November 24, 2003, here on slacktivist: IRD and the CEPAD Affair
The Institute on Religion & Democracy began in a splash of Cold War rhetoric and anticommunist manifestos in 1983. It’s first — and only — publicity coup came with a Reader’s Digest article and 60 Minutes appearance in which the group alleged that the World Council of Churches was little more than a wing of a global conspiracy promoting Soviet-style communism. (Among the article’s allegations: the WCC had ties to those radicals in the African National Congress — when it came to South African apartheid, the IRD was on the wrong side of history.)
The real battleground for the IRD wasn’t against international communism, but against domestic political foes of its conservative founders and funders. The Cold War, for IRD, was merely a proxy for their partisan struggle to portray American liberals — implausibly — as complicit in the sins of Soviet-style communism. It was, in other words, a kind of neo-McCarthyism.
Their strategy was to undermine support for what they saw as politically liberal religious institutions, particularly the National Council of Churches and the mainline Protestant denominations associated with it. Their favorite tactic was to try to identify these denominations with alleged communist subversives — whether those be Marxist-influenced liberation theologians, anti-apartheid activists, relief workers or environmentalists. Any religious group that dared to speak of assisting or empowering the poor was, in the eyes of IRD, suspect, and probably “communist.”
But despite its massive financial support, IRD’s basic incompetence — its lack both of PR savvy and intellectual firepower — kept the group from having any real influence. While the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute and many of the other groups funded by Richard Scaife, et. al., prospered, the IRD sputtered in obscurity.
Only once did its influence have any significant real-world impact, and that ignoble incident became a black mark from which it took IRD years to recover. They got people killed.