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Renewal or Ruin

Although they have been active since the early 1980s, until a few months ago I had never heard of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. After I came across Culver and Dorhauer’s book Steeplejacking, I blogged about issues related to the IRD several times. Despite this, what I saw tonight was still an eye-opener.

Tonight we watched Steven D. Martin‘s documentary Renewal of Ruin? The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Attack on the United Methodist Church (I was also impressed with his Theologians Under Hitler). I thought the film was done well, and was quite effective – it consisted of a series of interviews both with people in the United Methodist Church and others who have fallen afoul of the IRD. As Martin said at Talk To Action:

Interviewees in this ground breaking film include: Talk to Action co-founder Frederick Clarkson; Columbia University Professor Randall Balmer, United Methodist Bishops Beverly Shamana and Kenneth Carder, Talk to Action writer and prolific author Andrew Weaver; Jim Naughton of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and Jim Winkler of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (an agency the IRD aims to dismantle). Many others served as consultants, critics and advisors as I brought the film to fruition.

From reading Culver and Dorhauer I learned about the way the IRD operates against the UCC. In the UCC, each congregation owns its own property. In the connectional UMC, the church owns the property. Consequently, the tactics are different. But more than that, the prizes are different as well. The mainline Protestant churches have been major vehicles for social justice – they played an important role in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements in the US. Thus, it is politically important for the right wing to neutralise them. Major targets in the UMC have been the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Overall, the IRD has been immensely successful – several of the interviewees used the term “intimidated”. Jim Winkler (of the General Board of Church and Society) says he was “stalked” by the IRD.

Part of the mission of the IRD has been to change the governance structures of the mainline churches. As was pointed out in the documentary, the IRD has mounted a campaign against the democratically governed churches, not those without democratic governance systems (like the Catholic Church). In typical Orwellian doublespeak, an organisation with “democracy” in its name appears to be seeking to undermine the democratic governance of these institutions.

While the tactics of the IRD are highly distasteful (attracting, in at least one case, solidarity from a Ku Klux Klan group), it is on the issue of funding where things get especially bad. As Jim Naughton wrote:

Contributions from Ahmanson and the Bradley, Coors, Olin, Scaife and Smith-Richardson family foundations have frequently accounted for more than half of the operating budgets of the American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, according to an examination of forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service and an analysis of statements made by both donors and recipients.

Naughton’s two-part series, Following the Money is well worth the read (part 1; part 2).

Update: A few ground rules.  To begin with, make sure your comments don’t impute things about the mental health of others that you cannot support with documentation.  I’m responsible for the posts here, and while I don’t believe in censorship, I don’t see any reason to tolerate what looks like libel to me.  Please read my post before you comment on what “I said”.  Ditto for Culver & Dorhauer’s book.  If you feel the need to comment on what they said, you should really read their book.  It’s pretty obvious that most people criticising the book didn’t.  And, one more thing.  Try coming up with something original to say.  Don’t just repeat the IRD talking points.  Not to mention, if you really want to talk about Culver & Dorhauer’s book, why not start a discussion at one of my posts related to their book?  I’m fascinated by what you have to say about Renewal or Ruin?  Or has the IRD not come out with anti-Martin talking points yet?  And say something original – we’ve heard the IRD talking points already.


4 Responses

  1. You may want to re-read the book: John Dorhauer doesn’t name a single UCC church that was “steeplejacked” by the IRD.

  2. Interesting comment, but you may have posted it on the wrong blog. I never said that “ohn Dorhauer [named] a single UCC church that was “steeplejacked” by the IRD”. So I’m really not sure why you would want to suggest that I re-read the book.

    Aside from that Culver and Dorhauer do name churches that were steeplejacked. So unless you subscribe to the tired old fantasy that groups like the Confessing Movement totally unconnected to the IRD, maybe you should read Culver and Dorhauer’s book before repeating some sort of silly talking points. More to the point though, you should actually read blog posts before you respond to them. But thanks for your comment.

  3. You said: “From reading Culver and Dorhauer I learned about the way the IRD operates against the UCC.” Hmmmm…. funny, Dorhauer doesn’t name a single church that the IRD has “operated against” or whatever you want to call it. But that’s OK, you probably believe there was a guy on the grassy knoll in Dallas or that the U.S. government blew up the World Trade Center.

  4. David said: “Dorhauer doesn’t name a single church that the IRD has “operated against” ”

    As I said before – you really should read the book before you repeat talking points mindlessly.

    [Jim’s comments sank into accusations which sounded like libel to me; while I don’t believe in censorship, I’m the one legally responsible for the comments here]

    Jim said: David is right

    Umm…no, he isn’t.

    Jim said: “Dorhauer fails to document his wild speculations. It is much easier for him to spin supposed malevolent conspiracies than to attach them to reality.”

    Do you have something to back up your rather wild accusations? The actions of the IRD have been well documented. The sources of their funding are rather well documented.

    Jim said: “What he apparently fails to account for is that well-intended, conscience-driven, faith-motivated Christians can actually find offense at some of what their churches or their denomination do. They are horrified, and they want to work to counter what they consider to be unfaithful stances and actions. So they sometimes work together, sometimes ask for help.

    Ahh, so it’s all just coincidence then? The IRD spends large sums of money (much of it from far-right extremists) on their campaign, acting from OUTSIDE the church, sliming the leadership of the mainline churches…and it has no effect, but COINCIDENTALLY, at the same time, you have all this stuff going on. I see. DO you have a single shred of evidence for any of this?

    Jim said: [what sounds like libel to me, so I’m certainly not going to repeat it]

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