Conspiracy and the United Church of Christ

Mark D. Tooley
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

The ultra liberal United Church of Christ, which boasts of its inclusivity and radical hospitality, has now dropped below 1 million members for the first time. Its latest stats, for 2013, show it at 979,239. In 1968 it had over 2 million. The UCC was founded in 1957 as the merger of several Reformed traditions, some dating to the early Puritans.

Among the first religious groups to affirm revisionist sexual ethics, the UCC once sponsored ads highlighting its permissiveness in contrast with ostensibly restrictive churches, which were spoofed for having a metaphorical ejector seat among their pews. Ha-ha-ha.

But in fact, the UCC has figuratively hosted its own ejector seats, having lost 800 congregations and 400,000 members just since 2000, with no clear end to the spiral on the horizon.

Interestingly, the UCC is set to elect the Rev. John C. Dorhauer as its general minister and president at its upcoming General Synod in June. He is familiar to IRD as a regular participant in a UCC blog, "Talk to Action," which conspiratorially theorized IRD was "steeplejacking" congregations away from the UCC.
Their exertions even led to a 2007 book called Steeplejacking, which outlined the IRD plot to dismantle the UCC. A recent "Talk to Action" blog recalls fondly that Dorhauer contributed 71 articles to their blog.

Here's a recent "Talk to Action" self-explanation:

In 2005, a few colleagues and I decided to create an international, interactive blog to counter the religious right — one of the most successful and powerful political and social movements in American history. One of my top priorities in picking featured writers was to find someone who could write knowledgeably and authoritatively about the attacks on the mainline churches by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, its satellite groups and those informed and influenced by their activities. The IRD's operation on behalf of the financiers of neoconservatism and the religious right is an historic and catalytic force reshaping religion in America and in the world. There needed to be a place where people could come to find resources and compare notes — and I wanted the blog we were creating to be that place.

My search led me to John Dorhauer. We talked, and in the course of our conversation, I said that I thought that war had been declared on the mainline churches, a war of attrition, being played out in thousands of churches across the country, but that the churches aren't acting like they are even aware of it. "If there is a war, and one side doesn't know it…" John finished my sentence: "You lose."

Dorhauer's own blogs had headlines like "IRD Conspiracy, Part III," which reported that young staff was "deployed by the IRD to follow me around the country and report about my activities, whereabouts, writings, and speeches…"

Actually, IRD's interest in Dorhauer and "Talk to Action" was mostly limited to emailing their paranoid articles within the office for laughs. But after a few years, our emails stopped, as the conspiracy stories became rote and repetitive.

Dorhauer and "Talk to Action" are just one example of denial among declining liberal denominations that could never admit the reasons for their half century of continuous decline: a denominational failure to proclaim the Gospel with all its power.

In a recent video promo, Dorhauer refers cryptically to the UCC's "diminished capacity," with a promise that the UCC would be "meaningful and relevant."

Whatever the UCC's failed denominational policies; there are still many local congregations that proclaim the Gospel, although "Talk to Action" might grimly see them as IRD offshoots.

The Lord has summoned to life dry bones many times in the history of the church, and hopefully He has exciting plans, maybe even a holy conspiracy, for revival within even the UCC.

Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a native of Arlington, Virginia. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988, when he wrote a study about denominational funding of pro-Marxist groups for his local congregation. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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