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You can tell a great deal about an organization by it's leader. That person is, after all, the person who was hired to carry out the agenda of the board of directors. That person is normally the principal spokesperson; the person who gives the speech; the person whom the reporter asks for even when he sometimes has to settle for someone else.  And whenever an organization goes through a transition after the departure of a longtime leader, who the next leader is often signals the organization's direction.

Thus, the announcement of the new president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a Washington, DC-based organization with a 20 year history of seeking to undermine mainline Christian churches deemed "too liberal" -- is a bellwether moment.

The Rev. Dr. James Tonkowich was trained at the Gordon-Conwell evangelical seminary and has worked for the past five years for conservative evangelical Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship.  He has zero experience in mainline denominations. Perhaps most significantly, he is an ordained mininister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).   PCA is a small, rightwing schism that broke with mainstream Presbyterianism in 1973 over the ordination of women and membership in the National Council of Churches. (Women are not allowed to be ministers or elders in the PCA to this day.)  PCA is also member denomination of the National Association of Evangelicals. The church is predominantly southern and according to it's web site, the denomination had about 306,000 members as of 2000.

One of the leaders of the schism was televangelist and Christian Right operative, Rev. D. James Kennedy, who remains the PCA's best known leader. Other prominent PCA members include Rev. Lou ("Lucky Louie") Sheldon, founder of the Traditional Values Coalition, who has emerged as figure in the Washington scandal centered on lobbyist Jack ("Casino Jack") Abramoff;  antiabortion militant Rev. Joe Foreman; Christian Reconstructionist author, George Grant; U.S. Sen. James Talent (R-MO); U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO); Joel Belz, the founder of World magazine; and Marvin Olasky, the editor of World, and erstwhile advisor to George Bush.  

Tonkowich's appointment is also symbolic because IRD is the hub of the Association for Church Renewal, a national network of conservative factions in the mainline churches, that are the operational end of IRD's campaign of disruption and dismemberment. This is altogether fitting of course, because the Association for Church Renewal in recent years has held meetings in tandem with the National Association of Evangelicals. While positioning itself and related "renewal" groups as agencies of legitimate conservative disssent, IRD and the members of the Assocation for Church Renewal actively seek schism in the churches. The tactics of divide and conquer have occurred locally and nationally as Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer and Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver have detailed at Talk to Action.

In it's press release, IRD anticipates and seeks to deflect any criticism of Tonkowich's background. IRD Board chair Dr. Jay J. Budziszewski noted that Tonkowich's background notwithstanding, he is "firmly committed to reforming the mainline while at the same time helping the IRD to build alliances with other groups, such as evangelicals."

Rev. John Thomas, president of the 1.3 million member United Church of Christ, a member denomination of the NCC said this about IRD in a recent speech:  

"The target is the Mainline churches whose leaders, they allege, "pursue radical political agendas, throwing themselves into multiple, often leftist crusades - radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, sexual liberation, and so forth." And, as a recent book about their activities puts it, they "play hardball on holy ground."

The IRD supports and encourages campaigns of disruption and attack in Mainline churches through its Alliance of Church Renewal. IRD has committees specifically focused on the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), committees which provide support for so-called renewal groups within each of these denominations...  More recently the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have increasingly come into their sights as well. The IRD pursues its political agenda in the churches through three strategies: campaigns of disinformation that seek to discredit church leadership, advocacy efforts at church assemblies seeking to influence church policy, and grass roots organizing which, in some cases, encourages schismatic movements encouraging members and congregations either to redirect mission funding or even to leave their denominations."


It seems altogether fitting that IRD's new leader is a minister in a small, schismatic evangelical denomination whose best-known figures epitomize the Christian Right in the U.S.

[Crossposted at Talk to Action and Political Cortex]

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 06:19 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Schismatics have a new leader (11+ / 0-)

    And we are now into the third decade of attacks on the mainline Protestant Churches, you know, the ones that fought for child labor laws, equality for African Americans and women, and opposed the war in Vietnam, and much more.

    Are we surprised they are under attack, underwritten by the same gang of rightwing foundations that brought you The Heritage Foundation, and joined by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, financial angels of the Christian Right?  

    Hmmm.  
  •  Interesting Stuff (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Margot

    It's amazing how many different church groups there are.  Up until a few weeks ago, I thought there was only one Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Then I heard about the Oxthodox Presbyterian Church, and now I hear about the Presbyterian Church in America.  

  •  These people (3+ / 0-)

    ...I don't know what to say.  Well, I do: I think they're working for the Enemy.  Whether they are aware of it or not is the question.

    War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus. - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

    by Margot on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 07:26:19 PM PST

  •  Great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cedwyn

    It's always beneficial to know who and what you're up against.  These people make me sick.  I admit it was somewhat abstract to me until very recently when I actually conversed with one of them.  It was so creepy and infuriating.  I still feel, well, yucky about it.  He told me that religion should be imposed on people.  IMPOSED!  In America!  Over my dead body, I say.

  •  pacifism is a leftist crusade? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    moiv, Cedwyn

    what happened to "blessed are the peacemakers" and "turn the other cheek"?

  •  Take No Prisoners (0+ / 0-)

    I witnessed the takeover of my mother's Presbyterian Church (USA) by radical evangelicals.  Her church was the stereotypical blue-haired Presbyterian church.  Very subdued, very traditional.  The sermon was the center of the service - thoughtful, probing, reflective.  The old ladies may have had blue hair, but they had brains to go with it.

    Then the minister resigned and the church selected a person they thought would be a good fit.  He had intentionally misrepresented himself as mainline, but once installed, he brought in hundreds of "new" members within a few months and voted the church out of the PC-USA and into the PC-PCA.  

    All the little old ladies who had donated to the church all their lives, had donated stained-glass windows, had funded the classroom building, and had given to mission work throughtout the world were told, "You're either with us or you're against us."  I think only one stayed in the church.

    This is exactly the same strategy that the Rethuglican Ayatollahs have used in the political sphere.  Sadly, an ecumenical or bipartisan approach simply cannot work.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Whether in churches or in government (which they seek to merge), our tolerance is used against us.  We need to be a little more exclusionary in who we allow into our homes, churches, and halls of government.  It is the only way we will survive as a pluralist society.

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