Friday, April 28, 2006

This Schism Is Brought to You by the IRD

From THE WITNESS by Daniel J. Webster

June 2006 may be a turning point in the history of the Christian church in America and in one branch of Christianity worldwide.

Episcopalians meet in their triennial General Convention at Columbus, Ohio. Presbyterians hold their 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama. Though held at virtually the same time and miles apart, they are both fighting a common enemy that most church members likely are not aware of.

Regular readers of The Witness may know well the wedge tactics employed by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). However, I suspect most pew dwellers haven't a clue what it does.

I wrote about the IRD in a 2004 article titled "Power, Money, Control…It's the Church" for Search, a journal for the Church of Ireland. I drew on resources from General Convention 2003, The New York Times, and the work of colleagues digging into the IRD.

Many believe a schism in the Episcopal Church USA and the worldwide Anglican Communion is inevitable after this summer. If it does occur it will not be about homosexuality or Gene Robinson or the blessing of same-sex unions. It will have been planned, plotted and engineered by the IRD and its very rich, ultraconservative henchmen (some women, but mostly men) who have targeted the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Episcopal Church for nearly 25 years. Sexuality was just a hot-button issue the IRD could exploit along with "radical feminist theology" and what the IRD judges to be an abandonment of "biblical Anglican theology."

There's no better description of how the IRD works than Hard Ball on Holy Ground, The Religious Right v. the Mainline for the Church's Soul (Boston Wesleyan Press, 2005). This book, edited by Stephen Swecker, is a compilation of articles by several authors who expose the IRD for what it is.

"In the end, the IRD is not a program grounded in faith but, rather, in fear -- both fear of change in general and fear of loss by those who benefit most from the status quo, i.e., the wealthy and the powerful," writes Swecker in his closing article.

In other words the IRD has little to do with religion, except for control and contempt of it, and everything to do with democracy and demagoguery.

Do you think a church schism can't happen in your church? Jimmy Carter, the former president, laments in his book Our Endangered Values (Simon and Schuster, 2005) how it happened in his church.

"A major and perhaps permanent schism occurred at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, when a new 'Baptist Faith and Message' statement was adopted," he writes. "In effect, this change meant substitution of Southern Baptist leaders for Jesus as the interpreters of biblical Scripture."

President Carter also says it's about power. As for the IRD, it "is funded chiefly by people whose interests are primarily political and economic," writes John B. Cobb, Jr. in the foreword to Hard Ball on Holy Ground.

Schisms are likely in the Episcopal Church, maybe in the Presbyterian Church, and, if the IRD has its way, in the United Methodist Church. The IRD is open about its agenda. Visit; there for the world to see, without apology, is a clear strategy to foment disorder in the three mainline churches. On its home page are dropdown menus listing the action plan against the three mainline churches. The tactics are the same and they are brilliant. They consist of two initiatives.

The first IRD initiative is to court disaffected church members. It financially supports these small groups to wage conflict internally in their denominations. Episcopalians know of the American Anglican Council (AAC). It was created by the IRD, with whom the AAC shared offices for a number of years. Swecker's book also documents how the IRD shared board members and financial backing with ultraconservative dissident church groups, including the AAC, in the three targeted denominations. Another article digs further to illustrate how IRD board members have influenced, had access to, or ties with government agencies and the current presidential administration.

"It [IRD] brings to the task financial resources that are very large in comparison with the sums usually available to dissident factions in church disputes," writes Cobb.

The second IRD strategy is to carefully place board members in secular and church media in an effort to whip up controversy in the so-called, "culture wars." The influence these ideologues have on mainstream media and religious publications is really quite stunning.
In 2004 members of the IRD board of directors were also editors, frequent contributors or on the boards of such media outlets as The New Republic and The Weekly Standard (Fred Barnes, also now on Fox News); National Review Online (Richard Neuhaus, a guest on NBC's "Meet the Press" Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006); and The New York Sun and Asian Wall Street Journal (Mary Ellen Bork).

Why is this small but powerful group so determined to go after these churches in the first place? It is to silence the prophetic witness of faithful Christians across the country.

"The IRD's stated goals, which consistently are at odds with the historical witness of the mainline churches, include increasing military spending, opposing environmental protection and eliminating social programs," write Andrew Weaver and Nicole Seibert in their Hard Ball article "Follow the Money: Documenting the Right's Well-heeled Assault on the UMC." Other contributors document the sources of millions of dollars that have funded this effort to disrupt, distract or derail America's traditional voice for the social gospel.

"In the whole history of the American church, there's perhaps never been anything quite like the Institute on Religion and Democracy," Swecker writes.

Church goers "and others will be dismayed to learn that the churches they love are targets of a campaign of destabilization," the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches says of the book. "We ignore this reality at our peril."

So take three books to General Convention this June. Hard Ball on Holy Ground will tell you who you are up against and how we got to this point, and it belongs in your bags for convention.
Take your bible with all its passages on the poor and destitute (there are thousands). Read the story of Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman (Mt. 15:21ff) or the first council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) to see what the bible teaches about inclusivity.

Take along your Book of Common Prayer. Pray for our church in the prayers in the back of the book. Pray for the church in a convention or meeting. Pray for the courage to renew our Baptismal Covenant, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And I invite you to pray, as Episcopalians do each November 3, the Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker. He is generally regarded as the author of Anglicanism's vision of the "via media" -- the middle way.

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Chip Webb said...

Rev. Susan,

So because the IRD stands against progressive theology and works for a "rebirth of orthodoxy" (to quote the title of Thomas Oden's book) in mainline denominations, it "has little to do with religion, except for control and contempt of it." Really?

If that's true, then take the next step: any ECUSA clergy or laity who take an orthodox theological position, resist the actions of GC 03, and/or support (any of) the same goals "have little to do with religion, except for control and contempt of it." And that's patently ridiculous.

Who's playing hardball here, Susan? The writer is slandering the Christians who work at the IRD, charging them with only hiding their political agenda behind the guise of religion. Is this love? Is this charity? Is this inclusion? And to say that the troubles we are in are caused by the IRD (see the title of the post) is the height of denial.

But the most ironic part of this post is the prayer at the end. If Hooker advocated a pathway between "the catholic and reformed religion," progressive ECUSA seeks a pathway away from those two streams entirely. The actions of GC '03 held no regard for the catholicity of the church.

Rev. Susan, the "via media" is not a road between any and all beliefs. A church that tries to uphold the beliefs of a John Spong or Marcus Borg in one hand and a John Stott or even Michael Ramsey in the other is seriously divided. "A comprehension for the sake of truth" cannot on the one hand say, for example, that on the one hand Jesus was physically resurrected and on the other that he was not.

Most of all, though, I'm disappointed that this piece slanders fellow Christians, Rev. Susan.

Peace of Christ to all,

Anonymous said...

Susan, is this article a parody?

This article is hilarious! Yes, I've all ready ordered my copy of this book from Amazon and plan to take it to Columbus. But first I'm heading over to the IRD offices and get the staff to sign it (if they aren't too busy taking over the world). This is hilarious!


PS Obviously Diane Knippers is still very connected with powerful people - she and John Paul II died the same week last year and one can only imagine what sort of conspiracies those two are up to heaven. Guess we'll have to wait for Swecker's next book to learn more about that!

Anonymous said...

When all else fails, demonize your opponents....

When progressives organize (I seem to recall an umbrella group called The Consultation), it is called good politics. When conservatives organize, it is called a conspiracy.

And -- compare what ECUSA and PCUSA (or its ancestor denominations) believed about God a century or so ago, and what conservative believe -- and then to what progressives believe. Is it wicked to uphold the same basic tenets that the Christian Church has upheld for 2,000 years? Or is it wicked to stand those convictions on their heads?

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that the organization called "Integrity" isn't organized for politcal positioning in ECUSA; that they don't have an agenda for ECUSA to embrace; oh wait ...


"A comprehension for the sake of truth" cannot on the one hand say, for example, that on the one hand Jesus was physically resurrected and on the other that he was not.

And might not the same argument have been made in the 16th century over those who believed the bread and wine made holy to BE the body of Christ and others who believed it to contain the REAL PRESENCE of the risen Christ?

I guess when it really comes down to it I don't care what you think happened at the resurrection -- physical body, spiritual body, combo of the two ... Verna Dozier once wrote, "Don't tell me what you believe: tell me what difference it makes that you believe."

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

All the rest are details -- and in the end, it will up to God to judge how close we got to figuring them all out ... and my money is on most of us aren't near as close as we think we are but God's grace is sufficient anyway.


hiram ... one small but essential corrective:

When anyone organizes within the bounds of the historic polity of the church it is called legislative strategy. We win some and we lose some.

It starts to feel like conspiracy when outside money and influence is deployed to hijack the due process of a denomination and apply international pressure/blackmail to change the course of decisions duly made within the bounds of historic polity.

It's apples and oranges.

Anonymous said...

Our church speaks at and is governed by, General Convention. When it is in session it is the world's largest deliberative body. This is how we discern the Spirit.

The dissidents in our church have not been able to persuade the majority of us in the Episcopal Church, that our church shoud be what they want. Now, some of these are schismatics, and some of these have aligned with people outside of our church, to undermine the worship, discipline, and polity of our church.

No equivalence between that, and people in our church, defending her. None whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

So the Consultation uses only money from Episcopalians?

As for unified action involving Christians from a variety of bodies -- it is because theological rot has set into not just one denomination, but into many -- and we who know that what we have in common in Christ is greater than denominational differences are willing to work and pray together to keep our denominations from being hijacked by those who oppose historic orthodoxy and who deny the blood that was shed for them.

Anonymous said...

I refer hiram to my prior post. Let me repost it so he may read it.

"Our church speaks at and is governed by, General Convention. When it is in session it is the world's largest deliberative body. This is how we discern the Spirit.

The dissidents in our church have not been able to persuade the majority of us in the Episcopal Church, that our church shoud be what they want. Now, some of these are schismatics, and some of these have aligned with people outside of our church, to undermine the worship, discipline, and polity of our church. "

Anonymous said...

rmf: If you truly believe that "Our Church speaks at...General Convention," then you confuse those who lobby for years at diocesan conventions to become G.C. delegates as representative of the Episcopal Church's membership-at-large, and - far more sadly, you misunderstand whose Church we are called to be.

Anonymous said...

hg's post points up a one of my own points--some of the dissidents seem more than happy to try to undermine and disparage every process our church has simply because they can't get persuade others that they have to do what they do.

Anonymous said...

"When all else fails, demonize your opponents...."

And jg said, "if the shoe fits . . ."

Chip Webb said...

Rev. Susan,

You and I both believe strongly in God's grace and our own human fallibility at the same time. Yes, any one of us may have doubts, and the Holy Spirit can work on those doubts as we, by God's grace, become more like Christ. At any given time in our Christian lives, each one of us probably needs to pray, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief," because we are always needing to grow in our faith.

The sample issue that I raised, the resurrection, raises the far more pertinent question, though, of what the church is to teach. Can we be agnostic given on this issue, when the church historically has testified in agreement with the Scriptures to the reality of Christ's physical resurrection? How can ECUSA provide a common witness on this issue if it now considers this issue adiaphora?

An issue like this one (and I just threw in that one off the top of my head; others could have been raised) affects a wide variety of things: our christology, our view of Scripture and tradition, the role of experience in the Christian life, etc. Again, the issue is not whether to accept an individual with doubts; the issue is what the church is to teach. There, the church needs to be united, not divided.

Peace of Christ,