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.
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.