The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


A preview of a partisan presidential think tank

If you want a preview of the sort of disinformation that many of us expect from the proposed Bush partisan think tank at SMU, which the president told the press he wants to call the Institute on Democracy, take a gander at the opinion piece by Mark Tooley published in The Daily Campus on March 21 titled “Bush Library controversy: Who’s really ‘disconnected'”?

Mr. Tooley was employed by the CIA before he became head of the United Methodist unit (UMAction) within the neoconservative think tank the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in Washington, D.C. He also writes a regular column for David Horowitz’s Horowitz is known for his attacks upon academic freedom and tenure and is the author of the seedy little book, “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America.”

IRD spends about $1 million a year, raised mostly from secular donors with political motivations; bashing mainstream Protestant churches (particularly the Presbyterians, Episcopalians and United Methodists). Its right-wing benefactors include Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Ahmanson, Joseph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Bishop Kenneth Carder, professor of the practice of pastoral formation at Duke University Divinity School recently wrote:

The tactics of the IRD to take statements out of context, divide the church into “us” and “them,” foster polarization and conflict for financial and ideological purposes, capitalize on and manipulate fear and mistrust, promote a narrow political agenda – all in the name of “defending faith and freedom” – are disingenuous at best and diabolical at worst. In my opinion, the IRD and UMAction inflict wounds on the body of Christ, distract from the church’s mission, and create unnecessary polarization. The opinion piece by Mr. Tooley is, as usual, replete with untruths and half-truths. Space, however, only allows me to address one piece of disinformation.

Central to his argument in the op-ed, Mr. Tooley seeks to justify IRD’s endless assaults on the United Methodist Church (UMC) by claiming that a decline in membership in mainline Protestant churches, such as the UMC, is the fault of “liberal elites.” The clergy are the “elites” who, by involving the church in social action (civil rights, environmental advocacy, women’s rights and so forth), have done the damage. The IRD has arrived just in the nick of time to save us from our disconnect with regular church-going folk.

This position is illustrated by Riley Case, a longtime board member of IRD. He recently wrote that United Methodism “is in the midst of a 100-year decline. The years of the decline correspond exactly to the years that liberalism and institutionalism have dominated Methodism.”

The problem with his assertion is that it is simply not true. As we all learned in school, correlation does not denote causation. The cause of the decline in membership in the UMC and other mainline Protestant churches is biology not ideology. Social-scientific evidence shows that the membership decrease in mainline denominations over the past 70 years and the growth of conservative churches is the direct consequence of people dying and of conservative church members having more children than their mainline counterparts.

According to several leading experts in the sociology of religion (M. Hout, A. Greeley, and M.J. Wilde), who published their findings in 2001, “switching from mainline to conservative denominations…explains none of the decline of mainline denominations” (The demographic imperative in religious change in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 107, 468-500).

In fact, if you are born into a Southern Baptist or Pentecostal church you are statistically more likely to become a United Methodist or other mainline Protestant than the other way around. Furthermore, as women in conservative churches become more highly educated, they tend to marry later and have fewer children, presenting those churches with the identical demographic factors that have accounted for the decline in membership in mainline Protestantism.

Key advisors to the Bush Administration are neoconservative stalwarts who also are directly involved in IRD. They include Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Robert P. George of Princeton University, Hadley Arkes of Amherst College, and Mary Ellen Glendon of Harvard University. Many leaders in the United Methodist Church expect that IRD itself or groups much like it will be located in the Bush complex, bashing our churches while using the good name of SMU and the UMC for legitimacy.

About the writer:

Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, Ph.D. is a United Methodist minister and research psychologist living in New York City. He is a 1978 graduate of the Perkins School of Theology, SMU. He can be reached at [email protected].

Additional Research on IRD:

More to Discover