» Mark Tooley Remarks to the IRD Board, March 14

Mark Tooley Remarks to the IRD Board, March 14
Mark Tooley
Posted March 23, 2010

IRD is confidently moving ahead in strong continuation with its 29-year history. In 1981, David Jessup’s children were collecting money for the United Methodist missions agency whose goals and alliances seemed to David eerily similar to the Marxist overseas trade unions that his employer, the AFL-CIO, was attempting to counteract. David’s extensive research on United Methodist missions grants to a host of far-left, Marxist and violent revolutionary groups took him to the 1980 General Conference, where his pleas for reform met limited success.

More importantly, he met Ed Robb at that General Conference, leading to the eventual hatching of the IRD. Ira Gallaway, Carl Henry, Richard John Neuhaus, and Michael Novak, among others, were also drawn in. They created a small, under-funded but potent mixture of activism and intellectual energy that almost single-handedly challenged, exposed and ultimately discredited the once formidable and prestigious agencies of mainline Protestantism. The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is now mostly a defanged nuisance, and the National Council of Churches a virtual non-entity.

IRD’s founders were deeply committed to sustaining the mainline churches spiritual, cultural and political importance in upholding American democracy and freedoms. They were certain that America’s understanding of freedom had international implications, and that America’s churches, as bearers of the Gospel, were providentially called to espouse human rights for all people everywhere. Central to those churches being faithful to this calling was their even higher calling of upholding Jesus Christ and the orthodox faith.

Today, IRD still challenges America’s churches to be faithful to their Savior, faithful to their creeds, and faithful to their divine calling as instruments of justice and truth within the nation where God placed them. These churches have mostly lost interest in touting Marxist liberation around the world, though not from any sudden realization of error. Today, their elites, as they express their denominational political witness, are performing an equally insidious role in undermining Christian and universal understandings of human dignity.

Perhaps the most distressing recent example has been the aggressive push for government control of America’s medical system through Obamacare. Today, as decades ago, the religious left, and its new allies in the emerging evangelical left, equate unrestrained big government with God’s Kingdom. This is bad enough, but not new. Over the last few months, these supposed spokespersons for the Gospel have been vigorously insisting that any government health care plan must facilitate funding of abortions. The religious left’s dedication to abortion rights is so longstanding and absolute that it would risk any health care legislation in the pursuit of abortion funding.

The new and disturbing allies in the push for government facilitation of abortions have been the evangelical left, including voices once solidly pro-life. In the crucial hours before Senator Ben Nelson’s abortion compromise in the U.S. Senate, numerous prominent evangelical left voices very publicly endorsed Nelson’s path, through another initial so-called compromise touted by Senator Bob Casey. These voices included Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, David Neff of Christianity Today, David Gushee of Mercer College, Glenn Stassen of Fuller Seminary, and Florida mega church pastor Joel Hunter, several of whom serve on the National Association of Evangelicals’ executive committee.   Understandably, Senator Casey prominently celebrated the evangelical support of this compromise, realizing that evangelicals are a core political constituency and a key obstacle to the left’s political agenda.

The ensuing unpopularity of Obamacare, and the harm that the abortion compromise did to once solidly Senator Ben Nelson, a Methodist, seems not to have discouraged the evangelical left. Just a few days ago, this same list of evangelical left voices, minus David Neff, released still another statement publicly urging the U.S. House of Representatives to approve the Senate version of Obamcare, including the Nelson abortion compromise, which the Catholic Bishops and pro-life groups justifiably oppose.

Is expanding the size and control of government in pursuit of social justice so important as to be purchased at the price of evangelical compromises on abortion? For some, seemingly so. It should be pointed out that on Friday, the National Association of Evangelicals, at its Spring board meeting, did take time from its strategizing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform to host a symposium on human sexuality and abortion. Though I do not yet have a report, presumably many good things were said. But even among very well intentioned evangelicals, there is a growing trend to accept that legal protections for the unborn are politically beyond reach, and therefore Christians should instead seek government programs that supposedly will reduce the supposed “need” for abortion. There is also a growing discomfort among post-religious right evangelicals to risk the cultural confrontation involved in dicey social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Of course, the same squishiness infecting some evangelical elites on abortion repeats itself on defense of marriage. Some naïvely believe the issue will comfortably fade away. Others seek debasing compromises that approve civil unions and domestic partner benefits. Others still suggest civil marriage is not the church’s concern, even while they insist that government health care and government Global Warming restrictions are the church’s concern. This evangelical flaccidity on abortion and marriage are merely icons of a growing cultural conformity and troubling ease with abandoning historic Christian teaching in favor of temporary secular applause.

For years, many conservative evangelicals have scoffed at mainline Protestantism’s theological and political demise, confident that historic denominations were now irrelevant to God, and that biblical Christians should rally to supposedly resolute conservative churches. But the same compromises that began to undermine mainline Protestantism a century ago are busily at work today among evangelicals, and proceeding at a much faster pace. Conservative evangelicals have traditionally counseled quitting churches that grow supposedly apostate. But must Christians constantly flee at the first sign of trouble? Or do Christians have a duty to serve God and contend for the faith where they are?

IRD has long urged Christians in troubled churches to stand their ground, to defend their tradition’s historic teachings, and to point to the universal church and the Scriptures as the ultimate authority. We have had mixed success. Among United Methodists, we have helped participate in a turning around that will take another 20 years perhaps but which, thanks to the growing African church, seems almost inexorable. Among Presbyterians it is touch and go but still very much worth the fight. Episcopalians, Lutherans, and UCC’ers are collapsed into schism. Some orthodox are remaining in old structures, while others are attached to emerging structures. IRD will continue to serve all these constituencies.

Who but IRD is so uniquely placed by history, skills and contacts to address this reconfiguration among the long troubled mainline Protestants and increasingly troubled evangelicals? We might wonder why God preserved us during speculations about our utility after the Cold War, and during more recent budgetary troubles. Clearly He has specific plans for IRD as we persist in calling mainline Protestants back to the ancient faith, and as we warn evangelicals not so easily to abandon the fighting faith of their fathers in pursuit of worldly admiration.

IRD’s role is now more complicated by a wider field of battle. We are no longer so exclusively focused, as were IRD’s founders, on mainline Protestants and their faulty, pro-Marxist foreign policy. Now we are addressing mainliners and evangelicals on pacifism, statism, environmentalism, sanctity of life, and marriage. But we might also celebrate that the expansion of targets has also made IRD’s hunting all the easier and more enjoyable.

More seriously, IRD’s responsibilities are now more grave. Twenty-five years ago, IRD could point to conservative evangelicals as the rock-ribbed alternative to mainline Protestant refugees after lost battles. But today, the options for flight are somewhat more limited.

Of course, our Christian tradition tells us that flight is never the ultimate answer. We are members of Christ’s glorious Body, against which Hell’s gates will never prevail. To the extent we are faithful, and knowing God will give us the faith we need, He will lead us forward in reforming His churches and in lifting up His Word in a dying world whose only redemption is in Him who died for it.



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