Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jim Naughton Goes to Capitol Hill

I would hope that all of you are familiar with Jim Naughton's report entitled "Following the Money," in which he documents the emergence of the strange cast of donors and activists that now make up the Anglican right. If you are not familiar with this report, please stop now and take a few minutes to read it.

One of the key players in this report is the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an extreme right organization whose history reveals a very dark past:

...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, a relief and development agency coordinated by the evangelical churches of Nicaragua...

...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...
When the IRD ran out of Communists, they placed the mainline Protestant churches in their crosshairs. They launched the American Anglican Council, which in turn created the Network, an extremist group that has attempted to keep one foot within the Episcopal church while also keeping one foot headed out the door.

The Lead tells us that James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, recently visited Capitol Hill to testify on climate change. Here is part of the exchange between Tonkowich and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse:

...Senator Whitehouse: Okay.

Now that my colleague has raised the question of funding, I am interested, Dr. Tonkowich, in IRD and where its funding comes from. According to a web site called Media Transparency, IRD received 89 percent of its support in its first two years from six conservative foundations. In an article entitled Follow the Money, which appeared in the Washington Window, Howard F. Amundsen, Jr., alone gave IRD $528,000 in 1991 and 1992, $460,000 in 2001, $150,000 in 2002 to 2003. My question is, are these figures accurate and what percentage of your total funding do those contributions represent?

Rev. Tonkowich: I do not know whether they are accurate or not. I can find out and get back to you. I have been with the organization just over a year. I don't know what the funding was in 1991.

Senator Whitehouse: You say you represent constituents of so- called mainline Protestant churches who feel mis-represented by their denominational Washington offices and by groups like the National Council of Churches. How many constituents is that, approximately? Do you have a number?

Rev. Tonkowich: Our mailing list is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600,000 to 700,000.

Senator Whitehouse: And how do people get on your mailing list? I get stuff that I don't want all the time, and I don't consider myself to be a constituent of the groups that mail to me.

Rev. Tonkowich: Again, people send us their church directories at times, and ask to add their friends to the list. We do very little prospecting. So it is people who have opted on...
So, the IRD is collecting church directories? And they count all of those unsolicited names as supporters? A rather unethical practice, it seems to me.

That may explain the book the IRD recently sent me; someone must have handed over to them the clergy directory for my diocese. I placed it in the circular file, of course. I thought about burning it, but that would be to adopt the tactics of the self- appointed Inquisitors among the right. In hindsight, I suppose I should have put it in the recycle bin, where it could have been redeemed and resurrected into a new creation that focuses on the glory of God rather than the depravity of man.

Jim's work is beginning to get the recognition that it deserves. "Following the Money" is a valuable resource. Make sure you pass it on to those who may benefit from its insights.


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