Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Institute on Religion and Democracy's Attack on the United Methodist Church

My computer is back and now in good health. This afternoon I received an urgent call for action from Steven D. Martin at the Institute on Religion and Democracy Information Project. I have known about the IRD for most of its thirty plus years and found it as Frederick Clarkson has described it:

The oxymoronically named Institute on Religion and Democracy for a generation has sought to disrupt and divide the major denominations of mainline Protestantism, as well as the wider ecumenical communions, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. Even more remarkably perhaps, while presenting itself an agency dedicated to reform and "renewal" of the churches, IRD's leadership and staff have been substantially populated by men and women who are not even members of any of the churches they say they seek to "renew."
If you don't already know about the IRD, follow the links in the article for background.

For some time we have been watching the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a so-called "renewal group" that attacks and undermines the mainline churches. As a United Methodist pastor, I have been particularly concerned about the IRD's attacks on my denomination. I have addressed these concerns in several ways, one of which is to create the video, "Renewal or Ruin?" which is viewable in its entirety online.

I have been watching the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) for several years now. I learned about the IRD by accident when I witnessed them attempting to manipulate events at my Annual Conference from
behind the scenes. For the last two years I have been reading everything I can find about this organization and its divisive tactics. I thought I had seen everything. I have just learned that the IRD has made a significant move that puts the future of the United Methodist Church in peril and the church's General Boards and Agencies at risk. The IRD is an unprecedented threat to the United Methodist Church, and all denominations it attacks.

I have long believed that the IRD functions more as a strategy center, not so much a renewal group. While the language of IRD writers is often couched in terms of church renewal, it is overwhelmingly critical of church leaders and structures. The actions of the IRD as regards a little-known coalition proves this point.

In 2004 an apparent victory was won when the General Conference voted down a resolution to cripple the financing and mission of the United Methodist Church's
General Board of Church and Society (GBCS- the agency tasked with interpreting the church's social teachings to the world). However, in recognition of the minority's concerns regarding the use of endowment funds, which provide significant funding to its ministries, in spite of over forty years of consistent legal opinions permitting the use of these endowment funds, the Board elected to seek legal judgment from the courts on this issue. To settle this matter once and for all, the Board filed a request for a declaratory decision on the use of the United Methodist Building Endowment Fund with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Five persons only peripherally related to this case, intervened in this case, turning a fairly simple matter of clarification into an expensive, contested lawsuit. The Coalition for United Methodist Accountability, an organization comprised of the
Institute on Religion and Democracy, Good News, and the Confessing Movement, three powerful and well-funded right-wing organizations claiming to work for the renewal of the United Methodist Church, is secretly financing the legal expenses of the five individuals who have intervened against the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church & Society's request for a declaratory decision on the use of the United Methodist Building Endowment Fund from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

It turns out that all five of the interveners were recruited to join the action against the General Board of Church & Society by Mark Tooley, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's UM Action project, and a law firm Gammon & Grange, based in Arlington, Virginia.

Why are IRD, Good News, and Confessing Movement covertly funding the court case against GBCS? In an
article published in 2004 in Good News Magazine, Mr. Tooley said, "If income from the Methodist Building and old Board of Temperance investments were restricted to alcohol-related work, it would be a devastating blow to Church & Society's ability to lobby for its more favored liberal political causes." Furthermore, Mr. Tooley gloats: "Even more devastating would be any legal finding that required Church and Society to reimburse the millions of dollars it has spent over the years from old Board of Temperance assets, in seeming violation of the 1965 trust agreement’s expectation that all income was to be reserved for alcohol-related work."

Forty years of legal opinions have clearly allowed the Board the latitude to use these funds as it has. But how, and why, did the IRD get involved in this legal case?
The five interveners against the General Board are C. Pat Curtin, Carolyn Elias, Leslie O. Fowler, John Patton Meadows, and John Stumbo. All are United Methodists and all have been delegates to the General Conference at one time or another. The interveners testified they do not all know one another and at the time their depositions were taken at least one of them stated he did not know the identities of the other interveners. None of them initiated their own participation in the lawsuit against GBCS.

Only one of the interveners, Mr. Stumbo, indicated he and his wife, Helen Rhea Stumbo, a board member of the IRD, anticipated being asked to contribute to the legal fees related to the intervention against the General Board of Church & Society.

Ms. Elias said she thought it was Mark Tooley who asked her to be an intervener and that she had no idea who was paying her legal expenses. Mr. Fowler said he was asked to be an intervener by the law firm, Gammon and Grange, and that he had no idea who is paying for his legal expenses. Mr. Curtin said he had heard the IRD was paying his legal expenses.

In a sworn deposition made public by the court, one of the interveners, John Patton Meadows, an attorney by profession, admitted he was not paying his own legal fees nor was he sure who was paying for them but that he thought it was CUMA who was doing so. He also acknowledged that he had sent an email to the General Secretary of the General Board of Church & Society from his office computer in the U.S. Attorney's office in North Alabama and told him he wanted to see him 'muzzled' for questionin President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

Mr. Meadows admitted in his deposition that he had received confidential legal documents belonging to the General Board of Church & Society prior to or during the 2004 General Conference but that he did not allow that to inhibit him from reading them.

None of the interveners did any research into the background and history of the case beyond reviewing documents provided to them by Mr. Tooley, the law firm, and other individuals. Each of the interveners admitted they were unaware of any restrictions placed on any gifts contributed to the General Board of Church & Society.
The IRD has long proclaimed that would like to bring down the General Board of Church and Society and the Womens' Division of the United Methodist Church. Tooley's own words in "Good News" magazine in 2004 reasserts this and adds substance by providing a method.

Now is the time for action. Please circulate this posting as far as you can- especially among United Methodist General Conference delegates with whom you have contact.

In my view, the IRD is to "Religion" and "Democracy" as Mahatma Gandhi's response was when asked what he thought about "Western Civilization." He said, "I think it would be a good idea."

- Milo

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