Episcopal Newspaper Exposes Rightwing Agencies
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 09:58:50 PM EST
The Washington Window, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has joined a growing number of publications inside and outside mainline Christianity that have published exposes of the efforts of rightist agencies to destabilize the historic mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.  

The two-part series by former Washington Post and New York Times reporter James Naughton examines, according to a press release, the network of conservative groups, "their donors and the strategy that has allowed them to destabilize the Episcopal Church.... The groups represent a small minority of church members, but relationships with wealthy American donors and powerful African bishops have made them key players in the fight for the future of the Anglican Communion "to warn deputies that they must repent of their liberal attitudes on homosexuality or face a possible schism."

The expose, which demonstrates the unambiguous motives of rightwing activists to foment a permanent schism in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and in the world Anglican Communion, comes in the run-up to the American church's triennial meeting in Columbus, Ohio in June.

In a feature article in the current issue of The Public Eye magazine, I reported that the war of attrition against the mainline churches, bankrolled with millions of dollars from rightwing foundations, has been underway for a generation. The targeted churches include the major member denominations of the  National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, (international ecumenical agencies that have also been under attack), inclding the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Smaller denominations, notably the United Church of Christ, have also been systematically undermined from within by a network of self-described "renewal" groups associated or aligned with the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, the hub of the network.  

In that article, I offer a wider context for the battles of the churches, each of which can seem like the most arcane matters of inside baseball to many or reduced simply to issues of homosexuality to others, as is often the case in the media.

For much of the 20th century, the mainline Protestant churches maintained a vigorous "social witness." That is what these Protestants call their views on such matters as peace, civil rights and environmental justice.... The churches became powerful proponents of social change in the United States. They stood at the moral and political center of society with historic roots in the earliest days of the nation. Indeed, they epitomize the very idea and image of "church" for many Americans. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that powerful external interests would organize and finance the conservative rump factions into strategic formations intended to divide and conquer--and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States--and the world.

When the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, got together to create the institutional infrastructure of the Right in the 1970s and 80s, they underwrote the founding of the IRD in 1980 as a Washington, DC-based agency that would help network, organize, and inform internal opposition groups, while sustaining outside pressure and public relations campaigns.

The mainline churches affiliated with the NCC, are among the bulwarks standing in the way of the theocratic agenda of much of the religious right, as I detail in Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. These churches not only favor of separation of church and state, but it is important to recall that leading members of these historic churches were overwhelmingly, the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Reflective of this democratic tradition they helped to shape, these churches maintain highly democratic internal systems of governance that are being abused by outside politically motivated agencies covertly bent on the destruction of the churches themselves. The difference between these churches, and those preferred by the powerful funders of the right, is underscored by the role of philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, a major funder of Christian Right organization such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, as well as explicitly theocratic projects, notably the seminal think tank of Christian Reconstructionism, the Chalcedon Foundation on whose board he sat for many years, while contributing a reported $1 million.

Naughton's series will be published on Monday, May 1, but is already available online.  

The press release states:  

The first part of the series, "Investing in Upheaval," draws on Internal Revenue Service Forms 990 to give a partial account of how contributions from Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., the savings and loan heir, and five secular foundations have energized resistance to the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop and to permit the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships.

The article sets contributions to organizations such as the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in the context of the donors' other philanthropic activities which include support for conservative political candidates, think tanks and causes such as the intelligent design movement.

The second article, "A Global Strategy," uses internal emails and memos from leaders of the AAC and IRD to examine efforts to have the Episcopal Church removed from the worldwide Anglican Communion and replaced with a more conservative entity. The documents surfaced during a Pennsylvania court case. The article also explores the financial relationship between conservative organizations in the United States and their allies in other parts of the world.

Here are a few excerpts from Following the Money:

Since the 1970s, charitable foundations established by families with politically conservative views have donated billions of dollars to what the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, has called "an extraordinary effort to reshape politics and public policy priorities at the national, state and local level."

Five foundations are of special note for the magnitude of their donations to political and religious organizations. They are: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Adolph Coors Foundation; the John M. Olin Foundation, which ceased operations last year; the Smith-Richardson Trust and the Scaife Family Foundations. Much of the foundations' largesse supports institutions and individuals active in public policy, including think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute and individuals such as William Bennett, Charles Murray ( The Bell Curve ) and Dinesh D'Souza ( The End of Racism ).

However, the foundations' activities also extend into the nation's churches-particularly its mainline Protestant churches. The foundations have provided millions of dollars to the IRD 2 which, in a fundraising appeal in 2000, said it sought to "restructure the permanent governing structure" of "theologically flawed" Protestant denominations and to "discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence."

The IRD was established in 1981 by neo-conservative intellectuals hoping to counter the liberal public policy agendas of the National and World Councils of Christian Churches.

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets in Columbus next month it will do so in a politically charged atmosphere, created in some measure by conservative organizations supported by a small number of wealthy donors.

Filings made by several of these organizations give a partial accounting of the donations received and expenditures made by the AAC, INFEMIT and the IRD. But the groups do not observe the standards of transparency and accountability practiced by the Episcopal Church and its dioceses, whose budgets must be approved in public meetings by elected representatives. Nor are the groups or their donors required to give a fuller accounting of their transactions, as would be the case in secular U. S. politics.

In addition, two key conservative organizations, the Ekklesia Society and the Anglican Communion Network, are not required to file Forms 990 because they are classified as religious institutions.

As a result, the bishops and deputies to General Convention will be left to guess at the intentions and resources of the American conservatives and bishops from the developing world who are pressing the Church to change its course or pay a price.

The Dromantine Retreat and Conference Center , a 19th Italianate mansion sits in stony isolation on a hilltop outside Newry , Northern Ireland . The center is home to a Catholic seminary, but it played host to a distinctively Protestant drama in February 2005. For five days, the Primates of the Anglican Communion assembled in its meagerly-furnished meeting rooms to determine whether the 77-million member body could be preserved despite bitter disagreements over homosexuality.

For the previous 15 months, the leaders of several conservative Episcopal organizations had been working secretly with their allies among the primates to remove the Episcopal Church from the Communion for consecrating a gay man with a male partner as bishop and permitting the blessing of same-sex relationships. Failing that, they aimed to establish a parallel American province for Episcopalians who differed with their Church on the nature of same-sex relationships.

At the Dromantine conference, the Americans and their international allies collaborated with an unprecedented openness, in an attempt to force Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to take a harder line against the Episcopal Church.

Among the primates who backed this effort were Peter Akinola of Nigeria , Henry Orombi of Uganda and Gregory Venables of Argentina . Working with them were the leaders of the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Communion Network, the Ekklesia Society and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Those groups, backed by five politically conservative U.S. foundations, and Howard F. Ahmanson, a benefactor of numerous conservative ballot initiatives, candidates and think tanks, had been cultivating relationships with evangelical leaders in the developing world since the mid-1990s. But at Dromantine, the Americans' role as the principal strategists for the movement against their church came into focus.

There is much, much more -- reported in the calm, understated manner of a veteran reporter, who also serves as the Director of Communication of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC).

The articles make the skullduggery of the righwing agencies, the "renewal" leaders, and their international cohort evident to any reasonable person -- and will undoubtedly be much read and much discussed in mainline Protestant circles and beyond.

I have been worried about the lack of coherant information available to Episcopalians about the source points of the war against the Episcopal Church.  Even people who seem to be fairly knowledgeable about the AAC and NCC seemed to be completely clueless about the involvement of the Institute for Religion and Democracy in bringing down the Episcopal Church.

I give my speech to the Capital District Interfaith Alliance next week. I have reason to believe that I will receive support from several sources for a public discussion for the larger NY Capital District early next year.  There seems to be a good deal of solid support for it.  It's also possible that parts of the format will be moved to various regions where the need is great.  Members of the League of Women Voters for this entire area from below Albany to the Canadian boarder have also taken an interest. I'm not sure why.  This is a new development.

by tikkun on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 10:20:15 PM EST

please keep us posted about what happens and if there is anything we can do.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 10:33:40 PM EST

I'm worried about what's going to happen at the GC in June.  I know that there are IRD-funded groups preparing responses to whatever might happen at the Convention, essentially waiting to ambush the Church.  

The right wing is coordinated.  They use the internet, e-mail lists, etc. effectively to strategize and spread information.  The Anglican Network, David Virtue, Titusonline, their websites are buzzing, and this is just their public face.

I don't see mainstream, moderate and progressive Episcopalians using these tools to develop our own strategy.  For example, if you visit the websites for  Everyvoice.net, ViaMedia USA, and the regional ViaMedia chapters, you won't find any breaking news, any forum for discussion, any sense that they are aware of how strong the attack on the Episcopal Church is going to be in June.

Are there conversations going on that I don't know about?  I sincerely hope so.  I don't want my church stolen.

by penbrynisa on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 03:26:25 PM EST

Religion and state must remain seperate, religion must never become part of, or elected or official opposition to the state.  Religion must however play the part of unofficial opposition, ie the conscience of the state.  The Christian Churches have failed in this duty.

Reference homosexuality and lesbianism, those who oppose their incorporation within the Church are second-guessing God.  In short they are saying that God was wrong to create either homosexuals or lesbians.  Many to prevent this truth must claim that their are no homosexuals or lesbians, only people who have changed who they are, to become homosexuals or leabians.  I therefore assume that left-handed people who were preyed upon to make them change, were also God's mistake.  I got news for those people, God does not make mistakes.

It is not to say that either homosexuals or lesbians should be allowed to teach or counsel children.  Some children who have a tough life will look at this way of life as attractive, as it is comparitively less competetive than the male/female role.  In short the easier road, and we all know that the easy road inevelablely will lead to a person being less than that who God provided for them to be

Facilitator Peter -  I made a mistake in my user name in that I typed in error Facilaqtor.  If someone knows how I can correct this error please inform me.

by Facilitator Peter on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 08:49:08 PM EST

You can write to the site administrator to see about fixing your name.

Please keep in mind, the topic of this site is the religious right and/or what to do about it.  We are not here to debate religion, homosexuality or the matter of homosexuality in the churches per se.

That said, the institutional mainline churches, whatever their shortcomings, are not the enemy when it comes to gay and lesbian civil rights.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 09:00:50 PM EST

Is anyone aware of a similar, right-wind attack on the Catholic Church?  What is the evidence for such a takeover and who are the main people behind it?

by RasSteve on Sun Apr 30, 2006 at 02:41:28 PM EST
There seem to be at least two, possibly more, groups (one linked to traditional dominionism) that are linked with attempts to send the Catholic Church further to the right:

a) "Charismatic Catholic" groups have been seeded for approximately the past fifty or so years by an Assemblies of God frontgroup, the Full Gospel Businessmens' Fellowship International.  Generally, "Catholic Charismatic" groups are seeded within a mainstream Catholic church, and rather than having these members convert to an Assemblies of God or other neopentecostal church they are instructed to remain in their home diocese and convert others to the "Catholic Charismatic" cell-group.

Of specific note to this thread, the "dominion theology" movement within the Assemblies in fact pioneered many of the same tactics used by the IRD today including the development of spiritually abusive "cell churches"; furthermore, these tactics were originally designed them to split and/or practice "hostile takeovers" of mainstream denominations.  (Sadly, the biggest casualty of early IRD-style efforts seems to have been the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Also, the "Catholic charismatic" groups have close ties to dominionist organisations; Fred Carlson notes that Russ Belant's The Religious Right in Michigan Politics has detailed how one "Catholic Charismatic" group is very closely tied into the workings of the dominionist movement in that state, for example.

It's also known that the FGBMFI is particularly heavily targeting Catholic churches in Latin America in this fashion.

2) In regards to groups outside of the traditional dominionist movement but still sympathetic to dominionist goals, the secretive group Opus Dei (which is a parachurch organisation within the Catholic Church which was founded in 1928) has been leading a rightward push.  

Frank Cocozzelli has been a regular poster to Talk2Action and probably has some of the best info on Opus Dei and their connections to dominionists.  

Of note, Opus Dei has quite often been reported as a de facto coercive religious group; no less than two separate watchdog groups have been formed in regards to Opus Dei, for example.  Opus Dei has several major warning-flags of a potentially coercive group: multiple frontgroups, deceptive recruiting techniques, alienation from households, extremely aggressive emphasis on recruitment, variations on "spiritual warfare" ideology, physical mutilation as a religious rite, turning over of all income to Opus Dei, a heavy push towards secretiveness, micromanagement of the affairs of members including whom they may have relationships with and where they may work, etc.  Also, a great deal of Opus Dei's internal theology is a Catholicised version of some of the same stuff promoted in "deliverance ministry" groups.

It is one of the few "Bible-based" groups not associated with the pentecostal "dominion theology" movement that is consistently noted as spiritually abusive by experts; Steve Hassan's Freedom of Mind, Rick Ross Institute, International Cultic Studies Journal, and multiple other groups have listed Opus Dei formally as a "Bible-based" coercive religious group (in a level of unanimity shared with only a few other groups documented as highly abusive--such as Youth With A Mission, AmWay, the Moonies, and Scientology); similarly, Opus Dei have been listed as a group of concern by the governments of France and Belgium (both of which monitor coercive religious groups).  The Apologetics Index article on Opus Dei notes specifically the concerns regarding spiritual abuse within the group.

Opus Dei, like several other groups frequently noted as coercive, has a history of harassment of critics (as evidenced by this this model cease and desist order from this Catholic youth site critical of Opus Dei which has an extensive resource list for mainstream Catholic dioceses).

Of particular relevance to this thread, Cocozelli has reported that quite a few people connected with the IRD are also Opus Dei members; in fact, in some ways (even though Opus Dei has been around for far longer than the IRD) Opus Dei acts as an unofficial Catholic IRD group.  Notable members of Opus Dei friendly towards dominionist movements include Thomas Monaghan (more info here; Monaghan is one of the larger funders of Opus Dei and also has connections to Catholic Charismatic movements, see below); Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and John Roberts, former Supreme Court candidate Robert Bork, and Senators Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum, and former FBI chief Louis Freeh have all been linked to Opus Dei (a list of the prominent members of Opus Dei is available at this link).  Opus Dei also has a history of political support in Spain (where the parachurch originated), including--possibly--by the fascist government of Francisco Franco.  At least one other article notes the association between Franco and Opus Dei (being of mutual support), being one of two "Christian Supremacist" groups (the other being "The Fellowship") which can be legitimately noted as having supported actual fascists.

In some interesting connections knitting the two efforts (the "Catholic Charismatic" and Opus Dei movements to turn the Catholic church dominionist) together, Thomas Monaghan (who is the former CEO of Domino's and who, during his time as CEO, used Domino's profits to fund Operation Rescue--it should be noted Domino's is no longer a corporate sponsor of dominionism), is directly connected to Opus Dei and uses his money to actively support the organisation.  According to the same report, Monaghan is also a member of the "Word of God" shepherding group which is part of the "Catholic Charismatic" movement.

by dogemperor on Sun Apr 30, 2006 at 08:25:36 PM EST

As one who has kept abreast of these issues, I am grateful to Jim for his excellent article in The Window.  My thanks also to Mr. Clarkson for blogging about this here.

I hope that this will open some eyes at General Convention.  Unfortunately, the endgame for the AAC is schism - the ability to keep all the goodies (like property and pensions) and the ability to continue to poach congregations.

by ajg on Tue May 02, 2006 at 03:40:34 PM EST

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