New IRD President is a Schismatic Presbyterian
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Mar 17, 2006 at 09:53:29 PM EST
You can tell a great deal about an organization by it's leader. That person is, after all, the person who was hired to carry out the agenda of the board of directors. That person is normally the principal spokesperson; the person who gives the speech; the person whom the reporter asks for even when he sometimes has to settle for someone else.  And whenever an organization goes through a transition after the departure of a longtime leader, who the next leader is often signals the organization's direction. Thus, the announcement of the new president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a Washington, DC-based organization with a 20 year history of seeking to undermine mainline Christian churches deemed "too liberal" -- is a bellwether moment.
The Rev. Dr. James Tonkowich was trained at the Gordon-Conwell evangelical seminary and has worked for the past five years for conservative evangelical Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship.  He has zero experience in mainline denominations. Perhaps most significantly, he is an ordained mininister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).   PCA is a small, rightwing schism that broke with mainstream Presbyterianism in 1973 over the ordination of women and membership in the National Council of Churches. (Women are not allowed to be ministers or elders in the PCA to this day.)  PCA is also member denomination of the National Association of Evangelicals. The church is predominantly southern and according to it's web site, the denomination had about 306,000 members as of 2000.

One of the leaders of the schism was televangelist and Christian Right operative, Rev. D. James Kennedy, who remains the PCA's best known leader. Other prominent PCA members include Rev. Lou ("Lucky Louie") Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, who has emerged as figure in the Washington scandal centered on lobbyist Jack ("Casino Jack") Abramoff;  antiabortion militant Rev. Joe Foreman; Christian Reconstructionist author, George Grant; U.S. Sen. James Talent (R-MO); U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO); Joel Belz, the founder of World magazine; and Marvin Olasky, the editor of World, and erstwhile advisor to George Bush.  

Tonkowich's appointment is also symbolic because IRD is the hub of the Association for Church Renewal, a national network of conservative factions in the mainline churches, that are the operational end of IRD's campaign of disruption and dismemberment. This is altogether fitting of course, because the Association for Church Renewal in recent years has held meetings in tandem with the National Association of Evangelicals. While positioning itself and related "renewal" groups as agencies of legitimate conservative disssent, IRD and the members of the Assocation for Church Renewal actively seek schism in the churches. The tactics of divide and conquer have occurred locally and nationally as Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer and Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver have detailed here at Talk to Action.

In it's press release, IRD anticipates and seeks to deflect any criticism of Tonkowich's background. IRD Board chair Dr. Jay J. Budziszewski noted that Tonkowich's background notwithstanding, he is "firmly committed to reforming the mainline while at the same time helping the IRD to build alliances with other groups, such as evangelicals."

Rev. John Thomas, president of the 1.3 million member United Church of Christ, a member denomination of the NCC said this about IRD in a recent speech:  

"The target is the Mainline churches whose leaders, they allege, "pursue radical political agendas, throwing themselves into multiple, often leftist crusades - radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, sexual liberation, and so forth." And, as a recent book about their activities puts it, they "play hardball on holy ground."  

The IRD supports and encourages campaigns of disruption and attack in Mainline churches through its Alliance of Church Renewal. IRD has committees specifically focused on the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), committees which provide support for so-called renewal groups within each of these denominations... More recently the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have increasingly come into their sights as well. The IRD pursues its political agenda in the churches through three strategies: campaigns of disinformation that seek to discredit church leadership, advocacy efforts at church assemblies seeking to influence church policy, and grass roots organizing which, in some cases, encourages schismatic movements encouraging members and congregations either to redirect mission funding or even to leave their denominations."

It seems altogether fitting that IRD's new leader is a minister in a small, schismatic evangelical denomination whose best-known figures epitomize the Christian Right in the U.S.  

The IRD is showing it's true colors.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Mar 18, 2006 at 01:55:01 AM EST

Wasn't Rev. Paul Hill a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America at one time? They probably kicked him out, perhaps way before he killed a couple of people during his fight against abortion.

by Carlos on Sat Mar 18, 2006 at 03:02:19 PM EST
Paul Hill was indeed a PCA pastor. He was excommunicated when he publicly advocated his notion that murdering abortion doctors was justifiable homicide.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Mar 18, 2006 at 06:07:17 PM EST

how an organization so intent on "Turning Around the Mainline", and on renewal from within the Mainline (a phrase I hear so many renewal leaders use as they tell us over and over again they have no intentions of leaving their respective denominations and no intentions of helping other churches leave - methinks they protest too much) can make this move. It is, as you suggest, a clear signal to us all that their intentions are clear: this is a shot across the bow to all Mainline judicatories and churches. We are all on alert.
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 Sun Mar 19, 2006 at 08:33:15 AM EST

IRD has gotten away with its sniping because it has been able to portray itself as a rallying point for members of mainline denominations who genuinely are disturbed by the manifestations of modernity within their polities.

This gent sounds like an obvious outsider. As such, he lacks relevance. For most folks in the pews, who cares if yet another fundamentalist thinks their denomination is doing it wrong?
Can It Happen Here?
by janinsanfran on Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 07:47:17 AM EST

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