Friday, March 23, 2007

American Anglican Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy

Yesterday, I profiled some of the AAC's activities in the Episcopal Church. If their intent was to remain within TEC, to consult with conservative individuals, parishes, and dioceses, and to contribute their perspective, I would welcome their participation. However, it seems their intent is to have this church replaced, on the grounds that we aren't a valid branch of Anglicanism or Christianity anymore. To the extent that they are trying to supplant the Episcopal Church, they should not be tolerated as a part of this church.

There are links between the AAC and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The IRD is a conservative watchdog and advocacy group. It is involved in the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, and our church. I speculated that if the ELCA allows openly-gay clergy, the IRD will become involved with dissident groups in ELCA.

Jack Taylor, a private investigator, posted a message to the Bishops and delegates of the church in fall 03. I've trimmed it for brevity.

"A lot of attention has been focused in the aftermath of the events at General Convention on those who have expressed dissatisfaction. Much of it, according to inquiries to me, has been about the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), two conservative organizations that share offices and ideas in Washington but don't acknowledge the connection as required by the IRS. [Editor: I believe that last statement is no longer true.]


According to recent income tax information, the IRD has focused its principal expenditures, if not full attention, on the Untied Methodist Church. In 2001 it spent $358,607 (40% its total expenditures, including its $76,890 salary to Diane Knippers) on "monitoring" the UM's activities and "public witness" of the UM leadership and public policy statements ...

IRD funding ... rose 40% in 2001 to $1.1 million after two years of slight declines of -6% and -10% in 2000 and 1999, respectively. Its primary funding come from individuals, probably including Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr., the multi-millionaire, anti-gay member of the Southern California parish where the new AAC CEO is rector. It had five significant individual contributions in 2001, for $200K, $150K, $85K, $50K and $25K.

Based upon an article I wrote on December 7, 2000, the AAC had a secret agreement with Ahmanson to contribute $200K in matching funds (probably annually). This followed a deliberate effort by the AAC to become closer to Ahmanson (according to private communications among AAC board members which I obtained at the time). The unabashed purpose, according to those communications, was to obtain considerable contributions. The AAC's funding during 2001 was primarily through four individual contributions of $322.4K, $100K, and two for $20K each. It had two significant individual contributions in 2000 for $240K and $275K. I imagine Ahmanson has made good on his still secret agreement. This has been consistent the past four years.

This has helped the AAC stay afloat, so that, in effect, it may very well be an organization doing the bidding of its principal private and always secretive backer. The AAC spends most of its money on salaries (22%), consultants (16%), printing, rent, postage and travel, probably defraying the expenses of its six bishops and CEO flying around the country (30%). Its biggest grants were $25K to co-sponsor SEAD's 2001 conference in South Carolina and $9.3K to the losing cause of Christ Church-Accokeek before its rebellious rector could be dragged out of the parish (and soon left the church for the splinter Episcopal Church of Christ the King).

The scariest element of the AAC and IRD is the Ahmanson influence, particularly in view of the private correspondence I obtained where the AAC directors were agreeing to do whatever is necessary to win over Ahmanson, including allowing him private access to its inner-most activities, just to get into his deep pockets.

He is an ultra-conservative heir to a savings and loan fortune who has long supported religious right extremists and fundamentalist Christian causes, including so-called Christian Reconstructionism ..."

Rowan Williams has started a Covenant Design Group, to design a Covenant for the Anglican Communion. Dr Ephraim Radner is one of the members, and he is a board member of the IRD. He's stated (

"Yes, I am a new board member of IRD. I have great respect for the the organization, in that it was one of the first to attempt to provide views regarding church-supported political activities around the world that challenged the standard liberal claims of our mainline denominations. These views simply were not being heard within our church structures — a form of conscious and unconscious censorship that I know first hand, and that has deeply limited and wounded these churches (including the Episcopal Church’s) intellectual and moral integrity. IRD’s work in bringing attention to matters of religious freedom around the world, woefully and ignominiously ignored by American Christian denominations, has been a critically needed witness. I do not in fact agree with all of IRD’s past positions or even current ones, but I respect and co[n]tinue to respect its work and its leaders. But I have made it clear that I am my own person. I am, for instance, a Democrat who often, although not always, votes with my party, but also struggles with it for a host of reasons. I try to be responsible and critical in my political thinking and acting. Diane Knippers was a great leader and Christian, whose witness inspired me in many ways, and I am more than willing to help carry on a work she began. Obviously, one is judged by one’s associations. I am, for instance, in the same church as Jim Naughton. What are we to make of this? It is odd, and in fact sad, to the utmost that the Church of Jesus Christ has crumbled to such an extent that Mr. Naughton (along with many others on the left and the right) is more interested in political segregation as a way of exercising his ecclesial vocation than in understanding."

This is what the IRD's Anglican Action page says about the Episcopal Church (, accessed 3/23/07):

"...After 30 years of membership decline and over a million members lost, the Episcopal Church is desperately in need of reform and renewal. Among the issues facing the church are:

Church leaders at odds with people in the pews and the wider Anglican Communion.

Unrelenting pro-homosexual advocacy and undermining of the family by church leaders.

A House of Bishops that is divided and no longer offers moral leadership.

Seminaries that have abandoned biblical Anglican theology.

Public policy advocacy that may reflect leftist positions.

Church officials who embrace a radical feminist theology."

Yes, the social policy statements of my church are moderate to liberal. Yes, I know clergy and laypeople who are feminists. Yes, we have laypeople, clergy, and bishops who are staunch advocates of inclusion for the LGBT community. However, the notions that we are undermining the family or abandoning "biblical Anglican theology" are ludicrous. They could only have come from an organization on the far right.

I only recently became aware of Dr Radner's association with the IRD. I had previously known that he was a conservative, but had thought he was one of the more moderate conservatives, especially because he was willing to condemn the anti-gay legislation that Peter Akinola supports. My opinion of him has now dropped considerably.

Diane Knippers, who recently died of cancer, was no "great leader and Christian." She made several ludicrous statements, such as: "There has been a concerted effort to portray homosexual men and women as oppressed. And, in a way, I do believe that they are victimized and trapped by their sexual desires and actions. The good news of the gospel is indeed liberation from this. But the Episcopal Church is overlooking the actual victims of the sexual revolution. From our positions of comfort and privilege, we are blind to the suffering from massive family breakdown endured by racial minorities, the poor, and children." Steven Martin, a United Methodist pastor and a self-described "theological conservative", describes the IRD as a real cancer" on the United Methodist Church.

The IRD claims to advocate for religious liberty, but Mr Taylor, the private investigator cited above, found that in 2001, the amount that the IRD spent on trying to corrupt the social witness of the UMC was 3.5 times what it spent on promoting religious liberty. The IRD has also opposed liberation theology, and was a vicious advocate of the Reagan Administration's criminal policies in Central America. Howard Ahmanson, one of their primary backers, has said that he thinks it's no longer essential to stone gays: "I think what upsets people is that Rushdoony seemed to think - and I'm not sure about this - that a godly society would stone people for the same thing that people in ancient Israel were stoned. I no longer consider that essential."

We need to worry that conservatives of good faith have an equal place at the table. However, the IRD is not an organization of conservatives of good faith. It must not be allowed to corrupt our social witness.

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