A Sinister New Wind: Holston and the IRD
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 07:28:30 PM EST
Perhaps I'm too busy to look.  Maybe I'm in denial, like so many other people.  I have four kids and (until recently) two careers, so I have a better excuse than others.  But I try to pay attention, and what I've seen disturbs me.

Until very recently our little corner of the United Methodist Church has seemed to escape the kind of divisive politics other Christian denominations and organizations within the UMC have encountered.  I am largely unfamiliar with the aggressive tactics others have seen in the church over the past few years.  I had never heard of a church takeover until I presented my film, "Theologians Under Hitler," to the Georgia chapter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship last November.  At the breakfast gathering a pastor from Dalton, Georgia was describing the process used by a group that, over a period of several years, effectively gained power in that church and replaced the moderate pastor with a fundamentalist.

I was astounded.

I've never heard of something like this in Methodism.  Our method of deploying pastors seems to prevent such things from happening.  Hearing about this kind of hardball was an eye-opener.

My Annual Conference (the regional governing structure of United Methodism) is the Holston Conference, a region governed by one bishop and twelve district superintendents, covering eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia.  Our conference sessions are relatively free from deep conflict: yes, we have our differences, and we have our healthy debates.  But on even the most divisive issues we seem to be able to discuss them and then keep on working together on ministries that truly make a difference.

I mentioned that until recently I had two careers: first, I am a United Methodist pastor.  Second, I am a documentary filmmaker.  I have recently taken a break from the pastorate to pursue making films and using them to bring about much-needed dialogue.  Without question my first love is Christ and the Church.  My filmmaking has made me aware of issues and realities I don't think I would have known about otherwise: cloning and stem cell research (Human Cloning: Bane or Blessing? 2002), issues regarding the experience of American Muslims (Islam in America After September 11th), and other important topics.

"Theologians Under Hitler" opened my eyes to tactics employed in the 1930s to bring the church into an alliance with the Nazis in Germany.  It was not too difficult to see parallels between then and now.  But even so, in Holston Conference we live in a region not often affected by the tactics seen in other fellowships.  Political attacks used by, or against, church bodies and structures happens over there, not here.   Not until about two weeks ago.

Each year we debate various resolutions on the floor of Annual Conference.  These debates are always about the same things: homosexuality, ecumenism, the General Boards and Agencies, appeals for advocacy for various ethnic groups, and so on.  This year we saw a several resolutions that were sent by the same Sunday School class: a class in a large-membership church in Cleveland, Tennessee, home of the headquarters of the Church of God.  They were remarkably well written, not the usual stuff we see.  I didn't agree with them, but admired the work that went into them.  "This Sunday School class must rock!" I thought.  But then the debate on the floor of our Annual Conference revealed something I wasn't prepared for.  A little research on the internet confirmed it.

An astute Sunday school class did not write the well-crafted resolutions I had admired.  The Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote them.  If you'd like, you can download one of them here, and fill in the blanks for your own Annual Conference.  Perhaps the IRD will even supply you with the paper to print it on:

http://www.ird-renew.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG& amp;b=436199&ct=2025815

There it was: evidence that my beloved church is being tampered with by sinister forces that have no interest in our region, by an organization bent on involving my spiritual brothers and sisters in a fight for the future of a church that feeds, clothes, serves, and loves millions of people around the world.  

This is sickening.  And I want people to know about it.  If Holston's no longer safe, no place is.

Steven D. Martin

Thanks for this. I have witnessed the same thing for some time in the United Church of Christ, where our renewal group actually hosts on their website a place for what they refer to as Godly Pastors can register, and where they will work to place them in churches asking for a Godly Pastor. They do a lot of recruiting on campuses of Evangelical seminaries - and in OUR polity, they can actually get those pastors into the churches in which they have been working aggressively with their trained minions.

Not for nothing, by the way, but I think a documentary about this whole phenomenon is well past due, and would love to speak with sometime about that.
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 Jun 28, 2006 at 08:18:45 AM EST

The thought has crossed my mind, and the idea has been discussed around.  There are several options for this: a simple DVD with experts talking about the phenomenon all the way up to a well-produced, "Frontline" type investigative piece.  

Very simply, churches & judicatories MUST be made aware of what's being done to them, how they're being cynically used.  Video can be a much more powerful tool for doing this than other methods.  I'm all ears if you (and others) have ideas about this.


by Steven D. Martin on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:33:31 AM EST

AFAIK I haven't seen any of your work, but I'm reminded of a documentary I saw - what, 10 years ago? - as part of the "POV" series on PBS. It dealt up-close-and-personal with the right-wing takeover of the main Southern Baptist Seminary and the expulsion of women faculty. Sickening doesn't begin to describe the kind of backstabbing and other underhanded [fill in the blank] that got pulled in the process.

Having lived near the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY from 1979 to 1985 and seen the list of thesis topics decline from such subjects as women's leadership in the early church and Liberation Theology into the depths of Dispensationalism and hackneyed defenses of Biblical inerrancy, I knew something disastrous had happened, but until I saw that POV feature, I had no idea how utterly nasty the process was.

Go for it. The more real exposure these dastardly [fill in the blank]s get, the better.

(Excuse me. I have to go to my room and scream dirty words into my pillow and gargle with battery acid until I get the horrible taste I got in my mouth just thinking about those [fill in the blank]s out of there. We now return you to your regularly scheduled civilized discourse already in progress. Ptooey!)

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several resolutions that were sent by the same Sunday School class: a class in a large-membership church in Cleveland, Tennessee, home of the headquarters of the Church of God.


I am currently speculating that if one were to visit this Sunday School class, one would find one person dominating this class.  There we would find the "plant" behind all the troublemaking.  I'd love to  investigate that person further and see his associations and background!  Something tells
me this person has been well trained by a particular entity.  Make sense to y'all?

I've seen lots of Christian groups infiltrated and taken over by fringe nuts in the past years.  

Remember when the Promise Keepers looked like it might be a good thing?
How about when a National Day of Prayer looked like that might be a cohesive and productive project?
Or perhaps the "Walk for Jesus?"
The list goes on and on.

The only such group I can currently name that doesn't appear to have been hijacked is Walk to Emmaus, and I can assume it has not been for lack of trying but rather due to the rigid controls placed on the group by Upper Room.
Even with that, the talks at Emmaus events are at times heavily influenced by the fringe nuts who happily volunteer to present them!

The Cleveland area Lee College is well known for producing willing soldiers for people like Randall Terry.  I would be remiss if I didn't also point out that Eric Rudolph had connections with the  anti-abortionists in this area.

I recently had to "shoot down" a boyfriend of my niece who had gone to Cleveland for college but found that working with the fringe groups much more exciting.  Listening to him brag about going to DC and standing in front of the Supreme Court building with red duct tape over his mouth was a little more than I could tolerate.  So I asked him how many lives that effort actually saved.  (spit, sputter) And would he punish doctors and women who have abortions with death since he considered such to be murder?  (more spit and sputter) And what would Jesus do and say? (gotta go, spit, sputter)  But don't run off, we're just getting to the good stuff!

Remember, the recruitment is ongoing and very active.  We must be prepared to challenge these folks at every turn.  Join their groups and take it to them, don't sit back and let them attack and infiltrate the good works of others without push back! :-)

by nofundy on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 10:45:33 AM EST


I would probably discredit many of your comments as alarmist except for personal experience that tells me otherwise.  I was once an associate pastor at a large church in Cleveland.  While there I was reluctant to attend an Emmaus Walk for some very simple reasons (I didn't want to have a spiritual experience that left my wife out- men and women have separate retreats).  This put a big wall between me and the very strong Emmaus community there.

The year was 1992, and the election of Clinton was looming.  To make matters worse, the church was divided because of a senior pastor's alledged misconduct.  He was followed by an appointed senior minister who brought his fourth wife with him, a detail that did not sit well with this conservative congregation.  One morning, during Sunday School, flyers suddenly appeared on all the car windows in our parking lot explaining how no Christian could vote for Bill Clinton.  We announced from the pulpit that the church had nothing to do with this and that we condemned such action.  Both the senior pastor and I received threatening phone calls after this.  We both suspected that members of the Emmaus community were behind these calls and had reason to think so.  

Cleveland is a hotbed of extreme right-wing activity, no doubt.  But the church that put forth the IRD resolutions was the most liberal, most mainline church in town.  Perhaps this is why they were the ones putting forth the resolutions- because they had more credibility coming from the high steeple church in town.  What I don't know is: did they put the resolutions forth on their own accord, or were they targeted by the IRD to do so?  Or does it matter?

Again, our conference has not been part of these aggressive tactics before.  I'm afraid this is a sign of things to come.

by Steven D. Martin on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 11:23:30 AM EST

Yeah, I get that quite often, being thought of as alarmist I mean.

Real transparency and knowledge of the subject matter along with a propensity to avoid any sugar coating can bring on such labels.  Refer to my appelation for proof.  :-)

Only thing is, after much debate and hand wringing,  reality based folks eventually come to the same conclusions that I get heat for stating early on.  I don't mind taking the fire though.  After all someone has to be first to say the emperor has no clothes!

And what is it with "conservatives" and sexually related hangups?  Shall we sweep it under the rug? Heh.  Enjoying the conversation BTW.

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by johncity on Thu Oct 10, 2019 at 04:20:35 AM EST

So I hear the IRD has responded to your post?

Details, dude, give us details!

Surely a nice Fisking type response would be worth another front page post?
Remember these folks attack you in their most vulnerable place. (swiftboating it's now called)

Let's invite the IRD folks in the house!  What say you T2A folks?

Seems we have some dark-corner lurkers at T2A that need to get an account and put their ideas and work in the light of day!

by nofundy on Mon Jul 03, 2006 at 09:17:02 AM EST

Yes, I made a new friend.  Jim Berkeley, director of Presbyterian Action, responded to my original post.

I was flattered!  I'd say he spent an hour or more composing his response.  I can't imagine why (except that we may have touched a nerve), but it was gratifying to know that during that hour or so he was not able to work his destructive magic on the Church of Jesus Christ.

His note to me was gentle, kind, and polite.  It reminded me of the smooth-tongued rhetoric of Osama Bin Laden.

Thanks for asking-

by Steven D. Martin on Tue Jul 04, 2006 at 07:37:23 AM EST

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