How And Why The Christian Fascists Attack the "Mainline" Churches
Revolution #28, December 26, 2005, posted at revcom.us
Along with their assaults on science, education, art, the judiciary, and every other institution, the Christian Fascists have another target: the churches which disagree with them.
Yes, the Christian Fascists have a systematic plan to seize control of what are called the "mainline" Protestant churches, as well as the National Council of Churches, and to transform them into fascist strongholds. These churches have had a mainstream liberal character for decades, and have been the churches of what used to be called the "establishment"--the elite and upper middle classes of most of the 20th century.
The takeover of these institutions is a very strategic part of the chess game the Christian Fascists are playing; this is a further effort to remove any platform in society from which any dissent at all against the new order can be mounted. In addition, the Christian Fascists derive their claim to legitimacy from their insistence that they represent "Gods word," morality, and people of faith; this makes it all the more pressing for these fascists to undercut, destroy and finally suppress voices from the pulpit that counter that claim.
The Attack Dogs of the Institute for Religion and Democracy
The move to split and take over the mainline churches has been orchestrated by the Institute of Religion and Democracy (IRD). IRD has focused its attack on the United Methodist Church (UMC), Presbyterian Church, USA, and the Episcopal Church. The IRD Executive Summary for 2000 identified these churches as the "bulwark of the Religious Left" and goes on to say that "while comprising only 10% of the organized religious forces in the U.S., [these mainline churches] have exerted a powerful influence in American life throughout the 20th Century, with a disproportionate number of higher income and educated Americans...They have billions of dollars in endowments. They are affiliated with hundreds of colleges, universities, seminaries, academies and charitable outreach centers." The IRD report reads like a corporate hostile takeover strategy and, in fact, that is the intention of the IRD.
The tactics the IRD uses are remarkably similar to those of David Horowitz's right-wing attack dogs against progressive professors in academia. They recruit and train spies and snitches to go to lectures and conferences of liberal clergy and theologians, and to "write them up" in resolutions exposing "misguided church activity and calls for church reform." Then they distribute publications with these accusations about the clergy and leaders directly to the membership of the denomination. These witchhunts target "liberal bishops who decline to uphold church law, especially on issues relating to marriage and sexuality." The IRD offers training and counseling to church members who want to bring charges against clergy.
They have set out to take over leadership positions, especially national policy-setting posts. They proudly admit that they targetted and won a reapportionment of delegates to the Methodist General Conferences so that what they call "declining (and liberal) regions of the church will receive fewer delegates, and growing (and more conservative) regions will receive more." They have also taken aim at the leadership of seminaries and key church agencies that they consider too liberal and replaced them with conservatives.
Besides going after the progressive mainline denominations, the IRD has targetted the National Council of Churches (NCC) and World Council of Churches. The IRD recently went after Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the NCC, for his "strident political advocacy." For the Christian Fascists to oppose "strident political advocacy" is the height of hypocrisy; what they actually oppose is the CONTENT of the NCCs activism. The NCC has come out against the war in Iraq, against U.S. government torture, for the Kyoto global climate accords, for raising the minimum wage, against the Patriot Act, and against the religious right. The IRD also aims to change the NCC program into one that would advocate cutting federal government social welfare programs and replacing them with church-sponsored, private charities. This is part of the Christian Fascist program to institute government-sponsored faith-based programs with mandatory religious indoctrination that blames the people for their poverty and oppression ("God must have done this to you because of your sin").
In short, the IRD is carrying out a coordinated drive to reverse church positions on key issues and bring them into line with the hateful morality of the Christian Fascists and the political program of the Bush regime. The aim to subjugate women under Biblical patriarchy by preventing women from controlling decisions on reproduction and sexuality. Their answer to teen pregnancy and sexuality is abstinence. They are, of course, opposed to abortion and do "exposures" of key mainline leaders and organizations and their funding agencies that support the right to abortion. They are actively promoting a "marriage initiative" that would cut off welfare and force people to marry as the solution to poverty for poor women and children.
They have fought to bar clergy from performing marriage ceremonies for gays and "legitimizing sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage." And in a chilling self-exposure of what they really stand for, the IRD opposes the demand for laws against hate crimes, especially for hate crimes against gays.
The High Stakes
The Christian Fascists insist that to reverse what they see as the "moral downfall" of American society a radical remaking must take place where orthodox religion dominates the society and reinstates the concept of "sin" and God's wrath for sinners. This is the theology that led various major Christian fascist spokesmen to declare that the attacks of September 11, 2001 reflected gods anger at feminists, liberals and gays; or that Hurricane Katrina was god's punishment for the supposed "moral degeneracy" of New Orleans. The IRD aims to make that message uniform throughout the Protestant denominations in the U.S.
As communists, we do not believe in gods, whether literal or metaphorical. Such gods are not real, and belief in them ultimately stands in the way of people figuring out how, by relying on themselves, they can bring in a world without exploitation and oppression (and without, therefore, the "need" for the consolation provided by religion). At the same time, we can and certainly do unite with religious people in various struggles today, appreciating their contributions and insights, and struggling with each other over these questions as we unite for larger ends.
And we also understand very clearly the stakes involved with this Christian Fascist strategy to take over and/or destroy these churches. These are not arcane debates over obscure details of Church doctrine. If the fascists succeed in silencing and eliminating the progressive religious voice and replacing it with the cruel fundamentalist theocratic program, they will transform the organized strength of these churches to serve their deadly fascist cause. And this is integral to their whole strategy, both because of the institutional power of these churches and because they provide a voice that undercuts the Christian Fascists particular claim on legitimacy. The attempts by the Christian fascists to take over these churches and turn them into battering rams for theocracy are part of a strategy to clamp fascist culture and thinking on people in every sphere. They must be recognized as such and opposed by all progressive people.
Here again, we find the example of Martin Niemöller--the German Protestant minister who resisted the Nazis--to be extremely relevant. Hitler too, at a certain stage, moved to dominate the churches of Germany, and Niemöller was among those who resisted and ended up serving eight years in Nazi prisons. The problem, Niemöller strongly pointed out at the end of the war, was that the resistance came too little and too late, with each group only fighting when its own narrowly conceived interests came under fire.
That must not happen this time.