Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Who Should Resign?

Diane Knippers, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy recently called for the resignation of Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. You may recall that last December, while leading a "witch hunt," she also called for the resignation of a staff member of the Episcopal Church Center. You may also recall that Mrs. Knippers often functions as a spokesperson for the American Anglican Council, a conservative group of Episcopalians with whom the IRD shared office space, board members and wealthy right-wing contributors for many years.

I find Mrs. Knipper's penchant for demanding resignations rather curious for a couple of reasons. First of all, why does she think she has any right to have a voice in the affairs of the Episcopal Church? In a previous entry, I quoted her as stating in a message; "I'm still on the SCER (Standing Committee on Ecumenical Relations) - but not because I could honestly represent the Episcopal Church in ecumenical dialogue...I'll resign when I need to, but I would like to hang in there as an obstinate and contrary voice a bit longer." One would assume that an inability to represent the Episcopal Church means that she no longer considers herself a member of that body. To continue to remain in a leadership position within a community that she obviously despises suggests her intent is to be a subversive element. Mrs. Knippers, I think the time for you to resign from all leadership roles in the Episcopal Church has arrived.

The other reason I find these calls for others to resign curious is because I assumed that one willing to make such bold calls would have no skeletons in their own closet to worry about. It turns out that the IRD, and Knippers specifically, are not exactly squeaky clean;

...During the 1980s, you'll recall, the United States did not regard all terrorists as "evil-doers." Some, like the contras of Nicaragua, we regarded as "freedom fighters." In support of such freedom fighters, IRD staffer Diane Knippers set her sights on CEPAD (an English-language site here), a relief and development agency coordinated by the evangelical churches of Nicaragua.

CEPAD originated in response to the earthquake that devastated much of Nicaragua in 1982. The driving force behind CEPAD was a medical doctor and Baptist minister named Gustavo Parajon. He and his American-born wife, Joan, were also commissioned as missionaries by the American Baptist Churches.

CEPAD ran a network of medical clinics for the poor, as well as a successful literacy campaign. That literacy work had won the admiration and support of Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, and his Sandinista regime.

Ortega's praise of CEPAD gave Knippers what she saw as an opening. The evangelical churches were not supporters of the Sandinistas, but Knippers portrayed CEPAD -- and therefore the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society -- as "guilty" by association. She wrote of CEPAD as a communist front, part of a supposed Soviet beachhead in Nicaragua.

No one in this country paid much attention, but the contras did. CEPAD's clinics became targets for their paramilitary terrorists. Knippers had placed evangelical missionaries -- doctors and nurses -- and the poor people they served in the crosshairs of terrorists.

Ron Sider, a Mennonite professor at an American Baptist Seminary and head of Evangelicals for Social Action, pleaded with IRD to correct its reporting on CEPAD. Sider invited IRD staff to travel with him and a delegation of prominent conservative evangelicals to Nicaragua where they could meet with the Parajons and other leaders of CEPAD. There, Sider insisted, they would see for themselves that these were not "communists," but medical missionaries, preaching and demonstrating the Christian gospel.

With several evangelical gatekeepers involved in the delegation, and with mainstream evangelical publications like Christianity Today closely following the dispute, IRD had no choice but to agree to the trip. Then, at the last minute, they backed out and refused to go.

CEPAD was vindicated and IRD suffered a devastating embarrassment. They were, rightly, perceived as an unreliable source of information -- closed-minded ideologues who were willing to attack others on the basis of irresponsibly flimsy evidence.

It took IRD years to recover from the CEPAD Affair. And just when they were getting back on their feet, along came the revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Cold War --which took the wind out of their favorite tactic...
People died because of the IRD's irresponsible behavior.

Other questions rise to the surface regarding this episode;

...At the National Religious Broadcasters 1986 convention, the IRD cosponsored a press conference with the National Association of Evangelicals. The star of the conference was Jimmy Hassan, former director of the Campus Crusade for Christ in Nicaragua, who was presented to the press as the archetype of the "persecuted Christian." Hassan, long-suspected of working with the CIA, has been accused by the Nicaraguan government of disrupting the draft, operating an illegal printing press, and entering the country numerous times with large, undeclared sums of cash from the U.S...

...Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto accused IRD of being "a CIA front organization... created by President Reagan's administration." The congressional chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence made an inquiry into these allegations and found no evidence to support them...

...A House of Representatives investigation of Penn Kemble's activities during the Iran-Contra Affair revealed that IRD worked with the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (S/LPD). S/LPD was a special office supervised by the National Security Council, which produced propaganda supporting Reagan's Central America policies...
Who is Jimmy Hassan?

...CAM (Central American Mission) has 85 churches in Nicaragua where it is connected to CNPEN (Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua), the conservative evangelical group supportive of the Reagan administration's policies in Nicaragua and allied with conservative U.S. private organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

CAM pastor Boanerges Mendoza, reknowned for his close connections with the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua, was picked up by the Nicaraguan state security (DSGE) for questioning about his connection to the contras, the CIA, and other U.S. agencies opposing the Sandinista government...While it is clear that Mendoza is well connected to and supportive of the political right in Nicaragua, it remains unclear whether he is or was more than "a useful pawn in the CIA's manipulation of the Nicaraguan religious scene."

Mendoza named Jimmy Hassan, a former leader of the Campus Crusade for Christ in Nicaragua and outspoken opponent of the Sandinista government, as co-pastor of his CAM-connected church...
The IRD obviously had a close relationship with the Reagan administration, and, although they continue to deny it, a possible relationship with the CIA. Clearly they were an arm of the government's propaganda machine. Considering statements such as this, I suspect they still are;

"Church leaders are wrong to speak on matters about which they lack the information and competence," said IRD President Diane Knippers. "Church leaders should teach, to both citizens and policy makers, the principles by which moral decisions may be made. But in the case of war against Iraq, those grave decisions must finally be made by government and military leaders within their spheres of competence and authority."
We should leave moral decsions to the politicians and the generals? There's a frightening thought.

Mrs. Knippers, as it seems that you have a history of working with right wing fringe elements, and that your work has cost the lives of innocent people in the past, and as irresponsible statements such as the above suggest that you intend on continuing to advocate, in the name of God, for more innocent deaths, maybe it is you who should resign from any organization associated with the Christian faith.

J.

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