Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Embracing Conspiracy Theories: The John Birch Society & PublicEye’s John Dorhauer

Dr. John C. Dorhauer, a staff member for the United Church of Christ, has written an article for Public Eye Magazine entitled “Churches Under Seige [sic]: Exposing the Right’s Attacks on Mainline Protestantism.” His target is the Institute on Religion and Democracy and all of the renewal groups in all of the mainline churches.

Dorhauer’s article reminded me of the John Birch Society’s view of the world back in the 1960s and 70s. The only difference, of course, is their political ideologies. It can be shown that Dorhauer and Robert Welsh, founder of the John Birch Society, share some similarities in their theological outlook and more importantly their use of conspiracy theories. (Robert Welsh had an unquestionable “progressive” view of religion.)

More then ten years ago I wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal on “Christian Identity” a group within the Neo-Nazi movement in America. In the article, I used the John Birch Society as an example of an organization that uses conspiracy theories. I showed how their conspiracies fed into the various racist groups although the society, itself, is not racist.

A member of the John Birch Society was bothered by my article and wrote me a long letter explaining how useful conspiracy theories are. In return I wrote a letter back which I later made into an article and placed it on my web site “Naming the Grace.”

But it isn’t just the far right which spins conspiracy theories, the far left is also becoming quite good at the enterprise. Take for instance process theologian, David Ray Griffin, who wrote a book contending that President Bush was behind the 9-11 attacks in New York City. Now John Dorhauer and the PublicEye Magazine are making use of a conspiracy theory to slander other Christians with whom they disagree.

The article Dorhauer has written is filled with historical mistakes, strange theological statements and conspiracy theories. For instance Dorhauer suggests that it was President George W.H. Bush who attempted to have Justice Robert Bork nominated to the Supreme Court when it was President Ronald Reagan who nominated Bork.

Dorhauer mentions Bork because Bork’s wife, Mary Ellen Bork, is on the Board of Directors of IRD. Indeed, the Board is made up of such respected individuals as Dr. Thomas C. Oden, Professor of Theology and Ethics (emeritus), Drew University, Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, The Institute on Religion and Public Life and Dr. Robert George, Professor, Princeton University.

After looking at one interesting, but strange, theological statement by Dorhauer, I will take two thoughts from my article on conspiracy theories and use it to analyze Dorhauer’s article.

The rather weird statement is this: “They [renewal groups] emphasize a person's direct relationship with Jesus in the fashion of evangelicals, and so oppose the dominant Protestant church tradition of freedom of the pulpit and the freedom to express one's own theology without the constriction of a mandate from above.” Although I do not totally understand all that Dorhauer means by his statement, I will, at least, try to address it.

First of all, as noted above, Dorhauer is coming from a United Church of Christ background and aiming mainly at those renewal groups in that denomination. They are congregational in government so it is understandable that they do not expect anyone above the congregation telling their Pastor what to preach.

Nonetheless, it is not true that congregationalism is the dominant characteristic of Protestant denominations. Furthermore, the congregation or the governing body within each local church in a congregational type of church has the right to ask that their Pastor preach biblical truth.

Dorhauer seems to be making three theological points about the United Church of Christ. One, the United Church of Christ does not emphasize a person’s direct relationship with Jesus and two the only evangelicals in that denomination are all in renewal groups.

The third point he seems to be making I consider of utmost importance. Since Dorhauer thinks those in renewal groups have a different theology than other members in the UCC, that is, they believe in a direct relationship with Jesus, it would seem he is saying the usual connection between UCC members and Jesus Christ is by some other mediator. Or maybe they have no relationship with Jesus? Hmm – I wonder if that is true. What a great mission field for orthodox and evangelical Christians.

Going beyond even the polity part of Dorhauer’s statement it seems nonsensical to suggest that having a personal relationship with Christ and seeing that as one of the important tenets of Christianity somehow affects the freedom of the pulpit. Unless he means that preachers should have the freedom to preach that a personal relationship with Jesus is unimportant!

Going even deeper than theology about our relationship to Christ, the question should be asked: is Dorhauer suggesting that it is more important to have the “freedom to express one’s own theology” than it is to preach biblical truth?

But as to conspiracy theories: Dorhauer purports to have found the smoking gun, the document that tells all. The Institute for Religion and Democracy is supposedly conspiring to use renewal groups to undermine all of the mainline denominations.

Dorhauer writes, “The IRD's training sessions are by invitation-only and its allies within churches meet in secret. At best, we are able to present strong circumstantial evidence that what is happening in our local churches and to our denominational leaders is the direct byproduct of the covert tactics of the IRD and their trained insurgents.”

Dorhauer continues, “We have few smoking gun moments: moments where the fomenters of dissent acknowledge their cooperation with or even awareness of the IRD. (In many ways, the IRD's ability to effect cooperation even from those who don't know they exist shows the success of its initiative.)”

And writing of the smoking gun, the IRD’s four year plan, Dorhauer states: “But one smoking gun moment came recently when the executive summary of the IRD's four-year plan leaked out of its secretive networks into the hands of its enemies.” (Bold letters mine.)

Just to make sure his readers understand that this is truly a conspiracy Dorhauer writes, “And it [the planning document] confirms what pastors across Protestant denominations have long felt, that our denominations are being attacked in a coordinated fashion - that we are not just falling into conspiratorial thinking. There is a conspiracy.”

Turning to my article, “Conspiracy and the Christian,” the John Birch Society member asked this question, “Why not view world events from a conspiratorial view?” As an aside, Dorhauer may not understand that he is suggesting a conspiracy taken to the level of world events. But, he is, because those in the renewal groups, including the IRD, are connected to a two-thousand year history of the Church with its biblical views and traditions. They are also committed to world missions as well as helping the poor and the prisoner. (Dorhauer scathingly points out that the leader of IRD is Jim Tonkowich, former head of Charles Colson’s Prison Ministry.)

Using two of my answers in my article, I will show how they fit with Dorhauer’s theories. First, “the advocates of conspiracy theories often understand goodness and evil within the framework of the theory.” Dorhauer, using his idea of conspiracy, effectively covers over the real questions of good and evil.

The renewal groups, including IRD, are concerned about such social issues as abortion and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. They are also committed to upholding the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the face of a growing pluralism within the mainline denominations. Those issues are not addressed in the article; rather the IRD and other renewal groups are tarred and feathered with the crime of being secret agents of chaos.

In fact, Dorhauer takes his conspiracy theory and shapes an abominable lie. He writes:

"The IRD exists for one reason only. It is not to steal churches out of our denomination, nor to defrock ministers, not to establish certain religious, theological, or biblical principles. The IRD only exists to tie up churches and judicatories in dissent. That is it. So, its staff really doesn't care if the resolutions they are teaching their activists to present pass or not. They don't care if the church supports gay marriage or not. They don't care if the Bible is interpreted literally or not. They only care that activists keep pushing buttons, fomenting dissent, and tying up congregational, judicatory, and denominational leaders in one argument, one battle, one fierce debate after another as a way to weaken churches interested in social justice."

Dorhauer has posted not one shred of evidence to back his statement. And he obviously hasn’t read anything that writers such as Jim Berkley or Alan Wisdom have written. Conspiracy theories lead to making the person you disagree with the “outsider.” Rather than defending your own position on issues, you defame and slander those who should be your friend in Christ. Dorhauer sees the “other” as someone who has “enemies.” This must mean he also has named himself their enemy.

Another problem with conspiracy theories is that “the theory often serves as truth rather than documented evidence.” And this is also true in Dorhauer’s case. He began with his theory, not with any documentation, so anything he finds is interpreted from his conspiracy formula.

Dorhauer is unable to comprehend the viewpoints of many people in the mainline denominations who are concerned about the numerous theological and social issues slipping into the Church via a broken humanity. He is unable to grasp the idea that many, many committed Christians have formed renewal groups and made commitments to work for renewal with the understanding that such work is faithful work for Jesus Christ.

Dorhauer takes his theory so seriously that any negative evidence to the contrary gets absorbed into his theory. That is why he makes the ridiculous statement, “In many ways, the IRD's ability to effect cooperation even from those who don't know they exist shows the success of its initiative.” So, most of us have been manipulated and we didn’t even know it? Dorhauer's conspiracy theory has become his truth.

Dorhauer undoubtedly believes he is doing good work by exposing the “conspirators,” but what he is actually doing is slanderous work such as was used against the Jews in pre-war Germany. If Dorhauer believes ordaining practicing homosexuals is right, if he thinks that abortion is honorable, if he feels that pluralism is more acceptable for Christians than upholding Jesus Christ as the only Lord, then let him argue his positions in an honest way, without resorting to slanderous accusations.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Giving our Strengths and Weaknesses to the Lord

A man in my church committed suicide this week. Although I did not know him, I am told, he was very depressed. My granddaughter, Melissa, over at Libellus Stellatus, just posted an essay about that, and loneliness, and community. She started me thinking about the frailty of our humanity and how even our strengths are a part of our brokenness. How we need to give not just our weaknesses but also our strengths to Jesus.

I am remembering a young man I went to school with who later worked with the same apologetics organization where I had worked. It was an interesting class, "The Philosophy of Religion." The students ranged from a very devout Catholic to a Warlock or male priest of the nature religion of Wicca. And the young man who I am writing about was also a devout Christian. He had read Charles Colsen's book Born Again and had become a Christian.

But he was confused about keeping the Sabbath. His apologetics was very good, and he spent a lot of time witnessing to the Pagan in the class. But he just would not let go of the idea that Christians should worship on Saturday rather than Sunday. He was obsessed, and wrote an eighty page paper on the subject. Yet, the saddest part was; he was torn between his grasp of God's grace given in Jesus Christ and his own insistence on worshipping on Saturday.

Several days after writing his long paper he took a gun and shot himself in the head. As a way of dealing with my own grief over this I wrote a poem. I knew I could not, at the time, share this with his family, only with a few friends. So here is the poem for a friend.
To a Late Friend

A mind as carefully dressed
as his body,
he understood a prepositional
statement -
but not a metaphor.
His mind was devoted to God,
in a logical manner.
Our friend,
we never saw the void at the end
of his argument
He was looking for the perfect apologetic.
He was a hero looking for a fight,
a martyr looking for a fire.

He ended his own battle with a gun
and eased illogically and
into a love beyond reason.
Rest in His Sabbath Matt.
And yes rest in His love, Tom
And may I remember that it is the righteousness, strength and keeping power of Jesus Christ that sustains me and all my sisters and brothers in Christ.
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)"

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Divine Spark or Sinners All?

The question is: are we born with a divine spark of God within us as the Gnostics taught, or are we born sinners in need of God's redemption? To put it another way, do we simply need knowledge about who we really are, or do we need a Savior to give his life on a cross for us?

Presbyterian News Service carried an article about the Presbyterian Youth Triennium, Jesus sightings. In it Jerry Van Marter, of the Presbyterian News Service, quotes Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris, saying, as she gestured toward the communion table, “It’s not permanent, [hopefully speaking of sadness and loss of hope], — that’s why it’s so important to practice the faith in community, to see the spark of divinity in Christ and yourself.”

If this is an authentic quote it is pure gnosticism. On the other hand they also posted an article, [RNS] Heavy Metal guitarist plays a new tune , about Brian Welch, once known as "Head" of the "hard core band Korn."After years of decadence and extreme darkness, Welch was overwhelmed with the love of Jesus Christ. The article lists several events which led to his conversion including receiving a Bible.

The author of the news article, Michelle Rindels, of the Religion News Service ,writes. "he opened his Bible, read a verse in Ezekiel that said “the soul who sins is the one who will die,” and immediately flushed all his meth down the toilet." This is transformation because of Christ's gift of salvation. It is not gnosticism.

Any righteousness we bring to God the Father can only belong to Jesus Christ and is not some god spark within us. Calvin writes of this in his chapter on the Lord's Supper in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

"This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness."

Sunday, July 22, 2007


"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean"

I felt I was wandering in Longfellow's land of Arcadia, the place where his story poem of Evangeline takes place, this weekend as my husband and I walked through the forest toward the sea.

Part of our joy was seeing a young couple with their children sitting in a meadow where we stopped to rest. As we passed them I sensed they were Christians. Before we left we talked with them and found, yes, they were fellow Christians. That fact came up so casually in the conversation as we talked about their children whom they were home-schooling. We were able to answer a question they had about home-schooling since two of our daughters also home-school.

I am always amazed by the fellowship God often showers us with by sending other Christians into our lives. At one time in my husband's piano tuning Career, he went to New York to do some extra training with Baldwin Pianos. Both he and the head tuner there sensed that the other was a Christian, but waited until the end of the day to ask each other. As it turned out the head tuner was an Assemblies of God Pastor.

Later in his career and further training, this time at Steinway, my husband found that the head tuner there, the one who had tuned pianos for such people as Horowitz and Rubinstein, was also a very devout Christian and they had a wonderful time talking about the Lord.

You can read about that Piano tuner, Franz Mohr, in his book, My Life with the Great Pianists. It is co-written by Edith Schaeffer. Franz Mohr came to this country from Germany after World War II, but during the war he was filled with hatred for the Nazis and became an atheist and a communist. An Englishman spoke to his hatred. "Franz, no matter how much hate you throw at me, I love you. And there is one who loves you more, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Your heart is on fire with tremendous hate, and only one can change it. That is the Lord Jesus Christ." Sometime after this Franz Mohr became a Christian.

In the midst of a very dark world, there is the fellowship of the saints, with one another, with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Sweetness of Gathering to the Vine

The sweetness of gathering to the wine
is claimed by children resting in a tree
whose root became the food within the vine.
These, childlike made, they bless the cup and dine
upon the fleshy food they cannot see,
and drink the holy bloody wine.
Like sibling children fighting in a line,
who later laugh when by the bell set free,
these happy ones are laughing in the vine.
And raging gods whose deeds their shape confine
have called for war, whose very end shall be
determined by the drinking of the wine.
Go death to death, the children life define;
now blood of saints and Christ's good blood agree
the holy life is living in the vine.
If nails be sharp pursuing flesh to pine,
and wooden burdens bend and bruise the knee,
feast on the broken flesh, drink up the wine;
hold fast the fellowship within the vine.



(With apologies or Apologetics to A.J.Ayer and Wittgenstein)

Children deserting the mixture of string pulled,
wheel driven, color massed meld of toys,
grab for brown ordinary boxes.
Boxes with four sides, square, sure of borders.
Boxes closed or open are split through
by the utter fullness of children's play,
yet, the play is held within the box.
Poets need boxes, boundaries, borders,
for transcendent visions which split through
space/time, night and day.
But, men who create boxes need poets and God and children who play.

The box was very small.
It had no openings.
The logical positivist crouched
dismally, certain of his confinement.
Some attempted to climb out,
knocking against the thin brown sides.
Unable to make statements about the outside they made
circles within.
The Creator of stories demolished the box.
His story protruding and heavy
fell through the bottom
and pushed through the top.

The children, playing in the box,
romped in colorful riot.
They rolled in laughter,
over-spilling the edges,
bursting through
the opened top and bottom,
delighting in eternal play.

by Viola Larson