For those who may not be religious, or have much sense of why anyone should care if all sectors of the right in America are bearing down on the historic Protestant churches in America, in hopes of getting them out of the way politically, religiously, and trying to grab their considerable assets along the way, this should be a useful primer.
But wherever we may stand on matters of religion, let's ask ourselves this: when our friends and allies are under attack, what should we do?
The Battle for the Mainline Churches
The quarter century war of attrition that has been waged by elements of the religious and political right against the mainline Protestant churches in America, has gone largely unchronicled.
To read the mainstream press, you would think that people were so upset about homosexuality that they want to divide their historic churches into little warring camps. But these conflagrations have been far from spontaneous -- and have always been about much, much more than homosexuality.
"Make no mistake," wrote Avery Post, the national president of the United Church of Christ in 1982, "the objectives of the Institute on Religion and Democracy are the exact opposite of what its name appears to stand for. The purpose of its leaders is to demoralize the mainline denominations and to turn them away from the pursuit of social and economic justice.More
"We must not wait for this attack to be launched in the congregations of the United Church of Christ. I urge you to move quickly to tell the ministers and members of the churches in your conference about this campaign to disrupt our church life and to explain to them how and why the National Council of Churches has been chosen to be its first victim and the opening wedge for attacks on the denominations themselves."
Post's letter to regional leaders of the 1.3 million-member church followed the Institute of Religion and Democracy's (IRD) media attacks against the National Council of Churches (NCC) and its member denominations in Readers Digest and on 60 Minutes. Both were smear jobs, alleging that money from Sunday collection plates were financing Marxist guerrillas. 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt told TV talk show host Larry King in 2002 that it was the one program he truly regretted in his career. Twenty years late, but at least he acknowledged the error.
Avery Post was prophetic in his warning. Unfortunately, he was not widely heeded. Although the episode was big news at the time, it seemed to drift from people's consciousness. These days, the battle lines are drawn over such issues as same sex marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian priests and ministers. But as important as these matters are, the stakes are far larger. They go to the extent to which the mainline churches will continue to play a central role in American public life, or the extent to which they will be marginalized, perhaps forever.
People outside of the churches may wonder, why they should care? Methodist minister Andrew Weaver, who has researched the Institute and its satellite groups, explains that the member churches of the National Council of Churches account for about 25% of the population and half of the members of the US Congress. "NCC church members' influence is disproportionate to their numbers," he says, "and include remarkably high numbers of leaders in politics, business, and culture.... Moreover, these churches are some of the largest landowners in the U.S., with hundreds of billions of dollars collectively in assets, including real estate and pension funds. A hostile takeover of these churches would represent a massive shift in American culture, power and wealth for a relatively small investment."
Attack of the Schismatics!
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. More
"Liberal" Church Ad attacked by Rightwing Agency
For a quarter century, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), bankrolled by the founding funders and architects of the institutional right in Washington, DC, (such as the Heritage Foundation), has waged a war of attrition against the historic churches of mainstream Protestantism. This gang of social and foreign policy conservatives has planted bogus stories with the media, and deployed staff to foment dissent, and to organize conservative factions into dissident formations throughout the churches as if they were strategic targets in a global war. All this and much more.
The 1.3 million member United Church of Christ, one of the targeted churches, has over the past two years, been engaged in a warm-hearted outreach campaign called "God is Still Speaking," which includes a TV ad campaign seeks to reach people who have felt "rejected" for one reason or another by churches (as UCC research has found that many people do), and seeks to offer a message of what they call "extravagant welcome." The ads assert "God does not reject people. Neither do we."
The current ad campaign was unveiled at a national news conference on March 27th at UCC headquarters in Cleveland. Based on the UCC's news release, longtime IRD leader Mark Tooley published a piece in the The American Spectator online on April 6 that is highly critical of the ad -- and of the UCC. More
Are Christians Being Silenced? (Yup. But Which Ones?)
Are Christians being silenced?
The question sounds like the perennial complaint from members of the Christian Right. But in fact, as specious as the Christian Right's complaints along these lines usually are, this one is different. Not only does the complaint originate elsewhere -- but the Christian Right is the beneficiary of the apparent silencing of fellow Christians.
When the Sunday morning public affairs talk shows think about getting a Christian view on public affairs who do they call? According to Rev. Robert Chase, Director of Communications for the 1.3 million member United Church of Christ, over the past 8 years the Sunday network public affairs shows have interviewed political leaders of the religious right 36 times, and leaders of mainline Christian denominations such as the United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), American Baptist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Reformed Church in America, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, among others -- exactly zero times.
"Increasingly," Chase added at a national news conference, "millions of U.S. Christians have grown weary of having their more-inclusive, more-progressive values silenced." Chase bases his comments on a survey of the three network programs over the past 8 years, conducted by Media Matters for America. Chase now operates a web site, Accessible Airwaves, to urge the networks to include more mainstream religious views. More
Mainline Church Leader Denounces Religious Right Agency
An historic battle is unfolding for the future of mainstream Protestantism in the U.S. and in the world. You might have read press reports about the battles over gay ordination and the threats of walk-outs by hard-line conservatives. But that is only a small part of one of the biggest, and most underreported, religion stories in American history.
But the see-no-evil press coverage may be about to change. More
Episcopal Newspaper Exposes Rightwing Agencies
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." More