The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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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

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Conservative aid threatens churches

OP/ED

The United Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and othermainline Protestant churches are under attack.  Theirassailants are pseudo-religious organizations that carry out thegoals of secular funding groups opposed to the churches’historic social witness.  A well-researched new book, UnitedMethodism @ Risk: A Wake Up Call, written by respected journalistand former editor of Christianity and Crisis, Leon Howell,documents this undeclared war on the church.  Whateverone’s religious beliefs, this situation should concern notonly church members but all civic-minded Americans.

A key player in this assault on the churches is the Institute onReligion and Democracy.  IRD is unaffiliated with anydenomination and accountable only to its own board of directors. Itis generously funded by secular organizations such as the ScaifeFoundations, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation,Ahmanson’s Fieldstead Foundation, the Adolph Coors Foundationand the John M. Olin Foundation.  Its goals, which areconsistently at odds with the historic social witness of themainline churches, include increasing military spending, opposingenvironmental protection efforts, and eliminating social welfareprograms. IRD regularly vilifies and ridicules church officials,organizations, and programs that do not reflect itsultra-conservative views.

A major portion of IRD’s funding comes from right-wingbillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.  Records show that Scaifefoundations donated more than $1.9 million to IRD. In theScaife’s charitable activity reports for 2002, hisfoundations have given $225,000 to the IRD for its “ReformingAmerica’s Churches Project.” Including the above goals,the projects’ goals include discrediting the church’switness for “environmental extremism,” such as itssupport of the Kyoto Accords. 

Scaife has subsidized many of the political right’sformative institutions and organizations during the past 30years.  The Washington Post reported that in 1999, Scaife gaveabout $620 million, adjusted for inflation, to conservative causesand institutions.  In the 1990s Scaife funded millions ofdollars to groups filing lawsuits against the Clintonadministration on a multitude of issues.  In a revealing 1999interview with John F. Kennedy, Jr., in George Magazine, Scaifeclaimed that the Clintons were involved in the deaths of 60 friendsand employees. These bizarre accusations have never been takenseriously in a court of law nor shown any factual basis.

Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson and his wife, Roberta, who serves onthe IRD board of directors, also fund IRD. They have been keysupporters of right-wing causes in California and Chalcedon Inc.,the Christian Reconstructionist think tank where Howard Ahmansonserved on the board of directors for 23 years.  ChristianReconstructionism is a hard-line Calvinist movement that advocatesreplacing American democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy understrict biblical codes in which a death penalty “bystoning” would be imposed on everyone from adulterers tohomosexuals and incorrigible children . Ahmanson’s Fieldsteadfoundation gave IRD $58,960 in 1991 and $234,135 in 1992 .According to recent report by The Washington Post, Ahmansoncontinues to give on average about $75,000 a year.

 The John M. Olin Foundation, whose namesake manufacturedWinchester rifles, gave IRD $489,000 “to counter thepolitical influence of the Religious Left.”  The AdolphCoors family foundation, also gave $90,000 to “challenge theorthodoxy promoted by liberal religious leaders in theU.S.”  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, funded bya family with ties to the John Birch Society, gave $1.5 millionbetween 1985-2001 to IRD efforts.  The BradleyFoundation’s stated objective is to return the U.S. tothe days before government regulated business and corporations wererequired to negotiate with labor unions. Other conservativefoundations include the Smith Richardson and JM foundations.

Why are these foundations, through their support of attack-dogagencies such as the IRD, working to undermine the UnitedMethodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and other mainline Protestantchurches?  The answer seems clear: Although thesedenominations total only about 14 million members in the U.S., theyhave been and remain influential voices supporting social valuesthat run counter to all that the foundations stand for.  As anexample of the churches’ potential influence on publicpolicy, nearly 30 percent of the current members of the U.S.Congress belong to one of these denominations.  So do largenumbers of community leaders who advocate for the poor, civil andhuman rights, environmental protection and a foreign policygrounded in international cooperation. Each of these priorities ison the “hit list” of the likes of Scaife and similarfoundation leaders.

If Scaife, Ahmanson, Olin, Coors, Bradley and their supportersare successful in disrupting the activities and leadership ofmainline Protestant denominations through their support of IRD andother advocacy groups they will muffle much of America’ssocial conscience. They will also stifle the tradition of sociallyresponsible public policy in this country.

If fair-minded people fail to take action, our religioustraditions and our civil society are vulnerable to the will ofwell-heeled ideologues.

 

Andrew J. Weaver, PhD., a 1978 graduate of the Perkins Schoolof Theology, is a United Methodist minister and researchpsychologist working in New York City. He may be reached [email protected].

Richard L. Binggeli, PhD., is a Presbyterian elder in thePCUSA and professor emeritus of medical neuroscience living in LosAngeles. He may be reached at [email protected].

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