative groups. The withdrawal of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese from the council last summer was one sign of such disaffection.
In another article in this issue, writer Johannes Jacobse argues that the Antiochian withdrawal “portends a change in the way Orthodox Christianity approaches American society. The influx of converts to Orthodoxy from other Christian communions plays an important part in this shift.”
He adds that converts (over half of the church’s priests are converts) were instrumental in calling for the withdrawal. Since many converts left mainline Protestantism over social and theological liberalism for Orthodoxy; they have long been among the most opposed to NCC membership. Jacobse sees an undercurrent of dissent in the Orthodox Church in America (which also has a large convert membership and leadership), although leaders in that church and the Greek Orthodox Church have not yet shown signs of withdrawing from the council.