Monday, May 22, 2006

State of Belief: May 21 (Part 1)

On the Sunday, May 21 episode of State of Belief, Rev. Welton Gaddy interviewed:

Dr. Andrew J. Weaver United Methodist pastor and clinical psychologist, and contributor to Hardball on Holy Ground: the Religious Right versus the Mainline for the Soul of the Church

Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists host of Religious Talk on KREF radio Norman, OK, on at 11 each Sunday morning. Also President of Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Dr. John Dorhauer, minister for the St. Louis Association of the United Churches of Christ

Gaddy: How did you become aware of what's happening in mainline denominations with the Christian right--did you come to this conclusion ideologically or experientially? Did you see it up close?

John Dorhauer: As a local church pastor for 16 years, I was aware of churches in the surrounding area who were experiencing extreme levels of conflict over what became known as the "wedge issues" of the day. Twenty years ago it was the ordaination of women, a few years after that it was abortion, and now it's homosexuality. And I discovered over time that churches within the United Church of Christ were willing to disaffiliate over these issues.

It took me a while to sort of lose that narrow perspective of experiencing that in the local church and realize the same thing was happening on a national basis, not just across the United Church of Christ, but across mainline Protestant Christianity. And it was, for me, the work of Andrew Weaver that first helped me to make those connections.

Gaddy: Dr. Weaver, how did you come to a conclusion about it?

Weaver: I began to do research after I read a book United Methodists at Risk, which was published by a prominent bishop in the United Methodist Church, Dale White, and others. Basically they were saying that outside money from Richard Mellon Scaife and political operatives like Adolf Coors were funneling money into an attack on churches. This has no precedent in American church history. At that time I had a research department with a couple of PhDs and research assistants, so I got all the material and read for six months, and became absolutely convinced that this was the case. And after that I felt called to speak out like Paul Revere, and ring the bell of alarm. There is no doubt whatsoever, Welton, that this is a systematic effort to undermine mainline churches, who still have transparent democratic processes in them that become an area for the culture wars.

Gaddy: Dr. Prescott, I know that you know this experientially. Talk a little bit about having gone through the experience of the Southern Baptist Convention's takeover.

Prescott: Yes, I do have experience of the Southern Baptist Convention being taken over by a right wing fundamentalist group. It was an organized attempt--there wasn't any secret about it--and there's been a conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention. Kind of a struggle for the churches, individual churches. Here in Oklahoma I worked with the moderate Baptists in this state, because we feel that there are churches here that have been targeted to be taken over by fundamentalists that are affiliated with the Southern Baptists Convention.

Gaddy: Let me ask all three of you. This takeover movement of Christian denominations, is this a religious movement or is it a political movement?

Weaver: There is not a grassroots movement to do this. The money overwhelmingly--and it is "follow the money"--come from people *outside* these communions.

Gaddy: What is the motivation? What do they want to do?

Weaver: It is primarily a political motivation. Just as the right wing is trying to affect the court system, the educational system-- These churches were the primary bulwark against many of the right wing causes under Reagan. And they decided after that, when they saw these United Methodist, United Church of Christ and the others being effective, they became the targets.

Welton: Dr. Dorhauer, is that the way you see it?

Dorhauer: Absolutely. I do want to say, though, that although Andrew's right about the money coming from politically motivated individuals, the truth is, about those experiencing this in the local church, many of them are unaware of that political motivation and that political connection. They're being fed material from outside sources, and they don't know where that material's coming from. But that material fuels the fire in the local church. And the other thing I want to point out is that in those local churches where those fired are being fueled by this material, the pastors all of a sudden find themselves unwilling to speak about issues that they know are going to raise this level of conflict. And so, what the politically motivated achieve is the silence of the religious-conscious voice that has historically led this country, and that has challenged some of the more strident political voices that have gone out over the edge. And those voices are being silenced today.

Weaver: You could easily call the Institute on Religion and Democracy "The Institute of Sex and More Sex". Because, if you Google homosexuality on their site, an incredible percentage of everything they do is a gay-bashing attack that works, and it really is fearmongering. To the point that the Ku Klux Klan, last summer, endorsed and encouraged on their site, one of the attacks that the Institute of Religion and Democracy made against the United Methodist group with over a dozen bishops attended, in celebration of gay and lesbian Christians. So their target is really fearmongering that turned, in this case, into the Ku Klux Klan endorsing them. That's the level of vitriol that is involved in these groups.

Gaddy: So what do they get if they take over the denomination? What is it that they want--the money? What is it?

Dorhauer: I think ultimately what they want is the silence. But along the way, at least in the United Church of Christ, what they're getting is pieces of property worth millions of dollars, membership contributions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, endowments in millions of dollars. In the United Church of Christ, any local congregation can disaffiliate any time they want, so their targets in the UCC are individual congregations.

Gaddy: Dr. Prescott, how do you see that?

Prescott: What I think is happening is that they're keeping the mainline congregations in turmoil with wedge issues, and then that allows people that have a secular political agenda to accomplish whatever it is that they're trying to do. I think when you talk about the Institute of Religion and Democracy, you're talking about Catholic neoconservatives who've got some of the same ultimate political goals as neoconservatives in the religious right. And not even the *religious* right--they just are *right*. And they're accomplishing those objectives by keeping the mainline congregations' voices silent.

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