Why I want to expose the IRD
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Dec 07, 2007 at 04:39:51 PM EST
I begin with an apology. I am one of those people who stays in the background, consuming the pearls that appear on this site, but rarely contributing. I've decided that it is time for me to jump into the game. I will, God willing, contribute regularly to Talk To Action about a subject that I'd rather not talk about, but must.

I tend to want to stay in a state of blissful ignorance: that's why when people started sounding alarm bells some years ago about the Institute on Religion and Democracy, I didn't pay much attention. Something so sinister either must be either an illusion conjured up by alarmists, or must operate on such a high level as to not affect me as I work in the trenches of pastoral ministry. My denial changed at Annual Conference in June of 2006.

I am a United Methodist, and every year we get together in regional meetings known as Annual Conferences. Ours is held at beautiful Lake Junaluska in the hills of western North Carolina (even though our region is comprised of east Tennessee and southwest Virginia). Like our Conference, the setting is tranquil and idyllic, seemingly free of trouble.

Each year at Annual Conference there's the usual amount of politicking and grandstanding. Some of our bishops have been comfortable with controversy, some quite averse to it. But I look forward to the debates we sometimes have, because in those debates and the diversity of opinions shared in them, I learn something about the issues facing our church. If you can't debate, you can't learn.

In the session of 2006 there were (as is often the case) several resolutions, submitted by a Sunday School class in a large church in Cleveland, Tennessee, before the Conference. While I did not agree with the resolutions or their intent, I was impressed nonetheless- they were quite comprehensive, were clearly written, and covered all the bases. This Sunday School class had really done their homework, and I applauded that.

But during the course of the debate on the Annual Conference floor, it came out that resolutions identical to these were on the Institute on Religion and Democracy's web site. The Sunday School class had NOT done their homework, but had copied it lock, stock, and barrel.

I have four children, all of school age. We have much to say in our household against copying homework or cheating. We like original work and are not impressed by copying something just to get the job done. Of course, copying a resolution from the IRD's web site is different from copying homework. But how is it different? One could take the view that the IRD serves as a voice for the voiceless, as a resource for those unable to fight the overly liberal "big dogs" out there. Therefore the IRD's providing resources to Sunday School classes who wish to fight right-wing causes (usually matters regarding sex, in their case) is simply giving assistance. Another view, though, might be that Sunday School classes, and therefore Annual Conferences through them, are being manipulated: that they are patsies in a grander plot. Still another view is that the IRD preys upon Sunday School classes with much passion, but not much brains.

It's too bad when we must let someone else do our thinking for us. Submitting a copied resolution is different from a schoolchild's plagiarism, but the effect is the same.

The net effect of this realization, for me, was that something had radically changed in our conference. Things had been quiet previously, but now we were going to get sucked into the divisive church politics I had known about in other areas, but not in ours.  I was deeply disturbed.

I wrote about this on this web site that summer. Knowing that I am a documentary filmmaker, several challenged me to think about creating a film that somehow exposes the IRD, that such a thing could become a tool for churches struggling to understand what's going on behind several major controversies. That's when the journey I had unknowingly stepped into started to get interesting.

My first course of action was to send out a round of emails to all the big-named people I knew. I emailed bishops, academics, magazine editors; anyone I thought might have some real knowledge or experience with the IRD. I have used this approach before, to email someone and request an interview for a film I'm working on. Generally I get a positive response. Never have I received such enthusiastic responses before I sent out several emails with the simple subject line, "Film on the IRD??"

The response was really overwhelming. Most responded enthusiastically that they would love to be interviewed. Some were reluctant, but eventually agreed. Just a few felt that their positions were already so damaged that they would not be able to appear in a film that could cause further IRD-fire to come their way. I was really taken aback by some of these: it is absolutely true that the IRD has intimidated many church leaders.

I was able to produce "Renewal or Ruin?" using only personal funds. I wanted to avoid the accusation that it had been made by someone with an agenda. I wanted to be as fair, and as firm, as I could be. You can see the results of the project by visiting www.ird-info.com, and by viewing the trailer for the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn54quKe8Dg .

I will be posting to Talk To Action regularly about the IRD. My posts will not always be as personal as this one. I pray they will be of benefit to you, and to the whole church, whether you are United Methodist or not.

IRD is certainly remain bent on wreaking havoc, fomenting schism, and pitting people against one another in the interests of their neoconservative and religious right financiers.

Thanks for shining a bright light into dark corners.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 02:21:20 PM EST

Thanks, Fred-

After my Annual Conference encounter I discovered trouble much greater than meddling in local business.  I concur with John Dorhauer and others that the IRD is working to do nothing less than split the mainline churches, and therefore destroy their witness in the public sphere.  

I just got my copy of "UMAction Report" in today's mail.  I shudder when the IRD hails a speech by an African UM bishop.  Knowing something about their recent courting of other African bishops, and the effective schismatic strategy used in the Episcopal church, I fear what will come next.

With the UM church's General Conference coming up in May, this is truly a time to turn talk into action.  We have an historic opportunity to defeat the IRD, and significant momentum is building to do so.  We need more, so let's get to work.


by Steven D. Martin on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 04:33:25 PM EST

If you come across good resources on the IRD and Presbyterians, let me know.

by Rusty Pipes on Sat Dec 08, 2007 at 07:20:39 PM EST

Yes, there was a book published as a study of attacks on the PCUSA; I have copies of it at my office, but have not put it on my web store just yet.  The name of the book escapes me, but I can get you a copy of it.

My film, "Renewal or Ruin," is focused on the UMC (primarily because of my own affiliation), but contains a lot of general information about attacks on all of the mainline churches.  I think it will be of great usefulness to you.

by Steven D. Martin on Sun Dec 09, 2007 at 09:40:49 AM EST

you are talking about A Moment to Decide:  The Crisis in Mainstream Presbyterianism, by Lewis Daly; published in 2000 by the Institute for Democracy Studies and edited by me. Its a little dated now, but there is a lot of useful history there.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 09, 2007 at 01:39:32 PM EST

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