Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Elian case upsets Methodists

Worry about misconceptions

By Lucy May
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The pictures of a frightened 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez being taken at gunpoint Saturday from the home of his Miami relatives held special meaning for some members of the United Methodist Church.

        That's because for weeks the church's Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C., the church's social advocacy arm, has been in the spotlight by advocating the reunion of the boy and his father.

        “I've been to Cuba a number of times. I personally think the boy belongs with his father,” said the Rev. Tim Burden, pastor of Sharonville United Methodist Church. “But I was really disgusted with the way it was handled.”

        The Board of Church and Society and its top staff executive, the Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, don't speak for the church as a whole. But some members of the United Methodist church worry that others don't understand that.

        The board set up a fund this month to take contributions to help pay Gregory B. Craig, the attorney representing Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. Some parishioners worried that church funds were being used. Church leaders have insisted that was not the case. As of last week, the fund was transferred to the National Council of Churches.

        The Rev. Gary Gibson of Flor ence United Methodist Church said there are members of his church who wanted to see the boy reunited and others who want to see him stay in the U.S.

        “Most people's view is that they want what's best for the boy,” he said.

        The Rev. Bill Bowdle, senior pastor of Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in Indian Hill, said he also has parishioners on both sides of the Elian issue.

        “If the Gonzalez issues were crystal clear, it would probably have been resolved in short order with few protests,” he said. “The strength of opinion on both sides of this issue suggests to me that each side has some legitimate values to defend.”

        The Rev. Mr. Burden said many members of his congregation are mostly frustrated and angry by the Board of Church and Society's lack of accountability.

        “These groups are not even elected,” he said. “You find yourself having to apologize for being a Methodist.”

        For more conservative members of the church, the Elian case is the latest example of the Board of Church and Society taking a stand that leans too far left, said Steve Beard, editor of Good News, a national magazine based in Wilmore, Ky., and published independently from the United Methodist Church.

        “There are people of good will on both sides of the case,” Mr. Beard said. “But people resent feeling as if the United Methodist Church gets in the news because of ... sending little boys back to Cuba.”


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