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UCCtruths

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

No, this isn't a joke,

Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer's book, "Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion," proves two things: anyone can publish a book and some leaders in the UCC are literally debilitated by the depth of their cynicism.

The premise of the book is that there is a conspiracy by the Christian Right to takeover "Mainline" churches. The book doesn't contain any surprises... we've been entertained for months now by Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer's semi-regular postings on Talk2Action.org about a vast right wing conspiracy to bring down "Mainline" churches.

The book is essentially broken into two parts: the first part makes the case that there are religious groups attempting to influence politics (and political groups trying to influence churches) and the second part attempts cite examples of the conspiracy and how churches can prevent being "steeplejacked".

The first part of Steeplejacking (chapters 1-3) does an excellent job of documenting how intertwined politics and religion have become by focusing on the "religious right" and, specifically, The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). While this section of the book is well referenced, it repeatedly makes the claim that the IRD is "well funded" by citing 20 years (1985-2005) of contributions from conservative activists totaling a whopping "$4.765 million". By Culver and Dorhauer's own numbers, this "well funded" machine averaged $235,000 in fund raising per year which is smaller than the annual budgets for many mid-sized UCC churches. This is hardly the foundation of a "well funded" conspiracy.

The book also defines the issues that divide churches (such as gay marriage and abortion) as "wedge issues" implying that it's not really the issues themselves that dissenters care most about, rather it's the power, control and wealth of a church that they are really after. During the last General Synod, UCC President John Thomas used the same language to describe dissent over the proposed Israel Divestment resolution. Instead of actually engaging in any discussion about the issue and meeting with Jewish leaders to discuss the implications of divestment, Thomas isolated himself and dismissed the concerns as "wedge issues". Culver and Dorhauer seem to do the same thing. Instead of acknowledging that local churches and members have real concerns about these "hot button" issues, they are dismissed as "wedge issues".

The second part of the book (chapters 4-7) tries to cite examples of church stealing, addresses the roles of the pastor and laity and concludes with "strategies against steeplejacking". The amazing thing about this part of the book is how closely it resembles Dorhauer's rants on Talk2Action... with even less evidence. While the first three chapters contain hundreds of citations, the second half only has two. There is no attempt to provide supporting documentation to back up the claims of a conspiracy and, while the book has selected phrases from a few letters and speeches, there's no specific citation. It's even more difficult to decipher if these examples are directly related to the IRD. While the book identifies churches in crisis, it hardly demonstrates a conspiracy.

The book is also full of ironies. One of the strategies suggested in the book to fight back against steeplejacking is to not let dissenters hide their identity and to "speak the names of those causing dissent, and confront them if necessary". Ironically, of the few examples of UCC church stealing mentioned in the book, only the first names of people are used to validate the conspiracy. It's in these few examples that Culver and Dorhauer's credibility and argument really break down. They've clearly gone through the time to write this book and they use hundreds of citations to support their claims that external, highly political and theologically motivated groups have developed relationships with groups inside mainline churches only to have the primary premise of the book (examples of church stealing by these outside groups for power and profit) completely fall apart with sketchy examples of a few churches in crisis and no citations, references or supporting documentation. UCCtruths.com challenged Dorhauer long ago to provide evidence of a conspiracy while other clergy sympathetic to Dorhauer's concerns emailed him directly asking for supporting information to no avail. Other people signed on to the message board where he publishes his conspiracy to ask for answers only to be kicked off the site or called names.

Ultimately, what are Culver and Dorhauer trying to accomplish? Culver and Dorhauer have intentionally instilled a culture of fear within the denomination with no foundation of truth. Dorhauer proudly claims ministers are now calling him suspicious of visitors to their churches. He boasts that one of the churches that attended his workshop mistakenly accused a woman of being part of this conspiracy. This is good for our denomination?

I don't doubt that Culver and Dorhauer really believe their own conspiracy theory, but the argument they are putting forward doesn't stand up. This book does, however, serve as an example of the cynicism that exists among some UCC leaders.

It's also why every member of the UCC should buy this book, read it and ask questions.

UCC executives such as John Thomas and Conference Ministers parrot the conspiracy theory only to get that stunned look in their eyes when you ask them for specific examples. When Connecticut Conference Minister Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree's home church, Northfield Congregational Church, left the UCC in 2004, she blamed it on the influence of pastors ordained outside the UCC. A year later, she blamed turmoil in local churches on "misinformation spread over the internet". Culver and Dorhauer's book needlessly adds to this denominational paranoia.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, June 06, 2007

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