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Winkler to leave as top executive of United Methodist social advocacy agency

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Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata (left) and Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, walk together to the Imagine No Malaria conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Dec. 3, 2012. UMNS photos by Jay Mallin

Jim Winkler, who sometimes has been a lightning rod for controversy in advocating the church’s social positions, will depart this year as the top executive for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Winkler, who has worked for the agency for 28 years, is ending his 12-year term as the top executive. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society is charged with advocating the social teachings approved by the United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top policymaking body. The agency owns the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill and has a presence at the United Nations in New York.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, limits elected executives of general boards to serving a dozen years. Church law allows agency boards to suspend this provision by a two-thirds vote, and the Church and Society board has asked Winkler to remain in his job until his successor is hired.

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Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., (left) and Jim Winkler chatted before a rally. A UMNS photo by Vince Isner, United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

“It’s been a phenomenal honor to serve the church in this way,” Winkler said. “I know there are a lot of interesting jobs in the church, but I can’t imagine any one being more interesting than this one in the amount of information and the sheer breadth of issues we address.”

The Board of Church and Society has set March 18 as the deadline for applications for a new top executive. Winkler told United Methodist News Service he is not sure what his future work will be.

“I’ve always been impressed by Jim’s ability to move with comfort into some difficult conversations with people of power and influence to represent our United Methodist social witness and see that it does not go unheeded,” said Phoenix Area Bishop Robert Hoshibata, the board’s chair as well as chair of the search committee.

At times controversial tenure

Both Winkler and Hoshibata agree the job can at times be controversial.

That was especially true in 2010 when the U.S. Congress passed and President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health-care reform law.

The majority of United Methodist lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against the plan. However, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., referred to The United Methodist Church as one of many organizations “sending a clear message to members of Congress: Say yes to health care reform.” More specifically, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society was included on Pelosi’s website in a list of organizations supporting reform.

Winkler has faced frequent criticism that his advocacy does not speak for every United Methodist.

“Never once have I purported to speak for the whole United Methodist Church,” Winkler said. “The general board is directed by General Conference to speak its convictions on what’s happening in the world, and we do that.”

For example, he pointed out, eight consecutive gatherings of General Conference had called for comprehensive health-care reform in the United States.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline contains a Social Principle on the “Right to Health Care” and the Book of Resolutions includes a number of resolutions on the topic.

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Jim Winkler was among 11 faith leaders arrested for refusing to stop public prayers in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in July 2011. The group agreed to a pretrial resolution of the misdemeanor charges. A UMNS photo by Jewel DeGuzman.

Winkler also sparked controversy on July 28, 2011, when he and 10 other religious leaders were arrested in the U.S. Capitol as they refused to stop public prayers asking the Obama administration and Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Not every issue Winkler and his staff deal with is controversial among church members. The agency also campaigns to stop human trafficking and child abuse and supports ministries aimed at fighting substance abuse.

The past two years, the agency has called on United Methodists to give up alcohol consumption for Lent, donate the funds they would have used to buy alcohol and start an international conversation about the harm done by this common vice.

What’s next for agency

Hoshibata said that whoever follows Winkler likely also will sometimes take unpopular positions and face criticism from some in the denomination.

“I think that by the very nature of our work, we are in a divisive role,” he said. “Any statement that we make — even though we are backed up by our Book of Resolutions and Social Principles  — because of the diversity in our United Methodist Church will be potentially divisive.”

He said his search committee is hoping to attract a wide range of qualified candidates. Applicants must be professing members of The United Methodist Church with “a biblical and theological understanding of its mission and social witness” as well as a thorough knowledge of the denomination’s doctrines and governance.

Applicants also must be articulate in expressing the mandates of the church and justice issues.

“There is a deep appreciation for the presence of our general board on Capitol Hill,” Hoshibata said. “We feel it’s made a difference in the way our country’s government has responded to some of the concerns of United Methodists. We’d like to see a continuation of that.”

He added that the board  also would like to see the next top executive expand on the agency’s mission to talk about how the global church can become more involved in the board’s work. “My concern is that we want to share with the whole global community the variety of concerns that we address,” he said.

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  1. agreen

    I am saddened by some of this dialogue. Some of it does not reflect well on the UMC and its membership. I do find it interesting that the majority of those who show their appreciation of Jim’s leadership are women. As a United Methodist Women’s participant I see women as leading in many areas of social justice. It is MY EXPERIENCE that often men of the UMC trail behind dragging their feet, content with the status quo. I am certain of one thing – all of us, women or men, will never agree in many areas. Each of us is struggling to understand and live as Christ calls us to. Let’s support each other as much as it is possible. Let us not constantly tear down others – which I see as one of the prevalent attitudes in our society.

  2. Laura L. Salguero

    Amen, Sister! When I go to Multi-conference UMW or Church and Society events, I am always humbled by the degree of love and dedication I see in the participants, and I feel very proud of our Church. However, when I read some of the hateful remarks above, I feel very sad for our denomination.

  3. Sue Mullins

    I have been– and am– so relieved and proud to have Jim speak for me as a United Methodist in today’s controversial issues from a Christian perspective. I am so grateful, as a woman, to have Jim stand for us. I am so relieved that Jim speaks and acts for all those without voice, following the majority stands of United Methodists world-wide. At great personal risk, he has advocated for the least and the lost…echoing the voice and passion of Christ.

    1. cyfever

      Sue, I so agree. He has been a Christian as Jesus wanted us to be!

  4. Earl Sallinger

    Mr. Winkler carried his own flag and NOT that of the UMC and true Weslyan and Christian ways. Anyone who supports abortion on demand or the abolishment of our 2nd. Amendment rights to bear arms (handguns included) or who supports any resolution to have have our rights as Americans decided by the UN has no business in this position. All Mr. Winkler did was promote the liberal, socialist, communistic agenda of the left. Check out the movie ‘Agend, Grinding America Down’ – will enlighten you very much.

    1. agreen

      Mr. Salinger makes me sad. He uses all the buzz words to put down thought and dialogue: liberal, socialist, communist, left, and, oh horrors, the UN! He appears to be certain he knows the “true Wesleyan and Christian ways”. I would hope as Christians and United Methodists we could be kinder and more open as we grow in our relationship with God and each other. Christ gave us only 2 commandments in the New Covenant: Love God and Love our Neighbor as we love ourselves.

  5. cyfever

    Maybe before you recommend a movie — you should find out the facts presented in a movie

  6. Al Milligan

    Mr. Winkler addressed the Iowa chapter of MFSA last year. I asked him then what his thoughts were on the demolition of building 7 of the WTC on 9/11. (That building 7 was brought down by a controlled demolition attested to by sight and the, now, thousands of architects, engineers and the forensic evidence, is uncontested except by the incredulity of belief.) Mr. Winkler dismissed me as being, you guessed it, a conspiracy theorist. He, like all the other people in high places, continues to refer to 9/11 as a terrorist attack the evidence notwithstanding. We can not build a peace based upon a lie. Until we are at least willing to look at the evidence, google 9/11 WTC 7, there will be no resolution to what really happened that day and we will continue to use it (the terrorist attack) as an impetus for perpetual war. The most important day in the history of the United States is 9/11, but we need to get it right. The first move to getting it right is to believe your eyes regardless of the spin.

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