IRD’s Orwellian Critics

on August 29, 2019

Some of the greatest compliments to IRD’s work come from our adversaries. Their condemnation and warnings about us are flattering tributes to our influence and effectiveness. But they also reveal a degree of Orwellian paranoia.

Two very recent critics include a United Methodist liberal activist, and the President of the fast-declining United Church of Christ denomination.

Liberal United Methodist writer Christy Thomas insisted IRD must be renounced, targeting our UMAction director John Lomperis and myself in her August 28 United Methodist Insight article:  

Ultimately, restoring trust [within United Methodism] will require an apology from those who have permitted John Lomperis to have such a large role in setting UMC policy. We also need a public acknowledgment of the wrongness of a decision to let an ex-CIA agent, Mark Tooley, attempt to re-create the church in his image.

Thomas further insisted:

The WCA, the Good News Movement, and any other groups associated with Mr. Tooley and Mr. Lomperis must renounce their connection with the Institution on Religion and Democracy and return any funding they have received. These two men are indeed United Methodists. And, sadly, they have spearheaded a movement to destroy the core of United Methodism and its long-standing work on the part of social justice.

Note her word “destroy.” For 38 years IRD has advocated that America’s churches uphold orthodox theology and a public witness rooted in historic Christian teaching. In the early 1980s at our founding we were responding directly to Mainline Protestant support for Marxist revolutionary movements. But that political extremism was only a symptom of theological heterodoxy dominant in liberal Protestantism since early in the twentieth century and radicalized in the 1960s.

It was never IRD’s intent to “destroy the core” of any Mainline denomination but rather to seek their renewal, both because of their importance to the Body of Christ and to sustaining American democracy. Their ongoing collapse, which began in the early to mid 1960s, has been a great loss especially to American civic life. Having served as America’s central mediating institutions that historically sought both societal reform and consensus, the disappearance of Mainline Protestantism arguably explains today’s polarization.

That polarization is exemplified by IRD critics like Thomas, who imagine any dissent from conventional leftist theology and politics within shrinking denominations is subversive and destructive. That most church-going lay people never subscribed to liberal Protestant totems and often voted with their feet rather than resist is typically ignored by IRD critics.

John Dorhauer, President and General Minister of the 800,000 member United Church of Christ, similarly prefers to imagine conspiracy, literally, over any admission that liberal Protestantism after six decades of decline may have erred. He wrote in the August 2019 Christian Ethics Today:

At the center of this conspiracy is a group called the Institute on Religion and Democracy located in Washington, D.C. It is directed by a former CIA-trained psych-ops agent named Mark Tooley, The IRD is funded by heavy hitters from the neo-conservative side of the political right. Those benefactors don’t care a whole lot about religion or faith. What they care about is that every social justice movement in this country has been fueled, funded and fostered by religious leaders with a conscience, a pulpit and a congregation.

What Dorhauer calls a conspiracy is pretty scary.  But what is the conspiracy? Evidently it is IRD destroying liberal-controlled denominations like the UCC, a once great Mainline denomination that has lost over 60% of its membership and thousands of its congregations across over 50 years.  Dorhauer seems to think only IRD can explain the ongoing implosion of his church.

Here’s how he further describes IRD:

Like inquisitors from the past, they believe the church must be purified of heretics. Functioning with an “the ends justify the means” ethic, they continue to infiltrate our churches with their trained operatives. They distort the teachings of mainstream religion. They continue to do this largely unnoticed by religious bodies who suffer because of their machinations, but who remain largely ignorant of their work and are functionally blind to their existence.

In 2007 Dorhauer coauthored a book called Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, which focused on reputed IRD subversion within the United Church of Christ. The publisher describes it this way:

Steeplejacking reveals how conservative renewal groups, backed by a right-wing organization called the Institute on Religion and Democracy, use social wedge issues like homosexuality to infiltrate mainline churches and stir up dissent among members of the congregation, with the goal of taking over the leadership of the church, and ultimately, the denomination. The book unmasks the covert methods that renewal groups and the IRD use to spread their propaganda, as well as showing how the pastor and other church leaders can act as either provocateurs or protectors in the face of an attack. Churches that have been “steeplejacked” are also examined to illustrate why some are able to withstand an attack, while others succumb.

In his recent article, as in his book, Dorhauer claims IRD has trained saboteurs to “infiltrate” his denomination. His evidence is mostly just lay people looking up articles on the internet and being troubled by what they discovered about their church. The democratization of knowledge has harmed liberal Protestant bureaucracies and accelerated their decline. Once influential church bureaucrats are no longer gatekeepers, which flustered Dorhauer, as he recounts, when he spoke to local UCC congregations armed with printed internet articles countering the institutional narrative.

Here are a few more quotes from the UCC president:  

The creation of the IRD was a covert attempt on their part to minimize the impact that religious leaders and bodies have had to bend the arc of history slowly towards justice. And it worked. They were founded in the early 1980s and have been functioning ever since with very little interference or notice from the churches, leaders and people most impacted by them.

IRD was never “covert.” It was announced at a 1981 press conference in Washington, DC and rose to prominence through exposes by Sixty Minutes and Readers Digest about church radicalism.

But here’s the most revealing part from Dorhauer as he concludes about IRD:

They continue to play tackle football while we play touch. And, yes, we are losing this game. We are losing it badly.

IRD appreciates his compliment that we are effective at “tackle football” in the churches.  And his version of liberal Protestant Christianity is “losing” and losing “badly.” But it’s not IRD’s fault.  We are only spotlighting how failed policies are killing great churches by exchanging the traditional Gospel for heterodox theology laced with leftwing politics.

Dorhauer presides over a denomination that once had over 2 million members and now has 800,000 while sadly losing tens of thousands more every year.  And yet liberal church bureaucrats are unable to admit the real causes, preferring to create conspiracy theories and blame the whistleblowers.

United Methodist Christy Thomas thinks the same way. USA United Methodism has lost over 4 million members under liberal leadership while the traditional church in Africa has gone from nearly zero to 5 million by preaching the traditional Gospel.  Yet she and other liberal USA Methodists admit no lessons.  Instead, they blame IRD for dividing the church.

For Thomas, Dorhauer and many other defenders of dying institutional liberal Protestantism, IRD is the much needed bête noire, akin to the villain Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984. Goldstein was the Enemy of the People covertly orchestrating all subversion against Big Brother. Nobody through their own thoughts dissented from the Party, unless manipulated by Goldstein. Of course, Goldstein was likely the invention of Big Brother.

If IRD never existed, it would have to be invented by critics like Dorhauer and Thomas, who can’t imagine how else churches that don’t prioritize orthodox Christian beliefs keep losing millions of members across more than half a century.




  1. Comment by Mark on August 29, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    Who’s at fault–IRD or Duke Divinity?
    I just left my UMC congregation after sitting through this past Sunday’s sermon on hell. I really learned some stuff. According to my former pastor, hell is just a temporary (albeit very unpleasant) purgatory for those who still need to work on their flaws before going on to heaven. Luckily, there is no permanent hell for mean traditionalists like me, so that’s a relief. whew.

    Although … maybe they just haven’t thought that one all the way through yet? 😉

  2. Comment by Palamas on August 29, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    Never heard of Thomas. Dorhauer, on the other hand, has been peddling IRD-centered conspiracy theories for more than 20 years. The guy is such a loon that, if there were a left-wing John Birch Society, he’d be the president of it. It’s no wonder that the UCC is declining–it’s apparently run by pyschotics.

  3. Comment by Loren J Golden on September 2, 2019 at 1:25 am

    Christy Thomas presents herself “as a retired Elder in The United Methodist Church, (who has) written extensively about UMC issues.”  She writes a column for the local newspaper in my city of residence, Denton, TX (to which I do not subscribe), and has a blog, which she calls “The Thoughtful Pastor”, and which is associated with the “Progressive Christian” Channel on
    In her post, immediately preceding the section that Tooley quotes above, she writes, “I have linked here a PDF copy of the Summer 2019 edition of Christian Ethics Today.  In it, there is a vital piece by John C. Dorhauer called ‘Steeplejacking: How The Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion.’  I implore you to read it.”  So she’s intentionally peddling the same ludicrous conspiracy theories as Dorhauer.

  4. Comment by Norma and Don on August 29, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    In 1962, I was a member of my family’s church formed and built by my ancestors and named St Marks German Evangelical and Reformed Church in a small rural community in NW PA. My denomination voted to affiliate w/ the Congregational Church of New England and became the St Marks United Church of Christ. The beliefs brought to our church were so radical, the congregation finally disaffiliated w/ UCC and remains a vital part of the community and I traveled as one of the only living survivors of my family to celebrate the 150 th Anniversary in 2018! The UCC began this decline in my birth denomination and now as I approach my 80th birthday in the United Methodist Church, I see this happening again. I attended an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America college and met a wonderful Lutheran man in 1963. We married in my church, and after serving in Munich joined a ELCA congregation in Alexandria, VA when he was at the Pentagon. We saw it change and it has declined in members since we left it in 1990 to become United Methodists. We have been active in church renewal since 1995, but now we see articles like this and at our age realize secularization of all denominations and their total decline won’t stop! God has got this so we have long ago turned it over to Him!!!

  5. Comment by Frank Brown on August 30, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Well stated words of truth, Mark. Thank you. (Our congregation in Port Republic, NJ, left the UMC, effective June 1, 2019. Our situation is rather unique, but I, for one, am so GRATEFUL that 98% of our congregation realized it was “time to go.” We are now an independent community church, following God’s Word unadulterated by leaders who prefer to listen to the ‘greater’ society rather than God’s Spirit.)

  6. Comment by Bill and Lynn on August 30, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Thank you Mark for telling it like it is, e.g. water flows downhill. It’s an attempted Marxist takeover of America.
    That’s clear.

  7. Comment by JR on September 3, 2019 at 1:11 pm


    You sure about that?

  8. Comment by Mark on August 30, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks, Frank. Here in my spot of North Carolina I can’t find a Methodist home. I wish there were a congregation such as yours near me. No matter which separation plan is passed, I’m certain my conference will vote progressive (they seem to have the delegates locked up) and most if not all the local congregations near me will just go along because most around here either don’t care or they’re woefully in the dark … and the clergy are happy to keep them that way while they work on re-educating them.

    I truly have no idea where to go, short of moving.

  9. Comment by Reynolds on August 30, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    Where in North Carolina do you live

  10. Comment by Mark on August 31, 2019 at 6:56 am


  11. Comment by Richard on September 1, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    We are in the Western North Carolina Conference also. We had a home until the 2019 Special Conference brought out the liberal progressives. And, yes they have the liberal clergy delegates to help prepare them for 2020. I don’t think in the scheme of things they will be successful, so the fight will continue. Good luck with finding a UMC home. We can’t and are visiting other denominations.

  12. Comment by Reynolds on September 2, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Why are conservatives trying to leave. You are correct in that most churches will stay put. Why not press the advantages in 2020. The numbers only get better.

  13. Comment by Henry Stokes on August 30, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    “For 38 years IRD has advocated that America’s churches uphold orthodox theology and a public witness rooted in historic Christian teaching.” ? What time in history do you refer to? Christian orthodoxy has hardly been an unchanging thing from the Crucifixion until now.

  14. Comment by David Gingrich on August 31, 2019 at 6:19 am

    Henry, I guess you mean to imply that Christian orthodoxy can be whatever you want it to be? That is the reason the liberal churches are dying.

    No human being has a perfect theology. But all good theology must begin with humbly believing that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. That is where the liberals fail.

  15. Comment by Mike on August 30, 2019 at 9:09 pm

    As someone who has had a friend work for the IRD, and having met Mark Tooley personally, I can confirm that the people in this organization are (as far as I can tell) Christ-centered, Bible-believing followers of The Lord.

    The CIA claim is a straw man. There are many people that have served with the CIA in DC – in a part time role. They have never performed espionage, nor have they done things their families wouldn’t be proud of. Mark’s service to our country in no way affects his role at the IRD, nor is he spearheading a “conservative takeover” of the UMC.

    On the contrary, Mark’s (and the entire IRD’s) position is Jesus first, your brother second, and politics last. Wanting to support a Bible-believing doctrine is NOT political. Those that wish to make it so need a refresher on scripture.

    These liberal writers that seek to attach infamy to the IRD do so at their own spiritual peril. The Bible is very clear on how we should comport ourselves. We are called to love AND holiness. Not just one or the other.

    I suspect when we all meet up in Heaven, we’ll know the whole truth about everything. I hope we’ll all be so enthralled by being in the presence of The Lord that we put aside differences and falsehoods.

    And if there truly is a Bema seat, woe to those who try to lead others away from God’s Word.

  16. Comment by Lynn on August 31, 2019 at 8:11 am

    It is indeed refreshing to see and hear the Word of God at work. Those who rail against God, trying to blame true christians for the decline of denominations that left God to worship idols and activities, are truly living the life Jesus foretold. Thank you Mark Tooley for standing in the gap and witnessing for God to the truly lost. If only they had ears to hear.

  17. Comment by Darryl C. Zoller on August 31, 2019 at 10:59 am

    A UCC pastor presented a workshop at an event I attended where he did just this, blame the IRD and traditionalists for infiltrating UCC churches and sowing the seeds of dissension and disaffiliation. It was one of the first time I saw the paranoia of the social justice/liberal theology for what it was, a fearmongering farce. I begged to differ with the presenter on his bias, but he seemed taken aback that anyone would challenge his conspiracy theory.

  18. Comment by Anuschka on August 31, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    “to minimize the impact that religious leaders and bodies have had to bend the arc of history slowly towards justice.”

    Silly me. I thought religious leaders’ and bodies’ role was to bring people to Christ and to save their souls. I didn’t realize God had commissioned them to bend the arc of history. If anyone can point me to the verse in the Bible with this commission, I’d be grateful (/sarc off)

  19. Comment by Jim Radford on August 31, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    “For 38 years IRD has advocated that America’s churches uphold orthodox theology and a public witness rooted in historic Christian teaching. ” I believe that you have done exactly that. I have said before that I am personally glad that you are in Washington, and that you are an articulate voice in the defense of historic Christianity. In my opinion, there’s no “conspiracy” as such from the Religious Right. Strategies on the part of well-intentioned Christians determined to contend for orthodox beliefs? Certainly, there are. My own feeling is, if the Progressive side of the aisle–and I continue to say, “God bless them” (and I actually mean that, and as more than just a cliché from Southern culture)–wins the day, it would prove disastrous for the United Methodist Church, not to mention that it would further erode the relevance of authentic Christian witness and influence in this country and, generally, in an increasingly secular age. However, I have also said before that I don’t believe that the kind of pull-out threatened and led by the WCA is the answer to the problem. Some good people I know are calling for, and waiting for, such a departure, and seem to think that an exit will “save” the church. But for all the good that it does, and in spite of its desire to maintain creedal belief, at the end of the day the WCA will still be a Methodist body and one more institutional church among many other institutional churches. And I am not speaking in a theological sense. I have always said that, in terms of its doctrine, the United Methodist Church is, and always has been (up to now), the best game in town. But it seems to me that there is an aggressively argumentative, sometimes a tad militant, and a bit of a legalistic streak in the WCA that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t see myself as being associated with the WCA in the near or the distant future, and have no plans to identify with it. I hope God-in-Christ Himself will intervene and bring good out of this struggle, and that the mass exodus will never come to be.

  20. Comment by William on September 1, 2019 at 10:41 am

    As a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, I must respond. The WCA was formed as a DEFENSE against the liberal forces trying to radically change the sexual ethics and to redefine marriage in UMC. Now, these are obviously but symptoms of a much deeper problem with relation to Biblical authority, Biblical interpretation, and Wesleyan doctrine which is the core of this schism. WCA has been completely transparent and forthcoming. It has no hidden agendas. It exists simply to either maintain the orthodox position of the church or as a vehicle for a separate denomination should the need for that arise. It, along with Good News, IRD, the Confessing Movement, etc. (The Reform & Renewal Coalition) are the only honest, truthful, Biblical, and faithful players left in this fight as is so well documented in this article by those spreading outright deception on the left.

  21. Comment by Bill on August 31, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    I was a Methodist for 30+ years. Left for a more alive church and found it in a Christian church. Also was disappointed with the liberal influence in the UMC. Trying to change wrong to right.
    A once very alive local church is now HAPPY to keep the doors open.

  22. Comment by Loren J Golden on September 2, 2019 at 1:45 am

    Reading through the ridiculous conspiracy theories Thomas and Dorhauer are presenting, I am struck by the lines of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith:
    Anakin (representing Thomas & Dorhauer): “You have turned her against me!”
    Obi-Wan (representing the IRD & the WCA): “You have done that yourself!”
    In the Presbyterian Church (USA), there was similar animosity toward the Presbyterian Lay Committee and its publication, The Presbyterian Layman.  However, the PLC was dissolved late last year, ceased publication of The Layman Online nearly two years ago, ceased print publication of The Layman nearly five years ago, and has not been a significant voice in the PC(USA) for years.  Nevertheless, the 5% annual hemorrhaging membership losses have continued unabated.  People are leaving the mainline churches, not because of the work of organizations such as the PLC, the WCA, or the IRD, but because the vapid preaching coming out of mainline pulpits, rather than the Gospel message, neither converts anyone outside the pale of the Church to faith in Christ, nor gives any non-Christians sitting in their pews any compelling reason to become a Christian, nor edifies any Bible-believing Christians still sitting in their pews.

  23. Comment by Mark on September 2, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Amen, Lauren.
    And coincidentally, I was surfing the TV the other day and watched that very scene from Star Wars and made the same connection! 😉

  24. Comment by Mark on September 2, 2019 at 8:09 am

    I could at least spell your name right, Loren. sorry ‘bout that

  25. Comment by Tony Heine on September 2, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Congrats, Mark!
    You’ve been upgraded to “former CIA-trained psych-ops agent”.
    Always judge a man by his enemies.
    Well done, Mark. Keep up the good work.

  26. Comment by Eric J LeFevre on September 2, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    I head that when Tooley worked at the CIA, he did a black ops that killed Jimmy Hoffa and buried his body in the basement of the IRD…..

  27. Comment by Jim Radford on September 3, 2019 at 10:43 am

    “Digging up bones/digging up bones/exhuming things better left alone….” – Randy Travis

  28. Comment by Penny on September 4, 2019 at 12:31 am

    Members of our Sunday School class, concerned about the ongoing problems in orthodoxy with the Methodist Church, began to look around, and thus discovered both the IRD and the WCA. We are encouraged that we are not alone, amazed that someone has been fighting on our behalf all along, and waiting to see what happens in 2020.

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