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I have written quite a bit on this subject here, and of course at Talk to Action.  Since there are two major church conventions coming up in June that will be much in the news and perhaps signal some turning points in the history of Protestantism, as well as the standing of gays and lesbians within organizations that are at the center of our culture, history and politics, I thought I would offer a quickie anthology of my posts on this subject here at The Daily Kos from the past few months.

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.

A magazine article I wrote recently on this subject has just been posted online. The Battle for the Mainline Churches appears in the Spring issue of The Public Eye.

"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.

"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

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 03:38 PM PDT.


What should we do when our friends and allies are under attack?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I appreciate your reporting on this issue (6+ / 0-)

    especially because it is one I know so very little about.

    Thanks for your efforts to educate.

  •  Have You Considered (or done) Writing (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cedwyn, BigBite, JanL

    in any of the mainline churches' publications?

    The sense I get as a wedding musician is that essentially nobody in these churches has a clue.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 04:18:21 PM PDT

    •  heh (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      moiv, BigBite, station wagon

      A few years ago I edited a booklength study of the goings on in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It got quite a bit of attention and was written about in church publications.

      The institutional publications are generally pretty wary of all this stuff for a variety of reasons. Mostly its a mix of fear, or head-in-the-sandism.  

      It's been my experience that the best way to report on this stuff is in publications outside the churches. At some point members have to take responsibility for these struggles themselves.

      The two part investigation by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington DC, mentioned above, is the first time to my knowledge, that this has ever been taken on by an official church publication anywhere in the U.S.

  •  Thanks, FC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    station wagon

    I believe it was you who told me about the IRD in the first place, in another diary. I'm(sort of) Presbyterian, and I have done a lot of reading on this since. We really do need to get this out, I've been doing my part in my small town. I am a musician, and our brass group plays regularly in the mainstream churches, and I always bring this up.  So many have no idea, but forewarning is pricless.

    Important diary.  Please recommend.

    -6.13,-5.64 One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. -Arthur C. Clarke

    by imabluemerkin on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 04:52:18 PM PDT

  •  Perhaps had the mainline Churches done (0+ / 0-)

    something when Falwell and the likes and Christian Coalition were showing their stuff  there wouldn't be the problem.
    Now Chrsistianity in general has gotten a bad name .
    But if you think about it - who wrote restrictive covenant deeds that precluded non whites & non Christians from owning property, who waved their bibles in support of slavery and against civil rights and are doing the same now with gays?
    Maybe the Pope wasn't guilty of what Jews said he did not to stop Hitler, but sure in Hell the teaching of the Catholic Church as well as many Protestant churches certainly made Hitler's anti semitism palatable and the resultant collective guilt the reason for Israel and ensuing problem of taking Palistinian property.

    •  and so (4+ / 0-)

      what are you saying?

      The mainline churches of today have been at or near the forefront of every major struggle for social justice in the U.S., and for that matter, the world.

      When these institutions come under attack, that the wrongs of the past, which mainline churches in America, perhaps more than any other, have sought to redress, should now be raised to justify turning a blind eye to the attacks described in this diary?

    •  Speaking of One Tradition only... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Frederick Clarkson

      Many, mainline churches do have leaders who speak out, and organize for justice, but they don't get the publicity of the Falwells or the Robertsons, who are political and partisan preachers, clearly.  

      Howard Dean and Bob Graham (Florida) were both Democrats who are members of the UCC.  It's a small denomination, but its members are not particulalry quiet.  But they also believe in keeping religion out of politics, so members speak up, not preachers.  

      And when ministers are speakers and activists, they do so in their individual capacities, not as spokesmen for God or the Church.  It's a different faith tradition which strongly affirms individual faith, not necessarily doctrinal rigidity as a "church".  Many progressive churches are like this, which makes them not particularly effective against people who claim to speak for God.  I would imagine that many other faiths have this problem as well.  The Falwells and Robertsons of the world are demagogues who use religion to justify their prejudices by claiming to speak for all of Christianity or for God.  I believe that that is just false by many religious traditions that would be considered "mainstream" by our traditional standards.  But contemporarily, people seem to want to have black and white, rigidly handed down, and the Falwells and Robertsons give that to them.

      By the way, this is just my perspective on this.  I by no means speak for any faith tradition, even the UCC.  It's just my own individual perception.  And, by the way, this is not to say that even the UCC is perfect, but it seems as though as a church, it has tried to keep moved by the ideals of justice and peace throughout its history.  Arguably, it brought to this country some of the ideals that led to our formation of a democracy.  But all churches have their historical idiosyncracies.

      There are many churches moved to take a stand, but the UCC's is just one history that I'm familiar with.  I hope you'll actually visit that page.  Obviously you could also research the Quakers, who also have a very interesting and progressive history.  Also there are the Unitarians.  The below history might not speak to every concern you've referenced, it might not have addressed negative issues of the churches tradition, but it does show that there are churches of significance that have tried to be progressive and forward thinking throughout their history:

      From : UCC 'Firsts'

      The United Church of Christ is a blend of four principal traditions—Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed. Each of these traditions has left a mark on U.S. religious and political history.

      1. Pilgrims seek spiritual freedom

      Seeking spiritual freedom, forbears of the United Church of Christ prepare to leave Europe for the New World. Later generations know them as the Pilgrims. Their pastor, John Robinson, urges them as they depart to keep their minds and hearts open to new ways. God, he says, "has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word."

      1. An early experiment in democracy

      The Congregational churches founded by the Pilgrims and other spiritual reformers spread rapidly through New England. In an early experiment in democracy, each congregation is self-governing and elects its own ministers. The Congregationalists aim to create a model for a just society lived in the presence of God. Their leader, John Winthrop, prays that "we shall be as a city upon a hill ... the eyes of all people upon us."

      1. An early stand against slavery

      Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery. The Rev. Samuel Sewall writes the first anti-slavery pamphlet in America, "The Selling of Joseph." Sewall lays the foundation for the abolitionist movement that comes more than a century later.  (read more here)

      The UCC continued to be first on almost every social justice issue you'd probably like to talk about, but go to the above linked page to trace that history.  I don't want to post it all here.  Just wanted to speak to some of your comments.

      Here is another site with the interesting history of the UCC

      It's easy to say things about churches and be general, but there are differen thistories, as with everything, and speaking with a broad brush is often unfair.

      Here is the link from the UCC's Justice And Peace Website Section.  It is well worth looking at to see if they address many of the social justice issues, though not partisan issues, that you see here at Dkos.  I bet they do.  This is why the GOP and right-wing ministries want to destroy progressive churches.  They perceive them as "the enemy" rather than as persons within the same tradition, who see things radically differently.  Republicans are actually working to undermine religious freedom, even as they pretend to be the friends of it.  Which is the most amazing bit of irony - and truth.  They work secretly to actually destroy many churches, and church traditions, while making the ministers of some churches, who help them politically, extremely rich.  Whether they think it is Christian or not, that kind of politicization of religion really gets to the heart of what is wrong with this country's evolution regarding religious faith and traditions.

      I also recommend that you check out my previous post, regarding Rev. Williams Sloane Coffin above.  Speaking with too broad a brush can be extremely unfair.

  •  Indeed! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BigBite, station wagon, blueoasis

    I try to read every diary you post on DKos. The plans of the Christian Right are my #1 concern right now, even ahead of the corporatists.

  •  Great Diary -Homage to Rev. William Sloane Coffin (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cletus from Canuckistan

    I've referred to this conflict a few times here and there, but it's nice to see a diary on the subject.  I hope that members understand how important this is.  Many progressives benefit from the resources and organizing efforts of these churches and don't even know it.  These progressive congregations, and their members, are often the core mobilizers in anti-war efforts historically and also with regard to justice efforts in different portions of the country.  If it weren't for these efforts by motivated and progressive Christians in many of these churches, many people would never hear about some stories.   Moreover, they tend not to be "evangelical" in those efforts, so many people don't actually know where these people are coming from and how they got to organize the efforts.  It's often because in churches, they are discussing justice and peace issues and they want to take action, and they do.  Individual members go out and join peace groups, organize bus trips to marches, publicize events, etc.

    I'm always amazed at how little knowledge there is as to the social justice efforts of many of the progressive church leaders in this country.  Obviously our media would rather go to a Pat Robertson than a minister who speaks out for peace.  Think of the juicy and horrible quotes they get.  One important Vietnam era leader who continued to speak out powerfully through to our contemporary times, Reverend William Sloane Coffin, just recently passed away.  But there are many others, some just as famous, more famous or less famous, but each of whom work quietly in the background to make things happen for peace, often through churches that progressive democrats don't know about, but which are critical to efforts toward peace and social justice.

    Here is a short bio from the bottom of the quoted "An Open Letter from Rev. William Sloane Coffin to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops 2000" re Homosexuality, which happened in 2000, long before his death.  But it gives some idea of where he was politically.  Please check out the actual letter as well, it's a nice short read.  I also recommend that Yale bio pdf, it gives some idea of how he was thought about while at Yale.  He was thought to be too radical, too socially progressive, and all about social justice and protest.  I'm sure you get the idea.

    "No stranger to controversy, Coffin became famous while chaplain at Yale in the 1960s for his active support of the civil rights movement and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Jailed as a civil rights "Freedom Rider," indicted by the government in the Benjamin Spock conspiracy trial, he attained popular immortality as Reverend Sloan in the Doonesbury comic strip. Now in his 70s and retired as senior minister of New York's Riverside Church, Coffin has lost neither his fire nor his wit. Dr. Coffin is president emeritus of SANE/FREEZE: Campaign for Global Security. His books include Once to Every Man: An Autobiography, The Courage to Love, Living the Truth in a World of Illusions, and A Passion for the Possible."

    PBS on William Sloane Coffin:  Piece 1, Piece 2
    Dkos' McJoan Diaried on Death of Williams Sloane Coffin
    Yale Library Bio PDF

    From the Wikipedia entry above, quotes of Williams Sloane Coffin:

    "In our time all it takes for evil to flourish is for a few good men to be a little wrong and have a great deal of power, and for the vast majority of their fellow citizens to remain indifferent." — In the Yale Alumni magazine in 1967

    The U.S. government should have vowed " see justice done, but by the force of law only, never by the law of force." — After September 11, 2001

    "We yearned for a revolution of imagination and compassion that would oppose the very aggressiveness and antagonism that characterized the actions of both Nixon and the Weathermen. We were convinced nonviolence was more revolutionary than violence" — referring to the organizers of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam

    "Without love violence will change the world; it will change it into a more violent one." — June 1968

    "It's too bad that one has to conceive of sports as being the only arena where risks are, [for] all of life is risk exercise. That's the only way to live more freely, and more interestingly."

    "The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love."

    "What we and other nuclear powers are practicing is really nuclear apartheid. A handful of nations have arrogated to themselves the right to build, deploy, and threaten to use nuclear weapons while policing the rest of the world against their production. . . . Nuclear apartheid is utopian and arrogant. It is a recipe for proliferation, a policy of disaster."

    "Every nation makes decisions based on self-interest and defends them on the basis of morality." — to the Yale Class of 1968 35th reunion, May 2003

    "Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat."

    "For Christians, the problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ." - An Open Letter from Rev. William Sloane Coffin to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops 2000 (a nice read, and much stronger than this quotation suggests)

    "Many of us are eager to respond to injustice, as long as we can do so without having to confront the causes of it. There's the great pitfall of charity. Handouts to needy individuals are genuine, necessary responses to injustice, but they do not necessarily face the reason for injustice. And that is why so many business and governmental leaders today are promoting charity; it is desperately needed in an economy whose prosperity is based on growing inequality. First these leaders proclaim themselves experts on matters economic, and prove it by taking the most out of the economy! Then they promote charity as if it were the work of the church, finally telling us troubled clergy to shut up and bless the economy as once we blessed the battleships." - as quoted by Rev. Scotty McLennan

  •  I have a suggestion (0+ / 0-)

    I think we should start refering to them as the not-christian right, because A) they are not following the principals of Christianity, Jesus must be horrifed to see what is being done in his name, and B) then there will be no confusion between real Christians (you know, the ones who read the whole New Testemant, and don't just pick out the parts they need in order to justify thier hate).

    Just my $0.02

    Evil prevails only when good men do nothing

    by Mason6883 on Sat Apr 29, 2006 at 07:21:47 PM PDT

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