Chuck Colson Whines about Critics of the Institute on Religion and Democracy
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 16, 2006 at 10:50:44 PM EST
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People have been getting wise to the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) -- that's the Washington, DC-based agency that has been waging a war of attrition, setting people against their pastors, their churches, denominational staff, and each other, for a generation. The aim has been to neutralize, divide and conquer the historic churches of mainline Protestantism -- apparently so that they could be displaced at the center of American political and cultural life by conservative forms of evangelical Protestantism and Catholicism. Unsurprisingly, people are writing and speaking out about all this -- and IRD doesn't like it. How can we tell? Well, the new president of IRD, Jim Tonkowich, who used to be the editor for Charles Colson's nationally syndicated radio commentary, BreakPoint, apparently got his old boss to denounce his critics, using the same shopworn smear tactics that have fueled its propadanda war for a generation.

Chuck Currie sets Colson strait at his blog and at Street Prophets. Here is an excerpt:

Colson, (like his mentor Richard Nixon, wants to make one thing perfectly clear.)

So what's going on? Why the effort to drive conservatives out of the mainline church?

The New York Times explains it this way: "After years of turning the other cheek, the United Church of Christ, among the most liberal of the mainline Protestant denominations, has recently staked out a more pugnacious stance toward the Christian right." The Times speaks of "a growing impatience among the mainline denominations with their far-right brethren and an increasing willingness to take some of them on..."

Let's be perfectly clear about what's at issue here. The debate is not a political one. Rather, it goes to the very heart of what the Church is. The real issue is simply, do we follow the Bible and the orthodox teachings of Christianity, or do we rewrite our beliefs to be culturally relevant?

The UCC's answer to that question is clear--and what's also clear is that it's turning Christians away. If they want to be taken seriously again, they could start by listening to their own new slogan--"God doesn't reject people. Neither do we"--and then start by not rejecting people who happen to be Bible-believing Christians.

I'm a Bible-believing Christian and so are the people who make up the UCC. What I'm not is someone who confuses political allegiance with the Gospel teachings.

Colson, who became a "born again" Christian after serving time in prison for crimes committed against the people of the United States as an assistant to Richard Nixon, cannot see the difference between the message preached by Jesus and the Republican Party platform. Prison didn't seem to shake his total allegiance to a ultra conservative political ideology. He claims that the "debate is not a political one" but aligns himself with political advocacy groups like IRD.

Jesus preached a message that transcends political labels and partisan campaigns. Colson bears false witness against the United Church of Christ for suggesting that the people of our church - not to mention all other mainline Christians - are anything less than faithful followers. He may have done the IRD proud (with a dishonest attack Nixon would have loved) but he once again has put his own political agenda ahead of his God.

I'll just add one point in response to Colson's audio screed. First, Colson:
In a prominent article in the New York Times, some members of mainline congregations attacked the IRD's new president, Jim Tonkowich, for belonging to a small conservative denomination instead of a liberal church. Now, I can tell you from personal experience that attacks on Jim are completely out of line. Until recently, he was managing editor for this radio program. Not only is he a good friend, but he is also an able pastor and Christian thinker, and well-qualified for this new position.

As it happens, I wrote the original story highlighting Tonkowich's background. And I agreed with  Colson, that Tonkowich is, "well qualified for this new position."  Here is part of what I wrote:
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. [Those are the denominations IRD claims it want's to "reform" and "renew."] 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 .... 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.

One of the leaders of the PCA schism was none other than D. James Kennedy, who went on to become one of the leaders of the Christian Right, a leading televangelist and Christian nationalist. As it happens, the IRD related Anglican groups are hard-charging towards schism in the Episcopal Church, and openly schismatic, IRD movements are active in the mainline denominations; United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

So, to summrarize: IRD organizes factions to go the way of PCA; thoughtful people call them on it; and Colson whines that conservatives are being driven out of the churches. (There are people who get paid to write this stuff.)

to the accurate desriptions of their activities, and so they send out Charles Colson to attack their critics without, of course, addressing any of the substance.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue May 16, 2006 at 10:57:28 PM EST
Mark Kleiman, writing for Slate [ see quote, below ], dissects how a University of Pennsylvania study of Colson's prison program was spun to indicate that "InnerChange" was a succesful rehabilitation program when - in fact - it was a miserable failure. "InnerChange" actually slightly increased recidivism! :

Here's how the study got adulterated.

InnerChange started with 177 volunteer prisoners but only 75 of them "graduated." Graduation involved sticking with the program, not only in prison but after release. No one counted as a graduate, for example, unless he got a job. Naturally, the graduates did better than the control group. Anything that selects out from a group of ex-inmates those who hold jobs is going to look like a miracle cure, because getting a job is among the very best predictors of staying out of trouble. And inmates who stick with a demanding program of self-improvement through 16 months probably have more inner resources, and a stronger determination to turn their lives around, than the average inmate.

The InnerChange cheerleaders simply ignored the other 102 participants who dropped out, were kicked out, or got early parole and didn't finish. Naturally, the non-graduates did worse than the control group. If you select out the winners, you leave mostly losers.

Overall, the 177 entrants did a little bit worse than the controls. That result ought to discourage InnerChange's advocates, but it doesn't because they have just ignored the failure of the failures and focused on the success of the successes.

The Penn study doesn't conceal the actual poor outcome: All the facts reported above come straight from that report. But the study goes out of its way to put a happy face on the sad results, leading with the graduates-only figures before getting to the grim facts. Apparently, the Prison Fellowship press office simply wrote a press release off the spin, and the White House worked off the press release. Probably no one was actually lying; they were just believing, and repeating as fact, what they wanted to believe.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 17, 2006 at 07:44:59 AM EST
According to the U Penn study, Colson's prison rehab program was no better ( a little worse, actually ) than shovelling government money into a hole in the ground or - as it were - into the coffers of the Christian right.

Yes, Colson's a seasoned pro. What was his profession ? - I suppose he's a PR man. Meaning : spin is his job. And, I think Colson's quite good at spin.

But, facts tend to be elsewhere.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed May 17, 2006 at 07:50:30 AM EST

Colson and members of Prison Fellowship also attack the practice of Islam in prisons.  In a recent BreakPoint commentary, Mark Earley, the president of Prison Fellowship Ministries writes about radical Muslim chaplains who "play on the sensibilities of prisoners who feel isolated and vulnerable."  The irony is that InnerChange programs have taken over entire wings of maximum security prisons to promote "the Gospel of Jesus Christ."  For many prisoners, InnerChange programs provide the only way to get job-training, education, and entrance into work-release programs.  Yet, Colson and Early argue that Islam is imposing an extremist agenda in prisons without seeing how a 24-hour, biblically-based program like InnerChange does exactly that.  

by Tanya Erzen on Thu May 18, 2006 at 12:03:24 AM EST
just the way you do.

They just don't want any competition.

Freedom of religion? Free market place of ideas? Why bother with that stuff if you can get someone for 24/7 indoctrination?

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu May 18, 2006 at 12:12:09 AM EST

Colson in general is possibly the major promoter of what I term "faith based coercion"--mandatory programs in prisons, rehab facilities, and even programs for the homeless in which dominionists prosyletise to a literally captive audience.

In my diary entry on "faith based coercion" programs, I note Chuck Colson's "Prison Fellowship Ministries" as one of the major players here.    Here's the relevant excerpt from that article:

Another group hip deep in dominionist connections is Prison Fellowship Ministries--this group is operated by Charles Colson (yes, as in the Watergate Charles Colson).  Colson has numerous links to dominionist groups including the secretive Council for National Policy, has been been involved with dominionism at its very core, and has even claimed that Hurricane Katrina was a sign from God that we need to step up efforts in the "war on terror".  Colson is also largely responsible for selling dominionism to Catholics.

There are reports that similar instances of religious coercion have occured with Prison Fellowship Ministries--that people are required to join the programs as a condition of early parole, for instance.  Texas' parole system is an example of a parole board that essentially has participation in "faith based" programs, and specifically Prison Fellowship Ministries, as a qualifying condition for parole; per this site there are already some initial reports that people are being made to join as a condition of parole.  Per the following article from Mother Jones, not only is coercion to join the PFI programs increasing but PFI is also targeting children of inmates for stealth evangelism.

So, let's review.  We have someone who apparently did the whole "I found Jesus" schtick after having been busted in his role in Watergate (which involved at one point a plan to blow up buildings), is a major promoter of mandatory "faith-based coercion" in prisons (and targets the kids of prisoners to boot), has a very long history of being a Very Good Friend to dominionism in general (including links to the CNP), is largely responsible for having brought "Charismatic Catholics" and even groups like Opus Dei into the dominionist fold, and has even claimed that Katrina is divine retribution against the city of New Orleans.

As noted in the Mother Jones article, Colson is also a major targeter of other Abrahamic religions, in particular demonising Islam; he's also demonised non-Abrahamic religions (including traditional Lakota religious practices and "faith based" programs designed to accomodate them).  In other words, he only wants dominionist faith-based programs.  There are now documented cases in prison systems where non-dominionist groups are being denied permission to worship together in preference to dominionist "faith based coercion" programs like InnerChange.

(As an aside, the Mother Jones article linked to above notes on how Dubya defended an Assemblies of God frontgroup called Teen Challenge which has been charged with violations of health and licensing codes; Teen Challenge promotes itself as a "troubled youth" group (much like another Assemblies frontgroup, Seven Project), and is increasingly regarded as spiritually  abusive.)

by dogemperor on Thu May 18, 2006 at 10:05:56 AM EST

For Colson to cite the UCC's motto is the very height of hypocrisy. The very mission of the IRD  is exclusionary in nature. It excludes loyal; dissent, people with a different way of looking at the Gospels (who are actually closer to the original intent than Mr. Colson) and any individual who dares to think about his or her faith.

What Colson and his IRD friends are trying to do is render God unto Caesar.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri May 19, 2006 at 10:50:23 AM EST

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