Being 60 Minutes Means You Never Have to Say You are Sorry - Except Once
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Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 02:19:02 PM EST
[ By Andrew J. Weaver and Fred W. Kandeler ] Sixty Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt appeared on the December 2, 2002, edition of Larry King Live (CNN) and was asked whether he regretted any shows that he had done in his 36-year career. Hewitt named only one, the 1983 60 Minutes double segment on the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. Hewitt told King that;

"We once took off on the National Council of Churches as being left wing and radical and a lot of nonsense. And the next morning I got a congratulatory phone call from every redneck bishop in America and I thought, oh, my God, we must have done something wrong last night, and I think we probably did."

The broadcast on CBS's 60 Minutes entitled "The Gospel According to Whom" began with Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, saying, "I am worried - I am outraged when the church lies to its own people." The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution.    

The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder.  It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions.  The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.

At the same time the program gave momentum to a fledging Washington "think tank," The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), nearly 90% funded by right-wing benefactors like Richard Mellon Scaife and the Smith-Richardson Foundation. The IRD was a primary source of the false and reckless claims made by the 60 Minutes segments.  

Founded in 1981 by several key leaders of the neoconservative movement including Roman Catholics Michael Novak and Father Richard John Neuhaus it has relentlessly used propaganda methods to carry out the radical political agenda of a handful of secular benefactors bent on neutralizing and overturning the social justice tradition of mainline Protestant churches as well as the NCC.  

Attacks by IRD on the NCC and its constituent churches are meant to discredit the legitimacy of their democratic bodies and support imposition of strict dogma and autocratic governance. This tactic is often on view when the conservative "renewal" factions in mainline denominations work with the IRD to foment internal dissent and generate conflict. In some cases, unaware theologically conservative Christians seeking spiritual renewal are used by the IRD and the "renewal" factions for hardball political power designs.

The question remains, why would secular political operatives care about funding a multi-million dollar attack on mainline churches and the NCC?  Think about this: NCC church members' influence is disproportionate to their numbers and include remarkably high numbers of leaders in politics, business, and culture.  The prevailing ethos of American culture has been shaped by the leadership and membership of theses churches.  Moreover, these churches are some of the largest land owners in the U.S., with hundreds of billions of dollars collectively in assets.  A hostile takeover of these churches would represent a massive shift in American culture, power and wealth for a relatively small investment.  If this sounds far-fetched, one need only consider how right-wing groups during recent decades have taken over and now wholly control the Southern Baptist Convention.  

One of the most troubling aspects of the IRD is that, while powerful figures in the right-wing of the Roman Catholic Church have been among its leaders from its inception, there is no program, staff or budget for changing the Catholic Church. There are only programs, staff and budget for changing Protestant churches. At the same time, 6 of the 17 current members of the board of directors, a full (35 percent), are prominent conservative Catholics. They include founders Father Richard John Neuhaus of the American Enterprise Institute and Michael Novak of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, along with Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Mary Ellen Bork (wife of Judge Robert Bork) and the chair of the board, Professor J. Budziszewski of the University of Texas at Austin.

These prominent Catholics who direct the IRD's board have conferred their prestige and considerable influence on an organization that has consistently labored to generate suspicion and hostility about Christian leaders who are not in their communion. This is not acceptable among responsible people of faith. Don Hewitt at 60 minutes said he was sorry. We are still waiting for the leaders at IRD to say they are sorry.

Andrew J. Weaver, M.Th., Ph.D., is a United Methodist pastor and a clinical psychologist living in New York City. He is Associate Publisher of Zion's Herald an independent religious journal published by the Boston Wesleyan Association.  He has researched and written on the right-wing attack on mainline churches and is a contributor to a new volume, Hardball on Holy Ground, The Religious Right vs .The Mainline for the Soul of the Church.

Fred W. Kandeler M.Div., D.D., is a retired United Methodist pastor affiliated with Travis Park UMC, San Antonio, Texas.  His thirty-six years of ordained ministry included serving ten years as founding pastor of Christ UMC in Plano, Texas and as later as District Superintendent. He is a contributor to a new volume, Hardball on Holy Ground, The Religious Right vs .The Mainline for the Soul of the Church.

I've been very troubled about the IRD since I discovered it over a year ago. Your post adds some additional information. The creeping invasion of mainstream denominations is malignant. And I have the sense that many in those churches are unaware of the agenda. Does the NCC aggressively counter the threat - for instance by educating clergy or helping them with conflict resolution within their churches?

As for CBS, it sounds rather typical of the traditional media. They make bad mistakes and frequently don't admit it, much less apologize. And I would never expect the IRD to apologize. What's needed here is not an apology but a Larry King, 60 Minutes, or other program on the IRD: how it's supported, what it's goals are and the dissension that it causes. That's the stuff that never makes it to the MSM.

Would the NCC be willing to get behind such an effort and provide effective speakers. Somehow the right wing doesn't seem to have problems getting their representatives on TV. Jim Wallis and Barry Lynn of AU seem to be developing a TV presence but there appear to be few others representing more moderate views. Another thing you might try, if you haven't already considered it is to get on C-SPAN Book TV to talk about your book.  

by Psyche on Thu Jan 05, 2006 at 11:23:01 PM EST

remains nearly as demonized as the American Civil Liberties Union, when it comes to religious conservative AM talk radio. The "60 Minutes" charges are still being recycled.
That reminds me: wasn't there something in the Bible somewhere about not bearing false witness against one's neighbor?

by MaryOGrady on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:16:50 AM EST
Not being a conservative AM talk radio listener, I wasn't aware of it. Seems all the more reason to do some reality orientation on major media. One of the things that is most disturbing to me is that although the Religious Right is demonized in some circles as well, it never stops them from getting on TV and pontificating.

It seems to me that given the expertise on this and other liberal blogs addressing religious issues, it shouldn't be difficult to come up with a "recommended speakers list" that could be distributed to the MSM. We need to demand the opportunity for a counterpoint to the bilge they regularly dispense. Speakers could be listed with brief bio and area of expertise. It's also important that people on the list are assertive and have stage presence (something the right has honed to a fine art). Good grief! Walter Cronkite speaks for the Interfaith Alliance. He certainly has gravitas.

Could this blog take on such a project? A big problem is that many people that need to be reached don't do a lot of reading. If the message doesn't get out on radio or TV, it isn't heard.

by Psyche on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 03:40:26 PM EST

Bob Edgar was on Keith Olbermann tonight. They discussed Robertson's outburst and the flap over NBC's Book of Daniel. Both good men and they had a sane, reasonable, informative, and coherent discussion. We need more like that!

by Psyche on Sat Jan 07, 2006 at 03:33:44 AM EST

The equation of National Council of Churches = Communist is a particularly nasty form of demonisation, one that has an obvious tone to people outside the dominionist community (in that most of us tend to think Communism = Bad) but which has a deeper meaning within the dominionist community itself.

Especially within churches in the National Association of Evangelicals, it's been quite explicitly taught that both the NCC and World Council of Churches are not only Communist sympathisers but also actively Satanic (because "ecumenicalism" outside of the dominionist community is seen as Satanic).

In the case of the "They're Commies" claim, this also has a deeper meaning within premillenarian dispensationalist churches--Communism is literally seen as Satanism because of a longstanding belief that Russia (or, occasionally, China, but far more often Russia--often controlling countries by proxy) will be the home of the Antichrist and the Antichrist in Russia will launch an attack against Israel (in more modern versions of this, via either Europe or various Middle Eastern countries, in Cold War variants, directly).  In fact, it's even taught that the NCC, or the WCC, are secretly partnering with Satanists or are actively Satanic themselves and will be used by the Antichrist to set up a "one world church".

(Yes, as a matter of fact, conspiracy theories DO crop up like mushrooms in premillenarian dispensationalist churches.  Entire libraries, starting with the book "The Late, Great Planet Earth", have been written and promoted to the premillenarian dispensationalist community on how non-pentecostal ecumenical bodies are working in league with the Commies, if not actively Commies themselves, and thus Satanists.  Quite literally everyone who isn't a fellow dominionist is seen as a devil worshipper, and often via a convoluted ball of conspiracy theories that would put a hand of Steve Jackson's "Illuminati" card game to absolute shame.)

by dogemperor on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:06:16 PM EST

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