Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion -- Available Now!
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 31, 2007 at 02:04:03 AM EST
The story of John Dorhauer's new book, coauthored with his UCC colleague Sheldon Culver, began with Talk to Action. I think that is one of the main reasons why I was asked to contribute an introduction -- which I am posting here in its (barring any last minute edits) entirety. As part of the launch, the publisher is hosting a panel discussion in New York City on June 6th featuring John and me, as well as authors Michelle Goldberg and Chris Hedges. (Details on the flip.)

In 2005, a few colleagues and I decided to create an international, interactive blog to counter the religious right -- one of the most successful and powerful political and social movements in American history. One of my top priorities in picking featured writers was to find someone who could write knowledgeably and authoritatively about the attacks on the mainline churches by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, its satellite groups and those informed and influenced by their activities. The IRD's operation on behalf of the financiers of neoconservatism and the religious right is an historic and catalytic force reshaping religion in America and in the world. There needed to be a place where people could come to find resources and compare notes -- and I wanted the blog we were creating to be that place.

My search led me to John Dorhauer. We talked, and in the course of our conversation, I said that I thought that war had been declared on the mainline churches, a war of attrition, being played out in thousands of churches across the country, but that the churches aren't acting like they are even aware of it. "If there is a war, and one side doesn't know it..." John finished my sentence: "You lose."

 
Introduction continued:

John seized the opportunity and started blogging at our new site, Talk to Action. Each week, for the past year and a half, he has tried to describe some aspect of what is going on, to to distill what he--and his colleague Sheldon Culver--have learned through their research and experiences as regional staff of the United Church of Christ. Along the way, John has named names, dates and places, and described the efforts to divide congregations and denominations that he and Sheldon--as well as church leaders across the country--have witnessed and documented.

Eventually, John's posts caught the notice of the publisher of this book. I'm delighted that the hard work, and the dedication that he and Sheldon have shown for the churches they love is being recognized in this way. But more than that, I am delighted that you now hold in your hands the opportunity to benefit from their knowledge and experience.

Steeplejacking is a primer on how to engage in the battles that are already underway, as well as the ones that are yet to come. Indeed, this book may be most valuable to those who want to head off problems before they begin. You can find herein, information on how to recognize signs that an attack may be underway, and learn what kinds of steps to take to fight it off. John and Sheldon have drawn on an extensive body of scholarship and investigative journalism to help make sense of their own research and experiences -- to offer a book of immediate practical use to members and leaders of mainline churches.

I think it is important to stress that differences and disagreements are normal in any democratic polity. The reason we have democratic institutions is not only to avoid tyranny, but to draw on the wisdom gleaned, and the consensus gained, from the fair airing of differing points of view. This is the hallmark of the governance of mainline protestant churches in America. But what we are seeing, and what this book seeks to address, is that there are people aligned with outside political and financial interests who have learned to abuse the openness of democratic polities; undermining and dividing the very institutions that democratic polities seek to mediate and govern. There are two main consequences of all of this. First, individual churches are being divided, and many are leaving their denominations altogether. (And as we have seen in the Episcopal and Methodist Churches, national scale schisms are also being attempted.) Second, the church in general is becoming less able to support the peace and social justice mission that they have so ably led for well over a century.

Wherever you may stand on the theological or political spectrum, may you find the courage to listen, and to learn from the experiences of John Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver. I say courage because what they report in this book may be hard for many to hear. It can be difficult to believe that such a cynical campaign is underway. It can be even harder if you happen to know any of the people involved. But as we all know, sometimes people have bad intentions. To consider the possibility is not to make an accusation; it is merely being open to the world as it is. Where courage comes in, is when we consider being open to things that could change the way we think, and change our relationships with our communities. Faced with just such a situation, we are fortunate to have wise and knowledgeable guides like John and Sheldon to show us the things we might rather not see, to help us cope with what we have learned, and help us become wiser and stronger for having been through it. I commend this book to you in that spirit.

To help kick off the publication of the book, there will be a panel discussion in New York City:  Wednesday, June 6th at 6:30 PM at the Tank, 279 Church Street (between Franklin and White), and is sponsored by Ig Publishing. Joining John and me for the discussion will be Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America; Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism




Display:
underscores the growing importance of blogs as a new media.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu May 31, 2007 at 04:11:54 AM EST
From my independent book store.
Am reading it this afternoon.  
John will be presenting at our "Synod in The City" preceding the General Synod meeting a couple of weeks.


by Don Niederfrank on Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 03:27:25 PM EST
Parent
I hope the book and related events generate the kinds of spirited discussions and thoughtful follow-ups that are long overdue to sort all these things out.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jun 03, 2007 at 04:15:43 PM EST
Parent
I'll be as honest as I'm called to be and as generous as is my style in response.  So far, very readable, very clear.  

More later. :-)

by Don Niederfrank on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 05:23:11 PM EST
Parent

I hope you'll come by and tell us what you think.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 08:20:56 PM EST
Parent
Is that after  the first chapter having 60 notes, the second having 62, the page of notes ends with the 9th note of chapter three and when I turn the page it picks up with the notes for chapter 7, though only 2.  I'm guessing the first two chapters are intended to lay down an unquestionable foundation for the conclusions/recommendations that follow, but at first look it appeared to be a printing error.

(You probably want me to wait until I get finished, huh? :-))

by Don Niederfrank on Tue Jun 05, 2007 at 07:10:51 PM EST
Parent

I am sure the publisher will be glad to hear about any errors in the design or printing, or any stray typos you find.

I was umm, more interested in what you think about the content:-)  And yeah... I can wait until you are finished and have had time to digest.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jun 05, 2007 at 10:31:34 PM EST
Parent








I am very glad to see this coalesce into a book. I've been following the IRD thread for some time, and hoped that it could be consolidated somehow.

It is amazing what a few determined people can do when they have a place to compare notes and share information.

by Lorie Johnson on Thu May 31, 2007 at 12:15:34 PM EST

-- and it goes to show what has been missing for so long; as researchers, writers and activists have too often worked in isolation from one another, and have too often been reliant on unsympathetic gatekeepers. Here we provide a forum for public discussion of things that might not otherwise see the light of day -- and indeed, things that some of those gatekeepers wish we would not address.  

Those days are over.

The publication of John and Sheldon's book is a great victory for the blogosphere -- as well as for the mainline churches.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Jun 01, 2007 at 12:56:18 AM EST
Parent



with bells on.  Congrats to everyone involved.

sent you an email with one question.

by tikkun on Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 02:41:08 PM EST


Bought mine yesterday. Books are in a prominent position in the local (St. Louis) independent bookstore (LBB). I hope Eden Seminary (St. Louis's UCC-run seminary) bookstore is carrying it too.

by NancyP on Mon Jun 04, 2007 at 06:26:39 PM EST

As a member of one of the churches that is greatly criticized, I have to disagree with some of the content in this book!  

I attended St. Paul's Church (Formerly a United Church of Christ Church) for most of my life, the last 5 years I have not due to being located on the west coast.  During my active role (20+ years) in this church none of what is depicted can I even make a connection as to the having happened at St. Paul's.  Yes, we voted to leave the UCC, but it was a long and very difficult process, not based on personal belief but Godly belief.  St. Paul's does not discriminate nor should any church.  What St. Paul's said with this decision is that the bible is the source of how we should act and believe, knowing that we are sinners and cannot live up to that.  But as a church we elected to take a stand for what the bible tells us about how to live our lives, not what society tells us about how to live our lives.

I think most of society has it backwards, society should dictate how we view the works of God and not the Works of God should dictate how we view society.  If we do not have a stationary point to base beliefs on for a religion, then why have religion?  The world can constantly change but the Word Of God should NOT!  Nor should the interpretation of it!

Traci

by twiggles on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 11:59:06 AM EST

A word here from the co-owner of this site:

When you signed up for this site, you checked a box that indicated that you agree with the purposes of this site... do you in fact agree with the purposes of this site, or did you just sign up to disagree with John and Sheldon's book? (although you do not dispute a single fact in it.)

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 04:08:28 PM EST
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