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What if there was a right-wing organization founded and operated by neoconservatives and funded in large part by Richard Mellon Scaife (and some of the other usual suspects) whose purpose was to attack religious denominations, congregations and church leaders who support what the right-wing views as "liberal" causes such as social justice, particularly if they embrace a liberation theology ?

What if that right-wing organization's tactics included smearing its targets with selective quotations or misquotes intended to distort and inflame?

What if the trail of those smears (picture if you will the slime trail of a slug) often led from this type of faux religious organization to the right-wing blog-patch, from there to the right-wing (F&B) media , and from there to the rest of the media and into our homes?

Would any of this sound vaguely familiar?  

Would any news item currently stirring the ratings-hungry libidos of our third-estate follow this pattern in any way?

For those of you who have not heard of it before, let me introduce you to an organization with the almost perverse misnomer of the The Institute for Religion and Democracy.  In order to be consistent with more scholarly and less scatological writers, I will refer to The Institute for Religion and Democracy as "IRD".

The IRD: Introduction

The IRD - the Institute on Religion and Democracy - is a sophisticated "inside the beltway" organization well funded by conservative foundations and closely aligned with a neo-conservative political agenda. IRD includes on its board intellectual and media figures like Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Medved. IRD's stated purpose is "Reforming the Church to Renew Democracy." It describes itself as "an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches' social witness in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad," (emphasis added). The political agenda becomes even clearer when the Mission Statement goes on to say that the IRD believes "that Western representative democracy is, on balance, a good worthy of advancing." The echoes of the Bush administration's foreign policy are not hard to hear. ...

What is important to note here is that IRD's interests are not primarily fostering church renewal or encouraging lively theological and ethical debate in church councils and assemblies. The ultimate goal is to reshape the Protestant mainline into a powerful force advancing the neo-conservative political agenda with its goal of promoting its own version of "Western representative democracy" around the world.  

These excerpts come from an article by Rev. John Thomas, entitled 'The IRS, the IRD, and Red State / Blue State Religion'.  Rev. Thomas is the general minister and President of the United Church of Christ denomination.  

You might remember their 2004 "Bouncer" commercial  –  or their subsequent "Ejector" commercial  and most recently, the smearing of their local leader of the United Church of Christ’s now famous Chicago congregation, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. ( )

You can almost hear the echoes of Douglas Coe in the message of the IRD.

Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the first and final assertion Christians make about all of reality, including politics. Believers now assert by faith what one day will be manifest to the sight of all: every earthly sovereignty is subordinate to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

This is how Reverend Richard John Neuhaus begins his article:    
"Christianity and Democracy - A Statement of the Institute on Religion and Democracy".  

Until just recently I had no idea this IRD organization existed as part of the right-wing weed patch.  Like many of its kind it appears to come up out of the ground as if created by God's own hand, but underneath, it is a weed connected by its root runners with the rest of the weed infestation through its funding, inter-related boards, and common media mouthpieces.  

For those who already know of the IRD (especially those that have spent enormous time monitoring and opposing their destructive activities) I would welcome your more educated and experienced comments and analysis.

IRD: History and Background

Here's some of what I found abut the IRD

IRD was founded 23 years ago by three key leaders of the radical-right neoconservative movement that now dominates the George W. Bush administration, namely Roman Catholics Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak and the unchurched Penn Kemble (Clarkson, 1997).

Neuhaus acknowledged that the IRD had a specific "political agenda" from the beginning -- Central America and opposition to liberation theology were top concerns (Lernoux, 1989).

 The "Central American focus of that time carried a strong anti-communist, anti-Marxist overtone.  

And through its history, the right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife has been a major source of its funding, part of the secular power behind the religious throne.

The membership of its governing bodies seems to strongly ‘follow the money’.

IRD directors are on the boards and actively involved in other ultra-conservative groups including the Project for the New American Century, Institute on Religion and Public Life, National Taxpayers Union, Concerned Women for America, Ethics and Public Policy Center, and American Enterprise Institute. [Various urls for background provided below - ITW]

The IRD board members operate and have access to conservative publications  and media such as First Things, Good News, Christianity Today, Washington Times, The Weekly Standard and Fox News. [Various urls for background provided below. ITW]

IRD also has the same group of benefactors that regularly contribute to radical-right causes such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the California billionaire Howard Ahmanson and the Sarah Scaife Foundation (Blumenthal, 2004; Cooperman, 2003; Howell, 1995).


The IRD: How it Works

It is not just in its operational leadership that the IRD reveals its true colors.  Its activities are just about what you might expect.

According to California-based investigative reporter Matt Smith,

"IRD and its allies' use of right-wing nonreligious foundation money to smear liberal church leaders through mailings, articles in IRD-aligned publications, press releases, and stories in secular newspapers and magazines has more in common with a CIA Third World destabilization campaign than ordinary civilized debate." (Smith, 2004)


This CIA reference is not entirely coincidental.  Scaife himself is a confection from that unique oven and its ways and means can be seen in the various organizations with which he is involved.

In the early 1970s Scaife was recruited as a front man and bankroller for the CIA's London-based "news service", Forum World Features (Conason and Lyons, 2000). At Forum, Scaife sponsored and directed what his long-time CIA friend who recruited him, Frank Barnett, calls "political warfare." Barnett wrote:

"Political warfare in short, is warfare--not public relations. It is one part persuasion and two parts deception.... The aim of political to discredit, displace, and neutralize an opponent, to destroy a competing ideology, and to reduce the adherents to political impotence. It is to make one's own values prevail by working the levers of power, as well as by using persuasion." (Barnett, 1961).


And if these tactics seem familiar when comparing them with those used in the smearing of Rev. Wright, we might ask if that similarity is entirely coincidental.

While some news outlets claim to have done there own analysis on Wright's sermons and publications, others (including CNN) more clearly admit that their sources have been the right wing attack blogs and right wing periodicals (religious and secular) - some of which were referenced above.

With decreased funding, news organizations have fewer resources with which to uncover their own "news". Many thus end up relying more heavily on second-hand news - reporting (sometimes carelessly) what others have already reported and calling that "news" to be reported and then analyzed in a highly contentious yet entertainting manner by the latest clowns coming out of the little pundit car.

CNN's Jessica Yellin who is working the story joins us now.

Jessica clearly this is something Senator Obama would prefer he is not still addressing but with this newest Wright controversy now out there, I guess he's got no other choice.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes Anderson, this is a story they were hoping they had moved beyond, but the latest developments have to do with, as you say, words that have been printed in publications from this church under Reverend Wright's name in various ways. This, first of all, is all on the web and is circulating primarily on conservative Web sites. From the bulletin of Reverend Wright's church, there's a Pastor's page where Reverend Wright can publish what he sees fit.
And also I should point out "Newsday" has gotten a lot of play for something it has published saying Reverend Wright [blah, blah, blah.  ITW]

I want to emphasized those comments about ... CNN has not been able to verify independently, something that "Newsday" is running with and is getting circulated on the web.

And Anderson, importantly the Obama campaign, I just connected with someone there, they feel very strongly this is a story that is being fed by the media and the people of America are satisfied with Barack Obama's explanation of his relationship with Reverend Wright, but obviously it's not a story that is going away. Anderson?

COOPER: Obviously, I mean, Senator Obama has distanced himself from these comments, he's repudiated these kinds of comments from Reverend Wright.

What more can he do? Is there something more that the campaign expects that he'll have to do or is this just, you know, the way things are going to be for a while as the story seems to still percolate?

(And don't you just love when folks like Anderson Cooper try to inoculate themselves from charges of shoddy journalism by pretending he is asking the hard questions about the media  - as if the story "percolates" all by itself.)

In recognizing this weakness in the current system of news gathering and reporting, organizations with their own agendas can attempt to spread both their biased judgment of what should be news as well as their biased judgment of what the facts of that news really are just by providing pre-digested and pre-packaged lumps of news-like substances or by laying down bread crumbs leading to highly selective segments of the truth to lure in the biased, foolish or merely lazy.

Unless otherwise specifically noted, all *Quotes above were taken from  Church & Scaife:  Secular Conservative Philanthropies waging unethical campaign to take over United Methodist Church
by Andrew J. Weaver & Nicole Seibert, dated August 2, 2004  

The IRD and the United Church of Christ

To this point, we have been talking about IRD in terms of general purpose and tactics along with the polictical agenda of  its founding and guiding personalities, including Mr. Scaife.  

But is there any evidence that the IRD has any special interest in the United Church of Christ?

I think that it is clear that even beyond what many expected would be the price the UCC would pay for running the Bouncer and Ejector TV commercials, the answer is very clearly - yes.

"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.

Although much of what they do is conducted quietly, arguably covertly, renewal groups pop-up in response to matters they don’t like. For example, the leader of the IRD affiliate, Biblical Witness Fellowship, was outraged at the historic stand taken by elected delegates to last year’s biannual General Synod of the UCC. When the synod voted overwhelmingly to endorse marriage equality for same-sex couples, Rev. David Runion-Bareford declared that the UCC "has arrogantly supposed to speak for God"—and suggested that the UCC was no longer a Christian denomination.

Rev. John Thomas, the current president of the United Church of Christ, sees the forest.

"Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship," he said last year, "are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive. Their relationship to the right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable. United Church of Christ folk like to be ‘nice,’ to be hospitable. But, to play with a verse of scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril."15

These later quotes came from:

The Battle for the Mainline Churches

By Frederick Clarkson
The Public Eye Magazine - Spring 2006    

So the IRD, funded by Scaife and founded to smear those preaching social justice and liberation theology, has a direct interest in the United Church of Christ, a denomination that is deeply involved in working for social justice.

Is it a mere coincidence that the tactics of the IRD bear such a strong resemblance to those used to smear Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a strong proponent of social justice and black liberation theology?  

I suppose that is possible.  
I have found no direct evidence that the Scaife or IRD are behind the smearing of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (and by association, Presidential candidate Barack Obama) but given the obvious motive, similarity of method and environment of opportunity, I would think it would be worth a closer look.

If the story is going to just keep percolating, that is.

Originally posted to Into The Woods on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 04:40 PM PDT.

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