Anatomy of Another Attack
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 03:07:45 PM EST
The following e-mail came to me yesterday. It tells a sad story of a church under attack. I have asked permission of the pastor to share this with you in its entirety. I have changed the name of the church and the pastor, knowing that some will guess which church and pastor are being referred to. Those details are not essential to the telling of this story.

Many of the tactics described here are almost universally applied in a takeover attempt in our churches: attempts at peace and reconciliation met with only more strident attacks; capitulation to bullying tactics met with another attack; ugly words and actions expressed in public hearings; letter to church members expressing disgust and disdain about an action of the wider church; responses to such a letter from representatives of the wider church; clandestine meetings; calls for votes; signature campaigns; establishment of a research committee; request to distribute the results of the 'research' to the full membership of the church.

This e-mail provides us with a pretty thorough, first-hand look at the development of an attack.. I include it in its entirety, again, changing only those items that would identify the church in question.

Lately it seems a greater sense of peace has descended on First Church that is
very refreshing. Since the summer of 2005 we've experienced turmoil and
sought to placate those who seek to take  First Church out of the United Church
of Christ (UCC). Each time we've chosen to capitulate to their demands
thinking peace would result, they have been emboldened to demand an even
stronger expression of their displeasure.

In the summer of 2005 I published a pastoral letter agreeing not to
perform same sex ceremonies. That promise still stands. I was told it
was not strong enough and therefore there might be a hint that if the
state  were to change its laws, I might go back on my word.
Open hearing meetings were held in early 2006 seeking a path toward
peace. Many ugly things were said in those meetings. Then First Church's church
council asked members to voice the degree of their opposition to the UCC
(3 disapproving choices and one neutral). In July 2006 a letter went
from First Church giving voice to objections some here felt toward a UCC
resolution from 2005 hoping that would help bring peace to First Church. Both
the Conference and the National office of the UCC
received and responded to that letter. After publishing the results of
the survey and sending the letter. the council stated that their wisdom
was that for the good of the congregation First church is not on a path to leave
the UCC. Some First church members, coached by individuals outside our
community, mounted an aggressive signature campaign, which garnered
enough signatures to force a congregational meeting. Many ugly things
were said at that meeting and a resolution came from it to:  
Establish an independent committee of volunteers (nine members) free
from the influence of the UCC and the Conference to investigate
the concerns this congregation has with the UCC and to provide
recommendations to the congregation that address those concerns.  

This group came to be called the Independent Research Committee (a name
from the outside coaches) and would have included no one with affection
for the UCC except that our church council president
insisted that our by-laws be followed.

To discharge their task to investigate, this Independent Research
Committee sent out a survey asking members to (again) voice their
objections to the UCC. It did not ask members to voice their joys or
loves regarding the UCC and some members did not respond because the
survey was perceived to only be asking for the opinions of those who
dislike the UCC.  

Last Monday, at the church council meeting, the research committeerequested that their
finding be sent to the entire congregation in a separate mailing. This
report will be shown to the council for the first time on Wed., Jan. 17
and mailed to members on Jan. 19. The research committee requested that the council set
the agenda for the upcoming Jan. 28 congregational meeting to include
the report, but no action be taken on the committee's recommendations.
When the council asked what those recommendations would be, the council
was told that the recommendations were not yet formulated by the
committee. It has now become clear that the research committee findings being mailed
this week will include not only a report by also 7 recommendations.

o    The research committee will recommend to First Church that it force Rev. Jones to
o    It will recommend by-law changes regarding how First Church selects
Church Council members in case of mid term vacancy.  
o    It will recommend a change in the current Search Committee's
procedures to give more power to those who seek a senior pastor whose
views correspond to those calling for First Church to leave the UCC.


o    It will recommend that a new committee be established to study
the objections First Church has against the UCC.  

During this process, members coached by outsiders have regularly and
systematically made false statements about the UCC in the grocery
stores, in fellowship meetings, after church, during coffee hour and in
many other settings. It has been repeated that the UCC does not accept
Jesus Christ as Messiah. This is completely false. The UCC constitution
begins with the statement that Jesus is the sole head of the church and
affirms the historic creeds of the Christian faith. It has been said
that some people have read the UCC web site and have seen it there that
the UCC denies Jesus' divinity. This is completely false. Read it for
yourself. It says no such thing.

It has been said that the UCC supports abortion. This is false. It has
been said that some people have read the UCC web site and have seen this
for themselves. This is false. Read it for yourself. The UCC is
congregationally organized. The National settings speak to and not for
the local congregation. The UCC is one of the most open and accepting
Christian organizations in existence. It is that very freedom that
allows many points of view to be discussed fully and openly.

Some of the surveys returned to the research committee have had printed copies of anti
UCC website materials attached to them.

I will take time in the coming weeks to write more about this church, and how it contains many identifiable elements of a typical church attack.

...Right before I joined our local PCUSA church there had been some maneuvering to question whether or not the congregation would stay with the denomination (this was about the same time as the General assembly was meeting and debating the positions on same sex relationships).

They have remained as part of the PCUSA, but I will be vigilant and notice if any of these tactics being used in the UCC are tried in our church.

by SharonB on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 04:30:25 PM EST
This is a dynamic to which we all must be paying vigilant attention.
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 Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 07:35:19 PM EST

Thank you for bringing this story to light.  My guess is that the "outside coaches" in this situation are the field hands of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).  At least this is how the IRD works.  For those interested in the history of this right-wing organization's attacks on the National Council of Churches as well as the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and other Protestant denominations with long traditions of social justice, it appears in the January/February 2004 issue of Zion's Herald (recently renamed The Progressive Christian), authored by Andrew Weaver.  Weaver also has an article on the IRD and Neoconservative Catholics in the current issue of Progressive Christian (  Just for the record, I am not affiliated with ZH/TPC.  It is essential to continue to uncover the tentacles of groups like the IRD.  But it is just as important to build a strong and effective progressive religious and progressive Christian witness to fill the void now being created by the growing, widespread disillusionment with right-wing Christianity, even among evangelicals.  It is interesting to me that the alternative now getting the most media exposure is that of the atheists.  I don't wish them ill at all--they have been maligned as long as most any group in the country and even now are about the only minority that could not possibly get a (self-avowed!) member elected as the U.S. president.  (Morever, most of them regret and reject the vitriole of Dawkins, et al).  But it is a simple fact that atheism, however "evangelical" in tone and moral in content, cannot provide a compelling religious vision to replace the withering rhetoric of the religious right.  It must come from the progressive traditions within America's religions, particularly (because of our demographics) Christianity.  And while there is a lot of progressive Christian talk and activism these days, there is very little in the way of a vocal, identifiable progressive Christian point of view (or family of viewpoints).  What is the "worldview" of progressive Christianity, other than an important set of sane moral commitments that parallels those of most secular progressives?  But if that is all it is, why not be a secular progressive?  Progressive Christianity must be something more than progressive moral commitments wrapped in vaguely biblical language.  Developing this point of view, and communicating it, is as important, I believe, as exposing the sinister machinations of groups like the IRD.  (St. Dubiety, previously doubtisdivine)   

by doubtisdivine on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 05:23:10 PM EST
They are suffering under renewed attack.  I got wind of it from a press release to the Albany Times Union recently.  The NCC has been down this road before but last time there was little awareness of the nature of the attack and it was hard to explain it to people.  We need to be there for them this time.  

The IRD has written a ninty page report about the NCC.  It's all over the front page of the IRD website.

by tikkun on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 08:03:22 PM EST

You are the third person today to alert me to this, and I need to go check it out - we all do. There is no saying this time "We didn't know what we were up against." If we let this go on, we will all be hurt by it.
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 Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 09:08:43 PM EST

When False Equivalency Distorts the News

But there needs to be a far wider response than what I alone can do.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 09:28:51 PM EST

I have an op ed piece for the Times Union that ya'll are more than welcome to peruse and critique before it gets published.  Where should I put it so you can have at it.

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 09:53:56 AM EST
Robb Brill has been nagging and this has to be effective. He's putting it on the regular opinion page, not in the religion section. HELP

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 09:56:24 AM EST

I did read it. It is the bones for the op ed piece. Thanks Fred.

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 10:33:54 AM EST
shoot me copy at and tell me what the word count needs to be. Glad to help.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 11:02:40 AM EST
There is no word count. it's an invited piece but still and all it's too darn long.  

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 04:15:33 PM EST

but you kinda went down hill at this point
But it is just as important to build a strong and effective...

We do political solutions to the right wing, not theological discussions of what should counterbalance the right wing.  There are very good places to carry on the evangelical point of the post.  Check the purpose statement. I know it's sometimes hard to find the fulcrum  that balances evangelizing and strategizing, but it gets easier with time.  

by tikkun on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 08:29:43 PM EST

I believe a distinction can be made between "what we do" and, more generally, "what needs to be done" (often, by others), and that on occasion there may be a reason to talk about a more general need, or at least one in someone else's territory, as well as matters that fit neatly into our own specific purview.  With all due respect, I was not engaged in a theological discussion; I was saying that for the sake of us all it would help if those who call themselves progressive religious people--particularly the Christians among them, since the strength of the right wing has been located in the Church--would get busy doing their own "theological" work, by which I mean making a compelling case, drawing upon the universe of Christian symbols and myths for their advocacy of progressive values.  I think that (speaking of "political solutions") will be essential if vast numbers of voters are to be turned away AND KEPT AWAY from the hegemony of the religious right.   One of the people who speaks eloquently for this, interestingly, is Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, who has on several occasions contended that progressive Christians need to stop speaking solely in "secular-ese" and start defending the progressive social and political agenda using the resources of their own traditions.  Of  course, he thinks progressive Jews should do the same.  That is all I was saying when you think I started going "down hill."  I believe the identification of that need is a political claim, not a theological one, and so, if I may, an appropriate point to make in this forum.  To address another concern that my remarks might raise, saying that progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. (as well as Atheists, Marxists, Darwinians, etc.) should articulate, even in our public discourse, their progressive values in the language of their own (philosophical, religious, and scientific) traditions is not at all--so far as I can see--violating the separation of"church" (interesting, but understandable that we reduce the issue that way) and state.  For one thing, it is simply inviting people to say "why" they think what they think, which has its own intrinsic value in a diverse culture.  These specifically parochial reasons will not be (certainly should not be) the bases for supporting certain values legislatively, and they need not be.  For one thing, people belong to more than one parochial tradition (and, by the way, no one escapes them--even Secularism is a particular tradition).  Second, at least some of the reasons that emerge from one tradition make a difference in others.  Third, beginning with our diverse starting points does not mean we are locked into them, and usually we are not; we often come up with encompassing (some might prefer to say "neutral") reasons for the values we wish to advocate and support collectively.  In sum, to make some more or less permanent political headway, I believe progressives in each religious tradition need to say in a compelling way how their tradition supports those values.  This is an especially urgent need among Christians, whose traditional symbols have been controlled by the right wing.  If progressive Christians believe this right wing "take over" is a distortion of their tradition, they need to be able to say why, and say it intelligently and persuasively.  And I believe this judgment of mine, right or wrong, is a political one.  --St. Dubiety.        

by doubtisdivine on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 11:49:46 PM EST
There is one "slight" problem that might arise.  Everyone is not equally equipped to speak effectively just as everyone is not equipped to teach effectively or to organize effectively, or write markup code. We need to do a better job of recognizing the tasks that need to be done and of recognizing those best suited to do them.  I'm not the person who should be writing op ed pieces, I'm a mediocre organizer, and my code is primitive at best, but I'm stuck with all the jobs right now because I am just beginning to teach the rest of the resistant irl community what they need to know about the enemy at hand.

Since we are online, we are a reading and writing medium. That doesn't help us find the appropriate people necessary to accomplish the other tasks necessary to complete all the tasks ahead of us.  

This post doesn't have an ending.  Its exactly the frustrating place where I am mentally.  I have code and an op ed piece to write today.  I have no editor for either..  Damn, damn and double damn.  I don't have time for egos and stars, I need people to help me do the bloody work work...and that is exactly where the resisting community is.

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 10:27:56 AM EST

and say that the progressive religious community has never not developed sound theology, has never not appropriated meaninful myth and symbol. We live in a day and time when the religious right has done a much better job of using mass media to communicate to a much broader audience their particular theology, symbology, etc. If anything, the left lacks media savvy. But, on the other hand, every effort the left has made to enter the realm  of a more public dialogue has been characterized by the right as pandering to 'the secular left ' - that numinous term that gives Fred such fits (as well it should).
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 Jan 17, 2007 at 11:11:43 AM EST
Thanks for this.  Sans the outside influence, sounds like what I went through with my congregation.  We stayed but only by a compromising reduction in denominational support.  Fiercely clinging to Christ and one another.  The dissenters left.

And yes, there has always be some theology done in progressive circles, but, understandably, not as rigorously as from the right.  Theory (read:theology) is part of praxis.


by Don Niederfrank on Wed Jan 24, 2007 at 08:32:57 AM EST

"middle" to avoid IRD framing.  I think it's a clumsy reframe but he's on the right track.  

by tikkun on Wed Jan 17, 2007 at 10:06:16 AM EST

Just so you know, our pastor wrote a letter like this, too, and it is all untrue.  The people on our committee had no prodding from anyone except their own research and prayerful efforts.  This is a slap in the face to all who are truly concerned about Christ's presence and true Word of God in the church.

by mbamomma on Wed Feb 21, 2007 at 02:11:57 PM EST

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