UCC Truths Concedes
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 05:00:24 AM EST
Last week I noted that there are a number of tiny crank web sites that sometimes write about Talk to Action; some are rather obsessive about it.  And again, mostly we ignore them. But one thing I notice is that after awhile -- after all of the disingenuous foot stomping, breath holding, ad hominem attacks and  other diversions -- they reveal something of themselves, however inadvertently.

Yesterday during a garrulous knocking around of strawmen, UCC Truths experienced a sudden moment of clarity -- and agreement with Talk to Action on the substance of the matter of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its satellite groups: that the attacks on the mainline churches have always been primarily about politics.  

That is certainly what the IRD funding proposal (that John Dorhauer wrote about) makes clear -- as have IRD's funders.  I wrote earlier this year:

Indeed, the primary backers of the IRD have for 25 years been the same foundations that bankroll the leading institutions of the conservative movement in Washington, DC and around the country. Several of these funders explicitly stated  that the purpose of their grants to IRD were to challenge "the religious left using reports, publications, conferences and an aggressive media strategy."

And who is this "religious left"? Why, the historic mainline denominations and their elected leaders, of course. The largest of the three IRD denominational programs has targeted the United Methodist Church, the nation's second largest protestant denomination, (after the Southern Baptists.) In a document entitled "Reforming America's Churches Project 2001-2004," the IRD states that it seeks to change the "permanent governing structure" of mainline churches "so they can help renew the wider culture of our nation." Methodist ministers Andrew Weaver and Stephen Swecker who have researched IRD's role in the church extensively, conclude:

"In other words, its goal is not a spiritual quest at all, but a political takeover from the extreme right whose efforts are financed directly and indirectly by the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Olin Foundation, among others."

In recent years, IRD-connected activists have explicitly organized for schism in both the Episcopal and the United Methodist Churches. As I summarized last year in The Public Eye magazine:

"The IRD is affiliated with no denomination and is accountable only to its own, self-perpetuating board of directors," write Andrew Weaver and Nicole Seibert, "[and it] focuses its principal expenditures and most of its efforts on the United Methodist Church."

The IRD Methodist affiliate, Good News, not only has organized for schism but its leaders Rev. Scott Field and Rev. James Heidinger told Christianity Today "institutional separation is all but inevitable."

Weaver and Seibert note that in 2002, a foundation controlled by Richard Mellon Scaife "gave $225,000 to the IRD for its "Reforming America's Churches Project"- among whose stated goals is the elimination of the Methodists' General Board of Church and Society, the church's voice for justice and peace, as well as discrediting United Methodist Church pastors and bishops with whom they disagree by instigating as many as a dozen church trials over the next few years.

The longtime director of IRD, the late Diane Knippers was, according to Salon.com's Max Blumenthal, "the chief architect" of an initiative "to 'restructure the permanent governing structure' of 'theologically flawed' mainline churches... in order to 'discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence.'

As it happened, the Methodist schism was thwarted, (at least for now,) but the Episcopal schism is well underway.

The funding proposal that John Dorhauer has linked to in his post, is the Executive Summary of the Reforming America's Churches Project 2001-2004: IRD's own words, from their own strategic plan.  But UCC Truths couldn't help but kick-up more diversionary dust:

Apparently, Dorhauer and Culver have given up on the idea that the some mysterious shadow group is stealing churches for their property and wealth. Now the point of the bogus conspiracy is to "diminish, demoralize, and demean" liberal churches.

Well, no. IRD's language of "renewal" has always been double talk. Richard Mellon Scaife and the Olin Foundation clearly could care less about the churches. What they wanted was the marginalization of the social justice witness of the historic churches of mainline Protestantism as part of a wider effort to move a conservative political agenda domestically and an agressive militarist foreign policy,and they didn't care who got hurt.  A variety of methods have been used to do this, and certainly what Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer call "steeplejacking" is part of it, as is well-described in their book. There is no contradiction.

Now Dorhauer claims to have evidence that the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is (gasp) organizing conservative, grass roots participation to challenge liberal denominations on matters of politics.

Thank you, UCC Truths for acknowledging what we have been saying all along: The IRD and those who have fallen under its sway are attacking the churches because "of politics."  We are glad that UCC Truths has come around to our point of view, even if they took the long way, kicking and screaming to get there.

The irony is this is exactly what Talk2Action.org  (the nutty right-wing [sic]conspiracy web site that Dorhauer blogs on) does everyday... only they choose to organize and go after the religious right. The same thing is going on with thousands of groups all over the political spectrum.

Well, suffice to say we don't yet agree on everything. But from one "nutty right-wing conspiracy web site" to another, I'll just say that Talk to Action's transparent, all-volunteer blogging is not remotely like the nefarious activities of IRD and its affiliates.  
But as Joni Mitchell sang,

"...you know, life is for learning..."

So perhaps there is hope yet for UCC Truths.  

the attempts at schism have not been totally successful.  The New Wineskin movement was not able to garner many churches that were committed to leave the denomination and there will likely be fights over ownership of church property if they should try.  There has been some success in undermining the Church's social witness at the national level.  When the Church decided to lay off staff in Louisville last year, many of them were related to social justice ministries.  However, the Church's political advocacy offices in Washington and the UN remained intact (and one would think that would be the part of the Church's social witness that the financial backers of the IRD would be most interested in eliminating).  

So, the conservative congregations' strategy of trying to starve the national office by withholding or diverting their apportionments has had an impact, but not devastating at this point.  It has less changed the structure than trimmed it, although this has meant a reduced production of study materials for churches on social justice concerns (especially the Church and Society magazine).  (On the other hand, the proposed elimination of over 40 overseas mission worker positions was averted by some last minute anonymous donations  -- of course, a million dollars can pay the salaries of a lot more staff people overseas than in Louisville).

by Rusty Pipes on Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 04:18:09 PM EST

during the early period covered by the IRD plan linked-to above, they presbyterian renewal groups used the church judicial system to prosecute issues of ordination standards, among other things, to drive the anti-gay wedge issue.  The Presbyterian Coaliton used to take surveys at their confernences to measure the support for schism or staying and fighting. Resolutions on divisive matters were introduced every year. We did not know at the time, how much all this was part of the agreed upon plan among the renewal groups and IRD to abuse church judicial processes to accomplish their aims.

Last I heard, there is a group of churches considering trying to break away and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is eager to have them.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 05:30:21 PM EST

in the New Wineskins movement flirting with the idea of split than actually committed to it at this point.

by Rusty Pipes on Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 08:21:54 PM EST
and after having been jazzed-up by the renewal groups to the point of schism, and then finding that they may not legally be able to take the church property and assetts with them, has got to be kind of a rude awakening for them.

All that turmoil only to learn they lack sufficient standing to take out church assets without a fight.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Oct 17, 2007 at 09:46:28 PM EST

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