"Renewal Or Ruin" : The War On Mainline Christianity
below: excerpt from my March 20, 2007 Talk To Action post, Opposing The IRD : Here's The Documentary, But Where's The Coalition ?Not so very long ago and not at all far away, within our own towns and cities, within our communities and woven into the social and political fabric of America, there existed something called liberal Christianity, churches and denominations which supported church-state separation and civil rights for minorities, institutions that endorsed, and even spoke with the voice of, "The Social Gospel" tradition and even, with sufficient evidence building a case for moral outrage and principled opposition to aspects of US government foreign policy, turned on orthodoxy to oppose military interventions abroad.
A video by documentarist Steve D. Martin, now publicly released for free distribution, describes how financiers on the American right have, for over two decades, financed a scheme to gouge out, for political reasons, the center of American liberal Christianity : to silence its voice of social, moral and political conscience.
It is easy to secretly foment dissension in churches and to impugn the reputation of church officials, especially with a well funded Washington nonprofit called [ironically] "The Institute On Religion and Democracy" coordinating the effort.
What is, to me, personally astonishing is that Americans on the left have so far failed to recognize commonality in fighting the IRD, which holds positions that are virulently anti-gay and set against sexual and reproductive equality, maniacally pro-war and anti-science to the extent of full-blown denial of Global Warming and Climate Change. Basically, the American right set out, in the early 1980's, to neutralize liberal Christianity as a political and social force in American society. To this day that effort has succeeded astonishingly well but the fightback is now underway and you can help... by publicizing Steve Martin's video and also the writing at Talk To Action - which is one of the few non-sectarian venues on or off the Internet to have addressed, concertedly, the attack on mainstream Christianity.
Attacks on the National Council Of Churches, smearing that body and liberal Christianity in general, as socialist or crypto-marxist, began as early as the 1950's (and possibly even before then) but the full-blown right wing war on the historically liberal mainline Christian denominations did not begin until the 1980's...
Some of my earliest memories have to do with religion and political struggle. My father, a Methodist minister, went from involvement in the Civil Rights Movement to the anti-war movement and was eventually forced out of the church because of his work against the United States military involvement in Vietnam. This was hard on the young Wilson family, with four children, which lost not only its sole source of income but also its Methodist church provided home and even the basic furniture that came with the house. Some in the congregation, bitterly divided over the war, took us in.
My mother still has my [late] father's resignation sermon typed out, errors and all, on an archaic device known as a typewriter (you may have heard of or even once used such a machine). In the sermon, my father's last as a church minister, he talks, with a number of references to Hamlet, about his struggles of conscience which led him to the wrenching decision to leave his profession, a decision that would plunge his family into a period of wrenching change and nearly lead to divorce.
For my father, that was not an easy decision. If we truly believe something, not in a casual way or for show or fashion, if we truly have conviction and truly hold our beliefs in our hearts, we come to these crossroads of life where we must either take paths of moral conviction, demanding personal sacrifice, or else slouch into that easy twilight which tempts us all.
My father's decision shaped my view of Christianity and I did not know at the time I had been born into the tradition that was liberal Christianity...
Over the years I drifted away from Christianity and the Methodist church which seemed to me almost to have receded to the point of vanishing altogether.
It was only very recently that I have learned that this was not merely subjective on my part. The Methodist church and the traditionally centrist-liberal mainline Christian denominations had receded from public view, their voices quieted because of a covert, well financed effort funded by big-money donors of the right to politically neutralize the mainline Christian denominations and their flagship, the United Methodist Church.
It was all about politics.
The architects of the war on liberal Christianity had been especially angered by the role of the mainlines in opposing the war in Vietnam and, later, in stopping the Reagan Administration's push for a US military intervention in Central America. The US did not invade Nicaragua (or directly intervene in El Salvador) in part because liberal American Christian denominations opposed it and, both for that and for the church's advocacy for New Deal and Great Society programs and other government efforts that promoted income equality and helped build the American middle class, the American right decided to take down mainline Christianity, using covert CIA-pioneered techniques developed for taking down Third World governments.
The churches grew silent.
Along came another push for war. Church leaders opposed to a US attack on Iraq were too tied down in internecine church infighting to speak with a strong, concerted voice. Why has the United States become mired in another disastrous war of occupation ? For one reason, look to the war on mainline Christianity.
Last year, I interviewed Jim Winkler, one of the heads of the United Methodist Church shortly before Winkler took a flight to the Mideast with a delegation of Christian religious leaders, Methodists, Mennonites and Quakers, that met with Iranian political and religious leaders in an attempt to build bridges of understanding leading accross the current push for an American war against that country. The mainline and liberal American Christian denominations are weakened but they are far from silent and they need our help. They are an integral part of the coalition which, historically, has advanced a progressive vision for what America can, and must be. In clinical terms they are essential infrastructure and, in moral terms, they have served, and still can, as a courageous and sometimes even prophetic voice which, and please remember this for it is key, does not demand the tearing down of church-state separation which helped America, as a new nation, move past its many sectarian divisions and grow strong.
After over two decades of relentless shadow warfare, mainline Christianity has been weakened, but not fatally. You can help in this fight which will help shape America of the future.
Without the counterbalancing voices of the Mainline Churches the hyper-politicization of right-wing, fundamentalist Christianity will grow ever more potent and deadly in its attacks on the "Godless left" and its vilification and demonization of atheists and the dreaded "secularists".
The new left, the progressive left, needs all its components, all its allies and all its possible strength if the nascent movement is to change America and help lead the world away from reactive politics, away from endless war and towards hope : pass on the word, about Steve D. Martin's free release of "Renewal Or Ruin", to your minister or pastor, your church members and, even if you're not even remotely connected to a church or religious body, to your friends and family.
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