Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church
Steven D. Martin printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Apr 16, 2008 at 01:58:30 PM EST
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church will be held in Ft. Worth, Texas, April 23-May 2nd. The Institute on Religion and Democracy and its affiliates and allies are expected to do all they can, on behalf of its neoconservative benefactors, to pit Methodists against one another in their ongoing effort to diminish the efficacy of the social witness of the denomination. It is worth, therefore, reposting Steve Martin's piece featuring all of his film, Renewal or Ruin? plus the transcript -- to highlight what is at stake. -- FC

Today I have posted the video, "Renewal or Ruin?", in its entirety. Here it is:

The running time of the video is 25 minutes. More information can be found at The transcript of the video follows.

WRITTEN:   Since its beginning in 1982, the Institute on Religion and Democracy has continuously undermined the United Methodist Church and other mainline Protestant denominations by attacking the character of church leaders.

This film attempts to shine light on the divisive tactics used by the IRD .

As the IRD has been largely successful in setting the agenda for the destruction of the church's social witness in key areas, this film intends to expose the true intent of their efforts to “renew” the church.




My interest in the Institute on Religion and Democracy began when I read a book called United Methodists At Risk.   I was flabbergasted by it. As I began to read it, I first of all was somewhat skeptical because it was a pretty stark story about real attempts by political operatives to undermine mainline churches in the United States.


Well, I've had considerable experience over my 12 years as an active bishop and then my two and a half years since, but primarily as an acting Bishop in dealing with issues around the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Mark Tooley and the methods that are used …

Mark Tooley, Hired by the IRD to head “UMAction” after working for the Central Intelligence Agency for nine years

…and therefore have some experience with how that has siphoned away some of the energy of the church—how it causes a kind of unnecessary dissention and how it often manipulates controversy for the purpose of a political or ideological or perhaps a financial agenda.

ANDREW WEAVER :   So I started reading systematically the material because as a researcher, that's just what you do—you get to know what the subject is. And I'd by then written four, five, six textbooks and well I just got the stuff and started reading it. You know, I'd read a few hundred pages and have to go take a shower…it was pretty revolting. But it was clear that they had no—what they were trying to do was not really develop a witness that would affirm the Gospel or in some way make a helpful critique to the church and Lord knows, we need to be critiqued…

But it was a relentless, propaganda style with character assassination ad nauseum.   And about everybody of conscience in mainline churches has been attacked at some level by these people.

KEN CARDER : For example, the fundraising letters that are sent out regularly are—are designed in such a way as to foster a sense of crisis that exists. And it usually is the use of a—of some kind of issue—a wedge issue, a hot-button issue or some extreme position sometimes taken by one person.

Written: Half of the IRD's budget is spent on attacks against the United Methodist Church


And they have targeted mainline denominations—Presbyterian, Episcopalian, UCC's, United Methodist Church, and they are vigilant at watching what we're doing, undermining the work that we are doing and clearly their agenda and their mission is to dismantle our church—our denominations.

Typed : Orthodoxy or enmity?

JIM WINKLER GENERAL BOARD OF CHURCH AND SOCIETY, UNITED METHODIST CHURCH : I think they have an analysis that may even be correct and that is that in this country there are some very important social justice movements that have brought about significant change…  

Jim Winkler is the General Secretary of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society. He and his agency have been consistent targets of the IRD.

such as the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Movement, the Peace Movement, the Environmental Justice Movement and so forth. And I think that they've done an analysis—this is my view—“Where are the pillars? Who stands behind these important movements that have brought about social justice change in this country over the past half century?” And if you start to dig deep, not even too deep, you find out that one of the pillars is the mainline Protestant denominations who—and we've often been dragged kicking and screaming to the tables of these social justice movements after all—but I believe personally that their analysis is: Let's kick the legs out from under that table in terms of that leg of the stool, that pillar. And if we can destroy the organized social justice witness efforts of the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians and the United Methodists, we can help strike a blow at some important social justice struggles in this country.


I see the IRD operating as a key component, maybe even an essential component of the larger agenda for the religious right at the turn of the 21 st century. Their particular focus is for the most part, mainline Protestant denominations trying to redirect what's going on within those denominations and I guess what I find curious is why these various Neo-Conservative groups and Conservative donors and foundations are plugging all this money into the Institute on Religion and Democracy. That to me is a question that I don't fully understand.


Over the past century, but particularly in the last couple of decades of the twentieth century, the mainline churches became the institutions that they set out to be. They wanted to be effective in what they called “social witness” and they were, as the central cultural institutions in America for hundreds of years they had evolved to the point where they were at the center of American life. They were powerful and influential and had many millions of members in major denominations. So when they had arrived institutionally at the point where the idea of a very socially conscious witness in public life was integrated into the life of the church at all levels, that was a powerful thing. So with the kind of social changes we were seeing with the effort to move the Civil Rights Movement along, the effort to end the Vietnam War, to alter the place of women in society to greater equality--women's ordination being a hot-button issue that many people have already forgotten from the 1970's and 80's—this was a powerful thing. People who didn't like it understood that the mainline churches were a formidable opponent and something needed to be done about them. So naturally, conservative interests who were not necessarily in the church wanted to see what they could do. So they created a strategy center and a resource center and a P.R. and mobilization center in order to direct activities to undermine the churches.


Well, basically in the Episcopal Church and in other mainline denominations we're dealing with an attack funded by the same donors who have funded the establishment of The Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, who fund the American Spectator magazine--the whole sort of intellectual infrastructure of the far right wing in this country has decided to target our mainline churches because it doesn't like where they stand on social issues, on economic issues and to some extent on theological issues.

  So what I did was to look at the documents that these groups have to file with the Internal Revenue Service just to trace the money stream. You can tell a lot about an organization by looking at who funds it. Who stands to gain from this organization's success? And what you find is that you're looking at kind of a Who's Who of the far Right Wing in the United States.

Typing: church renewal or church schism?

ANDREW WEAVER: The second thing that I began to come across that was very questionable here was the key players involved in this. The most powerful people without a doubt are all Roman Catholic. And yet I looked at the tax forms and the tax forms showed that 100% of their money and their staff is devoted to attacks on the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church and other mainline churches. But you look on the Catholic side—you're looking at some of the most influential people now--
Richard John Neuhaus—Neuhaus, according to Time Magazine, the President of the

United States was quoted in Christianity Today and Good News magazine as saying that “Father Richard”, who our President calls Richard Neuhaus, was a primary advisor to him on religious matters. And then a senior staff person at the White House was quoted by Time as saying that he's an “under the radar advisor” on important issues like stem cell and other issues for the White House.

Another person involved is Michael Novak who's been a long-time activist at the American Enterprise Institute. All of these by the way are funded by the people that I mentioned that fund the Institute on Religion and Democracy.   In fact, we calculated recently that 70,688,000 plus dollars has been given through these basic right wing foundations to folks who were Catholic on the IRD board.

FREDERICK CLARKSON : And so we have to wonder, I mean the early board members were a funny mix of conservative mainline Protestants and conservative Catholics and later on some money from the openly theocratic Christian Reconstructionist Movement was finding its way into all of this. And so it was a funny mix. You know, why these particular people? And what interest would they have in quote unquote renewing the mainline churches? Well that of course was a ridiculous euphemism—they weren't interested in renewing them whatsoever. They were interested in bending them to their will or dismantling them.

JIM NAUGHTON : I mean if you want to use the democratic process of the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church to try to influence the course of those churches—great. If what you want to do is to take a lot of money from outside those churches in an attempt to destroy those churches—that's quite another matter. And the IRD in its letter when it sought funding for these projects was very up front about the fact that it wanted to change the governing structures of these churches. And it's an irony that the thing is called the “Institute on Religion and Democracy” yet democratically governed religions are the ones that it targets. It doesn't go after the Catholic Church, it doesn't go after evangelical churches sort of run by a single powerful figure--it targets democratically governed religious bodies like the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist churches.

Typing: what are their tactics?

FREDERICK CLARKSON :   One of the first projects out of the box was a media campaign attacking the National Council of Churches and member denominations. And the argument was that the mainline churches were contributing to Marxist Guerrillas in Southern Africa and elsewhere. And so they would show images of money going into the collection plate of a Methodist church somewhere and then they would show images of a Marxist Revolutionary somewhere. The whole thing was a smear job and a lie. And it aired on 60 Minutes and a different version appeared in Reader's Digest. Well, these are two of the biggest, most influential media outlets in the world and these things don't happen under ordinary circumstances by a small start-up, inside-the-beltway little organization with a sign on the office door. This was about real political power and real serious political objectives.

Written: In an interview on “Larry King Live” in 2002, “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt said that the segment was the only one he regretted in his 36 years with the show.

JIM WINKLER : What gets me personally is that the IRD has operated in several ways. First of all, they like to stalk me, if you will. They don't follow me everywhere and I'm glad of that but they'll occasionally show up in different parts of the country where I'm speaking and copiously take notes and then turn that into a quote unquote article or exposé or whatever about something I've said. They leave out the parts about “Greetings in the Name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” or talking about my faith journey or the Biblical basis of our work or they'll just—or as a lot of people will say, “Gee Whiz Jim, I didn't realize that you all do so much work on alcohol abuse, on tobacco abuse, on gambling, on pornography and so forth. Wow, I had no idea!” And of course I'd like to think that those are the kind of things that some of the people connected to the IRD would actually approve of. But they'll never ever say a positive word. I can't remember ever reading a positive word that the IRD has said about me, much less really frankly about the United Methodist Church.

BISHOP BEVERLY SHAMANA : They really dismantle the purpose and really the high calling of the church in such a way that it does create suspicion and causes people--I think of good will, people of good heart and of good will--to really question the ministry and the mission of the United Methodist Church and that bothers me.

ANDREW WEAVER : Well, it is a sad thing to say to you but I've been told by more than one bishop in the United Methodist Church that IRD intimidates the church. That's a sad thing to say because it shouldn't be the case.

Typing: intimidation of the church ?

KEN CARDER: Criticism is inevitable but what I think what happens is that IRD tries to intimidate. And I fear that they succeed. That many are afraid to speak out because they don't want their name to appear in one of the articles or websites, particularly to be labeled as “unpatriotic” or “un-American” or whatever the label—or “political radical.” What I would suggest that not permitting people to express their views in respect, and to take positions on these controversial issues— that is un-American and that is radical. And it's ????? and it's also unchristian. It's not so much to raise the money as it is to weaken the church's witness in a society. And I fear that it's working.

Typing: is it really that bad?

FREDERICK CLARKSON : Well, I guess my first response to the idea that there is anything “alarmist” about the things that I'm talking about is that you know, I don't have a dog in this race. I'm looking at it as an interested outsider who is seeing the dynamics of major institutions in society that are coming apart at the seams. Every single church is worried about how they're losing members. Every single major denomination is racked from within over a host of issues. Though some of these kinds of things are normal in any institution, particularly democratic institutions where people disagree and agree to disagree. But what if there were an outside agency that was created for the sole purpose of fanning those flames and creating divisions—creating mutual distrust and suspicions and hatreds to the point of people leaving each other, breaking their communions, breaking their covenants apart rather than trying to reconcile their differences or finding ways to live constructively with their differences. If you have an outside organizing agency who's sole purpose is to foment distrust and suspicion and to break organizations apart, well you have the kinds of things that we see in the Presbyterian church and the Episcopal church and the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist church every single day.

RANDALL BALMER : I think there are reasons to be concerned about this—about potential of this conservative takeover. And my concerns would probably not be so much theological—I tend to line up fairly conservative theologically myself. But I also think that those of us who number ourselves among the followers of Jesus have in effect a duel citizenship. That is, we have our life of faith which is very important and it can't be separated from one's larger citizenship within a larger entity--I'm not suggesting that at all. But it seems to me that within a pluralistic context it is the responsibility of everyone including people of faith to observe the basic etiquette of democracy.

Typing: what in heaven's name are they up to?

JIM WINKLER : Well, the IRD of course played a big role in trying to jump at the so-called “sin” of Lake Junaluska for hosting the Reconciling Conference in 2005.

Written: “Hearts On Fire” a retreat held at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, by a caucus group of United Methodists .

  I contacted Jimmy Carr, the head of Lake Junaluska to express my solidarity and my appreciation for their willingness to host that conference and commiserated with him on being on the receiving end of some of these attacks. One of the things that was interesting to me in the IRD's attack on Lake Junaluska was the stuff that Mark Tooley wrote was so inflammatory that it was picked up by a Ku Klux Klan website and put there.

ANDREW WEAVER : Tooley sent out he said a hundred thousand letters, fundraising letters he said to Dean Snyder at Foundry Church in an e-mail he sent him that it was the most highly responded to letter he'd ever sent out. So they use these and that's fear-mongering becoming hate-mongering because who read and endorsed and encouraged those people? The Ku Klux Klan.

BISHOP BEVERLY SHAMANA :   It troubles me deeply that the Klux Klan would find the mission of the IRD so closely aligned, allied with their mission that they would take it and use it and support what the IRD was saying about that event and then even show up at the event.

Typing: What kind of effect does this have?

JIM WINKLER : I think it's an insidious effect that it has. I've heard the image used of that old poster that you may have seen of a big dog, kind of like a St. Bernard, with a puppy dog sort of bouncing around on it and the big dog sort of has this expression like, “I'm beleaguered by this puppy dog.” And so our sympathy goes to the big dog. And then I've heard it said, but if the big dog were to swat the puppy dog, then your sympathy goes to the puppy dog. And alas, the IRD is the puppy dog—no, no, no! The IRD's not the puppy dog. The IRD is really a snake that's sunk it's fangs into the paw or into the blood of the big dog and is slowly trying to poison it. And if you don't take those fangs out and if you don't administer an antidote, they can have long-term damaging repercussions. Even if the big dog survives, it's lame, it's poisoned.

FREDERICK CLARKSON :   I think if I had the opportunity to speak to the leaders of mainline churches about the IRD and what it means, I would say to them pretty much the same thing I say to everybody who I encourage to think about the religious right and what it means for American society. Because the IRD represents the religious right, at least one aspect of it and certainly one of its implications …and that is if you believe the things that you say you believe, if you hold the values that you say you have, if you believe in carrying out the missions you say you want to carry out and if you believe in the kind of just society that you say you believe in, it's time to take the formidable opponents of all that you hold dear seriously because if you don't then you are responsible for the destruction, the failure, or at least the significant diminishment of everything you care about in this life.

Written: It's time to take it seriously.



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