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The Washington Window, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has joined a growing number of publications inside and outside mainline Christianity that have published exposes of the efforts of rightist agencies to destabilize the historic mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

The two-part series by former Washington Post and New York Times reporter James Naughton, examines according to a press release, the network of conservative groups, "their donors and the strategy that has allowed them to destabilize the Episcopal Church.... The groups represent a small minority of church members, but relationships with wealthy American donors and powerful African bishops have made them key players in the fight for the future of the Anglican Communion "to warn deputies that they must repent of their liberal attitudes on homosexuality or face a possible schism."

The expose, which demonstrates the unambiguous motives of rightwing activists to foment a permanent schism in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and in the world Anglican Communion, comes in the run-up to the American church's annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio in June.

In a feature article in the current issue of The Public Eye magazine, I reported that the war of attrition against the mainline churches, bankrolled with millions of dollars from rightwing foundations, has been underway for a generation. The targeted churches include the major member denominations of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, (international ecumenical agencies that have also been under attack), inclding the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Smaller denominations, notably the United Church of Christ, have also been systematically undermined from within by a network of self-described "renewal" groups associated or aligned with the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, the hub of the network.

In that article, I offer a wider context for the battles of the churches, each of which can seem like the most arcane matters of inside baseball to many or reduced simply to issues of homosexuality to others, as is often the case in the media.

For much of the 20th century, the mainline Protestant churches maintained a vigorous "social witness." That is what these Protestants call their views on such matters as peace, civil rights and environmental justice.... The churches became powerful proponents of social change in the United States. They stood at the moral and political center of society with historic roots in the earliest days of the nation. Indeed, they epitomize the very idea and image of "church" for many Americans. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that powerful external interests would organize and finance the conservative rump factions into strategic formations intended to divide and conquer--and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States--and the world.

When the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, got together to create the institutional infrastructure of the Right in the 1970s and 80s, they underwrote the founding of the IRD in 1980 as a Washington, DC-based agency that would help network, organize, and inform internal opposition groups, while sustaining outside pressure and public relations campaigns.

The mainline churches affiliated with the NCC, are among the bulwarks standing in the way of the theocratic agenda of much of the religious right, as I detail in Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. These churches not only favor of separation of church and state, but it is important to recall that leading members of these historic churches were overwhelmingly, the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Reflective of this democratic tradition they helped to shape, these churches maintain highly democratic internal systems of governance that are being abused by outside politically motivated agencies covertly bent on the destruction of the churches themselves. The difference between these churches, and those preferred by the powerful funders of the right, is underscored by the role of philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, a major funder of Christian Right organization such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, as well as explicitly theocratic projects, notably the seminal think tank of Christian Reconstructionism, the Chalcedon Foundation on whose board he sat for many years, while contributing a reported $1 million.

Naughton's series will be published on Monday, May 1, but is already available online.  

The press release states:  

The first part of the series, "Investing in Upheaval," draws on Internal Revenue Service Forms 990 to give a partial account of how contributions from Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., the savings and loan heir, and five secular foundations have energized resistance to the Episcopal Church's decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop and to permit the blessing of gay and lesbian relationships.

The article sets contributions to organizations such as the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in the context of the donors' other philanthropic activities which include support for conservative political candidates, think tanks and causes such as the intelligent design movement.

The second article, "A Global Strategy," uses internal emails and memos from leaders of the AAC and IRD to examine efforts to have the Episcopal Church removed from the worldwide Anglican Communion and replaced with a more conservative entity. The documents surfaced during a Pennsylvania court case. The article also explores the financial relationship between conservative organizations in the United States and their allies in other parts of the world.

Here are a few excerpts from Following the Money:

Since the 1970s, charitable foundations established by families with politically conservative views have donated billions of dollars to what the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, has called "an extraordinary effort to reshape politics and public policy priorities at the national, state and local level."

Five foundations are of special note for the magnitude of their donations to political and religious organizations. They are: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Adolph Coors Foundation; the John M. Olin Foundation, which ceased operations last year; the Smith-Richardson Trust and the Scaife Family Foundations. Much of the foundations' largesse supports institutions and individuals active in public policy, including think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institute and individuals such as William Bennett, Charles Murray ( The Bell Curve ) and Dinesh D'Souza ( The End of Racism ).

However, the foundations' activities also extend into the nation's churches-particularly its mainline Protestant churches. The foundations have provided millions of dollars to the IRD 2 which, in a fundraising appeal in 2000, said it sought to "restructure the permanent governing structure" of "theologically flawed" Protestant denominations and to "discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence."

The IRD was established in 1981 by neo-conservative intellectuals hoping to counter the liberal public policy agendas of the National and World Councils of Christian Churches.

When the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meets in Columbus next month it will do so in a politically charged atmosphere, created in some measure by conservative organizations supported by a small number of wealthy donors.

Filings made by several of these organizations give a partial accounting of the donations received and expenditures made by the AAC, INFEMIT and the IRD. But the groups do not observe the standards of transparency and accountability practiced by the Episcopal Church and its dioceses, whose budgets must be approved in public meetings by elected representatives. Nor are the groups or their donors required to give a fuller accounting of their transactions, as would be the case in secular U. S. politics.

In addition, two key conservative organizations, the Ekklesia Society and the Anglican Communion Network, are not required to file Forms 990 because they are classified as religious institutions.

As a result, the bishops and deputies to General Convention will be left to guess at the intentions and resources of the American conservatives and bishops from the developing world who are pressing the Church to change its course or pay a price.

The Dromantine Retreat and Conference Center , a 19th Italianate mansion sits in stony isolation on a hilltop outside Newry , Northern Ireland . The center is home to a Catholic seminary, but it played host to a distinctively Protestant drama in February 2005. For five days, the Primates of the Anglican Communion assembled in its meagerly-furnished meeting rooms to determine whether the 77-million member body could be preserved despite bitter disagreements over homosexuality.

For the previous 15 months, the leaders of several conservative Episcopal organizations had been working secretly with their allies among the primates to remove the Episcopal Church from the Communion for consecrating a gay man with a male partner as bishop and permitting the blessing of same-sex relationships. Failing that, they aimed to establish a parallel American province for Episcopalians who differed with their Church on the nature of same-sex relationships.

At the Dromantine conference, the Americans and their international allies collaborated with an unprecedented openness, in an attempt to force Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to take a harder line against the Episcopal Church.

Among the primates who backed this effort were Peter Akinola of Nigeria , Henry Orombi of Uganda and Gregory Venables of Argentina . Working with them were the leaders of the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Communion Network, the Ekklesia Society and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Those groups, backed by five politically conservative U.S. foundations, and Howard F. Ahmanson, a benefactor of numerous conservative ballot initiatives, candidates and think tanks, had been cultivating relationships with evangelical leaders in the developing world since the mid-1990s. But at Dromantine, the Americans' role as the principal strategists for the movement against their church came into focus.

There is much, much more -- reported in the calm, understated manner of a veteran reporter, who also serves as the Director of Communication of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC).

The articles make the skullduggery of the rightwing agencies, the "renewal" leaders, and their international cohort evident to any reasonable person -- and will undoubtedly be much read and much discussed in mainline Protestant circles and beyond.

[Crossposted from Talk to Action and Political Cortex]

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 06:45 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Mainline Christians are waking up (21+ / 0-)

    and they are fighting back.  

    At stake are not only the integrity of these institutions that have been at the center of our culture for three centuries, but the broad values of equality and social justice that they have come to embody.  

    The religious, political and corporate right knows this well. That's the churches are under seige.

  •  Republican War on REAL Christianity. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    G2geek, eru

    It makes you wonder if the anti-Pres may be the anti-Christ.

    •  Only if you BELIEVE in that hocus-pocus. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I worry about the anti-Christ about as much as I worry about Lex Luthor or The Riddler.

      "Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories" -- Amilcar Cabral

      by Christopher Day on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 07:54:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Revelations (0+ / 0-)

        Reads like it was written on PCP. I know its a sacre text to some folks, but somebody needs to say that stuff is bat-shit crazy. It makes the Book of Mormon seem like a peer-reviewed academic journal.

        "Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories" -- Amilcar Cabral

        by Christopher Day on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 07:56:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  technically (0+ / 0-)

      when referring to the opposer to God and Christ, the opposer should be referred to as antichrist (no capital letters), not anti-Christ.

      (or at least what I was told...)

      January 20. 2009 cannot come soon enough.

      by Crisis Corps Volunteer on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 08:07:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I generally agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      daulton, eaglecries

      but one thing I have rececntly come to realize is the fundamentalists are probably best viewed as the anti church.  They have distorted the very core message of the Bible.  They believe acquistion of wealth is good, the best way to help the poor is for the rich to get richer, hate the sin and the sinner, stewardship means plunder etc...  For every traditional Christian value there is a fundamentalists doublespeak new interpretation, and their leader are the false prophets, same goes for the fundamentalist Muslims, they both serve evil.

  •  I just watched (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, eru, concerned, Kingsmeg

    a story on PBS "Now"  talking about this very thing. Church leaders fighting the fundies in Ohio who are trying to get that Idjit Ken Blackwell elected on May 2. A coalition of churches have filed a complaint with the IRS over the clearly political activities of these fundies at the Restoration Project in their attempts to elect fundies

    aka aurora borealis. The belief we do not have choices is a fantasy, an unfortunate indulgence in abdication.- John Ralston Saul

    by jazzizbest on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 06:54:59 PM PDT

  •  Christians vs Christian-ists (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, G2geek

    I wonder how many members of these mega churches realize what they are actually practicing is John Darby-ism., aka Dispensationalism?

    It is rather to Christianity as Wahabiism is to Islam. Christian is an ancient religion. What these people practice is new-age scholck in comparison, and I call it Christian-ism.

    •  Wahabi Christianity (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bob Love, javelina, jamfan

      That's what we should be calling this stuff.  Put the phrase in circulation and get it into the media.

      Meanwhile, the funders of these destabilization operations should be bird-dogged day & night to catch them in personal scandals.  People who are obsessed with other peoples' sexuality, usually have major sexual skeletons in their own closets.  Exposing them could effectively neutralize them.  

  •  Ahmanson's Little Secret (0+ / 0-)

    According to those articles, Ahmanson has Tourette's Syndrome, a neurological disability that causes the individual to utter swearwords spontaneously and compulsively at random intervals.  

    In other words, when he's speaking, the occasional "F---!" or "S---!" or similar words might pop out spontaneously in much the same manner as anyone else might sneeze.  Sometimes a person with Tourette's will utter racial epithets instead of conventional cusswords (which tells you something about racism, doesn't it?).  

    Now we know why he's obsessed with sex.  He must believe at some level that his affliction is a curse from God.  And now he's going to foist it upon the rest of us.  

    •  well, that's actually an uncommon symptom (0+ / 0-)

      The Wikipedia explains:

      The hallmarks of Tourette's syndrome are repetitive, involuntary movements (motor tics) and utterances (phonic tics) that constantly change in number, frequency, severity, and anatomical location. The Tourette Syndrome Association describes tics as movements or sounds "that occur intermittently and unpredictably out of a background of normal motor activity". Tourette's syndrome occurs along a spectrum of tic disorders, which includes transient tics and chronic tics.

      The tics of Tourette's characteristically wax and wane. Waxing and waning — a natural increase and decrease in severity and frequency of tics — occurs differently in each individual. Tics are described as occurring in "bouts of bouts", which vary for each person.

      Coprolalia (the spontaneous utterance of socially objectionable or taboo words or phrases) is the most publicized symptom of Tourette's syndrome, but it is not required for a diagnosis of Tourette's. Fewer than 15% of TS patients exhibit coprolalia.

      Mocking Ahmanson for Tourette's syndrome is not only unfunny, but a distraction from enormous and serious role he plays, largely behind the scenes.

      •  Ahmanson (0+ / 0-)

        Understood, the random cusswords are not the primary symptom and don't occur for the majority of people who have Tourette's.  But people just don't obsess about others' private lives unless they have significant issues in their own, and the coincidence is just too close.  

        I've been aware of Ahmanson since reading one of Sarah Diamond's books many years ago, and I don't underestimate the threat he represents.  After all I'm in California where he bankrolled a Jim Crow marriage law some years back.  

        I would not be upset if Mr. Ahmanson were to come to a highly self-destructive end by whatever means.  That's un-Christian of me to say, but the guy has declared war, in a manner of speaking, and thereby opened himself up to being a combat casualty, in a manner of speaking.  

  •  it's about the PROPERTIES. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    latts, jamfan, cfk

    The second linked article touches on a very interesting angle of this.  The rightie-wingers who are trying to force a schism in the Episcopal church, are also spending much time trying to figure out how they could, in the event of such a schism, obtain control over church properties, notably land and buildings worth a fortune, and of course including bank accounts.

    Figures, doesn't it?  Wherever the extreme right goes, there's always a rob & loot angle, and a pinch of incense offered to Mammon.  

  •  New Conservatism (0+ / 0-)

    The fact that conservative American Episcopalians in states like South Carolina and Kentucky have split with their largely white American brethren and put themselves under the spiritual guidance of Africans like Bishop Akinola of Nigeria should help disprove the theories of academics who continue to insist that contemporary American conservatism is still largely racist.  We are talking about some very conservative white southerners who are willingly and gladly choosing to be subordinated under the authority of Africans and Hispanics instead of their fellow white Americans.  These southern conservatives could care less about race; they are glad to embrace any of all races who agree with their Scriptural-based worldview.  What an advance states like South Carolina have seen in the past fifty years!  Shouldn't this be celebrated instead of condemned?  

  •  thanks for bringing this to Kos (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As a lifelong Episcopalian I am glad that you are bringing this to the attention of liberals and the left. As you point out not all Christians are the anti-sex, anti-social, consumeristic sorts that are so vocal and public. It is sad and scary that the handful of rich right wingers is buying influence, especially by affecting people who aren't aware of who is funding the splinter groups.

    Bishop Akinola, the Nigerian bishop who has been most vocal (and who is in violation of canons and his own oaths by acting as a bishop outside his diocese without permission) has recently backed the Nigerian government in legislation to make it a felony even to write about homosexuality - that is so far from the teachings of CHrist that it makes me weep.

    Folks may want to look for coverage of general convention this June; it will be a battle - a quiet and prayerful battle, but a battle - for the soul of the Episcopal church - and as you point out, for the group that for three centuries has supported separation of church and state and human rights.

    "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

    by Wee Mama on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 08:32:17 PM PDT

    •  thanks, wee mama (0+ / 0-)

      We are actively following and reporting on the battle for the mailine churches at Talk to Action. In my view, this is one of the most important underreported stories of politics and religion in American history.

      Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, a UCC minister writes a piece every Tuesday on this subject, and various of us have also written a great deal on the subject. I am also working on another Episcopal-related piece.

    •  Support for Separation of Church and State? (0+ / 0-)

      "it will be a battle - a quiet and prayerful battle, but a battle - for the soul of the Episcopal church - and as you point out, for the group that for three centuries has supported separation of church and state and human rights."

      The Episcopal Church has not "supported separation of church and state" for three centuries. The Episcopal Church was in fact the the established church in Virginia and other southern states until the Revolution or just after (1780s), which only means that it hasnt actually been totally intertwined with government for 220 or so years.  In fact, to the extent that the American Episcopal Church is affiliated with the Anglican church it does not support separation of church and state at all since the Anglican church is STILL the established state church in England.

      •  the modern Episcopal church (0+ / 0-)

        supports the separation of church and state. Its assocation with the Anglian communion is incidental.

        And I did not say that the EC has supported C&S separation for 300 years. I said it has been central to the life and culture of the United States for that long.

        And BTW, Thomas Jefferson was a member in good standing of, and a contributor to his local Anglican Church. My points stand.

      •  more specifically, (0+ / 0-)

        the commitment to human rights is very old in the Anglican tradition, the commitment to separation of church and state by the Episcopal church can't be older than two centuries+ because the Episcopal church post-dates the revolution. The clauses in the constitution for separation of church and state (as well as most of it) were written by James Madison, an Episcopalian, and the first legislation for it, the Viriginia statute, was passed by a legislature that was Episcopalian majority.

        It is precisely because the Episcopal church separated from the church of England politically that we favor separation of church and state. We had to go to Scottish bishops at the time of the separation to continue the church because political considerations blocked the English bishops. There is no theological consensus or emphasis on establishment in the Anglican communion, and almost all Anglican churches are not established, since the Episcopal Church in Scotland post-William. Today, the only established Anglican church is the Church of England, and it accounts for a small fraction of all Anglicans.

        "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

        by Wee Mama on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 05:40:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  From another Episcopalian I can say that they (0+ / 0-)

      have started to infiltrate at least some of the Espicopal Churches here
      in MS already . It is going to be a tough struggle but it is a struggle that
      we have to win somehow.

      I don't know what God G W Bush listens to, but it is not the one I believe in.

      by eaglecries on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 09:37:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Anglican Communion Network and IRD? (0+ / 0-)


    Is the Anglican Communion Network part of the IRD schism campaign?  The diocese where I live (and apparently the parish churches too) have "affiliated" with the Anglican Communion Network.  How does that group figure in to the picture?  

  •  Oops--should have read more closely... (0+ / 0-)

    I see the ACN mentioned.  Still, I'd like to know more about who they are and what they are up to.

  •  It would be nice if you all just admitted that (0+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    Hidden by:
    Frederick Clarkson

    Christianity was a bunch of horseshit along with Islam and Judaism.  Forget fighting for these institutions denouce them as useless husks which serve no purpose in the modern world.

  •  Free Speech (0+ / 0-)

    This is what you get when they call money "free speech." People with that kind of money just keep OTHER people they buy beating on others to get what they want in the end. A case in point is one mentioned in the McNaughton's article, Richard Mellon Scaife. If ever there was one removed from reality it is this asshole. He caused the government to spend $50M+ trying to remove Clinton from office  and along with backing  Paula Jones. 10 years later the Special Prosecutor was trying for more money to continue investigating Cisneros and was terminated by a judge. AND NO ONE REPEAT NO ONE was indicted. Its free speech when they have truckloads of it but when the grassroots get together as with they get their knickers in a knot and try to stop them in congress. It doesn't matter where they put their money they usually muck it up because they are usually going against the majority.

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