That Which We Call Renewal Groups
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 11:45:56 PM EST
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"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."

Leave it to Shakespeare. Who else could state with such precision and beauty the simple truths that, once disclosed, reveal so much of human behavior, practice, and principle?

And what Juliet here reveals to Romeo is relevant: call it what you want, it is what it is. The naming of a thing does not alter the essence of the thing.

So let's talk about renewal groups.

In what has been a comprehensive and decades long effort to obfuscate, perhaps the ultimate obfuscation of this movement has been the unfortunate moniker by which they have chosen to be called: Renewal Groups.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy (talk about a misnomer!) claims on its website that that its own work is done "in cooperation with like-minded groups that represent seven major denominations through our Association for Church Renewal." The IRD  claims that it currently has over 30 such renewal groups in its active alliance.

What is a Renewal Group? And why is the IRD investing so much in the establishment of their alliance?

To answer the first question, let us look at some of those groups and read their own language describing themselves and stating why they came into existence.

From the `American Anglican Council':
We are a "network of individuals, parishes, and specialized ministries who affirm biblical authority and Christian orthodoxy within the Anglican community."

From the Biblical Witness Fellowship (United Church of Christ):
"(We are) a confessing fellowship of ordinary people and pastors.... We welcome all who are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and who believe that God's written word, the Bible, is true. We seek to hold fast to the historic Christian faith as it has been revealed in Holy Scripture and testified to in the great creeds and confessions of the church."

From Good News (United Methodist):
"The Good News movement is a voice for repentance, an agent for reform, and a catalyst for renewal within the United Methodist Church. By God's grace, we will proclaim and demonstrate the power and effectiveness of historic Christianity as emphasized in Wesleyan doctrine and practice."

I won't go through all 30. They all say pretty much the same thing. They each identify themselves as a renewal group destined to return the wayward, apostate, heretical church in which they function to the true teachings of Holy Scripture and the historic, orthodox doctrines of the Church. The basis of their `renewal' is an argument that maintains that the teachings of Mainline Protestant Christianity have gone so far astray of scripture and tradition that they must `renew' efforts to return to orthodoxy.

Over time, the issues which drive their passion for renewal, and which also provide the evidence of their denomination's apostasy, have changed. When the IRD initiated its first assault on the National Council of Churches in 1981, it used America's hatred of the `red threat' to enflame passions. It accused the National Council of churches and its member bodies of using money from the offering plates of our churches to fund communist rebels around the globe. Not long after that, the focus was on the ordination of women. In an article posted on the Presbyterian site The Laymen Online, Dr. R. C. Sproul cautions members not to leave an apostate church until such clear evidence can be presented that shows that said church has fully abandoned the teachings of scripture. He shares that the moment to leave came for him when his good colleague Walter Kenyon was defrocked for saying he would not participate in the ordination of women in 1981. Other such divisive issues have included a woman's right to reproductive choice and stem cell research.

But far and away their most effective tool to date is the issue de jour: homosexuality.

Just a quick glimpse of each of their websites reveals the following:
·    The first press release listed on the Anglican renewal page is an expression of `grave concern' over newly appointed Bishops who do not `adhere to the authority of Scritpure' and therefore `commit to the immediate cessation of the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals."
·    The Biblical Witness Fellowship, at the top of their site, includes a letter from the Calvin Synod asking churches to stop funding the United Church of Christ because of their support for marriage equality
·    On the opening page of the Evangelical Lutheran Confessing Fellowship is an ad for a DVD entitled "Truth in Love: The Bible and Same Sex Behavior."
·    On the front page of the Good News (United Methodist) is an invitation to read an article in "Recent News" entitled "44 Methodist Ministers in Richmond VA say they'll let Homosexuals join church"
·    The front cover of the latest IRD publication shows John Thomas (president of the UCC) sitting at his desk with SpongeBob Squarepants, and bearing the derisive title "The Church of SpongeBob."  (SpongeBob was publicly derided by Pat Robertson as gay friendly because he held the hand of a starfish).

Again, we don't need to go through all of the websites: the point is made. Today's wedge issue is homosexuality, and renewal groups have latched onto it as the most recent evidence of the church's apostasy. Their mission is to save the church from such heretical practices, and to `renew' and restore the church to its truer, more historic past.

The problem is that these groups have much more nefarious intentions. It is not the `renewal' of the church that they are interested in, but the destabilization and destruction of what has been throughout the history of the United States the most consistent, courageous, and clear voice of social reform and justice.

Their own words betray them.

In the Mission Statement found on the IRD website we read this lengthy quote:
"The IRD aims its reports and analyses at a broad audience of U.S. Christians. Its organizational work is concentrated in the Oldline Protestant churches and the National Council of Churches, where the problems are most serious. We have committees that unite reform activists in three denominations representing over 12 million persons.... The IRD trains activists, with topics ranging from issues to tactics. At national church meetings, IRD activists assist delegates in drafting legislation and framing arguments for debate. This work is done in cooperation with like-minded groups in seven major denominations (representing nearly 20 million Americans) through our Association for Church Renewal."

These are not renewal groups: they are trained activists intent on the demise, the destabilization, and the destruction of Mainline Protestant Christianity. They use cleverly chosen wedge issues to divide otherwise united congregations and denominations. They produce, print, and circulate periodicals, pamphlets, and diatribes filled with innuendo and misinformation intended to enflame the passions of otherwise content congregants.

This is not to argue that renewal groups should not exist. They should. It is simply an argument that what is sold today as a renewal group is anything but. They are well funded and well trained activists spent not on renewing, but destroying, the church.

This is not to argue that the church should be a monolith of convention and homogeneity. It should reflect the rich diversity of opinion and principle of which every human family and institution is composed, be those principles liberal or conservative, orthodox or reform. And always the church should invite the kind of dialogue and debate that honors all such voices. But that advocate for reasonable debate cannot be the creation of a `renewal group' that begins the dialogue with an accusation of heresy and apostasy; that trains activists and tacticians to destroy and destabilize the church; and that circulates material meant to defame, defraud, and defy.

It is imperative that we in Mainline Protestant churches know what we are up against. To call these organizations intent on our demise `Renewal Groups' is a gross mischaracterization of their true purpose.

That which we call a renewal group by any other word would smell as rotten. Call it what you want, it is what it is.

"Renewal" is actually a codeword that has been in use in especially the pentecostal flavours of dominionism for decades, and is very specifically a codeword for conversion of a group (church, government, society, what have you) to dominion theology.

If you want to know where this ultimately stems from, I've an article on dominion theology as practiced by pente dominionist groups--and "dominion theology" is often termed "the renewal movement" or "restoration theology" within those churches.

by dogemperor on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 08:00:16 AM EST

on Talk2Action. Now - of course - there are great and obvious differences between online communities and the sorts of religious communities you describe.  But there are similarities too. In terms of immunizing a community against concerted efforts by members who profess to act in good faith and yet have the intent of inciting and ultimately breaking that community up, here is the approach we hit upon for this website. [ I am not asserting that it is necessarily a practical approach for mainline Protestant denominations, but it illustrates the nature of the problem ].

Individuals joining this website must - as a necessary precondition for membership - indicate that they have read and agree to abide by the following :

There is an editorial framework for this site than that is different than you will find on other major blog sites, so please read this carefully: We are pro-religious equality and pro-separation of church and state. We are prochoice, and we support gay and lesbian civil rights -- including marriage equality. Therefore, debates about the validity of abortion and gay rights are off topic. We understand that some people who share our general concern about the politics of the Christian Right may not agree on all of these matters. That's fine. Anyone who agrees with the general mission of this site is welcome to participate -- but bearing this in mind. It is our intention to take the conversation forward, and not let it be held back by debating what, in our view are or should be, settled matters of human, civil and constitutional rights. Similarly, religious debates are off topic, especially debates between theism and atheism. Finally, we are nonpartisan. While political discussions are welcome, -- even central to the purpose of this site -- we do not wish the site itself to be a platform that is necessarily for or opposed to any particular party.

Now, as easy as religious communities are disrupted by intentional provocation and subversion, Internet communities are probably much easier to disrupt, and Frederick Clarkson wrote the section of the site guidelines above in order to prevent members from either accidentally or intentionally derailling conversations - there are defined parameters for discussion, and members who stray outside of those can be challenged on those grounds.

This has already proven an effective tool, and a number of individuals have already been confronted with the following : "When you signed up for membership on this site you indicated agreement with the site guidelines. Have you read and do you agree with the site guidelines ?"

That challenge - above - means, in short, "do you agree with the values of this community ? Do you share our values ? You indicated you did when you joined, and so if you tell us now that you do not share those values and agree to our site guidelines then you are here under false premises and are unwelcome."

Of course, it is the issue of  "core values"  that is at stake in the IRD's effort to break up mainline Protestant denominations. The work of "Renewal" groups to promote the wedge issue of opposition to homosexuality and hatred of homosexuals asserts those as core church "values" , and for leaders of Protestant denominations to assert that members should publicly agree ( or not ) with a values statement that included support for gay rights might simply play into the hands of the IRD. But - surely - to ask Protestant faith communities the question "What are our values ? What values do we see emphasized in the New Testament ?" would help to place the efforts of the IRD's "Renewal" groups in a very dfferent light.

IN terms of an analog to the Talk To Action site guidelines that could be applied in Protestant denominations, one approach  that occurs to me is the following :

"Because Jesus Christ has clearly stated that all are equal and welcome under God, that salvation is open to all,  Individuals or groups asserting that others within the church be expelled or relegated to any status of less than full equality must answer to the following requirement - because Christ has said all are equally deserving of salvation, grounds for expulsion, censure, or reduction in status for church members or groups could arise only from legal conviction for criminal acts, proven in a court of law. In such cases allegations of threat to the community may be considered valid.

All allegations of threat to the church community must meet that strict legal test - legal conviction for a criminal act or acts. Individuals and groups whose allegations against others within the church community fail to meet that legal test risk community censure for defamation, incitement of conflict, and antagonism to the inclusionary spirit of Christ.  "

If I were to design such a statement to immunize a faith group against intentional subversion and provocation, that would be my initial draft. I'm not asserting that such an approach is even remotely practical, but I thought I'd sketch it out noneletheless.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 10:10:07 AM EST

The twisting of language in groups like 'renewal' groups absolutely fascinates me. It's gotten to where I do not trust the words said by certain groups, but look to their actual actions to see where their intentions truly lie.

Creating a set of rules that must be acknowledged and agreed with is one way to immunize churches from such destructive tactics, but vigilance must always be maintained. Kenneth Haugk's "Antagonists in the Church" makes that perfectly clear- there will always be people in congregations who have nothing better to do than to disrupt and destroy it. "Renewal" groups have taken that a step further- going from disrupting and destroying individual congregations to undermining and 'borgifying' entire sects.

The tools used to spot individual troublemakers might also be applied to catch 'renewal' groups before they spread their toxins in a congregation.

by Lorie Johnson on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 11:39:10 AM EST


I find your comments very insightful, and must confess that I am desirous of proposing such a By-Law amendment to a few very carefully chosen churches. I will be interested to see how they might receive such an invitation; and how they might therefrom live into this new way of expressing their corporate acceptance of the gospel's own core value: the dignity and worth of every humna being.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 04:05:36 PM EST

I imagine there would be many drafts and that any eventual By-Law amendment would likely read very differently. I have to credit Frederick Clarkson and also PastorDan ( The Rev. Daniel Schulz of StreetProphets ) for the approach as applied on this site.

Beyond that, my comment was really an extension of thinking and researching I've been doing on the claims made by leaders of the Christian right on the threat allegedly posed by gays and gay marriage.  All the major World faith traditions I'm aware of teach the value of honesty, and I feel that the failure of those making such allegations to offer proof to substantiate their dire claims puts them in an untenable position with regard to their religious belief.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Jan 31, 2006 at 04:54:58 PM EST

I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You. news

by johncity on Thu Nov 22, 2018 at 05:47:41 AM EST

See this recent comment by Talk To Action member tikkun  

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 10:20:06 PM EST

A provision protecting members from being "expelled or relegated to any status of less than full equality" could be misused by the IRD subversives to shield themselves from church discipline while they continue to undermine the denomination. You need something that will protect the church without providing cover for the IRD infiltrators.

Similarly, the provision about expelling members for "legal conviction for criminal acts, proven in a court of law" should make it clear you're talking about a crime against the church, otherwise it could be used to expel legitimate members who were busted for smoking pot 30 years ago. Joining a Christian church should not require a background check.

John, is the average clergyman in the mainline demoninations aware of what IRD and the groups under its umbrella are doing? Is the average member in the pews aware? My guess is the answer to both is probably no.

by unworthy on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 02:12:00 AM EST

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