National Review's Smoggy View on UMC General Conference
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:33:17 PM EST
It must be so much easier to write for the rightwing press, where ideology trumps facts and wishful thinking casts a dark haze as broad and deep as summer in LA.

For an excellent example -- look no further than the fresh screed served up by the National Review Online, which falsley attributes Steve Martin's independently financed and produced film Renewal or Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church to... Talk to Action. True, Steve recently posted the film and transcript in its entiretry here, but that does not mean that this site had anything to do with the production of the film. The NRO article also claims that the film just came out, when in fact the film was released more than a year ago. (But never let the facts get in the way of a good smear!) More importantly, in his effort to undermine the credibility of the film and interviewees,  NRO staff writer Mark Hemingway manages not to mention the title of the film; that it is about IRD; or even address the substance of concerns expressed in the film or the underlying facts. But he does manage to quote IRD staffer Mark Tooley as an authoritative source about the UMC.

Like other of the various slimings produced by IRD staff and their friends over the past year or so (even recently), Hemingway is engaging in dishonest diversionary tactics.

Note in the quote below, how Hemingway pretends that interviewees are talking about a mysterious sounding "they" when in fact the film is quite specific in its critique -- of the IRD and those who underwrite its activities:

While American conservatives have focused resources and talent on highlighting the alleged takeover of academic and political institutions by liberal activists since the 1960s, comparably little attention has been paid to the same development in churches.

When it comes to honestly assessing the problem of politicization, the liberal leadership of mainline church denominations lives in Bizarro World. In a 25-minute video produced just prior to the General Conference by the group Talk to Action, United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana claims that "They have targeted mainline denominations -- Presbyterian, Episcopalian, UCCs, 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."

Who is this "they," you might ask? In the same video, Jim Naughton, the director of communications for the Washington D.C., Episcopal diocese, claims "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."

One other matter worth highlighting is how Hemingway pooh poohs the widespread outrage at the convention regarding a sleazy delegate lobbying campaign by IRD and its allies. I won't dwell on it except to highlight what Steve Martin wrote about it the other day:

The drama began when the Renewal and Reform Coalition gave out free cell phones to African and Filipino delegates. Linda Green of United Methodist News Service reported:

FORT WORTH, Texas--Delegates and church officials attending General Conference are wondering if democratic processes have been compromised because a renewal group provided some African and some Filipino delegates with cell phones.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition created myriad conversations among delegates, church leaders and visitors after they learned that the Confessing Movement, Good News/Renew, Transforming Congregations and UMAction [the offical IRD Methodist unit] provided free cell phones to more than 150 African delegates to use during the General Conference.

Some delegates and officials expressed concern that the coalition is trying to sway the votes of African delegates who are typically more conservative than their U.S. counterparts. They fear the coalition might use the phones to offer suggestions on how to vote on particular issues.

Indeed, it was clear what the purpose of these phones, and the accompanying hospitality suite and free meals, was from the beginning. A flyer which announced these "gifts" ended with suggestions as to how recipients should vote. Several observers levied charges of bribery. Others called this action "patronizing" and "racist."

The simple fact is that the mainline churchs have been the target of an externally financed and directed  campaign of disruption and division for a generation. The IRD's rightist allies would never want to own up to this historic and largely covert ooperation designed to pit the members of these churchs against one another for the main purpose of marginalizing their social justice witness that had been so effective in much of the 20th century. It is a war of attrition with no clear outcomes. And it will continue for as long as the current coalition of neoconservative and theocratic plutocrats continue to find it politically expedient to bankroll it.


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