IRD Blows Smoke in Response to Expose Film
You can read the entirety of their March 7, 2008 e-mail newsletter on the IRD web site. I cannot possibly address all of the points raised by these professional propagandists. So let's ignore the distractions and get to the heart of the matter.
Tooley and Lomperis:
The film alleges that over $70 million dollars had been funneled by far right-wing foundations through Roman Catholic IRD board members to undermine mainline Protestant denominations. Over its 27 years, IRD's annual budget has rarely exceeded $1 million. Our ecumenical board includes Catholics, but none of our major funding sources are Catholic.
While the screen does mistakenly assert that the 70 million was deployed against the churches, actually, Andrew Weaver speaking in the film does not make this claim. Rather, the key neoconservative Catholics in the IRD leadership, notably Fr. John Richard Neuhaus and Michael Novak are part of institutions that have received $70 million from the same funding agencies.
Weaver's point in the film, is that these (and others over the life of the organization) are the guys with the connections to the big money, not the ostensibly mainline Protestants. (IRD knows this.) It is worth noting that rather than dicussion of renewal or reform of the mainline churches, in several cases the grants to IRD from these foundations are for the express purpose of "countering the religious left."
In a scholarly article published at Media Transparency, Weaver documented how prominent Catholic neoconservatives have played a leading role in IRD from the beginning. (J. Budziszewski, the Catholic board chair quietly and inexplicably resigned in the wake of Weaver's article.) And I have reported on how the current IRD president Jim Tonkowich is a minister in an evangelical Presbyterian schism of the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) that IRD is purportedly seeking to reform. The record shows that IRD is primarily funded by neoconservative and religious right foundations and financiers who view the churches as obstacles to their regressive and sometimes theocratic political agendas.
Dr. Randall Balmer is an evangelical Christian, editor-at-large of the conservative Christianity Today magazine, and Professor of American Religion at Columbia University. He conducted researched on IRD for his new volume entitled Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.
The current 17 member IRD board includes prominent Catholics: Neuhaus, Novak, Mary Ellen Bork and Robert George. As Weaver stresses in his article, the Catholics involved in the leadership of IRD are not obscure or uninfluential, and the issue is not just money. One recent example will suffice:
Speaking to the press in both English and Italian, Glendon said: "I am very pleased to be here today in Rome in a city that has long been like a second home to me. And I'm especially pleased to be here to present my credentials to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
Tooley and Lomperis:
Clarkson inaccurately claims that IRD has received funding from the openly theocratic reconstructionist movement
Actually, money from the Reconstructionist movement does as I say in the film "find its way to IRD." What I meant by this, is what I have written elsewhere, as IRD knows -- is that Howard Ahmanson, heir to a large fortune, had been a major financier and director of the premier think tank of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement, the Chalcedon Foundation. Ahmanson and his wife Roberta (current IRD board chair) have also underwritten the IRD, and especially its Anglican schism organizing committee, the American Anglican Council, which at one time was housed at IRD headquarters, as then-IRD president Diane Knippers staffed both agencies.
The Ahmansons were the principal funders of the strategic plan to organizer for schism in the American Episcopal Church, as was detailed by journalist Max Blumenthal in an article at Salon.com.
In the summer of 2000, a group of frustrated Episcopalians from the board of the American Anglican Council gathered at a sun-soaked Bahamanian resort to blow off some steam and hatch a plot. They were fed up with the Episcopal Church and what they perceived as a liberal hierarchy that had led it astray from centuries of so-called orthodox Christian teaching. The only option, they believed, was to lead a schism.
Regarding Ahmanson, Reconstructionism and the IRD, I wrote in The Public Eye.
Part of the backdrop of all of this is Howard Ahmanson's broader involvement with the religious Right, which began when he became a disciple of the leading theocratic theologian of the 20th century, R.J. Rushdoony, founder of the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, CA. Rushdoony was the seminal thinker of the Christian Reconstructionist movement that seeks to eventually create a theocracy based on "Biblical Law" in the United States, and around the world. Ahmanson reportedly contributed $1 million during his many years of service on the Chalcedon board. In 1985, he told the Orange County Register, "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives."
Tooley and Lomperis:
IRD "encourage(s) church members to remain within United Methodism."
In fact, as I wrote in The Public Eye,
The IRD Methodist affiliate, Good News, not only has organized for schism but its leaders Rev. Scott Field and Rev. James Heidinger told Christianity Today "institutional separation is all but inevitable."
IRD no longer lists on its web site, its longtime affiliate members of the Association for Church Renewal, which included the Methodist faction, Good News. However, Rev. James Heidenger and other Good News leaders have served, and continue to serve, on the IRD board. Meanwhile, the IRD Episcopal program is now "Anglican," and several IRD staffers are members of schismatic congregations no longer affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
The Reforming America's Churches Project description can be read here. Here are a few quotes from this document, written circa 2000:
IRD's three denominational committees are Episcopal Action, United Methodist Action and Presbyterian Action. All three empower conservative church members with reporting about their church structure that they will not otherwise hear. IRD is giving special attention to reform of the United Methodist Church, America's third largest religious body, and the largest denomination under Religious Left control.
Association for Church Renewal/Next Generation Project -- We are a chief organizer of this coalition of conservative/evangelical renewal groups in all the major mainline churches. The association allows us to synchronize strategies across denominational lines and to counteract the influence of liberal ecumenical groups, such as the National and World Councils of Churches. Key to the longer-range success of the church reform movement is recruiting a younger generation of reformers. The IRD has the experience, expertise, connections and vision to recruit and train young church members for this task.
The mainline churches -- the bulwark of the Religious Left -- have been a powerful influence in American life throughout the 20th Century. They have also been declining in membership for almost 40 years. For nearly the last 20 years, the IRD has worked to discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence and we have experienced significant successes in our efforts.
Film maker Martin has done the United Methodist Church a great service by shining a light on the IRD and related groups. He has raised fair concerns about this disreputable outside agency that has sewn such discord for a generation. It is unsurprising, therefore, that IRD would employ the same tactics against Martin et al, that they have used against the denominations for all of these years.
Finally, I want to underscore a point beyond my response to Tooley and Lomperis, but is important for anyone thinking about what all this means. Back in 2005, Hartford Seminary published what it described as "the largest national survey of congregations ever conducted in the United States." The study zeroed-in on the factors influencing church growth. (Pastordan discussed it in a post over at Street Prophets, which is where I first learned about it.) The study showed that, contrary to the assertions of IRD, that the relative liberalism or conservatism of a church are not significant factors in church growth or decline. There are other factors at work. The one that leapt out at me was this:
Congregations that have experienced major conflict are quite likely to have declined in attendance. The strongest correlate of growth is the absence of serious conflict.
This is signficant because IRD is in the business of the manufacture, escalation and sustaining of conflict in the mainline Protestant churches. Martin's film helps explain why that is so. And that is why IRD is once again, blowing smoke.
Update [2008-3-25 19:40:54 by Frederick Clarkson]: I have made two corrections to this post. One is that there is a screen in the film that is at odds with what Andrew Weaver says in the film. IRD focuses on the screen and pretends that Weaver did not say something different. The other correction is to say that IRD mischaracterized one of my quotes. After reviewing the film, I have clarifed what I mean by money from the Reconstructionist movement finding its way to IRD.
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