Bush's Religious Right Swat Team Takes Aim at Methodists
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 03:26:31 PM EST
It seems that whenever the Bush administration has a religion problem, a special political swat team turns up to handle it.

When the National Association of Evangelicals were preparing a statement expressing concern about global warming the Institute on Religion and Democracy helped lead a campaign of religious right leaders to derail the statement. When gay families, organized by Soulforce, planned to participate in the White House Easter Egg Roll, an  IRD staffer published a shrill "expose" in the neoconservative Weekly Standard. And when Methodist ministers and Bishops organized a campaign to stop the placement of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and related Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, (including a petition signed by 10,000 Methodists so far including 14 bishops and 600 clergy) -- IRD once again stepped in on behalf of Team Bush, issuing a press release denouncing the effort, and organizing a letter-writing campaign in support of the complex.

IRD's Bush complex-related activities are not to be taken in isolation. Rather, they are part of the war of attrition it has waged against the United Methodist Church and mainline Protestantism generally for a generation. The IRD Orwellianly describes its efforts as "renewal," of the churches, but their activities may be better described as "divide and conquer."

The IRD's petition characterizes opponent's views on the complex this way: Anti-library activists disagree with the Bush Administration's policies on global warming, national security and same-sex marriage... We disagree with the bishops and clergy who oppose the library because of their own personal political opinions. We believe that our church's schools should have room for different political opinions and should affirm traditional Christian beliefs.

Of course, IRD does not represent anyone but their self-perpetuating board of directors, and their politically motivated philanthropies associated with the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife, and Howard and Roberta Ahamanson that have bankrolled their efforts for a generation. These funds are used primarily for attacking mainline Christian churches, organizing conservative factions into forces of division and schism at all levels of the church; and especially attacking the churches when they diverge from the policies of the Bush administration.

This is unsurprising, since the man who wrote the original game plan for IRD, and remains a driving force, Catholic priest and neoconservative theorist John Richard Neuhaus, has been a political advisor to George W. Bush since 1998, according to former Neuhaus aide Damon Linker in his recent book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Neuhaus has also been influential in developing White House policy on abortion, stem cell research, cloning and marriage. While Neuhaus is not the only IRD leader with close ties to the administration, he personifies the neoconservative and religious right alliance with the Bush administration as well as being the architect of the IRD's prime mission which has been to neutralize and to dismember the leading member denominations of the National Council of Churches as important influences in American culture and politics.

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.

Meanwhile many leading Methodists are opposing the Bush administration moving in on one of their church's leading universities. The New York Times reported that

The complex under discussion would include a public policy institute independent of the university and answerable to a Bush foundation, while the library and a museum would be under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration But control of presidential documents remains a subject of dispute.

Indeed. Control over presidential documents is shaping-up as a matter that will likely be resolved in federal court; and the Bush complex, complete with its joint neoconservative and religious right politics, is shaping-up less as think tank, and more like the Bush White House in exile.

Bush has signed a controversial executive order to allow presidential records to be kept secret in perpetuity at the discretion of the president and his heirs.

What's more, unlike any other ex-president, Newsweek reports that Bush plans to conduct ongoing initiatives in foreign affairs from his policy center:

Bush wants his legacy to be the long-term defeat of Islamic extremism. Indeed, senior officials close to Bush who did not wish to be identified discussing private conversations with the president tell NEWSWEEK that Bush's plan after he leaves the White House is to continue to promote the spread of democracy in the Middle East by inviting world leaders to his own policy institute, to be built alongside his presidential library.
The Daily News reported:
Bush sources with direct knowledge of library plans told the Daily News that SMU and Bush fund-raisers hope to get half of the half billion from what they call "megadonations" of $10 million to $20 million a pop.

Bush loyalists have already identified wealthy heiresses, Arab nations and captains of industry as potential "mega" donors and are pressing for a formal site announcement - now expected early in the new year.... The half-billion target is double what Bush raised for his 2004 reelection and dwarfs the funding of other presidential libraries. But Bush partisans are determined to have a massive pile of endowment cash to spread the gospel of a presidency that for now gets poor marks from many scholars and a majority of Americans.

The legacy-polishing centerpiece is an institute, which several Bush insiders called the Institute for Democracy. Patterned after Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Bush's institute will hire conservative scholars and "give them money to write papers and books favorable to the President's policies," one Bush insider said.

Presidential libraries are run by the National Archives and Records Administration, but building costs must come from private donations. Bells and whistles, like an institute or an academic program like Bush's father's public service school at Texas A&M, are also extras.

Other media, also report that the Bush institute will also work on "faith-based" matters and "compassionate conservatism."

One scholar of presidential libraries writes:

As currently proposed, the Bush Library and Institute would be by far the most ideologically driven presidential center ever built.

So, let's recap: The IRD is attacking the Methodist Bishops and clergy who oppose siting the Bush Government In Exile at the university owned by their church -- the same church the IRD has been seeking to dismember, in part because it gets in the way of the Bush administration's domestic and foreign policies. Those are the same policies that he and his wealthy-but-secret domestic and foreign patrons will continue to promote from the Bush complex. Methodist opponents of the Bush complex see it as a Trojan horse and an occupational force at odds with the academic mission of the school and at odds with the religious and public policy views of the church. Clearly, the IRD sees it that way as well.

looks like it will become an outpost of neoconservative and religious right policy formation; a headquarters for their  domestic and foreign policy political operations; and that Bush intends for it function as a parallel, if out of power government, hoarding its papers, and bankrolled by secret donors, including possibly agents of foreign governments.

Interesing that IRD would seek to derail opponents of such a project.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 03:44:16 PM EST

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