Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Rebekah Sharpe of the Institute on Religion and Democracy has a strong stomach. She subjected herself to a program in Manhattan last month that featured far left worthies John Dorhauer, Sheldon Culver, Frederick Clarkson, and Michelle Goldberg (Chris Hedges, the author of the subtly titled American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America  was supposed to be there, but couldn’t make it). The evening was titled “Nationalists, Fascists, and Fanatics: The Christian Right’s Threat to the Future of Democracy in America,” and the primary topics on tap were paranoia and a kind of generalized slander of tens of millions of Americans. Lowlights:

Culver said that renewalists were motivated by material, not biblical principles. She claimed, “And we have …finally realized … ultimately this is not about silencing the bishops—that’s been done for quite some time … it [the goal] has been to take the property and assets of the local church: [it has] nothing to do with theology … nothing to do with biblical interpretation, but to take the property and assets.”

She also suggested that violence (or the threat thereof) was a part of the evangelical movements. When Dorhauer stated that many progressive pastors would find themselves “calculating … [that] for the good of the church” it was better they not make political pronouncements, Culver interjected that their motivation for restraint was “… sometimes for safety too! Violence is a part of this.” Without specifically mentioning who the perpetrators and victims of ecclesial violence were, she continued, “One of the key methods that as we started analyzing what was happening in two particular churches it became very obvious that the fundamental mechanism was abuse.”

I was going to say, “evidence, please,” but then I realized that was pointless when dealing with the McCarthyism of the left. Much of what these fear-mongers is peddling nothing more than fantasy or outright delusion, along with a huge helping of malicious pseudo-mind-reading. Asking them to “prove” their charges is like asking UFO enthusiasts to produce an alien.

Much like something from a recent Star Wars film, Goldberg described how, unlike Christian liberals, Christian conservatives are very willing to be blissfully co-opted and manipulated by the Republican Party. She marveled at the malleability of Conservative Christians in the hands of Washington’s Right-Wing politicos, reflecting that the two “main structural differences [between right-wing Christians and their left-wing cousins] … I see as a journalist … not as a historian by any stretch of the imagination,” were discovered during her “eavesdropping on a conference call that the Family Research Council does with leaders of conservative churches all over the country…You have Tony Perkins and … he basically gives you your marching orders for the month. He [Tony Perkins] goes, “I’ve been talking to the Republican leadership, I’ve been talking to my friends at the White House we need you to tell your congregants.…”

Goldberg asserted that religious leftists were above succumbing to political temptation. She explained, “I don’t think you could really have that kind of coordination [on the left] because I don’t think that many religious liberals really want to go to a church that’s taking actual marching orders from the Democratic leadership council.”

I find this kind of annoying. I mean, I’ve never gotten any marching orders from the White House, through Perkins or anyone else. I want my White House marching orders!

As for the second paragraph, let’s just say I laughed out loud. If Goldberg can find one public policy issue that, say, the Washington Office of the PCUSA has taken a stand on that doesn’t mirror that of the Democratic Party, I’ll buy her book.

Fred Clarkson provided a lengthy critique of present-day appeasers. He gravely warned, “This is the area of appeasement, make no mistake.… What happens when we have evangelical movements in the church? Not just evangelicals in the church, but people who say ‘We want to bring things back to the way they ought to be in the church, the true orthodox Christianity, that somehow all those … people have somehow abandoned and they don’t believe in God and Jesus, and we have to bring it back.’ How do you appease people like that?” Specifying a political example of the supposed Hitler-esque appeasement attempts, Clarkson said, “In order to include pro-life Democrats, you can no longer stand for your own principles. That’s appeasement. And that’s the advice the Democratic Party leaders are getting now.”

So now Democrats can’t be pro-life, because doing so would be appeasing Christian rightists (despite the fact that there are some feminists and secular people who are pro-life).  Ain’t inclusiveness and tolerance grand?

Worse still, Goldberg asserts the government has been quietly “infiltrated” (a word generally used for foreign nationals acting as agents on behalf of their government and at the detriment of our own, and not in reference to American citizens) by evangelicals. “Under the bush administration … is the gradual infiltration and replacement from these … ideologically driven institutions instead of people from these real institutions. It used to be that the department of justice would hire civil rights lawyers with some background in … human rights instead of hiring people from Liberty University or Regent University or Ave Maria University.”

So apparently conservative Christians have no right to serve in government, no right to seek to influence much less implement public policy. By virtue of being conservative Christians, they are subversives who threaten our constitutional order. I wonder if people like Goldberg realize how much they sound like incipient authoritarians when they talk like this.

Clarkson said that because “One of the principle obstacles to a hawkish foreign policy in the U.S. and the institution that perhaps more than any other ended the Vietnam War were the mainline protestant churches.” Consequently, “the IRD was created…to neutralize and marginalize and systematically take apart the mainline churches…” Dorhauer later concurred, saying “To effectively silence the prophetic witness of the progressive church is really what the goal of the IRD has been.”

As articulated in their book, Culver and Dorhauer asserted that the religious right had completed “steeplejacking takeovers” in many churches. While Dorhauer admitted that “most of the members that we mention in these takeover attempts of which we write have no idea that the IRD even exists,” he suggested that, counter-intuitively, the organization’s relative anonymity “in some ways … is what makes the IRD so effective and so pernicious and so powerful.”

And here we’ve come all the way around to full-blown John Birchism. Like the Birchers, Clarkson, Culver and Dorhauer proclaim a monumental conspiracy that is subverting organizations made up of millions of people, and the very lack of evidence of the conspiracy is proof that it exists and is demonically effective! The IRD (the total staff of which consists of 14 people working with an annual budget far less than that of most of the individual program agencies of the big mainline churches) has become the equivalent of the 1950s Communist Party to the religious left, an insidious organization that will bring down Everything That We Hold Dear if we don’t maintain Eternal Vigilance. And pointing out the absurdity of this to the paranoids is just pointless. To take just one example, I’d love to know why Dorhauer thinks IRD is such a threat, when his own United Church of Christ makes one left-wing policy pronouncement after another, and they just had Barack Obama and Bill Moyers speak at their General Synod, for crying out loud! If that’s the measure of the success of The Conspiracy, I’d say to my friends at the IRD that some heads need to roll.


This time, it’s in Paola, Kansas:

Bob Nicholson and his parents, June and Alva Lee Powell, walked into the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church in Paola on Sunday night and sat where the family has always sat since June first became a member of the church at the age of 10 in the late 1920s.

Instead of a church bulletin or hymn sheet, the family members held onto ballots, joining the more than 300 congregation members who packed into the sanctuary on Sunday to vote on whether the church should ask to join the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church….

It took about 20 minutes for all the votes to be completed and gathered and about another 40 minutes to tally them, Nicholson said.

By 8 p.m., congregation members who stayed around learned that more than 70 percent of the more than 300 voters chose to ask for dismissal from the PC (USA). The final total was 229-83, [the Rev. Kirk] Johnston said.

The story actually goes on to focus largely on Nicholson, who voted “no” and thinks the New Wineskins’ claims about the PCUSA are “hogwash,” claiming that 95% of PCUSA members would disagree. Though it isn’t a direct quote, he also apparently told the reporter that there are “only a handful of gay or lesbian ministers,” and that (this is a direct quote) “They’re blowing this way out of proportion.” He ignores the fact that there aren’t supposed to be any gay or lesbian ministers, at least sexually active ones, in the PCUSA, as well as the fact that the problem is that other presbyteries have no interest in enforcing ordination standards in the denomination, which will soon swell the ranks of that “handful.”

The second church from its presbytery to vote to leave (the first was Hillsdale, also in Miami County, Kansas), First Presbyterian Paola is a member of the Heartland Presbytery, which has indicated that it will take a hard line on churches desiring to leave. (For further information on this, check the Layman Online’s archives for their article “Heartland Presbytery proposal targets congregations thinking about leaving PCUSA.” And while you’re at it, tell them to put URL tags on individual pages.) Be praying for them as they start the process.