Anatomy of an Attack: Part I
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 11:38:23 PM EST
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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.

By the time I arrived in May of 2003 to serve on the Staff of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ (with oversight of the 75+ churches of the St. Louis Association of that Conference), Redeemer church was embroiled in a controversy that would eventually lead to the termination of their Interim Minister, a Fitness Review and termination of standing of their former pastor, a significant loss of members, and a vote within six months to disaffiliate with the United Church of Christ.

In the United Church of Christ, local churches are fully autonomous. They own their property, their endowments, their membership contributions, and any other assets they have accrued over the life and history of the congregation. Lyle Schaller has described the United Church of Christ less as a denomination than a "voluntary affiliation of local congregations." A 2/3 vote by any congregation is all that is needed to leave, and to take with them millions of dollars in assets. For this reason, they have been aggressively targeted by the religious right and their minions.

George Dohm was called to be the Pastor of the Church of the Redeemer, and his mission there was clear from the start: take this church out.

George was mentored by Mark Friz, currently the pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Free Church in North County St. Louis - formerly St. Paul's United Church of Christ. (This church voted to disaffiliate under Mark's leadership in the late 90s - the second successive church served by Mark to do so). Mark Friz speaks across the Mid-West to UCC churches, teaching them tactically how to complete a takeover of their church, and speaking also about why he feels it is necessary and appropriate for them to do so. (We have a tape of one such presentation made in the fall of '05 at one of our UCC church in Jamestown, MO.)

In the years that George served Redeemer UCC, he was able to identify members from the church who reflected his ultra-conservative ideology and place them in positions of power. They called themselves `George's Disciples.' After he resigned his position as Pastor of Redeemer in Feb. of `03, George continued to meet with these leaders in their homes. His behind the scenes machinations included a promise to return as their pastor once they completed the work he had started: namely, the takeover of the church culminating in a vote to leave the UCC. (George admitted this when confronted by the author in July of 2003 - an admission that lead to a Fitness Review which, given this and other actions he would undertake (read on), ended in the St. Louis Association Committee on Ministry terminating his standing.)

George's disciples continued his ministry of deception, printing propaganda in their newsletters meant to denounce the United Church of Christ. In one such newsletter, it was stated that the United Church of Christ did not believe in God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, or the Bible. (It should be noted that almost ten years earlier the author read the same accusations in material circulated to the members of St. Luke's in Wellington, the first church that Mark Friz led out of the United Church of Christ).

They bullied members into submission and silence at town hall meetings that were held to make the case for disaffiliation. The United Church of Christ was accused in these hearings (many of which the author attended) of not believing in the Virgin Birth, of not adhering to the Apostle's Creed, of denying the primacy of Scripture, of promoting sexual deviance, of demanding that pastor's who serve UCC churches be Open and Affirming (a designation of some local churches who have voted to accept all members, regardless of their sexual orientation), and of threatening to force gay pastors on churches who, if they refused to call them, would not get any pastor.

In one public hearing which I attended, a rather shy elderly woman spoke up and said that she was scared for the first time in her life to speak her mind in her own church.

In preparation for what was supposed to be a vote to disaffiliate in late August of 2003, a series of preachers was lined up for the month of July. The first of these three was Mark Friz. The next was a pastor of an independent congregation in South St. Louis. And the third was none other than the pastor who had resigned in Feb. of that year, and whose disciples were orchestrating the eventual takeover of this church. Tapes and transcripts were made of each of those sermons. But far and away the most damaging, and most enlightening piece from all of them, came towards the end of George's sermon.

George tells a story about a father sitting at a table with his children, who ask to see a movie which the father points out is too violent for them. They counter by saying there was not a lot of violence in the movie, only a little. The kids go to school, and the father prepares dessert for that night's dinner: brownies with dog crap baked into them. When he serves it to them later in the day, he points out just before they eat it what he has done, and of course they refuse it. He counters by saying: but its only a little!

George goes on to point out that the United Church of Christ is to Christianity what dog crap is to brownies: just a little bit of if ruins the whole thing.  In order for Christianity to be worth anything, the UCC must be removed from it. This is an incredible insight into the psyche of these activists: it reveals in no small measure what it is they feel justifies tactics that to every other clergy person would be egregious breeches of pastoral conduct and ethics.

Is it any wonder that fed such garbage from the pulpit, in their newsletters, from their own elected leaders, that this church voted to leave?

There is much more to say about this church, and I will share more details in the coming weeks detailing the final days before the vote. Soon thereafter I will begin to share the story of a second St. Louis area church which underwent the same kind of attack at the very same time, and involving a few of the very same people. But this church chose to remain faithful to their covenantal and historical relationship with the United Church of Christ.  The contrasts are revealing.




Display:
That no one in the congregation objected enough to the "doctrinal purity / dogshit" analogy !  I suppose Mr. Dohm had been building up to it for a while. The notion seems, to me, crudely antithetical to the spirit of the New Testament.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 12:06:01 PM EST
We were ourselves shocked when we heard this. Two things were evident: George had so prepared his people to believe anything about the UCC over the years that they were ready to listen to this without questioning it; and the few that did feel hurt and insulted by this were shamed or bullied into silence.
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 Feb 07, 2006 at 03:36:00 PM EST
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Ongoing at StreetProphets.com

by Bruce Wilson on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 03:02:44 PM EST

To disclose information about a fitness review is absalutely forbidden under any circumstance in our denomination regardless of any axe you have to grind personally on this matter. This is not a grey area - we have VERY strict privacy rules which have legal ramifications.

When you wrote this, did you give an consideration to the legal jeopardy you have now subjected yourself and the conference to?

by PesoTim on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 03:12:35 PM EST

I have been working for almost ten years now with Committees on Ministry, and am fully aware of the highly confidential nature of these proceedings. However, none of what I shared in this article is in any way confidential information: to the contrary, it is all a matter of public record. The content of the sermon he preached was delivered to the membership of the church from their own pulpit, and tape recorded. His admission of further involvement in the church after his resignation was also a matter of public record and awareness. The St. Louis Association was the complainant in the Review, which means that what I shared with you was information that was readily available to the wider church already; and the decisions of all of our reviews - though not the content of the discussion  and interviews - are a matter of public record.
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 Feb 07, 2006 at 03:29:31 PM EST
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Public record? Everything you have posted is heresay. I'm not saying you are wrong, but you are making some pretty wild accusations without posting (or linking) to any reference. Since all of this is apparently a part of his fitness review, what you consider to be public record needs to substantiated.

There are recordings of him? Post them for all to hear. There are articles, advertisements, etc. he used? Post copies. You also suggest that this church was taken for it's money without providing any reference (even heresay). You may be entirely right, but you can't just post something like this without reference and be taken credibly.


by PesoTim on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 03:46:10 PM EST
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John can speak for himself on the points you raise.  After that, this gets to be insider baseball about church proceedures. As the site owner, I have confidence that John and all of the writers on this site are careful with their facts and judicious in their approach.

As for you, Peso Tim,you come on stating that John is illegally surfacing facts. Turns out you were wrong about that. Now you are disputing the facts by demanding that he produce tape recordings.

I think that it is you, Peso Tim, who are making wild accusations. If you wish to pursue this topic with John, please take it offline.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 03:58:43 PM EST
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The very nature of communication through written word requires me, and all of us who write, to report information from various sources: some of it firsthand, some of it from credible and trustworthy sources, some of it from tapes and documents that we come across. To refer to an article written in this manner as "hearsay" is an absurdity. Over time, authors either establish themselves as credible, trustworthy, and interesting and accrue a readership interested in hearing what they have to say, or they report inaccurately, make absurd claims that can't be backed up, or write in unintersting ways that do not appeal to readers. I can assure you that what I have written about reflects events as they happened; nor have I disclosed any information that is - as you suggested in your first posting - confidential in nature.
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 Feb 07, 2006 at 04:37:47 PM EST
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There are scores of similar stories about small fundamentalist cliques taking over moderate Baptist Churches.  

Proof of a conspiracy to takeover churches is hard to find.  Finding commonality in the pattern of techniques being used to takeover churches is easy.

Those who lack scruples against character assassination, slander, lies and gossip are parasites that feed on the reservoir of trust that people of genuine spirituality and integrity earned for their communities of faith.  When the unscrupulous are finished eating the heart out of their churches, nothing is left but a hollow and fragile shell.

From hard experience, I have learned that most moderate Christians would rather switch churches than fight to preserve their church from fundamentalism.  The majority of the moderates who refuse to switch churches, prefer to appease fundamentalist cliques -- preserving some small measure of personal tranquility -- rather than facing and confronting those who defame the character and intentions of those who have the courage and conviction to oppose fundamentalism.  

Bystanders enable the perpetrators by allowing them to deal with their victims one-by-one.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 05:33:42 PM EST

...you may wish to read the latest "Intelligence Report" from the Southern Poverty Law Center; one of the articles focuses on how Chaldecon is apparently targeting smaller conservative Christian churches for conversion to full-out Christian Reconstructionist groups.

I have a link to it here, if you're interested.

by dogemperor on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 08:07:39 AM EST
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Dear Dr. Dorhaur, or John, or Dr. John, or Dr John Dorhaur, (what is the designation you prefer?)

I recently moved to Troy, New York. part of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, from the Episocpal Diocece of Ohio.  When the priest of our new perish visited, I was corrected for use of the word, Episcopal, and was told that we are an Anglican diocese.  I was fully aware that the bishop of this diocese signed the Plano accord because I did some research during the early part of the donnybrook to find out who had signed the damn thing.  There at the top was the name of the Bishop of Albany.

Being new to the diocese, I have no idea how it came to be a tool of the Institute of Religion and Democracy. Those who disagree with the Bishop are very, shall we say, circumspect, in stating their objections, and not likely to take useful action.  The bishop, on the other hand, has very effectively consolidated his support.  Do you have any idea who to communicate with to discover the history of the situation and who in the region is working to correct it?  I realize that this is outside of your denomination but if we do not hang together......

by tikkun on Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 11:12:54 AM EST

I dont have many contacts in that part of the country who are in any way connected to your diocese. But Leon Howell has written about the attacks on Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian denominations pretty effectively. I will contact some of my Episcopal colleagues and see what else I can come up with.
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 Wed Feb 08, 2006 at 07:42:54 PM EST
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I wrote a lengthy diary at DailyKos outlining the book. My copy is currently in the hands of other members of our Capital District Interfaith Alliance. One of the most valuable aspects of the book is the teaching guide Bishop White wrote at the back.

The success of the design of the book is reflected by the fact that when I mention the IRD or United Methodism@Risk, a little white haired Methodist lady inevitably is the only person in the group who knows exactly what I'm talking about.

I've suggested to the task force I'm working with, that we use that model to create teaching materials for our various demoninations, synagogues, and mosques.

Before I wrote the Diary, I called Bishop White for permission to use lengthy quotes from the book. He gave me permission to use it in any way that would be helpful. I really need to connect with him again to tell him what we're up to. He's a great contact person.

by tikkun on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:21:50 PM EST
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Might be what you're looking for :

Main Albany Via Media website.

" "Via Media" and similar groups, around the USA:

Each of these groups a grass-roots outfit; we organize from the bottom up, so groups don't always have the "Via Media" name. But when you visit these sites, you'll find that they have a great deal in common  along the lines of tolerance, diversity, and the desire and hope of keeping the Episcopal Church as the ECUSA"

What do we seek? Albany Via Media seeks to revive our Anglican diversity in the Diocese of Albany.  Knowing that prayer shapes believing, we understand that we are strongest when we kneel (or stand) together in prayer. Albany Via Media seeks to model and teach a charitable faith. We welcome differences, ambiguities, and paradox, knowing that prayerful consideration of various points of view, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can yield new insights, deeper understanding, and a lively Christian faith.  

What do we believe?   We believe that "The Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation." (Article 6, Articles of Religion) We believe that the so-called "literal" interpretation of Holy Scripture is theologically and intellectually dishonest.  We find Biblical fundamentalism to be dangerously idolatrous. Nurtured by scripture, tradition and reason, we open ourselves to God's truth as a diverse community, through prayer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.



by Bruce Wilson on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 05:19:26 PM EST
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.....We?!.....

I'm checking their website for more info. Would be prefer to contact by phone rather than at a meeting given the problem that ocurred at the last meeting. Thanks for everything

by tikkun on Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 11:24:54 PM EST
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When I grew up as a Methodist, ministers were called by the congregation, and quite often were rejected.  My church, the Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Creve Coeur MO, rejected a minister after a year or two during my high school days.  Now, I am a Unitarian Universalist in Brookline, MA.  The ministers are, again, called by the congregation.  We just called two co-ministers in my church.  I know that the process took two years, was entirely driven by the parish members, and there were dozens of opportunities for us to have our say, both after the candidates were identified and before any candidates were contacted.  The entire first year was devoted to figuring out what kind of congregation we want to be.

So, if George Dohm was called to be pastor of the Church of the Redeemer, and he was a dominionist, he either hid his views before the calling, or else he found fertile ground within the congregation itself.  That is to say, the Church of the Redeemer had a number of dominionist members already, and Dohm was just using the opportunity.

Now, maybe the UCC central committee, or whatever body it is, calls ministers to parishes.  I know that happens some places.  But if that happened, doesn't it mean that the UCC has at least a broad dominionist streak itself?

If a church really is filled with dominionist believers, maybe it's right for them to cleave to their beliefs, odious as it may be to us.


by guleblanc on Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 10:04:18 AM EST

In terms of situations which lead congregations to move left or right.

Your point is reasonable. What John Dorhauer is specifically addressing, though, are methods which are antidemocratic - covert, bullying, and so on - by which churches can be undermined and pulled towards Dominionist beliefs.

This series, I expect, will provide a number of specific examples.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Feb 13, 2006 at 05:52:50 PM EST
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