Family trusts ‘fund ECUSA’s Right’
By Pat Ashworth
MILLIONS of dollars contributed by a handful of donors have allowed a small network of theologically conservative individuals and organisations to mount a global campaign that has destabilised the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) and may break up the Anglican Communion, an investigation in the diocese of Washington has concluded.
A report, "Following the Money: Donors and activists on the Anglican Right" by the diocesan communications officer, Jim Naughton, in Washington Window, the diocesan newspaper, says that Anglicans have no full account of how much money is being spent, and for what purpose, in the struggle for control of the Communion. Half the operating budgets of the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) have frequently come from charitable foundations established by families with politically conservative views, he says, notably Howard F. Ahmanson Jr and the Bradley, Coors, Olin, Scaife, and Smith-Richardson family foundations.
Mr Naughton charts the growing visibility of the conservative Episcopalian lobby and its increasing involvement with Primates of the Global South, as evidenced at the Primates’ Meeting at Newry last year (News, 4 March 2005).
The General Convention of ECUSA will meet next month, he says, "in a politically charged atmosphere created in some measure by conservative organisations supported by a small number of wealthy donors". The organisations’ lack of transparency and openness about their budgets will leave bishops and deputies able only 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".
Since the Primates’ meeting, leaders of the Communion have begun to ask whether these organisations and their financial backers are the real power behind a movement that claims to draw its strength from Africa and Asia, suggests Mr Naughton. His views echo those of the Bishop of Washington, the Rt Revd John Chane, who criticised the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, in the Washington Post earlier this year for supporting "institutionalised bigotry" over proposed laws criminalising homosexuality in Nigeria.
Bishop Chane warned: "Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and others as well, should also be aware of the Archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors . . . allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so called ‘renewal’ movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches, and the United Church of Christ.
"Should the Institute succeed in ‘renewing’ the Churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian Right tomorrow."