Web Site Shows IRD On The Defensive
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 11:18:43 AM EST
On Saturday, January 19th, the Institute on Religion and Democracy launched their new web site. Completely redesigned, this site gives indication that the years-long campaign by Talk to Action writers is causing the IRD to shift its strategies and answer critique. (Note: the IRD is a neoconservative strategy center in Washington, DC. For years it has masqueraded as a group dedicated to the renewal of the mainline denominations, with whom it disagrees over social policy matters, even though most members of its board and staff do not belong to the denominations they work to "renew." This has been clearly and meticulously investigated by Andrew Weaver, John Dorhauer, and others.) The new web site indicates a new, more defensive posture.

One significant change is that the IRD now operates under a new URL. Rather than the old www.ird-renew.org, you can now find them at www.theird.org. Perhaps this signals a new move toward truthfulness: they have removed "renew" from their URL. Most of us have known they were never concerned with renewal in the first place. Other changes have been made to their website as well.

Over the past several years publications such as Leon Howell's "United Methodism @ Risk," Stephen Swecker's "Hardball on Holy Ground," John Dorhauer's and Sheldon Culver's "Steeplejacking," and various articles published here at Talk To Action, have paid a great deal of attention to the biographies of various IRD board members and staffers. For instance, by noticing that Richard John Neuhaus was once ordained as Lutheran clergy but now serves as a Roman Catholic priest, one would be prone to ask why Neuhaus cares to bring renewal to branch of Christianity he renounced. An extensive piece by Andrew Weaver published in "Hardball on Holy Ground" disclosed a great deal about several board members and IRD founders, information that reveals an organization built to cause dissention in the mainline churches.

One of the eyebrow-raising revelations in the video, "Renewal or Ruin?", is that Mark Tooley, the IRD's head of "UMAction," worked for the Central Intelligence Agency before he joined the IRD staff. This information is based on research by Leon Howell, Andrew Weaver, and others. Once it was speculated that Tooley's work with the CIA involved dark, sinister psychological operations in Central America. Much of this speculation came from understandings of the IRD's early affinity for Reagan-era cold war politics and founder Richard John Neuhaus's desire to undermine liberation theology's influence in Central American states. Closer scrutiny reveals that Tooley was more of a pencil-pusher, a low-level analyst with little hope for a promising career. The fact is, though, that no one knows (or will tell) exactly what Tooley did for the CIA.

It is understandable that the IRD would not choose to advertise this fact about Tooley's past in previous communications. You have to admit, it's a strange resume bullet for someone supposedly devoted to pious promotion of God's reign in the mainline churches. And this makes it much more interesting that the IRD adds this very bullet to Tooley's bio on the new web site. I suppose one way of addressing criticism is by being open about it. Is the IRD finally faced with having to address criticism? If so, this in itself is a remarkable turn of posture.

Another interesting turn comes in the removal of sample resolutions from the IRD's web site and a half-hearted disavowal that they ever had them. I have repeatedly criticized the IRD here for their practice of planting resolutions in United Methodist annual conferences in ways that hides their hand. In a recent article by IRD staffer John Lomperis, mention is made of this practice:

At that time, he used his same position to lobby delegates (unsuccessfully) to vote down an IRD-drafted resolution (emphasis mine) affirming state laws defining marriage "as the union of one man and one woman" (a position in accord with the United Methodist Social Principles).

And yet further down the page, Lomperis denies that the IRD ever engaged in this practice:

But the fact of the matter is that while the resolution certainly affirmed a position supported by IRD/UMAction, it was written by the individuals in the Holston Conference who submitted it.

In June of 2006, a host of resolutions were submitted by a Sunday school class from Cleveland, Tennessee, to the Holston Annual Conference. They were directly copied from the IRD's web site. This practice was followed in other annual conferences as well; so much so that in response to a resolution offered to the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Charlene Kammerer did not allow a speech by the writer of an IRD-authored resolution because even though it was submitted by a group within the conference, its authors were not. No doubt the IRD learned from their mistakes in 2006 and had their surrogates change some of the language submitted so this could not happen to them again. It is difficult to produce a record now of these resolutions because the IRD has removed any trace of them from their site, or from the web in general. I was able to recover most of them from the Google cache, however.

Removal of these resolutions and distancing themselves from them tells me a great deal: the Institute on Religion and Democracy is on the defensive.

To date, the IRD has only mentioned "Renewal or Ruin?" in connection with such issues as the Desert-Southwest Conference's resolution condemning the IRD's practices, and in an article bashing the General Board of Church and Society's Neal Christie. They have not directly addressed a single allegation against them. They have reformulated their web site to posture themselves against these allegations, however. I can understand how the IRD might not want to give "Renewal or Ruin?" free publicity by confronting it directly. I can understand how they might be powerless to refute these allegations, seeing that they are well-researched, documented, and credible. Rather than address substantive issues, all they can do is engage in an ad hominem attack against me, accusing me of likening an IRD staff member to Osama Bin Laden (ahem, I didn't liken the staff member to Bin Laden, only his "smooth-tongued rhetoric"), and comparing the IRD to the Ku Klux Klan.

I didn't compare the IRD to the KKK; I only showed that the KKK published an article by Mark Tooley and joined in their hateful crusade.

Mark Tooley's prior position at the CIA comes as news as well as an eyebrow raiser to to many in the UMC. (I believe Leon Howell first reported it.)

And while Tooley's CIA employment is certainly acknowleged on the IRD web site's bio -- which says he served as an "analyst" for 8 years. What he did as an analyst, and whether he was involved in a wider role in Central America than his title suggests, I really don't know and have done no reporting on.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Feb 08, 2008 at 02:33:43 PM EST

Thanks, Fred, for clarifying that.  Leon Howell, then, deserves the credit for this piece of the story.  

Tooley's tactics and writing style have been described as similar to the kind of psy-ops one would find in Central America.  But whether he learned his tricks there, we'll never know.

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