National Review's Smoggy View on UMC General Conference
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:33:17 PM EST
It must be so much easier to write for the rightwing press, where ideology trumps facts and wishful thinking casts a dark haze as broad and deep as summer in LA.

For an excellent example -- look no further than the fresh screed served up by the National Review Online, which falsley attributes Steve Martin's independently financed and produced film Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church to... Talk to Action. True, Steve recently posted the film and transcript in its entiretry here, but that does not mean that this site had anything to do with the production of the film. The NRO article also claims that the film just came out, when in fact the film was released more than a year ago. (But never let the facts get in the way of a good smear!) More importantly, in his effort to undermine the credibility of the film and interviewees,  NRO staff writer Mark Hemingway manages not to mention the title of the film; that it is about IRD; or even address the substance of concerns expressed in the film or the underlying facts. But he does manage to quote IRD staffer Mark Tooley as an authoritative source about the UMC.

Like other of the various slimings produced by IRD staff and their friends over the past year or so (even recently), Hemingway is engaging in dishonest diversionary tactics.

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IRD Blows Smoke in Response to Expose Film
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Apr 16, 2008 at 02:04:01 PM EST
The oxymoronically named Institute on Religion and Democracy for a generation has sought to disrupt and divide the major denominations of mainline Protestantism, as well as the wider ecumenical communions, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.  Even more remarkably perhaps, while presenting itself an agency dedicated to reform and "renewal" of the churches, IRD's leadership and staff have been substantially populated by men and women who are not even members of any of the churches they say they seek to "renew."  

I mention all this, because IRD Methodist program staffers Mark Tooley and John Lomperis recently issued (and sent to all UMC General Conference Delegates) a sliming of Steven D. Martin's DVD discussion of the agency:  Renewal or Ruin:   The Institute on Religion & Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church.  Martin has written:

I was able to produce "Renewal or Ruin?" using only personal funds. I wanted to avoid the accusation that it had been made by someone with an agenda. I wanted to be as fair, and as firm, as I could be. You can see the results of the project by visiting, and by viewing the trailer  for the video.

The sliming of Martin, the film, and those of us who were interviewed for it is a study in distortions, ad hominem attacks and perhaps most remarkably, the vainglorious knocking down of straw men. This post is a response to their screed.

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IRD Advisor to Be Nominated as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 11:55:12 PM EST
I recently referenced Andrew Weaver's report of last year in Media Transparency, which detailed the role of neoconservative Catholics close to the Bush administration in the leadership of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  IRD is, of course, the Washington, DC-based organization that busies itself trying to disrupt and dismantle the major denominations of mainline Protestantism in order to, according to its own internal documents, "discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence" (as Max Blumenthal reported on a few years ago.) Weaver, a Methodist minister, called the role of leading neoconservative Catholics in IRD
"...the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II."

Imagine the outcry from Catholic leaders, a fully justified response, if a highly influential group of Protestants obtained a million dollars a year from left-wing sources to generate a propaganda campaign against the leadership of the Catholic Church over the issues of the ordination of women and divorce. Moreover, this Protestant-directed group constantly sought to undermine Catholic leaders and missions through twisted and demeaning distortions of what they said, while seeking no reforms in their own communions. This is exactly the situation we have at IRD.

One of the Catholics Weaver cited in his article was Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon.  The Associated Press reports that President Bush plans to nominate her to be U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.

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Episcopal Church Disciplines Akinola Anglicans
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 04, 2007 at 11:43:25 PM EST
The Episcopal Church is getting tough with an openly schismatic bishop who has been one of the Akinola Anglicans cheered and supported by the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy. Similarly, local breakaway parishes are discovering that they can leave the church, but they can't take it with them. (For those who are not familiar, Nigerian Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola is a rightwing, vehemently antigay prelate with whom a number of renegade American Episcopal churches are affiliating.)

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori warned Pittsburgh Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr. that he would face civil suits and possible expulsion as bishop if a proposed resolution enabling the diocese to leave the denomination passed during a diocesan convention the other day. But he and the Anglican confederates, voted to secede anyway:

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The IRD's Next Front Line: Gambling on Your Xenophobia
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 04:40:49 PM EST
In April of 2007, a number of pastors from across the United Church of Christ were calling me asking me why the Institute on Religion and Democracy had sent them a copy of Ephraim Karsh's book Islamic Imperialism. Within a week, I learned that not only had UCC pastors received a free copy of this book as a gift from the IRD, so also had Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal clergy. UMNexus is now reporting that the IRD mailed this book to 100,000 clergy across the US, at a reported cost of over $1.5 million.

At the time, my initial response was one of curiosity, although I did tell those who called that the IRD did nothing unless it had the potential to divide congregations, and congregations from their denominational leaders. I said we would need a little more time to try and discern what was up. It was my colleague on staff, and co-author Rev. Sheldon Culver who pointed out that this would soon become the new wedge issue.
Please read on.

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Another UMC Conference Condemns IRD
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 20, 2007 at 11:01:54 PM EST
We reported a few weeks ago on this site that the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist church passed a resolution condemning the work of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Now the IRD's own website is reporting that the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist church has done the same. In what consumes the better part of six pages, the resolution (PDF) passed at the Annual Conference in the second week of June.

The resolution recounts a litany of open attacks by the IRD leveled against the United Methodist Church, including the IRD's Mark Tooley calling Methodist Bishops "Flower children and chronic demonstrators who never grew up;" another claim that "one of the strongest regiments of the godless army (the `secular left') is America's maintstream protestant leaders;" and "irreconcilable differences on essentials are dividing culture-conforming liberals... from faithful United Methodists."

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Waking-Up the Mainline Churches: Second Cup of Coffee
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 09:05:34 PM EST
Thanks to Rebecca Sharpe of the the ever-nefarious neonconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy for reminding me about a post I did late last year that was overdue for an update.

The war of attrition being waged against the mainline protestant churches by the religious right and allied agencies has been going on for a generation.  Many readers, however, may be new to the subject and be wondering what all the fuss is about.  Here is a recap of the basic story, and some resources for further research.

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NY Methodists to IRD: Cease and Desist!
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jul 26, 2007 at 02:50:00 PM EST
I just learned that earlier this summer, an annual conference of the United Methodist Church in New York, overwhelmingly passed a resolution that calls on the nefarious neoconservative agency, the Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to cease and desist it's "deceptive and divisive tactics"; that Methodist affiliates of IRD decouple; that Methodists not support IRD in any way; and that IRD itself "disband" its Methodist program.  

This is a dramatic and important step for the mainline churches, which have generally been loath to acknowledge the externally financed and directed attacks on their communions, and to address the complicity of some of their members.  

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Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jul 13, 2007 at 12:28:07 AM EST
It was just a matter of time before the professional slimers at the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy would squeeze out some propaganda products in response to Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right Hijacks Mainstream Religion by my blogger colleague John Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver -- and that these would be cheered, parroted or uncritically reproduced in some sectors.  I recently reported how a piece written by IRD consultant Rebekah Sharpe, engaged in the writer's equivalent of photoshopping to make it appear that I said things that I did not.  Most recently we have seen IRD web editor Steve Rempe slime John Dorhauer by calling him "insane"; and we have seen James Hutchins of the crank web site, "UCC Truths", joyously join in the sliming.  

What will they think of next? I guess we will find out.  But while we wait, I want to wipe the slime off of a few details, partly to correct the record, and partly to illuminate the IRD method of making stuff up to fit whatever story they are trying to tell.

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Theocrat of the Week
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:32:34 PM EST
It was only a matter of time before Jim Tonkowich arrived in the winner's circle as Our Theocrat of the Week.  As the president of the cleverly named Institute on Religion and Democracy, he has waged theocratic initiatives under cover of "democracy" since becoming IRD president in 2006.  Tonkowich's squad of PR and political operatives seek to assist disgruntled factions in the mainline Protestant churches to be more effective in waging overt and covert theocratic warfare. All this and more might merit recognition -- but that is not why Our Distinguished Panel of Judges selected Tonkowich.  
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Dr. Holsinger's Murky Methodism
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jun 07, 2007 at 09:23:25 PM EST
George Bush's nominee for Surgeon General is already drawing a lot of heat for among other things, his crack-pot anti-gay views. Less likely to be widely reported is Dr. James Holsinger's longtime involvement in and leadership of the Confessing Movement in the United Methodist Church. The Confessing Movement is a rightwing "renewal group" affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD.

(The nomination of the divisive Dr. Holsinger is a good moment to recall that Talk to Action's Steven D. Martin has a new documentary film out: Renewal or Ruin: The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church.)

But as the crackpottery of Holsinger gains national attention, it will be worth considering that he also epitomizes the leadership of the IRD affiliates in the UMC and their effort to drive wedges in the nation's second largest protestant denomination.

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Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion -- Available Now!
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 31, 2007 at 02:04:03 AM EST
The story of John Dorhauer's new book, coauthored with his UCC colleague Sheldon Culver, began with Talk to Action. I think that is one of the main reasons why I was asked to contribute an introduction -- which I am posting here in its (barring any last minute edits) entirety. As part of the launch, the publisher is hosting a panel discussion in New York City on June 6th featuring John and me, as well as authors Michelle Goldberg and Chris Hedges. (Details on the flip.)

In 2005, a few colleagues and I decided to create an international, interactive blog to counter the religious right -- one of the most successful and powerful political and social movements in American history. One of my top priorities in picking featured writers was to find someone who could write knowledgeably and authoritatively about the attacks on the mainline churches by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, its satellite groups and those informed and influenced by their activities. The IRD's operation on behalf of the financiers of neoconservatism and the religious right is an historic and catalytic force reshaping religion in America and in the world. There needed to be a place where people could come to find resources and compare notes -- and I wanted the blog we were creating to be that place.

My search led me to John Dorhauer. We talked, and in the course of our conversation, I said that I thought that war had been declared on the mainline churches, a war of attrition, being played out in thousands of churches across the country, but that the churches aren't acting like they are even aware of it. "If there is a war, and one side doesn't know it..." John finished my sentence: "You lose."

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