The lobbying arm of The United Methodist Church pulled out of a weekend rally that some painted as the antithesis of an earlier Tea Party event with conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck.
An estimated 175,000 progressives and liberals on Saturday attended the "One Nation Working Together" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, demanding more jobs and more spending for education, and generating energy for the Nov. 2 elections.
UMC's General Board of Church & Society had agreed to endorse the event mainly because the rally was billed as an event aimed at "a more united country with good jobs, equal justice, and quality public education for all."
"These goals are non-controversial and consistent with scripture and the United Methodist Social Principles," said Jim Winkler, general secretary of the United Methodist agency.
But over the past month, the rally – led by civil rights groups such as the NAACP – took on a more political and partisan tone as it drew the support of other organizations that "created enormous, unnecessary controversy," Winkler noted.
"The inclusion of such groups on the list of endorsers has detracted greatly from the professed aims of the rally and the board is very disappointed this has occurred," he commented.
Some of the endorsing organizations include National Education Association, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, New York City Democratic Socialists of America, and Americans for Democratic Action.
Winkler indicated that the UMC agency withdrew its endorsement – one day before the rally – because it was also being portrayed as a counter-demonstration to the Beck rally in August.
Fox News commentator Beck had drawn some 500,000 conservatives, by his estimates, to the National Mall for the "Restoring Honor" rally. It was held on the anniversary of the Marin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and was seen as part of the Tea Party movement.
NAACP President Ben Jealous insisted the "One Nation" event was not an alternative to the Tea Party, but rather "the antidote" to it.
Though Jealous said the coalition came together to offer a positive alternative to negative rhetoric, as reported by CNN, Winkler saw the event as only fanning the flame to the lack of civility.
"Unfortunately, discourse within the United States has grown increasingly divisive," he said. "Perhaps more troubling, discourse within The United Methodist Church has taken on a very un-Christ-like tone. E-mails and phone calls made to the board by clergy and laity have been shocking in their vitriol."
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy – a conservative watchdog group that monitors mainline denominations – commended the UMC for backing out.
"Of course, we don't know if Winkler would have retracted endorsement of this left-wing political rally without emails and phone calls from upset United Methodists. But he deserves credit for deciding rightly," he said in a statement.
Despite the pull-out, Winkler has stressed that the controversies surrounding the rally has not detracted from the United Methodist agency's support for efforts toward good jobs, equal justice and quality public education for all.
The UMC General Board of Church & Society is one of four international program boards of The United Methodist Church.