Theocrat of the Week
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 06:32:34 PM EST
It was only a matter of time before Jim Tonkowich arrived in the winner's circle as Our Theocrat of the Week.  As the president of the cleverly named Institute on Religion and Democracy, he has waged theocratic initiatives under cover of "democracy" since becoming IRD president in 2006.  Tonkowich's squad of PR and political operatives seek to assist disgruntled factions in the mainline Protestant churches to be more effective in waging overt and covert theocratic warfare. All this and more might merit recognition -- but that is not why Our Distinguished Panel of Judges selected Tonkowich.  
First, a little background. It should be noted that unlike his predecessor, Tonkowich is not -- and has never been -- a member of any of the denominations which his agency says they seek to renew, and yet, few call him on it. (He is an ordained minister in the tiny Presbyterian Church in America, which broke away from mainstream Presbyterianism in 1973 over, among other things, ordination of women.) What's more, his board of directors has long been dominated by neo-conservative Catholics and evangelicals who have an additional interest in marginalizing the competition.  

Tonkowich is not the lone alien among the mainliners. Some of his staff are obviously not members of any of the mainline churches. Indeed, two are members of Virginia churches that split from the Episcopal Church to become "Anglicans" under the authority of Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who will certainly find himself in the Theocrat of the Week winner's circle himself one day.

The mainline protestant churches are tremendous obstacle to theocratic movements in the United States. They have stood at the center of American cultural life for hundreds of years and strongly believe in separation of church and state and religious equality under the law. This poses a problem for theocrats: it is difficult to move the whole of American Christianity and the American government in more theocratic directions with "churches" like that standing in the way!

Our Distinguished Panel of Judges found it remarkable, what with all the dividing and conquering to do in the mainline churches, that IRD also manages to find the time to jump into the business of evangelical churches too. But they were certain that there must be a method to the madness. IRD VP for Operations, Mr. Jerald Walz according to his staff bio is a member of a mainline Methodist church. Inexplicably, Walz is also a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Now what, inquiring minds might want to know, is a mainline Methodist doing on the board of NAE? And what, for that matter, is a board member of NAE doing acting as an agent of mainline "renewal?" Our Distinguished Panel of Judges is most impressed that Tonkowich and his staff have managed to deflect attention from such obvious questions.

Mr. Walz came to public notice in March as the inside man at the NAE when such noted theocratic leaders as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson and IRD itself, tried to head off the NAE taking a position they deemed too environmentalist -- and to oust longtime VP for Public Affairs Richard Cizik, inpart by sending them a letter. The NAE board affirmed a statement on "creation care" anyway, and interim NAE president Leith Anderson noted none of the signatories to the letter were even NAE members.  

This is another one of the points that had Our Distinguished Panel of Judges scratching their heads. How was it that the NAE had the guts to tell IRD and other non-members trying to tell them what to do, to buzz off, when the National Council of Churches and the most of the leaders of the IRD's target denominations won't? (The notable exception of course, is Rev. John Thomas of the United Church of Christ.)  We think it must be because Tonkowich and the IRD must really know how to buffalo the mainliners!  

Meanwhile, it should be noted that the only NAE board member who publicly opposed Cizik was Jerald Walz. But he told Christian Century magazine:

"The NAE is at a crossroad-whether to follow the gospel of Jesus or a political gospel"
Fast forward to June 7th.  Jim Tonkowich, whose inside man at NAE, Walz, feels that evangelicals should not follow a "political gospel" appeared before a hearing of the Senate Committee Environment and Public Works to express a skeptical view on climate change -- alongside every theocrat's favorite, historian David Barton!  

In his testimony, Barton cited the Cornwall Declaration and the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance in support of his testimony downplaying the threat of global warming. Since Barton's area of expertise is theocratic interpretations of American history, Our Distinguished Panel of Judges thought it unusual that Barton would be on a panel of organizations representing  religious organizations views on the environment. Stranger still, many of the leading participants in the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance are substantially bankrolled by oil companies. But Our Distinguished Panel of Judges aver that that of course, would have absolutlely no bearing on the views of Mr. Barton and Rev. Tonkowich, both of whom are prominent advisors to the ISA.  

But Our Distinguished Panel of Judges particularly appreciated the idea that while the IRD scolded the NAE that they should focus on Jesus and not on public affairs --  Tonkowich would soon be talking about public affairs before a Senate Committee on the very subject they did not want the NAE to talk about. Now that's theocratic! And that's why Rev. Jim Tonkowich is our Theocrat of the Week.

rarely get the recognition they deserve. That's why Our Distinguished Panel of Judges is pleased to present these fine exemplars of the theocratic tradition.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 08:41:33 PM EST

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