Theocracy Watch: Follow The Money

This item was right at the top of my Google News today – I have it set up to find articles about the Episcopal church (but also filtered so that I mostly see stuff about my own, progressive wing of said church, rather than endless polemics from the small but extremely vocal conservative wing, who are forever yammering about how the consecratioin of Gene V. Robinson as a bishop (remember, he’s the one that wishes he’d be remembered as “the good bishop” and not just “the gay bishop”) forces them to hold the threat of schism over the rest of us.

Oh, irony of ironies – the bishop of Utah a few years back was gay, but since he came out n 1993 after he retired, they couldn’t use him as their whipping boy, the bastards. And even as an old man, he still comes in for criticism and censure, even from the relatively supportive (and soon to retire) bishop of California, for daring to get married to his longtime partner. Which is pretty funny when you consider that California nominated 2 openly gay people to be their next bishop when Bp. Swing retires.

Political Cortex: Episcopal Newspaper Exposes Rightwing Agencies

The Washington Window, the newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington has joined a growing number of publications inside and outside mainline Christianity to publish exposes of the efforts of rightist agencies to destabilize the historic mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

The two-part series by former Washington Post and New York Times reporter James Naughton examines, according to a press release, the network of conservative groups, “their donors and the strategy that has allowed them to destabilize the Episcopal Church…. The groups represent a small minority of church members, but relationships with wealthy American donors and powerful African bishops have made them key players in the fight for the future of the Anglican Communion “to warn deputies that they must repent of their liberal attitudes on homosexuality or face a possible schism.”

The expose, which demonstrates the unambiguous motives of rightwing activists to foment a permanent schism in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and in the world Anglican Communion, comes in the run-up to the American church’s annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio in June.

In a feature article in the current issue of The Public Eye magazine, I reported that the war of attrition against the mainline churches, bankrolled with millions of dollars from rightwing foundations, has been underway for a generation. The targeted churches include the major member denominations of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, (international ecumenical agencies that have also been under attack), inclding the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Smaller denominations, notably the United Church of Christ, have also been systematically undermined from within by a network of self-described “renewal” groups associated or aligned with the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, the hub of the network.

Follow The Money is in two parts – the first is background, the second details the likelihood that the vigorous conservative movement, supposedly coming from African and Asian bishops whose congregations are burgeoning but poor, is actually bankrolled by right-wing religious donors in America, probably the same ones bankrolling the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The goal: take down the mainstream Protestant churches whose “social witness” progressiveism offends them, and replace them with ultra-conservative leadership and enable America to turn ever more rightward to a hoped-for theocracy. Knock each one off from within, and take the property and destroy the polity, leaving only wild-eyed zealots. The Pentecostal movement was renewed one hundred years ago in California, and has always been in direct opposition to mainline Protestantism. Is it true that the groundwork for these takeovers was laid 25 years ago when the IRD was founded? Maybe. But the rest of us are starting to wake up and recognize the thread to religion and democracy posed by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Because they will stop at nothing less than the destruction of the wall between church and state, and that means that their real target is the Constitution itself, and not just the relatively petty but galvanizing issues of gay marriage, gay clergy, or homosexual persons even being allowed to exist.

Is there a secret cabal that meets and plots to take this nation into theocracy? I highly doubt it. But there are a lot of groups that want to make the rules their own way and create communities where only the saved and the righteous dare tread. There’s the Charch in Utahhr, but more importantly, the very odd offshoots of same establishing new polygamist enclaves in remote areas. And then there’s Tom Monahan of Domino’s Pizza, building his ultra-conservative Catholic community of Ave Maria in Florida. You know,the one where the pharmacies won’t even stock contraceptives, and of course no OB-GYN will be allowed to hang up their shingle and offer women’s reproductive services unless it’s to birth babies, babies, babies. What’s to stop any fundamentalist group with strong beliefs to start their own enclaves, too? Handmaids’ Tale, anyone?

Up to a point, these otherwise wildly disparate groups have similar goals – gather the faithless into the fold and make them toe the line set by the faithful. However, beyond that, the many different religious groups making up the Religious Right don’t really play well with one another – which may be our saving grace.

Strangely enough, these “pseudo-Christians” have a theology of their own based on exclusion and criticism and lining their own pockets (see the excellent UCC ads for visuals) rather than acceptance and tolerance (and concern for the poor). And as such, are most un-Christlike. They spend their millions of dollars forwarding their fundamentalist agenda, and ignore the poor, or even worse, blame them for their poverty. One satirist at Huffington Post recently set out to mock the Religious Right, but then found that his schtick was disturbingly reality-based.

In the meantime, here in the Episcopalian corner of the sandbox, we’ll set our hope on Christ that the coming schism won’t be necessary. And beyond that, confusion to the enemies of tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and we’ll set our hope on the inability of stiff-necked intolerant zealots to get along with each other long enough to bring about this theocracy thing I keep worrying about. Thank God we’re finally starting to wake up to the nastiness of the IRD and get to the root of all their evil: money.

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