Church & Scaife
Secular Conservative Philanthropies waging unethical campaign to take over United Methodist Church
by Andrew J. Weaver and Nicole Seibert
POSTED AUGUST 2, 2004 --
The United Methodist and other mainline Protestant churches are the targets of a continuing, orchestrated attack by determined right-wing ideologues who use CIA-style propaganda methods to sow dissention and distrust, all in pursuit of a radical political agenda.
The leader of this attack is an organization called the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a pseudo-religious think-tank that carries out the goals of its secular funders that are opposed to the churches' historic social witness.
The IRD works in concert with other self-styled "renewal" groups like Good News and the Confessing Movement. IRD answers only to its own self-perpetuating board of directors, most of whom are embedded in the secular political right (Howell, 1995).
In the January/February 2004 issue of Zion's Herald, we published a special report on the activities of the IRD. We documented how it is primarily funded by right-wing secular foundations. We showed the interlocking relationships between IRD, Good News and the Confessing Movement, and demonstrated how the latter amplify the nonsense eminating from IRD by publishing its distortions and falsehoods about UMC leaders and programs (Howell, 2003). IRD's underlying strategy is to delegitimize existing church leadership in the eyes of their own members, and to thereby cause schism in the church (Swomley, 1989).
These three so-called "renewal" groups repeatedly seek to justify their attacks by claiming that a decline in membership in our church and other mainline denominations is the fault of "liberals" who involved the church in social action, and that they are needed to repair the damage (IRD, 2001a; Tooley, 2003; Case, 2003).
The problem with this assertion, which is used ad nauseam by all three groups, is that it is simply not true. Social-scientific evidence shows that the decline in membership in mainline churches over the past 70 years and the growth of conservative churches is the direct consequence of conservative church members having more children. According to several leading experts in the sociology of religion, who published their findings in the American Journal of Sociology, "switching from mainline to conservative denominations ... explains none of the decline of mainline denominations" (Hout, Greely, and Wilde, 2001).
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.
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. 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).
A major portion of IRD's funding, from its inception, has come from right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. Since its founding in 1982, the IRD has received more than $1.9 million from the Scaife foundations, including an initial startup grant of $200,000 (Howell, 2003; Media Transparency, 2003). In the early years of operation, 89 percent of the funds came from conservative foundations (The Public Eye, 1989) and most of its money continues to come from similar sources (Howell, 2003).
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 warfare...is 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).
Forum's covert activities were eventually exposed by the press and in Congressional investigations into the CIA (Conason and Lyons, 2000). A whistle-blowing British army intelligence officer told how Forum had assisted in right-wing "dirty tricks" operations including spreading "smear stories" about Prime Minister Harold Wilson and a dozen other prominent Labor members of Parliament in an effort to elect a Conservative government. Managing the finances for Scaife was Robert Gene Gately, a CIA officer who later headed the CIA station in Bangkok (Conason and Lyons, 2000).
Scaife has carried his political warfare campaign into the present day. His instrument of dissemination is no longer a foreign news service, now it is propaganda "think tanks" like IRD.
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)
Although only six of the 23 IRD board members are affiliated with the UMC, the UMC is the primary target of this undermining operation. IRD focuses its principal expenditures and most of its efforts on The United Methodist Church. Between 1999-2002 it spent $1,451,509 (almost half of its total program expenditures) on "monitoring" and attacking the UMC's activities, leadership and public policy statements (GuideStar, 2003).
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). Kemble was a key player in the Iran-Contra scandal working as an agent between Oliver North and U.S. financial backers of the Nicaraguan Contras (Goshko, 1989; Massing, 1989). A House of Representatives investigation of Kemble's activities during the Iran-Contra Affair revealed that IRD worked with the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean. It was a special office supervised by the National Security Council, which produced propaganda supporting Reagan's Central America policies. (House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1988).
Kemble was quoted in newspapers at the time as saying that "liberal leaders of America's mainline Protestant churches had frustrated the CIA's efforts to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government" (Smith, 2004). Novak was one of the directors of the Nicaraguan Freedom Fund, an endowment started in 1985 by the Unification Church-owned Washington Times to provide financial support for the Nicaraguan Contras (Isikoff, 1985).
In its early years, IRD worked intimately with the Reagan White House, providing papers, speeches and even co-sponsored a conference with the State Department assailing the theological integrity of Catholic clergy ministering and living among impoverished peasants in Central America (Public Eye, 1989; Hyer, 1985). It routinely challenged the patriotism of any Christians who did not share its aggressive interventionist goals.
IRD also vigorously defended the moral authority of the Reagan administration's brutal policies in the region which was fueled by money and weapons secretly funneled to right-wing death squads and later exposed in the Iran-Contra hearings (Diamond, 1989; Hyer, 1985). IRD assailed mainline Protestant leaders who showed support for the Nicaraguan government while trying to tie the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches to the "terrorists" who were often Catholic priests and laity trying to organize the poverty stricken peasants of Central America (Diamond, 1989).
The death toll during the Reagan presidency was staggering -- with more than 200,000 political killings in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua alone (D'Escoto, 2004). Following the lead of the Reagan White House, IRD christened the military forces that carried out the violence, including the documented murder of hundreds of Catholic priests and nuns, as "freedom fighters" (Lernoux, 1991). Ronald Reagan described the Contra "death squads" in Nicaragua as "the moral equal of our founding fathers." The links between IRD and the first-term Reagan administration earned the IRD the moniker of "the official seminary of the White House" (Lernoux, 1989).
By the end of the 1980s IRD needed a new raison d'être. Its primary target became three mainstream Protestant churches, the very ones that had given it the most resistance in the years it attacked progressive forces in Central America. The United Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians replaced the Nicaraguans, El Salvadorians and Guatemalans.
Allied with so-called "renewal" groups like Good News and its wealthy patrons, IRD set its sights on orchestrating a hostile takeover of the UMC and other mainline churches (Howell, 2003). The institute's Reforming America's Churches Project aims to "restructure the permanent governing structure" of "theologically flawed" mainline churches like the UMC in order to "discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence" (IRD, 2001a). To do so it systematically spreads misleading and inflammatory charges against organizations and leaders, as well as employing the propaganda method of "wedge issues" like abortion and homosexuality, to cause distraction and division (Howell, 2003; Lomperis, 2004).
At the same time IRD continued to promote the radical right foreign and domestic policy agendas of the neoconservative movement that gave it birth. Its mission has closely tracked the neoconservative agenda over the past two decades - moving from militant anticommunism to post-cold war American global domination to radical anti-taxation for the rich and destruction of the meager social safety-net for the poor and middle-class (Tooley, 2001a; IRD, 2001a).
IRD routinely attacks the patriotism and theological integrity of any United Methodist leaders who do not share its blatant jingoism and Biblical fundamentalism (Howell, 2003; Lomperis, 2004). When several respected bishops and other leaders in the UMC questioned the wisdom of the preemptive invasion of Iraq, IRD published a hate-filled commentary accusing them of "worship at the altar of the United Nations," giving "aid and comfort" to our enemies, and having "hatred for President Bush and for America itself" (Berg, 2003).
In November of 2001, IRD featured an editorial entitled "Methodism and Patriotism" (Tooley, 2001b). In the commentary Mark Tooley, executive director of IRD's United Methodist monitoring program, a former CIA analyst and a board member of Good News, questioned the loyalty and patriotism of a host of UMC leaders in the of wake of September 11. He wrote:
"I have had the opportunity to observe not only the bishops' meeting, but also directors' meetings of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Board of Global Ministries
. The visual contrast between these meetings and the scene around the rest of the country was striking. Everywhere else I have seen the American flag proudly flying from houses, bridges, and cars.
But at all of the national United Methodist meetings I attended this fall, involving several hundred denominational leaders, I saw only one individual who displayed a flag." (Tooley, 2001b).
He went on:
"The blindness and ingratitude of our United Methodist officials when it comes to our country should cause us sorrow
they cannot really enjoy our church any more than they enjoy our country, because inwardly they feel superior to most of its members. Meanwhile, we ordinary members of the church can savor the gifts, including the gift of country." (Tooley, 2001b)
Notice the twisted argumentation here. Tooley claims that our duly elected and consecrated United Methodist bishops are secretly disdainful elites who do not care for either their church or nation and are not to be trusted by church members. (Forget the fact that many bishops and other leaders are combat veterans or have had family members who have been killed or wounded in war.) Again, IRD's propaganda patterns are more akin to techniques CIA operatives used during the Reagan years to destabilize leaders in Third World nations than civil discourse in the Christian church.
In addition, IRD lacks journalistic ethics. According to respected Bishop Kenneth L. Carder of Mississippi, who was spuriously named in "Methodism and Patriotism" as one who was not properly respectful of God or country, Tooley acted without ethics in his interactions with the bishop. Tooley contacted Bishop Carder, asking him if he wished to respond to IRD's attack prior to publication. Before Bishop Carder could respond, Tooley published it. According to Bishop Carder, Tooley had no intention of being fair or balanced in his article, nor did he have the intention of giving the bishop a chance to refute the false claims (Carder, 2004). The bishop said:
"I challenged Mark Tooley's tactics as a violation of basic Christian discipleship and invited him to enter a confidential mutual covenant to hold one another accountable for our discipleship and faithfulness to the Wesleyan tradition. I shared with him that his article and the tactics used violated the stated purpose of the IRD as 'protecting faith and freedom.' He refused to enter such a covenant." (Carder, 2004).
In October of 2002, IRD along with other denominational so-called "renewal" groups convened in Indianapolis for the "Confessing the Faith National Conference." It was heralded by James Heidinger, president of Good News, and Thomas Oden the chair of the Board of Directors of IRD, who declared it "the first-ever gathering of Evangelical, Confessing and Renewing Christians in the Mainline Churches of North America" (Confessing The Faith National Conference, 2002). Oden and the president of IRD, Diane Knippers, were keynote speakers, along with key leaders of the Confessing Movement, Maxie Dunnam and chair of the board William Hinson.
The conference was attended by Kevin Jones, an Episcopal businessman and award-winning religious news reporter. (Jones, 2004) Jones wrote a stinging report about the conference that ought to be read by everyone concerned about the right-wing attack on mainline churches (Jones, 2002). He found that he could obtain tapes recordings of all the conference sessions except the political strategy gatherings which he attended. The strategy sessions laid out clandestine and devious tactics for gaining power within the mainline denominations.
Jones discovered in these sessions a dedicated group whose proposed methods lacked basic scruples. The group discussed strategies of deception and deceitfulness to employ in their hostile takeover bids. Seminaries and Sunday schools were listed as priority targets (Jones, 2002). They were advised to present themselves as a "winsome witness" that is "a soft and friendly face to the public," but fight "tooth and nail on an issue." There was absolutely no talk of splitting or leaving the church. "They are convinced they are right and are willing to work long and hard to reclaim what they think is theirs." He found out that the threat of a split from the churches "is a scam" (Jones, 2002). Jones wrote:
"When they use the language of splitting or schism, they want to scare their target and ours, the 'Movable Middle.' Like a lot of political speech it's not what they say, but the effect of what they say that we should look at. If they raise the fear of a split it could freeze the 'Movable Middle...'" (Jones, 2002)
One tactic they advised was to "divert focus from issues important to progressives." The issue of Sudanese Christian human rights was explicitly recommended as a diversionary device. "Sudan serves two purposes," Jones was cynically told at the conference: "It diverts attention away from Palestine and Israel and allows them to make common cause with progressives on a human rights issue." Their goal is to place "progressives into internally conflicted positions" (Jones, 2002). Who could possibly be against human rights for persecuted Christians in the Sudan?
IRD touts its "Religious Liberty Program" as central to its mission and especially its advocacy for Sudanese Christians. It states in its IRS declarations that it "monitors and reports on religious liberty issues worldwide," and since 1999 has indicated a "focus on persecution in Sudan" (GuideStar, 2003). On its website it makes impassioned plies for the Sudanese Christians who face the real horrors of slavery, mass murder and starvation. IRD indicates in its IRS report that it spent over 3.5 million dollars ($3,586,783) between 1999 and 2002. During that same period, IRD gave a grand total of $20,640 in grants to the persecuted Sudanese (GuideStar, 2003). That is less than $6,000 of each million it spent. Compare that to the $78,000 it paid in 1999 alone to Univision, a telemarketing company in Canada, to solicit new donors (GuideStar, 2003). Some priority. Some compassion.
Despite the fact that IRD gives a pittance of its resources in direct aid to the Sudanese people, it makes its professed concern media visible. In February of 2000 IRD announced in Christianity Today that it was organizing ongoing protests against the Clinton Administration's policy in Sudan at the gates of the State Department. Faith McDonnell, director of the Religious Liberty Program and the Church Alliance for a New Sudan at IRD, said she was "looking for church groups willing to participate, including, in each, a person prepared to be arrested" (Strode, 2000). The call for protest and civil disobedience is as American as apple pie and to speak up for persecuted people is a worthy, even noble calling.
The only problem is that when respected leaders in the UMC and NCC exercise the same citizen's right of dissent, they are roundly castigated by IRD (Tooley, 2002). When courageous Christians, including UMC bishops, protested the "shock and awe" invasions of the Bush administration, IRD labeled the dissenters "politically correct" interlopers practicing "convenient pacifism" (Knippers, 2003). IRD says fellow Christians only reduce serious debates to "superficial, even deceptive slogans and arguments" while showing "embarrassing naiveté" as they "spout pacifist-sounding slogans" (Knippers, 2003; Wisdom, 2003).
IRD directs Christians to trust the country's military and political leaders rather than to question them. "Church leaders are wrong to speak on matters about which they lack the information and competence," wrote Wisdom, "... in the case of war against Iraq, those grave decisions must finally be made by government and military leaders within their spheres of competence and authority" (Wisdom, 2003). IRD tells the church to actively protest government policy in the Sudan, but when it come to questions of war and peace we should simply trust and obey government officials (Wisdom, 2003).
Diane Knippers, president of IRD, actually tries to make the bizarre argument that "theologians and clerics" should not enter the debate about questions of war and peace (Knippers, 2003). Is she saying that the Rev. John Wesley was out of bounds when he repeatedly spoke out against war and excessive military spending in the 18th century (Stone, 2001)? John Wesley who abhorred the cruelty and self-indulgence of war and vehemently objected when his government used the method of war to resolve its conflicts wrote:
"But, whatever be the cause, let us calmly and impartially consider the thing itself. Here are forty thousand men gathered together on this plain. What are they going to do? See, there are thirty or forty thousand more at a little distance. And these are going to shoot them through the head or body, to stab them, or split their skulls, and send most of their souls into everlasting fire, as fast as they possibly can. Why so? What harm have they done to them? O none at all! They do not so much as know them. But a man, who is King of France, has a quarrel with another man, who is King of England. So these Frenchmen are to kill as many of these Englishmen as they can, to prove the King of France is in the right. Now, what an argument is this! What a method of proof! What an amazing way of deciding controversies! What must mankind be, before such a thing as war could ever be known or thought of upon earth? How shocking, how inconceivable a want must there have been of common understanding, as well as common humanity, before any two Governors, or any two nations in the universe, could once think of such a method of decision? If, then, all nations, Pagan, Mahometan, and Christian, do, in fact, make this their last resort, what farther proof do we need of the utter degeneracy of all nations from the plainest principles of reason and virtue?" (Wesley, 1757).
More importantly, Jesus Christ in the Gospels, which IRD appears to want to ignore, emphatically oppose retaliation and affirms love for the enemy. To one of his disciples, who tried to prevent him from being arrested by using a sword, Jesus said, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Mt. 26:52). Knowing the effects of the vicious cycle of violence, Jesus refused to use force to stop violence. Instead, he showed us the surest way to an authentic triumph over violence: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Mt. 5:9).
The theologian Schubert M. Ogden recently wrote in personal correspondence in reference to "some of those who are leaders in the conservative forces within the UMC (as well as some of their colleagues in other denominations and confessions)." "Their pride and arrogance are only too evident from their carelessness in the means they're willing to employ and in their lack of charity toward those whom they treat, not as brothers and sisters in Christ, or even as fellow-members of God's original, all-inclusive covenant, but simply as enemies to be outmaneuvered and overcome." (Ogden, 2004).
Andrew Weaver, M.Th., Ph.D., is a United Methodist pastor and research psychologist. He has co-authored eight books including, Counseling Troubled Older Adults (Abingdon, 1997), Counseling Troubled Teens and Their Families (Abingdon, 1999). Reflections on Marriage and Spiritual Growth (Abingdon, 2003) and Counseling Survivors of Traumatic Events (Abingdon, 2003).
Nicole Seibert, B. A., is a United Methodist and an instructor of sociology at Alfred State College in upstate New York. She researches a variety of topics including right-wing politics, women's labor issues, NGOs and globalization.
Barnett, F. R. (1961). "A Proposal for Political Warfare," Military Review, March 1961.
Berg, D. (2003). Commentary: Anti-war protestants. Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on September 30, 2003.
Blumenthal, M. (2004). Avenging angel of the religious right. Retrieved on January 6, 2004.
Carder, K. (2004). Personal Communication, May 5, 2004.
Case, R.B. (2003). Do renewal groups threaten the health of United Methodism? Good News Magazine. Retrieved on December 2, 2003.
Clarkson, F. (1997). Eternal Hostility: The Struggle between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe , Maine: Common Courage Press.
Conason, J. and Lyons, G. (2000). The Hunting of the President. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.
Confessing The Faith National Conference. (2002). Retrieved on December 2, 2003.
D'Escoto, M. (2004) Father Miguel D'Escoto Speaks From Nicaragua: "Reagan Was the Butcher of My People", Retrieved on June 8, 2004.
Diamond, S. (1989) Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (Boston, South End Press).
Goshko, J. M. (1989). "Backers to get State Department Post" Washington Post. February 1, 1989.
Goodstein, L. and Kirkpatrick, D.D. (2004) "Conservative Group Amplifies Voice of Protestant Orthodoxy," New York Times, Retrieved May 22, 2004.
GuideStar. (2003). Institute on religion & democracy. Retrieved on December 5, 2003.
House Foreign Affairs Committee (1988), staff report, Sep 7, 1988.
Howell, L. (2003). United Methodism @ Risk: A wake up call. Kingston, NY: Information Project for United Methodists.
Howell, L. (1995). Funding the war of ideas: A report to the united church board for homeland ministries. Cleveland, OH: United Church Board for Homeland Ministries.
Hout, M., Greely, A., and Wilde, M. J. (2001). The demographic imperative in religious change in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 107(2), 468-500.
Hyer, M. (1985). "State department Backing of Religious Conference Stirs Debate" Washington Post. April 20, 1985.
Institute on Religion and Democracy. (2001a). Institute on religion and democracy's reforming America's churches project: 2001-2004, executive summary. Retrieved on September 30, 2003.
Isikoff, M. (1985). "U.S. Ex-Officials Lead 'Contra' Fund Drive," Washington Post, May 6, 1985.
Jones, K., (2004). Every Voice Network. About Our Team. Retrieved on September 30, 2003.
Jones, K., (2002). Every Voice Network. Report From Indianapolis. Retrieved on September 30, 2003.
Knippers, D. (2003). Being Anti Anti-War. Institute for Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on October 8, 2003.
Lernoux, P. (1991). Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America - the Catholic Church Conflict with U. S. Policy. New York, NY: Penguin Press.
Lernoux, P. (1989). People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism, New York, Viking Press.
Lomperis, J.(2004). Church Lobbyists Push Liberal Causes at "Advocacy Days", Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on May 12, 2004.
Massing, M. (1989). "The Rise and fall of Ollie's liberals" Washington Post. June 28, 1989.
Media Transparency, (2003) The Money behind the media. Institute on Religion and Democracy, Inc.
Ogden, S. (2004). Personal Communication, April 18 and July 10, 2004.
Public Eye. (1989). Group watch: Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on September 4, 2003.
Smith, M. (2004). Institute of Hate, San Francisco Weekly, February 25, 2004.
Swomley, J. M. (1989). "Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD): Big Political Action Intrigue for Neo-Conservative Viewpoint," The Churchman's Human Quest, January/February 1989.
Stone, R.H. (2001). John Wesley's life and ethics. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Strode, T. (2000). Protest Begins as White House Rethinks Policy on Sudan Regime
Religious leaders urge Clinton administration to act against oppression. Christianity Today.
Tooley, M. (2001a). Church leaders and tax collectors. Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on October 2, 2003.
Tooley, M. (2001b). Commentary: Methodism and Patriotism. Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved on October 2, 2003.
Tooley, M. (2002). Institute on Religion and Democracy. Church Groups Rally Against Iraq War. Retrieved on October 2, 2003.
Wisdom, A. (2003) "Discernment Needed: What Mainstream Christians Know and Don't Know about Possible War with Iraq," October 10, 2003.
Wesley, J. (1757) "Doctrine of Original Sin" from The Complete Works of John Wesley, Thomas Jackson, London, 1825, New York, 1875.