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« Deer Hunting with Jesus, by Joe Bageant | Main | The Last Days of Democracy, by Elliot Cohen and Bruce Fraser »


Steeplejacking, by Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer

By an everyday book reader
July 1, 2007

An unprecedented look inside the battle for religion in America, Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion exposes how a strident theocratic minority is attacking - or "steeplejacking" - mainstream churches in order to eliminate progressive voices and take control of America's historic mainline denominations.

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.

Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion
by Sheldon Culver, John Dorhauer, Michelle Goldberg, Frederick ClarksonBook Picture

Softcover: 192 pages
ISBN: 9780977197286, 097719728X
Ig Publishing
June 2007

An insider account by two ministers on the front lines of mainstream religion's longtime shadow war against the religious right, 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.

"A how-to manual for progressive Christians who want to reclaim the church from intolerant, extremist factions. An important book." - Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land: A Memoir

Featuring a foreword by Michelle Goldberg, author of the best-selling Kingdom Coming, and an introduction by Frederick Clarkson, Steeplejacking shows how mainstream religion can fight back against the insidious tactics of the Christian right.

Excerpted from the introduction by Frederick Clarkson:

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."

John seized the opportunity and started blogging at our new site, Talk to Action. Each week, for the past year and a half, he has tried to describe some aspect of what is going on, to to distill what he--and his colleague Sheldon Culver--have learned through their research and experiences as regional staff of the United Church of Christ. Along the way, John has named names, dates and places, and described the efforts to divide congregations and denominations that he and Sheldon--as well as church leaders across the country--have witnessed and documented.

Eventually, John's posts caught the notice of the publisher of this book. I'm delighted that the hard work, and the dedication that he and Sheldon have shown for the churches they love is being recognized in this way. But more than that, I am delighted that you now hold in your hands the opportunity to benefit from their knowledge and experience.

Steeplejacking is a primer on how to engage in the battles that are already underway, as well as the ones that are yet to come. Indeed, this book may be most valuable to those who want to head off problems before they begin. You can find herein, information on how to recognize signs that an attack may be underway, and learn what kinds of steps to take to fight it off. John and Sheldon have drawn on an extensive body of scholarship and investigative journalism to help make sense of their own research and experiences -- to offer a book of immediate practical use to members and leaders of mainline churches.

I think it is important to stress that differences and disagreements are normal in any democratic polity. The reason we have democratic institutions is not only to avoid tyranny, but to draw on the wisdom gleaned, and the consensus gained, from the fair airing of differing points of view. This is the hallmark of the governance of mainline protestant churches in America. But what we are seeing, and what this book seeks to address, is that there are people aligned with outside political and financial interests who have learned to abuse the openness of democratic polities; undermining and dividing the very institutions that democratic polities seek to mediate and govern. There are two main consequences of all of this. First, individual churches are being divided, and many are leaving their denominations altogether. (And as we have seen in the Episcopal and Methodist Churches, national scale schisms are also being attempted.) Second, the church in general is becoming less able to support the peace and social justice mission that they have so ably led for well over a century.

Wherever you may stand on the theological or political spectrum, may you find the courage to listen, and to learn from the experiences of John Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver. I say courage because what they report in this book may be hard for many to hear. It can be difficult to believe that such a cynical campaign is underway. It can be even harder if you happen to know any of the people involved. But as we all know, sometimes people have bad intentions. To consider the possibility is not to make an accusation; it is merely being open to the world as it is. Where courage comes in, is when we consider being open to things that could change the way we think, and change our relationships with our communities. Faced with just such a situation, we are fortunate to have wise and knowledgeable guides like John and Sheldon to show us the things we might rather not see, to help us cope with what we have learned, and help us become wiser and stronger for having been through it. I commend this book to you in that spirit.

An ordained minister for over thirty years, Sheldon Culver serves on the conference staff of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ. She is also a Diplomate with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. Sheldon has served congregations in Illinois and Missouri during her 33 years of ordained ministry.

Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer is a member of the conference staff for the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the United Church of Christ and a weekly contributor to Talk to Action.

Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion
by Sheldon Culver, John Dorhauer, Michelle Goldberg, Frederick ClarksonBook Picture

Softcover: 192 pages
ISBN: 9780977197286, 097719728X
Ig Publishing
June 2007

An insider account by two ministers on the front lines of mainstream religion's longtime shadow war against the religious right, 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.

"A how-to manual for progressive Christians who want to reclaim the church from intolerant, extremist factions. An important book." - Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land: A Memoir

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The most important result of any grassroots action is - a strengthened democracy for all.


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