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Right wing institute on new round of mudslinging

The Institute on Religion and Democracy has always been light on facts and heavy on "discovering" dastardly conspiracies of the "left" among mainline churches.

But the group's style of indiscriminate mudslinging reached new lows recently when it went after the National Council of Churches' campaign to rebuild the burned churches of mainly black congregations (see story).

The world was treated regularly to IRD's histrionics during the final phase of the Cold War. The group was founded about the time Ronald Reagan hit the White House, and the two were nearly always in tandem. They saw the same "Evil Empire," the same commies around every corner. The IRD cheered Reagan's every misadventure, from South Africa to Central America -- backing any vicious regime or bloody dictator who muttered an anticommunist phrase -- all in the name of God and the American way. When the churches took the side of the poor and marginalized, the IRD charged they were simply dupes of the communists.

Since communism fell and anyone capable of a clear thought has since been shown by a blizzard of reports that most of the IRD's good guys were really the bad guys, the IRD hasn't been making much noise.

Not until the National Council of Churches, major foundations throughout the country, law enforcement and other government agencies, newspapers, most major denominations and even Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition concluded that racism is a driving force behind the church arsons and banded together to combat racism and rebuild the burned churches.

The IRD, of course, sees a "leftist agenda" and -- most delicious of all -- a hint of the old communist demon in all of this. The shameful thing about the IRD's current hysteria is that it is not aimed at some hazy, grand international conspiracy but plays into the hands of very real white supremacists at home. What might be an informative voice from the right has become a carping, common scold drained of credibility.

The NCC, which continued its social ministry with great courage during the 1980s in the face of constant harping from the IRD, will certainly weather the current storm. And those workers leading the effort, the ones who were personally attacked by the IRD, should take heart from the support that continues to pour in from so many directions.

National Catholic Reporter, November 1, 1996