State of Belief / Air America "War On Mainline Protestant Churches" show transcript
[ full transcript, by Renee In Ohio ]
Gaddy: How did you become aware of what's happening in mainline denominations with the Christian right--did you come to this conclusion ideologically or experientially? Did you see it up close?
John Dorhauer: As a local church pastor for 16 years, I was aware of churches in the surrounding area who were experiencing extreme levels of conflict over what became known as the "wedge issues" of the day. Twenty years ago it was the ordaination of women, a few years after that it was abortion, and now it's homosexuality. And I discovered over time that churches within the United Church of Christ were willing to disaffiliate over these issues.
It took me a while to sort of lose that narrow perspective of experiencing that in the local church and realize the same thing was happening on a national basis, not just across the United Church of Christ, but across mainline Protestant Christianity. And it was, for me, the work of Andrew Weaver that first helped me to make those connections.
Gaddy: Dr. Weaver, how did you come to a conclusion about it?
Weaver: I began to do research after I read a book United Methodists at Risk, which was published by a prominent bishop in the United Methodist Church, Dale White, and others. Basically they were saying that outside money from Richard Mellon Scaife and political operatives like Adolf Coors were funneling money into an attack on churches. This has no precedent in American church history. At that time I had a research department with a couple of PhDs and research assistants, so I got all the material and read for six months, and became absolutely convinced that this was the case. And after that I felt called to speak out like Paul Revere, and ring the bell of alarm. There is no doubt whatsoever, Welton, that this is a systematic effort to undermine mainline churches, who still have transparent democratic processes in them that become an area for the culture wars.
Gaddy: Dr. Prescott, I know that you know this experientially. Talk a little bit about having gone through the experience of the Southern Baptist Convention's takeover.
Prescott: Yes, I do have experience of the Southern Baptist Convention being taken over by a right wing fundamentalist group. It was an organized attempt--there wasn't any secret about it--and there's been a conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention. Kind of a struggle for the churches, individual churches. Here in Oklahoma I worked with the moderate Baptists in this state, because we feel that there are churches here that have been targeted to be taken over by fundamentalists that are affiliated with the Southern Baptists Convention.
Gaddy: Let me ask all three of you. This takeover movement of Christian denominations, is this a religious movement or is it a political movement?
Weaver: There is not a grassroots movement to do this. The money overwhelmingly--and it is "follow the money"--come from people outside these communions.
Gaddy: What is the motivation? What do they want to do?
Weaver: It is primarily a political motivation. Just as the right wing is trying to affect the court system, the educational system-- These churches were the primary bulwark against many of the right wing causes under Reagan. And they decided after that, when they saw these United Methodist, United Church of Christ and the others being effective, they became the targets.
Welton: Dr. Dorhauer, is that the way you see it?
Dorhauer: Absolutely. I do want to say, though, that although Andrew's right about the money coming from politically motivated individuals, the truth is, about those experiencing this in the local church, many of them are unaware of that political motivation and that political connection. They're being fed material from outside sources, and they don't know where that material's coming from. But that material fuels the fire in the local church. And the other thing I want to point out is that in those local churches where those fired are being fueled by this material, the pastors all of a sudden find themselves unwilling to speak about issues that they know are going to raise this level of conflict. And so, what the politically motivated achieve is the silence of the religious-conscious voice that has historically led this country, and that has challenged some of the more strident political voices that have gone out over the edge. And those voices are being silenced today.
Weaver: You could easily call the Institute on Religion and Democracy "The Institute of Sex and More Sex". Because, if you Google homosexuality on their site, an incredible percentage of everything they do is a gay-bashing attack that works, and it really is fearmongering. To the point that the Ku Klux Klan, last summer, endorsed and encouraged on their site, one of the attacks that the Institute of Religion and Democracy made against the United Methodist group with over a dozen bishops attended, in celebration of gay and lesbian Christians. So their target is really fearmongering that turned, in this case, into the Ku Klux Klan endorsing them. That's the level of vitriol that is involved in these groups.
Gaddy: So what do they get if they take over the denomination? What is it that they want--the money? What is it?
Dorhauer: I think ultimately what they want is the silence. But along the way, at least in the United Church of Christ, what they're getting is pieces of property worth millions of dollars, membership contributions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, endowments in millions of dollars. In the United Church of Christ, any local congregation can disaffiliate any time they want, so their targets in the UCC are individual congregations.
Gaddy: Dr. Prescott, how do you see that?
Prescott: What I think is happening is that they're keeping the mainline congregations in turmoil with wedge issues, and then that allows people that have a secular political agenda to accomplish whatever it is that they're trying to do. I think when you talk about the Institute of Religion and Democracy, you're talking about Catholic neoconservatives who've got some of the same ultimate political goals as neoconservatives in the religious right. And not even the religious right--they just are right. And they're accomplishing those objectives by keeping the mainline congregations' voices silent.
Gaddy: I want to know who the key players are in this whole movement to take over Christian denominations, and I wish one of you would talk about the Institute for Religion and Democracy. I want to know more about that one in particular.
Weaver: Well, the IRD began out of the first Reagan White House as an attack really on Liberation Theology in Central America. It has morphed over time into a direct attack on mainline churches. The key players , and one of the most disturbing parts of this, are neoconservative Roman Catholics. Six of them sit on the board, that is 35% of the board members. There is not one cent, Welton, spent on any change in the Roman Catholic church, this I consider, and others, the most significant breach in ecumenical good will since Vatian II. ...
Gaddy: Dr. Dorhauer, how a movement that started in response to Liberation Theology in South America is concerned about a church in Norman, Oklahoma, I don't understand that.
Dorhauer: Well, let me see if I can't make some connections here. The connections to the local church are through their Association for Church Renewal. This is now a group of over 30 "renewal movements" within each of the separate denominations. There are currently two functioning within the UCC. One has been there for a long time--the Biblical Witness Fellowship, the president of which is David Runyon Bearford, who is intimately aligned with the IRD and has been for a long time. If they have a national event, he's one of their featured speakers. If they publish a letter that goes out to the press or to the public, he's one of the consistent signatories on those letters.
The second renewal group within this Association for Church Renewal, headed by the IRD, is the Faithful and Welcoming Group, who formed for the first time in January of this year. These renewal movements are an overt attempt to take over the denomination, much like has happened with the Southern Baptists Convention. That's probably where they've been the most effective.
Gaddy: Dr. Prescott, let's use that as a segue to go to you. Who was involved in taking over the Southern Baptists Convention? Was it the IRD, or were there individuals, or organizations? Would you point a finger at some people?
Prescott: I don't believe that the IRD was involved in the takeover of the Southern Baptists Convention. I think it's a spinoff of tactics that were used in the SBC, and applied to other mainline denominations. I think that probably the deep roots for the takeover of the SBC, come from Ed McAteer and the Religious Roundtable, and Tim LaHaye's Council for National Policy. And I think those are the organizations that brought people like Richard Melon Scaife and Howard Ahmanson and Joseph Coors, and a whole crew of other wealthy industrialists who had a lot of money to fund these kinds of things, with people with religious concerns. And they were exceedingly conservative, they formed an alliance, and they've been very effective in pushing their agenda.
Gaddy: How do you get this done--what is the strategy for taking over a denomination?
Weaver: Well, you undermine confidence in the leadership. You constantly create a picture that they are doing untoward things. So you use, as John has said, propaganda language continually. And drive home wedge issues. Human sexuality is the primary one, because there is so much emotion around that question. But they also use jingoistic, patriotistic--recently United Methodist bishops, two out of three of them in November signed a very strong statement against this war as unjust and immoral. Also said the occupation, which is important, is unjust and immoral. Well, when Fox News called the White House, they had no comment. But within 10 days, the IRD did a smear piece in the Weekly Standard where Fred Barnes, who is on the board of the IRD, who's on Fox News, and the Weekly Standard board. They also did a fund letter at Christmas time, December 22, saying that the bishops would not have defended America at Normandy. At Normandy! So we're talking about extreme propaganda to try to divide people.
Gaddy: And so when you get confidence in the leaders shaken, what's next?
Dorhauer: Well, what happens--and I want to talk about shaking of the confidence in leaders in the UCC in particular. We go into churches where we discover material has been handed out. And the material will read something like, "The United Church of Christ does not believe in Scripture. The United Church of Christ does not believe in the Lordship of Jesus. The Faithful and Welcoming Group, which I mentioned a minute ago, handed out at Eden Seminary in St. Louis, a brochure at their presentation, that said that the General Synod delegates last July, declared their independence from the teachings of Jesus and the authority of Scripture. Now this is the literature that they're handing out in churches across our denomination.
Now this doesn't play everywhere, but the point is that in some places it will play, and they're looking for the people who will receive that information, and then will receive a follow-up call. And those churches are being targeted by trained activists who are going in, and within a year or two, serving on councils and boards, and asking the councils to pass resolutions like, if at our next pastoral church, we don't find a UCC pastor whom we think is fitting, then we're going to amend our bylaws which require us to call a UCC pastor, and we can call anybody we want.
At the same time, the Biblical Witness Fellowship, which is one of the renewal groups attached to the ACR, the Association for Church Renewal, has organized what they call the Godly Pastor Network. And they send recruits out to Evangelical seminaries across the country, pastors who have no relationship with the UCC, and they build a network and contact those churches in which those activists have appeared, and tell them here are pastors willing to serve in your church.
Gaddy: So, in the minds of these people, there must be an Ungodly Pastor Network too.
Dorhauer: That's the implication.
Gaddy: Bruce Prescott, does this all sound familiar?
Prescott: It does--the only difference is it's just incredible that it's people that are outside the denomination. Ours, we had our own group of fundamentalists that organized themselves and did these kinds of things within the denomination. But it wasn't really people from outside doing it.
Gaddy: Some of you have written, or maybe all of you have written, about the hookup between this takeover movement and Christian Reconstructionism movement, and the Dominionist movement related to that. My guess is, a lot of listeners to State of Belief are not familiar with those terms and those organizations. Give us a very quick introduction to them.
Weaver: Well, Howard Ahmanson is at the core of this. He's a billionaire, whose wife sits on the IRD board. They are big contributors to Christian Reconstructionism. Howard Ahmanson for 23 years was on the Chalcedon Institute board. He is the primary funder. They believe that we should not have a democracy but we need to have a twisted sense of Calvinist theocracy, in which among other things, people like everyone on this radio show should be stoned to death because we don't share their religious beliefs out of literalism out of Deuteronomy. Gays should be stoned to death, and incorrigible children.
Bill Moyers has talked about this. If this was a group of lunatic fringe--but these people have infiltrated into a system where they're contributing to money to take over mainline churches.
Gaddy: What about Dominionism? Is that about what it sounds like it's about?
Dorhauer: It's exactly what it sounds like it's about. It's a fundamental belief that the principles, literally interpreted, of Scripture, ought to be the basis of our governance. And as Andrew said, those that do not believe the literal fundamental interpretation of that Scripture are to be eliminated.
Gaddy: So, they're going to impose those through religious institutions or through legislation and officers of the government?
Dorhauer:Their goal is to take over the government. Thirty years ago, this movement began by getting local members elected to school boards, to city councils, to county councils. And what we're now seeing as the byproduct of that is school boards are debating whether or not they can teach creationism or evolution.
Gaddy: So, there's a close connection with the Christian Coalition. Dr. Prescott, is there a connection with the Christian Coalition?
Prescott: I think there's been a close connection with the Christian Coalition, but I actually think that in the Southern Baptists Convention, there is very strong infiltration, or maybe just a movement toward Christian Reconstructionism.
Christian Reconstructionism is a blueprint for civil society. They want to make the Ten Commandments the law of the land. That's why Roy's Rock is so important. They want to strengthen patriarchically ordered families. They want to close the public schools and make parents totally responsible for the education of their children. They want to require ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services. And that would reduce the role of government to the defense of the nation, and the defense of property rights. Their goals have pretty much been accomplished over the past 5-6 years, and sometimes before that. These goals are the goals of the Religious Right. What distinguishes reconstructionism from Dominionism is there is a full philosophy for Christian Reconstructionism, and not everybody will follow that. Not even everybody that identifies with these goals knows about Reconstructionism.
But the idea that Christians should dominate society, is prevalent throughout the Religious Right. And this Dominionist idea, I think is being worked out by our current administration.
Gaddy: So there is a partisan political component to this movement, and it is Republican?
Oh, absolutely. I think that two things are going on at the same time. I think that there are those with political aspirations, who have no real theological bent whatsoever, who benefit from that kind of paranoia that is fed by those from the Religious Right, and I think they use that to their advantage. I think that those at the core of this Dominionist Christian Reconstructionist movement also use those on the political right to their advantage.
Gaddy: Now, Dr. Dorhauer, I know you have a web site where you write about this. One of my concerns, and it grows out of my experience with the SBC, is that lay people, just good-hearted people that want a good denomination and a good nation, don't know what's going on. If they knew better, they would act.
Dorhauer: I think that's absolutely right. I write weekly for a web site called Talk2Action, and what I write about is how the local church experiences this phenomenon. Again, many of the members in the local church have no idea who the IRD is, have no idea about Reconstructionist theology, and Dominionism. They're just good people, and they hear people whom they respect and trust telling them, that because of the UCC position on marriage equality, it is now an evil institution. We have a tape of a pastor preaching a sermon in one of our UCC churches, in which he says that the UCC is like dog crap cooked into a brownie--that just a little bit of it ruins the whole thing. Now, his mindset is that the UCC must go. I don't think there was anyone in that congregation who felt that way prior to his preaching that sermon. But once he preached it and moved them down that road, they immediately felt that they must disassociate themselves from this evil institution known as the United Church of Christ.
Gaddy: We know that the UCC is in the crosshairs . What other denominations are in the crosshairs.
Weaver: Half of all the money the IRD spends is in attacks on the United Methodist Chuch. It is the big battleship. And if you take out the 45 million people that are represented by the National Council of Churches, you're going to hollow out one of the cores of this democracy. So there's an attack on all of them, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the United Chuch of Christ... And when Rev. Thomas spoke up recently, the head of the UCC, there was a full blast smear of him. And people are intimidated. The United Methodist bishops must have the courage to stand up and take this on, because our church is in peril of being split, and certainly being muted in terms of its conscience.
Gaddy: My experience in Southern Baptist life was that people who talk like the three of you talk, are called troublemakers. You're the real troublemakers.
Weaver(?): At my last church I was identified as the antichrist from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in town I last served.
Gaddy: The other problem is that there are many people saying "You're making too much of this. It's only a tempest in a teapot, it will go away." The SBC was lost, not because of those trying to take it over, but because of people arguing that it wasn't a big deal, and people came in.
Weaver: Naivite is at the core of this. All these traditions have niceness at the core, and are taught to be nice. While we've been thinking it's touch football, they've been playing tackle.
Gaddy: (after interview is over)
They represent three Protestant denominations, but they've all spoken of the same experience. And friends, I can assure you that what's going on in those three denominations is going on in other Christian denominations, and in fact in many of the historic religious traditions that call our country home. It seems like all over the world, rabid fundamentalist, literalist interpreters of scriptures are trying to claim the center of religious traditions. We've only scratched the surface on this issue today, and these gentleman have all written extensively on the topic. I encourage you to go to our web site, State of Belief.com, and you'll see their resources for charting this right wing campaign.
And of course this isn't happening in isolation. It is also tied to political movements. We've heard stories of prison mosques being taken over by radical fundamentalists and in some instances, prisons being run by faith-based funding from the federal government. Just recently on State of Belief, we heard from a woman activist who described Hindu temples in which women are seen as property.
If there's one thing that we've learned from all of these stories and from what we've heard on today's show, it is that ideological corruption of a house of worship anywhere is a threat to the integrity of houses of worship everywhere. So if you have your own story of political changes in your church, your temple, your mosque, or any house of worship or community of faith, we really would like to hear about it. Send us an e-mail from State of Belief.com, or call us at (212) 871-8280. We want to hear your responses to today's show. The only way to combat the push to politicize religion, is to start speaking openly about what we've experienced. I hope today's show is only the beginning of a much-needed national conversation.
State of Belief / Air America "War On Mainline Protestant Churches" show transcript | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)
State of Belief / Air America "War On Mainline Protestant Churches" show transcript | 21 comments (21 topical, 0 hidden)