"Shadow War" : mainstream Protestant denominations under seige
New Talk To Action anthology:United Methodism Under Attack
John Dorhauer's new weekly series on Talk To Action may be unprecedented : Dorhauer's series concerns an over two decade long campaign, by the far-right wing financed Institute For Religion and Democracy and so called "renewal" groups advocating literal interpretations of the Bible and far right social and political views, to destroy mainstream Protestant Christianity in America. Operating from within mainline Protestant denominations "renewal" groups work to sow dissension via wedge issues such as gay marriage, incite schisms, and so break apart mainstream and liberal denominations and neutralize them as an effective force in American politics.
Before now this campaign has seldom been discussed so publicly, and with John Dorhauer's series we have an ongoing chronicle from the heart of one embattled denomination, the United Churches of Christ.
There are more Christians on the left/liberal side of politics than on the right, observed George Lakoff, but they are not organized to even remotely the same degree as the Christian right.
Well, here's the reason for that. Here are excerpts from the first three parts of a continuing series by John Dorhauer on Talk To Action, along with a related post by retired Methodist Ministers Andrew J. Weaver and Fred W. Kandeler, and a related series - on the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention - by Dr. Bruce Prescott.
Talk To Action Co founder Frederick Clarkson frames the backdrop of the story for us :
Once upon a time, the member denominations of the National Council of Churches maintained a vigorous social witness. That's what such mainline Protestants as the Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, the Methodists, and the Episcopals called their stands for social justice including such things as civil rights for African Americans, equality for women -- including ordination, and opposition to the excesses of American foreign policy from Vietnam to El Salvador. While there was some conservative opposition to these advances over the course of the 20th century, including some schisms, the direction of mainline protestantism was clear.
Then, the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife and several others, helped create an agency that would help to network, organize and inform internal opposition groups. That agency is still around and is called the Institute on Religion and Democracy
....Many in the mainline churches are waking up to the simple fact that they have been under attack for more than two decades by rightist interests set on neutralizing their effectiveness -- and that the IRD and its allies have had considerable success.
....IRD remains a well-funded and influential agency to this day. It's minions in the mainline churches are treated as credible spokespersons for conservative dissent by mainstream religion reporters.
A few years ago, the National Council of Churches, faced with budget problems, and political gridlock, almost shut down. It has managed to resurect itself and under the leadership of Rev. Bob Edgar, appears poised to be once again an influential body in American public life.
As the slumbering giant of mainstream protestantism begins once again to stir, and the IRD and it's rightwing backers scramble to sew division and discord, will anyone be there to help? Or will the voices of mainline Christianity once again be silenced?
That is indeed the question - and the challenge now for Liberal Protestant faith in America.
The efforts of the IRD, and the growing resistance to its suberversionary tactics, has become one of the areas of focus for Talk To Action.
The Role of the Pastor: The Pacifist
[ excerpt: for full story, click on the link above ] In my column last week, I began a conversation about the role the pastor can play when a church has been targeted for takeover. We looked briefly at the "Pastor as Aggressor:" we will return to that subject at another time as there is more to be said about that.
But this week I want to write about the Pastor as Pacifist. Other titles come to mind.. Were I to be more clever, I would have entitled this the "Pastor as Passivist." Its not a word, but it gets across the meaning I am intending: some pastors watch the machinations and ministrations undertaken by activists in their church and choose to remain, well, passive. I could have called this article the "Pastor as Enabler," for the result of choosing to remain passive is that one further enables the church to continue to be attacked.
I choose the title "Pacifist" because it comes closest to naming the underlying motives of this pastor: keep peace at all costs. For whatever reasons there may be - and there are many (we will explore some of them) - some pastors engage this conflict in their church with a predicated avoidance.
The Role of the Pastor in an Attack: the Aggressor
[ excerpt. full full story, click on link above ] my experience reveals to me that a pastor can play one of three roles once a church has been targeted for an attack: she can be an aggressor, one whose role is central and vital to the orchestrated takeover; he can be a pacifier, one whose role is very dismissive while an attack is going on and who either sits back afraid to take a side, or acts and speaks only to fulfill a desire for his members to just stop fighting; or she can be a protector, one willing to fight and defend her church against all would be attackers in order to preserve the church's history, vitality, and integrity.
Today we look at the Aggressor.
....George is the prototypical aggressor. There are many such pastors serving churches all over the country. They have been trained to deploy tactics and maneuvers designed to divide and conquer congregations. George's mentor was none other than Mark Friz, formerly a pastor ordained to serve the United Church of Christ and recognized throughout the Mid-West as the one to call when you want to learn how and why to take out a church.
Anatomy of an Attack: Part I
[ excerpt from John Dorhauer's story, linked above ] In the coming weeks, I want to begin to look specifically at local congregations that have been targeted for attack from the right. Each will have its own distinct set of circumstances and characters: but over time patterns will emerge. And if at any point along the way it should dawn on you that something like that is happening in a congregation you know about, then that should be brought to the attention of the church's pastor, Council, and judicatory offices.
On November 16 2003, Evangelical Church of the Redeemer United Church of Christ voted to disaffiliate with the United Church of Christ. Just how that happened is a long and sordid story of deceit, coercion, and manipulation that played out over years. Today we catch just a glimpse of their story. You will soon hear more.
That Which We Call Renewal Groups
[ excerpt from Dorhauer's piece linked above ] 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.
Religion Under Attack
[ excerpt from Dorhauer's first Talk To Action post ] "The creation mandate was precisely the requirement that man subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it. There is not one word of Scripture to indicate or imply that this mandate ever was revoked. There is every word of Scripture to declare that this mandate must and shall be fulfilled. Those who attempt to break it shall themselves be broken." (Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 1973, p.14)
Language about mandate, subjugation, submission, and dominion drive their own ideology, and they proceed from the mouth of a God who for them will never accept compromise, moderation, or tolerance.
Knowing that such ideologies will not yet play well in an America whose genetic material is still replete with the proscriptions for individual liberty, personal choice, and freedom of expression in all things political and religious, most of the work of these extremists is done covertly. Their strategies include an array of clandestine tactics, coded language, and political deception that have gone unnoticed and unchallenged for far too long. Although offered in a much different context, the words of Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman seem appropriate here: "Attention must be paid."
And this is what I propose to do: pay attention. Jesus once disclosed to his disciples: "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." (Mt. 10.26) Having spent years now tracking the radical religious right; having watched the horrors they have wrought upon otherwise innocent and fruitful congregations; having known first-hand their hatred and vitriol I wish in this space to tell what I have known and experienced. Their attacks, their tactics, their words will be made known: it is my belief that what abides in their darkness cannot long endure the light of day.
Stay in touch. Each Tuesday I will write about those things which I, and others, have experienced watching local churches, judicatory authorities, and entire congregations endure one attack after another. This isn't right. It needs to stop. "
Retired Methodist Ministers Andrew J. Weaver and Fred W. Kandeler recently wrote the following Talk To Action piece on one of the IRD's opening red-baiting salvos, in 1983, against the National Council of Churches
Being 60 Minutes Means You Never Have to Say You are Sorry - Except Once
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.
Methodism Under Attack
[ source] Andrew Weaver: "...although the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church total only about 14 million in membership, they have been and remain a powerful and influential voice for moderate and progressive social values in American society. Almost 30 percent of the members of the U.S. Congress belong to one of these three denominations as well as disproportionate numbers of well-educated and progressive leaders who advocate for the poor, civil and human rights, environmental protection, and a responsible foreign policy. The activities and leadership of mainline Protestant churches are linked to the social conscience of the nation and contribute to civil discourse.
The political right seeks to gain top leadership positions in the church by spreading misleading information and incendiary allegations against organizations and individuals. These groups employ the propaganda method of "wedge issues" like abortion and homosexuality to cause confusion, dissension, and division. Irving Kristol, father of William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the "godfathers" of the political right, summed up this strategy in the Wall Street Journal: "Attack the integrity, not the words, of those with whom you disagree." More recently, Grover Norquist, a conservative activist and long-time friend of top presidential aide Karl Rove, was even more blunt when he told the Denver Post that civility is out and nastiness is in among conservative activists. According to Mr. Norquist, "bipartisanship is another name for date rape."
By contrast, Methodists and other mainstream Protestants have held proudly to the "extreme middle" during most of their history, recognizing that self-righteousness is the bane of religion, be it the ideology of the left or right. Unless progressive and moderate members in the mainline churches muster the will to organize and battle for what they believe is fair and just, they are in danger of losing the historical values of these traditions to a determined cadre of ideological advocacy groups. It is time, in other words, for "fighting Methodists" to make a comeback lest their tolerance and Christian charity be turned against them and used to undermine their churches and further the social ends of the right wing's radical ideology.
FURTHER READING : see United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call by By Leon Howell and the Information Project for United Methodists:
"Organizations leading an ultra-conservative effort to control and reshape The United Methodist Church to fit their agenda are the focus of a book released today by active United Methodist lay and clergy leaders. United Methodism at RISK: A Wake-Up Call shares extensive research to show who is behind the campaign to force the denomination into a narrow political and theological framework.
The book was published by the Information Project for United Methodists, co-chaired by Bishop C. Dale White, widely known for his leadership on peace issues, and New York attorney and well-known United Methodist lay leader Beth Capen. Veteran Christian journalist Leon Howell is the author. The books close to 200 pages detail the rise of conservative renewal groupswithin United Methodism and sister denominations, and link their activity to right-wing activity in society.
"All United Methodists need to read this book to be fully informed on the tactics, ideological bias and theological restrictions evidenced in the life and work of the conservative renewal groups," Bishop White said in announcing the books release. The direction they would take our church demeans clergy and laity, he said."
Information on Ordering the Book[ see bottom of linked page ]
Talk To Action writer Dr. Bruce Prescott has also written a series on the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention :
On Restoring America
Learning to be Patient Revolutionaries
From Reconstructionism to Dominionism, Part I
From Reconstructionism to Dominionism, Part II
SBC Takeover Leaders and the CNP
Additionally, a recent Talk To Action post by Jonathan Hutson drew in this eye opening comment, by Talk To Action member tikkun :
I returned 20 minutes ago from a diocesan church leadership workshop for the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. What I heard and observed there was an Institute of Religion and "Democracy" exhortation. The bishop used the phrase, One Church, (an IRD phrase) over and over again. His audience moaned, cried hallalujah, and murmured Amen. A local leader in the Cusillo movement was given 15 minutes to describe the success of the movement in the New York Capital district. We were sternly warned to pray ceaselessly to keep evil and Satan from entering our churches.
There was not one word about valuing diverse voices in the Episcopal Church In America. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which is treasured by American Episcopalians, was held up before the audience as a laughable relic of the past by the bishop. My husband, a cradle Episcopalian moderate who has been fairly ignorant about this issue till today, came away offended by the inherent censorship of the One Church (IRD) diatribe and the inherent insult of people who love Episcopal tradition.
When I asked someone who was involved in the planning of the event about diocesan connection to the IRD, they said they didn't know if it was directly connected but "...isn't Diana Knippers our Anglican leadership in the IRD?" (Rarely do moderate and progressive laymen and clergymen know the term IRD, or the name, Diana Knippers)
Tikkun has begun a series on the campaign against the Episcopalian Church in the Albany Area :
Report From The Belly of The Beast
Resistance In The Diocese of Albany Goes Public: The Times Union newspaper of Albany, New York on Sunday, February 12, 2006, ran a huge front page article, byline, Marc Parry, regarding questionable use of diocesan funds by the Bishop of Albany, Daniel Herzog.
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