The Oct. 10 issue of WORLD, the Christian-based newsmagazine, offers a profile of one of the United Methodist Church’s most influential and controversial figures, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
For years, Tooley has been a thorn in the side of UM leaders who have sought to move the church away from orthodox positions on theology and mission. His major weapon: the written word.
As head of UMAction, an IRD sub-group, Tooley began reporting on various United Methodist and ecumenical gatherings in the mid-1990s. His written reports about non-orthodox pronouncements uttered at these conferences and meetings made Tooley a lightning rod for criticism.
In 2008, he recounted his many run-ins with “progressive” leaders in Taking Back the United Methodist Church (Bristol House).
Earlier this year, Mark Tooley was named president of IRD, which describes itself as “an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches’ social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad.”
The group was founded in 1981 by United Methodists Ed Robb and David Jessup. Current United Methodist board members include retired pastor Ira Gallaway, Helen Rhea Stumbo of the Bristol House publishing firm, and theologian Thomas C. Oden, author of Turning Around the Mainline: How Renewal Movements Are Changing the Church.
Tooley, 44, grew up in what for decades was the Main Street of American Protestantism, a United Methodist church (UM). He went to Georgetown University, known in the 1980s and now as a prep school for the State Department, but that career seemed tame compared to what the CIA had to offer. For eight years he worked as an analyst of data first from Pacific islands such as Fiji (but he didn’t get to go there) and then from Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
But the steady movement to the left of some U.S. clergy kept bugging him, so he left the CIA and in 1994 became head of UMAction with the goal of fighting the church hierarchy’s support of Marxist guerrillas in Central America, violent revolutionaries in southern Africa, and abortionists in the United States….
Now his office at IRD displays prints, paintings, and drawings of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill: He sees them as exemplars of the moral character and tenacity that are needed in his battle to reclaim a Methodist denomination with 8 million members in the United States (most of them are not in church on a typical Sunday) and 3 million abroad (most of them are). Tooley’s office also sports a bust and painting of John Wesley and a print of Francis Asbury, the circuit-riding founder of American Methodism….
He hopes to keep Methodists and Presbyterians from following the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran denominations into support of ordination for actively homosexual clergy, but the IRD is not a one-note player: It wants churches to “uphold theological orthodoxy, espouse a responsible political witness, and plead for persecuted religious believers around the world.”
In 2007, several of Tooley’s critics appeared in a DVD release titled, Renewal or Ruin: The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Attack on the United Methodist Church.
Retired UM Bishop Kenneth Carder accused the IRD of engaging in the practice of intimidation. “Many are afraid to speak out because they don’t want their name to appear in one of the [IRD] articles or websites,” he said. “[N]ot permitting people to express their views…and to take positions on…controversial issues — that is un-American and that is radical, and it’s…also un-Christian.” (It could be argued, of course, that IRD doesn’t suppress views with which it does not agree; rather, through its reporting, IRD gives such views a wider audience.)
A darkly themed trailer for Renewal or Ruin? is here.
The IRD also was heavily criticized in a 2003 book, United Methodism at Risk: A Wake-up Call, published by an ad-hoc group called the Information Project for United Methodists. The group was headed by retired UM Bishop C. Dale White and attorney Beth Capen, now a member of the United Methodist Judicial Council.
United Methodism at Risk was written by the late Leon Howell, a member of the United Church of Christ and the final editor of the now-defunct Christianity and Crisis magazine, which ceased publication in 1993. The book was funded by Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.
Related articles and information
|•||Review of Taking Back the United Methodist Church | Ray Nothstine, Acton Institute Power Blog (April 10, 2008)|
|•||United Methodist renaissance? A review of Taking Back the United Methodist Church (PDF) | Matthew May, Good News (September/October 2008)|
|•||Faith and Freedom: The Institute on Religion and Democracy | Chapter 5 of Public Pulpits: Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life by Steven M. Tipton (University of Chicago Press, 2008 — via Google Books)|
|•||Methodist philosopher Billy Abraham examines United Methodism’s decline | Mark Tooley, UMAction (Jan. 8, 2009)|
|•||African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone (November 2008)|
|Use the audio player below to listen to a radio interview with Mark Tooley about the above-listed article | Issues, Etc. radio program (Nov. 4, 2008)
|•||‘Renewal or Ruin?’ DVD Attacks IRD | Mark Tooley and John Lomperis, IRD (March 7, 2008)|
|•||Jim Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society demands Bush impeachment | Mark Tooley, The American Spectator (May 30, 2006)|
|•||Who profits from the Methodist Building? | Mark Tooley, Good News (March/April 2004)|
|•||The risk of renewal groups (A critique of United Methodism @ Risk: A Wake-Up Call) | James V. Heidinger, Good News (July/August 2003)|
|•||Decision to close meeting draws fire for Women’s Division; decision follows request from Mark Tooley to attend as press | United Methodist News Service (Nov. 1, 2000)|
|•||The demise of the world’s greatest mission agency | Mark Tooley, Touchstone magazine (November/December 1998)|
|•||General Board of Church and Society responds to allegations by IRD | United Methodist News Service (Oct. 5, 1998)|
|•||Liberal Methodism of Clintons may explain political positions (a column based on research by Mark Tooley) | Cal Thomas (April 22, 1995)|