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American Anglican Council Fact Sheet
Power, Money, Control . . . It's the Church!
By Daniel Webster
It is about power and control. It is about "doing it my way." It has little to do with biblical orthodoxy and apostasy. It comes down to winners and losers. As Anglicans, it probably should be no surprise if we look at our history. Murder, assassination, trials, incarceration, slander, mayhem have all been used to resolve internal church disputes.
This story is the American version of the latest Anglican upheaval. It resembles a corporate crime novel. There are special interest groups with intertwining board members. There is secrecy, intrigue, and of course, there is the money. As with too many American causes these days it is about imposing one view upon another.
Here is the backdrop of what is "tearing at the fabric" of the Anglican Communion in the U.S.A. To follow this, as we say in the States, you need a program to tell the players. Here it is:
- AAC -- American Anglican Council
- ACN -- Anglican Communion Network
- INFEMIT -- International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians
- IRD -- Institute on Religion and Democracy
- ECUSA -- Episcopal Church USA
- PB -- The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop ECUSA
- ABC -- Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams
ECUSA is considered a "mainline" Protestant denomination in the U.S. We share that moniker with Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Congregationalists and American Baptists. Mainline Protestantism is generally considered to be the bedrock for much of the social gospel teaching in the U.S. In recent years it has been demonized by the extreme right as "liberal."
Less than 25 years ago, disparate groups of conservative Christians formed the IRD to stop the liberal-leaning mainline churches from spreading their social and political message. The idea for the IRD came from David Jessup, a staunch anti-communist Methodist and union activist, who objected to U.S. churches sending aid to leftist regimes in Vietnam and Nicaragua, according to Diane Knippers, IRD president. From that time, the IRD attracted a few conservative donors with deep pockets, including the Scaife, Bradley, Olin and Coors foundations. Its biggest contributor is Howard Ahmanson, a Los Angeles area Episcopalian, heir to a savings and loan fortune who has previously proposed teaching creationism in public schools and replacing the American legal system with "biblical law."
In 1995, many people with close ties to the IRD formed the AAC. The Rt. Rev. James Stanton, Bishop of Dallas (Texas), has been a director of both the IRD and AAC. Mrs. Knippers, an Episcopalian at Truro Parish, Fairfax, Va., has served as treasurer of the AAC while heading up the IRD. The AAC also has shared office space with the IRD in Washington, DC.
Originally the IRD's tactics were to infiltrate the governing bodies of the mainline churches, many of which are democratically constructed, to internally change their direction. (ECUSA is governed by its tri-annual General Convention, not by its PB). But in recent years the focus shifted. After the founding of the AAC, allies were sought in more conservative parts of the Communion. The stories from Lambeth 1998 of wealthier ECUSA bishops entertaining African bishops, some with more than one wife, were widely reported. About four years ago, the AAC began funding INFEMIT, "paying stipends to university groups and religious educators in half a dozen African countries, as well as groups in Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and India," reported Kevin Jones in Every Voice News, August 2003. INFEMIT's funding between the year 2000 and 2001, according to Jones, editorial director of everyvoice.net, increased from US$ 500,000 to more than US$ 1 million. The AAC, and its IRD support structure, were seeking like-minded allies throughout the Communion.
At the same time, the ECUSA 2000 General Convention in Denver had passed a resolution affirming homosexual relationships expecting "such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." The stage was set for General Convention 2003. At this Convention in Minneapolis, a "super-majority" -- that is, at least 75%, of deputies (the lay/clergy house representing all 110 ECUSA dioceses) -- and a majority of all sitting diocesan bishops voted there to affirm the election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire. Those same two houses voted overwhelmingly to allow the blessing of same-sex unions to be locally offered, the decision resting with each diocese.
Not long after the convention, the AAC announced the formation of the ACN, which claimed to be the authentic representation of Anglicanism in North America. Both groups have lobbied the ABC as well as the Lambeth Commission on Communion to supplant ECUSA with the ACN. These two groups may be extremely well-funded but they represent only a very small portion of ECUSA. Their numbers are difficult to determine. From the beginning of their public meetings in 2003, the numbers claimed by the AAC and the ACN have always included parishes and dioceses not part of ECUSA.
The AAC's meeting in October 2003 was held in one of the most luxurious hotels in Dallas, Texas. It claimed 2,650 registered participants representing 600 parishes. The AAC also claimed 46 bishops from North America were there. Observers and journalists present could only find 24 ECUSA bishops, most of whom were not diocesan ordinaries. (There are other churches with bishops, of course.) There are nearly 7,500 parishes in ECUSA and about 300 members of the House of Bishops.
ACN's website claims it was formed on a suggestion of the ABC. Its 2004 charter was signed by 13 ECUSA bishops that it does not name. If they are sitting diocesan bishops, the Network would represent slightly more than ten percent of ECUSA dioceses. Since the formation of the Network, some bishops and parishes have distanced themselves from the group when it became clear ACN was seeking outright replacement of ECUSA. The Network claims, as of July 2004, to represent 160,000 Episcopalians and the recognition of primates from 75% of the Anglican Communion.
Both the AAC and the ACN use the word "confessing" in describing their groups. AAC meetings have required participants to sign a statement of faith before they would be allowed to attend.
One of the principal benefactors of these conservative efforts, Roberta Ahmanson, told The New York Times she and her husband are motivated by theological concerns. "My husband and I are what we call classical Christians," Mrs. Ahmanson said, claiming Christians should hold the orthodox views of a fifth century saint, Vincent of Lerins, who she quoted his standard of belief in Christ as "what has been held everywhere in every time by everyone." This is a good example of a major difficulty with conservative confessional groups. At what time in Christian history do you wish to freeze your definition of "orthodox"? For Mrs. Ahmanson, it's the fifth century.
But literalism, fundamentalism, or putting God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit in a box of beliefs of this or that era is a problem for thinking Christians. In the past hundred years, there have been historical discoveries that have encouraged an explosion of biblical and theological study. The Qumran community, Dead Sea scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library have all moved forward the scholarly work that is expanding our understanding of Jesus and his times. But this article started with power and control. Liberation theology, feminist theology, inclusivity of all whether they be homosexuals, people of color, the poor, have all threatened the "power holders" throughout church history.
"Fundamentalist religion is cast in the ancient male-dominant tradition and is preoccupied with an imminent and violent end of the world," writes the Rt. Rev. Bennett J. Sims, retired bishop of Atlanta, Ga., in his new book Why Bush Must Go. But, he writes, "A nonliteralist and biblically profound Christianity understands the central petition of the Lord's Prayer as a manifesto: 'Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.' This places a firm priority on the life of the world, not on heaven -- which the Lord's Prayer presumes can take heavenly care of itself."
Anglicanism has struggled to maintain openness to a diversity of thought. In our time that may be difficult in the face of strong-willed, well-funded, ideologues bent on imposing their narrow vision and interpretation of Christianity on millions of their sister and brother Anglicans._____
This article was originally published by Search, a journal of the Church of Ireland.
The Rev. Daniel J. Webster is director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. A media veteran and peace activist in the church, he writes a regular column for "A Globe of Witnesses." Dan may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com .
The American Anglican Council is supported primarily by donations, but because the council receives more than one-third of its funding from contributions related to its charitable functions, the Internal Revenue Service does not require it to list its sources of income for public review.
One major source of its funding is Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., of California, a $10-million-a-year patron of conservative causes through the Fieldstead Foundation. An Episcopalian, Ahmanson is heir to a savings and loan fortune accumulated by his father. Ahmanson attended St. James Church in Newport Beach, Calif., which, until recently, was run by the Rev. David C. Anderson, now president of the American Anglican Council.
For many years, Ahmanson was associated with the late Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony, considered the father of Christian Reconstructionism, which advocates basing American society on biblical laws. For 10 years ending in 1995, Ahmanson contributed a total of $700,000 to Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation and served on its board of directors.
Since then, both Ahmanson and his wife, Roberta, have repudiated Christian Reconstructionist philosophy.
Roberta Ahmanson was recently named to the board of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, which works closely with the American Anglican Council.
"The theonomist or [Christian] Reconstructionist philosophy is antithetical to our idea of religion and democracy," said Diane L. Knippers, a new member of the council board and president of the institute. "Roberta wouldn't have come on our board if she didn't agree with us."
According to the Rev. James M. Stanton, bishop of the Dallas Diocese, Howard Ahmanson's agreement with the American Anglican Council was to annually provide $200,000 to match money raised by the council.
"We worked with Howard Ahmanson in terms of that agreement," said Stanton, who served for several years as chairman of the council. "There are people who have given all along who are interested in the work that the group has done."
Duncan confirmed the arrangement and said it was renewed annually with Ahmanson.
"The AAC has really risen to the role as the primary agency for the reform of the Episcopal Church," Duncan said, explaining Ahmanson's connection with the council. "Various folks invest their money where they think it's going to have the best impact."
Roberta Ahmanson's inclusion on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy further cements that group's connection with the council.
The institute's Web site characterizes it as "fighting for the reform of American churches." It shares a Washington, D.C., address with the council.
The two groups also share philosophies that mainline Protestant churches have strayed from their central tenets.
To swing the pendulum to the right and fund its work, the institute has turned to a dozen well-known conservative foundations, including several run by Richard Scaife, the conservative Pittsburgh philanthropist and heir of the Mellon family banking and oil fortune.
Of the $3.8 million the institute received from those foundations between 1985 and 2002, nearly half -- $1.7 million -- came from the Sarah Scaife, Scaife Family and Carthage foundations, all of which are run by Richard Scaife.
The funds help support three "action programs" that promote reform in the Episcopal, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Between 1997 and 2002, the institute spent more than $2.5 million to monitor those churches' activities and work for scripture-based reform. About $541,000 of that was spent specifically on Episcopal Church-related programs.
Although those three denominations -- about 14.1 million members -- account for less than 10 percent of the country's total church membership, they make up a disproportionate number of national leaders in political, business and cultural discussions.
From "Region funds Episcopalians' move to divide", 9/21/03, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette