Running Scared
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 01:49:12 PM EST
I will be leaving in about 24 hours for a trip to Philadelphia to meet with local clergy in the area to discuss what I write about each week in this column - namely, the sustained attacks from the right on many of our local churches.

When we first started telling this story, it was a bit of a hard sell. But the more we publish, print, and preach the larger the audience grows. And the larger the audience grows, the more obvious it becomes to all that what is happening, and what they are experiencing, in their local churches is not isolated. Patterns that have been named and identified are recognized and affirmed by many.

I will be able to share more about my trip when I return next week, but I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about what has been happening each time an event like this is scheduled, and what that reveals both about the work that we are doing here, and those who are threatened by it.

I first noticed the phenomenon when, almost three years ago, we invited Andrew Weaver to spend a day with us training clergy in the St. Louis area about how the religious right, through the manipulations of the IRD, was infiltrating our churches and disrupting their life as a community of faith. Having only sent out a flyer in the mail, with some e-mail follow-up (pretty standard communications techniques for an office as under-funded and under-staffed as we are), I was shocked to learn that the IRD had flown in a mole from Washington, D.C. to document, record, and report on the event; that ABC news had flown in a TV journalist to cover the day's happenings; and that members of the United Church of Christ's IRD related renewal group - the Biblical Witness Fellowship - had also sent representatives to the training to monitor and disrupt the proceedings.

That day alerted me to just how seriously we were being watched. It no longer felt like another day of training for our clergy - something we in judicatory offices do all the time without anyone taking notice.

About a month ago, I flew to New York to do a workshop with Andrew Weaver for an Interfaith gathering, and once again the IRD sent a mole there to record and report our actions.

In the last couple of weeks leading up to the training event in Philadelphia, a number of reports have come to me about preparations for this day of training by those who are feeling threatened by what I will be doing. Once again, the IRD related Biblical Witness Fellowship is orchestrating some sort of presence at the event - some of which is not necessarily nefarious, as I am sure that some of the clergy in the area who would be invited to attend have an affiliation to and affinity for the work of the BWF.

But they have gone beyond just attending and listening to and responding to whatever I might have to reveal about attacks on our churches. They have asked that they fly in their own representative to counter anything I might say. And their Executive Director, Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, has written a letter that I am told went to all of the churches in the Conference - and was intentionally not sent to the pastors, but to their lay contacts in the church. I have asked for a copy of that letter, and would like to report more about it next week. But as this news was shared with me just this morning, I have not yet seen it.

This is a tactic we have encountered many times from those active in the BWF. Letters are written to churches without the Conference knowing about it; and to church members without the pastor being aware of it. It is a serious breech of what most would recognize as covenantal, ethical, and professional boundaries - and bespeaks a level of underhandedness for which we have come to know the BWF.

All of this suggests that we are being watched and monitored very closely. It also suggests that we are hitting pretty close to the mark, and have become a serious threat to a couple of organizations that have been functioning under the radar for far too long.

It suggests, at the very least, that our work has just begun.

after all, some churches in the past have had their meetings and correspondence monitored not only by the IRD but by the intelligence agencies (I think of MLK's phone being tapped, of sanctuary churches infiltrated by the FBI and CISPES offices searched, and of recent peace groups at Quaker meetings being monitored by homeland security).  It must be pretty creepy to find these people organizing consistently in underhanded ways within organizations that rely so heavily on trust and good will to function effectively.  

by Rusty Pipes on Tue Mar 06, 2007 at 04:32:43 PM EST
one of the byproducts of these tactics is the erosion of trust and confidence that people of good will and good nature have toward their fellow congregants. And one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in telling this story is that same disposition to trust and bear good will toward's one neighbor makes it difficult for anyone to believe that some within their midst are less than trustworthy.
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 Mar 07, 2007 at 06:37:31 AM EST

It's important to note these tactics. Chip Berlet and others have attempted to create a list of strategies and tactics used by the conservative movement. It would be interesting to have a single location on the Web (maybe as part of this site?) for a catalog of various tactics.

In your post alone can be identified two:

*Using moles for intelligence gathering
*Demanding to be able to "send a representative"

I think others (on this website?) have written about tactics used by the religious right during local Republican club meetings and County Committee meetings. They included asking a lot of questions in order to make meetings run long and to wear people down, and attempting to push through resolutions or what have you at the tail end of the meeting when people are tired and some have left.

by IseFire on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 10:43:38 AM EST

I would be curious to see how many of the tactics that are used to disrupt the political meetings are employed in the settings in which I find myself when I go into churches. The two you mention happen often, and I had not thought to name them in the way that you have here. Thank you.
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 Thu Mar 08, 2007 at 09:07:45 PM EST


I'll take your word on the difficulty of getting parishioners to begin not trusting other parishioners.  My experience as a local pastor has been just the opposite, but that does not include the sort of invasion of which you've been writing.

The other consequence in all of this is the lessening of trust among strangers in Christ.  As you've indicated, there are persons of goodwill within the BWF.  Those of us in the middle are trying to maintain/create community.  I don't think we are at odds, but we probably don't make one another's goals any easier to attain.

Anyway, Godspeed on your way to PA.

In Christ,
Don Niederfrank

by Don Niederfrank on Wed Mar 07, 2007 at 01:15:58 PM EST

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