The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), the organization that recently released a report charging mainline churches of anti-Semitism for their advocacy efforts lifting up justice issues in the Middle East, turns out to be a political group that receives funding from some of the most far-right political extremists in the country.
The charge of anti-Semitism was carried by the mainstream media in publications like The Washington Post and US News and World Report. But do Americans fully understand the political nature of the IRD? It doesn't appear that the media does.
The Rev. Andrew Weaver writes in an article on the University of Chicago Divinity School web site that:
The political right-wing, operating in the guise of a gaggle of so-called "renewal groups," particularly one named the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has acquired the money and political will to target three mainline American denominations: The United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Episcopal Church. The IRD was created and is sustained by money from right-wing foundations and has spent millions of dollars over 20 years attacking mainline denominations. The IRD's conservative social-policy goals include increasing military spending and foreign interventions, opposing environmental protection efforts, and eliminating social welfare programs.
In a document entitled "Reforming America's Churches Project 2001-2004," the IRD states that its aim is to change the "permanent governing structure" of mainline churches "so they can help renew the wider culture of our nation." In other words, its goal extends beyond the spiritual and includes a political takeover financed by the likes of Richard Mellon Scaife, Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee.
For example, the Scaife Family Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation (promoters and benefactors of the "Ken Starr Courts") made disbursements to the IRD totaling $1.6 million between 1985 and 2001 according to information found at www.mediatransparency.org. According to the Scaife websites, the IRD received $225,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation in 2002.
The Lynde and Harry Bradley foundation, a family foundation with ties to the John Birch Society, gave $1.3 million between 1985 and 2001 to IRD efforts. The overall objective of the Bradley Foundation is to return the U.S. to the days before government regulation of business, before corporations were forced to make concessions to an organized labor force. In other words, capitalism with the gloves off.
A more complete list of IRD's political backers can be found here.
The Right Web has information on their site that exposes ties between IRD and right-wing groups like Concerned Women for America, "Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Institute on Religion and Public Life (IRPL), Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), and American Enterprise Institute (AEI), as well as links to the conservative publications First Things, Christianity Today, and The Weekly Standard."
Weaver is a United Methodist minister concerned about efforts coordinated by IRD to destabilize the United Methodist Church. IRD hopes that their supporters will take over the United Methodist Church in the same way conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Church during the 1970s. They lay out plans for “reforming” liberal seminaries and kicking out social justice leaders from the church. This is all on the IRD web site.
Richard Mellon Scaife provided nearly all the funding needed to wage an eight-year campaign against Bill and Hillary Clinton. The investigations into Whitewater and MonicaGate were made possible because of the millions of dollars given by Scaife to dig up dirt on the First Family.
Scaife himself remained out of the public spotlight until the 1990s when he directed his attention against governor and later president Bill Clinton. He was the major backer of The American Spectator, whose Arkansas Project set out to find embarassing facts about Clinton and in which Paula Jones' accusations of sexual harassment against Clinton were first widely publicized. The project not only accused Clinton of financial and sexual indiscretions but gave root to conspiratorial notions that the Clintons collaborated with the CIA to run a drug smuggling operation out of the town of Mena, Arkansas, and that he had arranged for the murder of White House aide Vince Foster as part of a coverup of the Whitewater scandal. The possibility that money from the project had been given to former Clinton associate David Hale, a witness in the Whitewater investigation, led to the appointment of Michael J. Shaheen as a special investigator. Shaheen subpoenaed Scaife, who testified before a federal grand jury in the matter.
It is clear that mainline churches have now become the target of a growing political crusade to shutdown voices of faith opposed to the far-right political agenda. IRD is Scaife’s vehicle for waging this campaign. They receive help from a small number of web sites and bloggers who share the conservative desire to reform their own denominations. These internet sites help spread the propaganda developed by Scaife’s IRD. We now know that the Institute on Religious Democracy is operated and funded by some of the most extremist political operatives in the nation.
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