Sunday, October 16, 2005

UCC President Says Rightist Groups "intent... on destroying our life together" as a Church

Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ acknowledged on Friday what mainline protestant church leaders have been reluctant to address for two decades: the rightist Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and allied groups are seeking to undermine if not destroy the mainline Christian churches in the United States.

The conservative movement and parts of the corporate sector have loathed the rise of the social gospel in the mainline churches for a century. They have loathed the social justice traditions that were catalysts for the civil rights movement, women's rights, and principled opposition to the excesses of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Central America. It was the latter that led to the formation of the IRD as a hub of antichurch organizing. Since then, IRD-affiliated "renewal" groups have been at the center of nearly every controversy in mainline Christianity -- most recently, but certainly not exclusively, issues of gay and lesbian equality in church and public life.

Thomas spoke, according to United Church News about groups "within and beyond the UCC" that are "intent on disrupting and destroying our life together."
"Groups like the Evangelical Association of Reformed, Christian and Congregational Churches and the Biblical Witness Fellowship are increasingly being exposed even as they are increasingly aggressive," Thomas said. "Their relationship to the right-wing Instit ute 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 now 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."

UCC seminarian and blogger Chuck Currie has more over at Stree t Prophets. Currie has written about the IRD-affiliated Biblical Witness Fellowship in the past, as have I.

Last year, the IRD and its Association for Church Renewal, (of which the BWT is a member) attacked the UCC for its warmhearted TV ads that had been rejected by the TV networks as "too controversial."

Last summer when the UCC's General Synod endorsed same sex marriage, the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWT) went ballistic and implied that the UCC is no longer a Christian denomination. Previously, it had called for the resignation of John Thomas.

All of the major denominations as well as the National Council of Churches have been affected by this well-funded, and sustained campaign of attrition over the past two decades.

IRD has received substantial funding and direction over the years, from what some might consider the first couple of theocratic philanthropy, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson who were profiled by journalist Max Blumenthal for Salon.com last year. This article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand what John Thomas is talking about.

The Ahmansons have reportedly contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to IRD, on whose board Roberta Ahmanson sits. The institute, Blumenfeld reported, has a
"Reforming America's Churches Project, which aims to 'restructure the permanent governing structure' of 'theologically flawed' mainline churches like the Episcopal Church in order to 'discredit and diminish the Religious Left's influence.' This has translated into a three-pronged assault on mainline Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal churches. With a staff of media-savvy research specialists, the institute is able to ply both the religious and mainstream media, exploiting divisive social issues within the churches."

It is a good thing that the courageous leader of a major denomination has publicly acknowledged that his denomination is under attack by politically motivated agencies. I hope the UCC and all of the mainline denominations will begin to take a more forceful posture in relation to groups who have abused their standing in tolerant and welcoming communities in order to sew division and discord.

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