The IRD's Next Front Line: Gambling on Your Xenophobia
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 04:40:49 PM EST
In April of 2007, a number of pastors from across the United Church of Christ were calling me asking me why the Institute on Religion and Democracy had sent them a copy of Ephraim Karsh's book Islamic Imperialism. Within a week, I learned that not only had UCC pastors received a free copy of this book as a gift from the IRD, so also had Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal clergy. UMNexus is now reporting that the IRD mailed this book to 100,000 clergy across the US, at a reported cost of over $1.5 million.

At the time, my initial response was one of curiosity, although I did tell those who called that the IRD did nothing unless it had the potential to divide congregations, and congregations from their denominational leaders. I said we would need a little more time to try and discern what was up. It was my colleague on staff, and co-author Rev. Sheldon Culver who pointed out that this would soon become the new wedge issue.
Please read on.

That marked for us an historic moment in this now three decade struggle to immunize our churches from the clandestine work of the IRD - namely, it was the first time we would recognize ahead of the game what the coming wedge issue would be. We have been able to some extent to prepare our churches and their leaders for the coming onslaught.

It appears to have begun.

Just to refresh ourselves a bit: a wedge issue is a topic that can be exploited by renewalists and their trained activists in their campaign to divide churches. By selecting certain topics, trained activists can enter congregations and foment dissent. Over the years wedge issues have included communism (in December of 1982 Reader's Digest ran a slanderous piece of propaganda written for them by the IRD accusing the National Council of Churches of sending money from local churches to feed communist rebellions around the globe), the ordination of women, reproductive choice, stem cell research, and most recently homophobia. Introduce any of these into the life of a congregation; or accuse church leaders of supporting any of these; or deploy trained activists to submit IRD composed resolutions at church, regional, or national gatherings of the church and sparks are sure to fly.

The IRD has calculated that the issue now with the greatest potential to foment dissent is "radical Islam." Shamelessly exploiting the worst of our cultural fears (something they have no compunctions about, and which they have done throughout their history), the IRD posted this story the day BEFORE the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:

Islamic Group Honors Religious Left

Coincidence? Please.

Before we look at the content of that article, first read this from the web-site of the ISNA:

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is an independent, open and transparent membership organization that strives to be an exemplary and unifying Islamic organization in North America by contributing to the betterment of the Muslim community and society at large. ISNA is committed to freedom, to eradicating prejudice and to creating a society where Muslims can live peacefully and prosper alongside other Americans from all walks of life and diverse traditions and faith.

To be sure, there are radical Islamic fundamentalists who are a threat to US security. But these people are not they. Pandering to our worst fears, and hedging their bets against a more informed and educated American public, the IRD portrays the ISNA as a part of `radical Islam,' and attempts to denounce their old nemesis the National Council of Churches simply for receiving an award from them.

In an age where what divides us threatens to undo us, awards SHOULD be given to those who promote unity, understanding, and tolerance between nations, religions, and cultures that have historically done little to build bridges of understanding between them. That the National Council of Churches is recognized for such an effort deserves our plaudits, our praise, and our attention. That the IRD attempts to spin this as an act of traitorous intent deserving of their contempt once again reveals much more about them than it does about the target of their vitriolic spew.

The article begins:

At its recent convention in Chicago, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) honored the National Council of Churches' top interfaith official with its "Interfaith Unity Award."
Undoubtedly, the award was well deserved! The NCC, like most of the Religious Left, defends or accommodates radical Islam, even as it denounces "fundamentalist" Christianity and condemns Israel. Despite the Religious Left's support for liberal social causes like same-sex unions and abortion rights, it prefers the supporters of Islamic "Sharia" law to Christians or Jews who might sometimes vote Republican

Take note: "the Religious Left defends or accommodates radical Islam." That is by this evidence an insubstantial claim. ISNA is most certainly by any reasonable person's estimation NEVER to be confused with radical Islam. This is a canard - but do not therefore presume that such statements will not fuel a whole new level and layer of animosity and vitriol directed at the leaders of Mainline Protestant denominations across this country and executed by the lumpen-prole of a constituency that IRD trained activists have been able to build over 30 years of clandestine attack.
So too is the statement that the Religious Left prefers "supporters of Sharia law to Christians of Jews who might sometimes vote Republican." Because most Americans have no idea what Sharia law is, and because it is used in a sentence containing the words `radical' and `Islam,' IRD is hoping to fuel even more gut level fear; and having produced that, carefully direct it AT somebody (the Religious Left) and FOR somebody (Republican voters, who are also here - with no reason or rhyme, and against all credible evidence suggesting otherwise - portrayed as disenfranchised within Mainline Protestantism).
Of equal concern is the response of IRD president James Tonkowich when asked about the IRD's decision to mail the book out to so many clergy who are not a part of their network, who are not among their trained activists, and who were never privileged to be invited to any of their `invitation-only' training seminars:

"The gift is intended to help educate mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy and seminaries in the United States and Canada about "the history of Islam in light of growing radicalism".

By whose authority does Tonkowich assume the right and responsibility to educate clergy and seminaries not under his jurisdiction? Why does he not make clear his motivations? Why does he not name the benefactor who produced the $1.5 million+ it would have taken to purchase and mail 100,000 copies of this book?

Be aware of this new ploy by the IRD. We now know where they are casting their lot. We know how they have used these wedge issues in the past. Clergy who remain silent on this issue are playing into the hands of the IRD. A pastor's ability to define the clear line between radical Islam and Islam as most people experience it; to defend the very noble actions of many of our leaders who seek peace, tolerance, and understanding; and to ensure and induce within their own congregation's an irenic, an ecumenical, and an interfaith endeavor is critical at this time.

Damn good story John.

Those of us who are concerned with Christian theocracy should be equally concerned with the forms of Islamic theocracy that do exist. Anti-liberals, as I have repeatedly written, come from all sides and from all faiths. While preemptive air strikes on Iran would be incredibly dumb and counterproductive, it still does not negate the fact that Tehran is now conducting a crackdown on labor leaders while policing the way way women dress on the street. Thus, it is easy for the IRD to confuse ordinary good Americans by playing to their stereotypes.

Perhaps we of the mainstream have to work harder on showing how the vast majority of Islamic Americans do not desire to impose Sharia on the rest of us and are good citizens while we also speak out against religious oppression in countries such as Iran (as well as against autocratic regimes such as Egypt's). Maybe simply by doing this we can take some of the wind out of the IRD's sails on this issue.


by Frank Cocozzelli on Thu Sep 13, 2007 at 01:41:58 PM EST

is just a new prong in the IRD's longstanding advocacy of a Christian Zionist agenda within the Mainline churches, as the quote you include highlights:
The NCC, like most of the Religious Left, defends or accommodates radical Islam, even as it denounces "fundamentalist" Christianity and condemns Israel. Despite the Religious Left's support for liberal social causes like same-sex unions and abortion rights, it prefers the supporters of Islamic "Sharia" law to Christians or Jews who might sometimes vote Republican

Even though the IRD began sending the book out months ago, it may have made this recent statement because of the stir created by the Amanpour series, "God's Warriors."  Some members of the Israel Lobby, like CAMERA, have been waging a campaign against the series because of the way the ideological Israeli settlers were portrayed in it.  

The IRD has an interest as well in keeping mainliners from taking an evenhanded look at extremists in all three faiths (or from being willing to engage in interfaith dialogue with moderates in other faiths).  As long as we can demonize Islam, American Christians can override any concerns they may have about Bushco's ongoing conflict in Iraq or the PNAC agenda for reshaping the Middle East.

by Rusty Pipes on Thu Sep 13, 2007 at 02:14:16 PM EST

I don't think the IRD is behind the persistent rumors that Barack Obama is a radical Muslim wearing UCC clothing, but I've had to spend several hours on the phone and in person with parishioners who heard that he had been schooled in a fundamentalist Madrasa and then "placed" in America with the assignment to rise in American politics and become a Christian (in name only) to do so.

Thank you, John, for seeing this issue coming and giving us a heads up. I will be taking this into consideration as I work on sermons over the next several months, particularly since I think my congregation is hyper-aware of the danger of being tarred with a broad brush based on what others claiming to practice the same faith say and do.

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 11:07:33 PM EST
to sow doubts about the depth of Obama's faith -- whether he's a true Christian if he's not as conservative as they are.  However, the IRD groups try to present themselves as conciliatory -- it's the Denomination that has the problem for being too "political" (read Democratic), they just want the Church to be more moral (read Republican).  The explicit "Muslim in disguise" rhetoric about Obama was probably picked up by your members from Religious Right broadcasting.

by Rusty Pipes on Thu Sep 20, 2007 at 08:07:09 PM EST

One would hope by now that mainline clergy have done some educating of their parishioners with re. to Islam.  I'm guessing many of us did after 9/11, our local ecumenical group did a three-session series for the community on different faiths last fall; but your caution is a good one to continue to do so.

"renewalists"?  Presumeably that does not include those of us involved in renewing the life and mission of our local congregations. :-)

by Don Niederfrank on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 05:01:33 PM EST

like many words has different meanings depending on the context.  

John's use, of course, refers primarily to the the IRD and its affiliates in the mainline churches, whose use of the term has served to euphemize their efforts to disrupt and divide.  I assume that does not describe what you did with your church:-)

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 05:57:21 PM EST

Gambling has become so much easier as there are a lot of casino that you can use for the purpose. I am sure that it is very lucrative if you play the game in the correct method.

by LayneMarvin on Sat Mar 07, 2020 at 06:49:55 AM EST

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