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All expenses paid

International | Is the legal fund for Greg Craig and his client 'humanitarian advocacy' for two liberal church agencies, or a giant company's way of doing business with Castro?

Issue: "CCM: Salt or sugar?," May 13, 2000

In the past year it has supported clemency for 11 Puerto Rican terrorists, lobbied for gun control, and asked state legislatures to end the death penalty. It asked several states in the South to end sawmill operations in an effort to protect the forests. But the United Methodist Board of Church and Society (UMBCS) had profoundly little to say against the weapons-packed raid used to remove Elián Gonzalez from the home of his great-uncle April 22. The philosophical 180 can be readily explained: United Methodists in alliance with the National Council of Churches were instrumental in hiring Gregory Craig, legal counsel to Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elián's father, as part of continuing solidarity with the Castro regime. Extracting Elián, even by force, was critical to their strategy to moot ongoing court proceedings, which could have led to granting Elián the right to remain in the United States.

The UMBCS is one of 13 national agencies operated by the United Methodist Church. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with a staff of 40 and budget of nearly $4 million, it is the largest church lobby in the capital. Direct public involvement in the Elián Gonzalez case began in March, when UMBCS general secretary Thom White Wolf Fassett went to Cuba with former National Council of Churches (NCC) head Joan Brown Campbell. They met with Mr. Gonzalez. Afterwards, they announced the creation of a "humanitarian advocacy fund" to pay for an attorney to represent the father in the escalating confrontation between Mr. Gonzalez and his Miami uncle over custody of 6 -year-over Elián. That attorney was immediately named: Mr. Craig, a member of President Clinton's legal defense team during last year's impeachment proceedings. Since that time the two church agencies and Mr. Craig have become a kind of troika representing the interests of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Mr. Gonzalez before the watching world.

For both church agencies, those activities fit with longstanding support for Mr. Castro's regime. Ms. Campbell and the NCC's current general secretary, Bob Edgar, asserted that they took an interest in the case at the request of the Cuba Council of Churches-a state organ not widely regarded as representing actual Cuban churchgoers. The Cuban Council of Churches delegate who traveled to the United States with Elián's two grandmothers in January, Oden Marichal, is better known as a member of the Cuban National Assembly-a party man. At the same time, members of the Gonzalez family in both Miami and Cuba are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which is not part of the Cuban Council of Churches.

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Not surprisingly, Florida Methodists are not happy with their denomination. A statement by Florida Methodist Bishop Cornelius Henderson said the move to support Mr. Gonzalez and his attorney "took place in a presumptuous manner with no prior consultation with United Methodist leadership in Florida." Church creeds emphasize the importance of both family and political freedom, Mr. Henderson stated, and "it is painful to see one's church appear to lend support to a government whose record on human rights is not acceptable by Christian standards or the principles of the United Methodist Church."

As the United Methodist Church began its nationwide General Conference May 2 in Cleveland, growing dissent within its ranks forced further action. Two weeks before the General Conference began, the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration said the fund violated denominational guidelines, and denominational leaders told Mr. Fassett to get rid of it. Administration of the fund was transferred to the NCC April 19.

The controversy does not end in UMC halls. Reports began emerging in April that Dwayne Andreas, recently retired chairman of the largest U.S. grain processor, Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), brought church agents together with Mr. Craig. Mr. Andreas, a highly controversial political campaign contributor, over the years has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both Republican and Democratic candidates. In exchange, political analysts agree, his empire has received federal protection of the domestic sugar industry and subsidies for ethanol and grain exports-earning him the distinction, according to the Cato Institute, as the largest recipient of corporate welfare. In 1996 ADM paid $100 million in fines for price fixing.

Mr. Andreas's connections to the NCC are assorted. Last year, when the council named former Atlanta mayor and UN ambassador Andrew Young as its president, Mr. Andreas made a $100,000 gift to the NCC in his honor. Mr. Young is a member of ADM's board. Mr. Andreas made two contributions to the NCC's much-politicized Burned Churches Fund: $1 million in 1996 and $200,000 in 1998. Also, ADM uses the services of Williams and Connally, Mr. Craig's law firm.

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