Institute on Religion and Democracy
The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) describes itself as "an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches' social witness, in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad."
According to Group Watch, "The Washington DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981 by Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, and Penn Kemble. It began as project of the Foundation for a Democratic Education, the financial arm of the cold war group, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. It was founded to counter progressive mainline Christian organizations, the National Council of Churches (NCC), and the NCC's international counterpart the World Council of Churches (WCC). Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor, admitted that the IRD had a specific 'political agenda' and at the top of it was Central America and opposition to liberation theology.
"The IRD says it is a centrist organization of clergy and laity formed 'to promote spiritual renewal within the Church, and to work for a more balanced and responsible discussion of foreign policy issues.' In her book, The Neo-conservative Offensive, Ana Maria Ezcurra says that 'the IRD insitutional, financial and personal relationships suggest the presence of a specific strategy toward the religious field.' She suggests it is a strategy designed to delegitimize church leadership in the eyes of its constituents and to cause schisms in church boards and agencies. The IRD claims it is 'not just another research organization,' but disseminates information and 'assists religious groups who are developing foreign affairs programs and who want to avoid the excesses of the Right and the Left.' Author Sara Diamond--an expert on the religious right--claims that this is a misleading statement. Diamond writes, 'The Institute is comprised almost entirely of long-time neoconservative ideologues and recycled academic cold warriors.' As such, the IRD is stridently anticommunist. Author John Swomley calls the IRD a rightwing political organization and states that it 'has been the chief defender of American imperialism and military power around the world.'
"Gathering thousands of dollars of support from rightwing charitable foundations, IRD waged a media campaign that attempted to connect the NCC and the WCC with the 'communist' and 'terrorist' organizations that were the focus of the Ronald Reagan administration. The ties between the IRD and the first-term Reagan administration earned the IRD the tag of 'the official seminary of the White House.' The IRD, through board members Michael Novak and George Weigel has direct lines of communication with the Vatican.
"The founding document of IRD ... written by David Jessup attacked the board and agencies of the United Methodist Church. Jessup, a Methodist, circulated the document at the 1980 Methodist General Conference claiming that the Methodists were providing financial support to third-world guerrillas.
"The IRD claims some 2500 members. However, an article in Christianity and Crisis states that IRD had 1000 members in 1983 and fewer than 1500 in 1989. IRD's office is (or was in 1989) located in the suite of offices of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority."
During the 1980s, IRD's Diane Knippers became the source for attacks on the Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches (Consejo de Iglesias Pro-Alianza Denominacional, or CEPAD), a disaster relief organization that had operated in Nicaragua since the country suffered a devastating earthquake in 1972 and continued to work there during the country's contra war of the 1980s. "CEPAD ran a network of medical clinics for the poor, as well as a successful literacy campaign, recalls Fred Clark, who was acquainted with CEPAD through his work with a US-based group called Evangelicals for Social Action. "That literacy work had won the admiration and support of Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, and his Sandinista regime. Ortega's praise of CEPAD gave Knippers what she saw as an opening. The evangelical churches were not supporters of the Sandinistas, but Knippers portrayed CEPAD -- and therefore the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society -- as 'guilty' by association. She wrote of CEPAD as a communist front, part of a supposed Soviet beachhead in Nicaragua. No one in this country paid much attention, but the contras did. CEPAD's clinics became targets for their paramilitary terrorists. Knippers had placed evangelical missionaries - doctors and nurses - and the poor people they served in the crosshairs of terrorists." Knippers' attacks on CEPAD became an object of controversy that was followed closely by mainstream evangelical publications like Christianity Today. In the end, Clark says, "CEPAD was vindicated and IRD suffered a devastating embarrassment. They were, rightly, perceived as an unreliable source of information - closed-minded ideologues were were willing to attack others on the basis of irresponsibly flimsy evidence. It took IRD years to recover from the CEPAD Affair. And just when they were getting back on their feet, along came the revolutions of 1989 and the end of the Cold War -- which took the wind out of their favorite tactic." 
Accessed April 2012: 
- Helen Rhea Stumbo - Chairman
- Paul Marshall - Vice-Chairman
- David Stanley - Treasurer
- Fred Barnes - At Large
- Mark Tooley - President
- Sara Anderson, Chief Operating Officer, Bristol House
- Fred Barnes, Editor, The Weekly Standard
- Kenneth J. Collins, Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary
- Janice S. Crouse, Senior Fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute
- Sue Cyre, Executive Director, Presbyterians for Faith, Family, and Ministry
- Mateen Elass, Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor
- Thomas Farr, Berkely Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
- Gary Green, Elder, Valley Presbyterian Church
- Hans Jacobse, President, The Oxford Institute
- J. Robert Ladd, The Evangelical Seminary
- Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
- Martin Nicholas, Sr. Pastor, Sugarland United Methodist Church
- James Robb, Vice President - Operations, NumbersUSA
- William Saunders, Sr., Vice President of Legal Affairs, Americans United for Life
- David Stanley, Retired attorney
- Helen Rhea Stumbo, Publisher, Bristol House Ltd.
- Graham Walker, President, Patrick Henry College
- Ira Gallaway, United Methodist clergyman
- Robert P. George, Professor, Princeton University
- Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003)
- Richard J. Neuhaus (1936-2009)
- Michael Novak, George Frederick Jewett Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
- Thomas C. Oden, Professor of Theology and Ethics (emeritus), Drew University
- Edmund W. Robb, Jr. (1926-2004)
- George Weigel, Ethicist and biographer of Pope John Paul II
- Kent R. Hill, Executive Director
- Diane Knippers, Program Director (1998); President (2003)
- Edmund W. Robb, Jr., Executive Officer
- Michael Novak, Co-Founder
- Penn Kemble, Co-Founder
- Maria H. Thomas, Administrative Director
- David Jessup
Board of Directors
- Helen Rhea Coppedge
- Paul G. Dietrich
- Ira Gallaway
- The Most Reverend Rene Gracida
- John A. Grant
- Carl F. H. Henry (1998 and 2003)
- J. Ellsworth Kalas
- Penn Kemble
- Katherine Kersten
- John Leith
- Richard John Neuhaus
- Michael Novak (1998 and 2003)
- Dr. Edmund W. Robb, Jr. (1998 and 2003)
- John H. Rodgers
- George Weigel (1998 and 2003)
Board of Advisers
- Brian Benestad
- Robert Benne
- Peter L. Berger
- Kim Carney
- Ronald R. Cavanaugh
- Dean C. Curry (Board of Directors 2003)
- Alan Ettman
- James Finn
- Marion Hepburn Grant
- Edwin D. Johnston
- Kent R. Hill
- Richard Lovelace
- Francis X. Maier
- Paul Morell
- Kenneth Myers
- James V. Schall
- LaKay Schmidt
- Paul Seabury
- Virginia Law Shell
- Mary N. Temple
According to Group Watch (1998), "IRD reports that its income is derived from membership drives, literature sales, individual and church contributions, and foundation grants. The group's income for 1982 totaled $352,659. Of this, $200,000 came from Scaife Family Charitable Trusts/Scaife Foundations and $81,000 from the Smith Richardson Foundation. (1,4,8) IRD also received a $44,000 grant from USIA in 1985. (4,10) In 1985, IRD received grants of $5,000 from the Adolph Coors Foundation, $64,000 from the John M. Olin Foundation, and $90,000 from the Smith Richardson Fdn. In 1986, it received grants of $75,000 from the John M. Olin Fdn, $45,000 from the Smith Richardson Fdn, and $100,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation."
Other Related SourceWatch Resources
- Balkan Action Committee
- Citizens for a Free Kuwait
- Coalition for a Democratic Majority
- Committee for the Free World
- Committee for the Liberation of Iraq
- Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf
- Committee on the Present Danger
- Prodemca (Friends of the Democratic Center in Central America)
- Project for the New American Century
- Project for the Republican Future
- Faith McDonnell
- Jim Tonkowich - former president
- Terry Schlossberg - former chair
Resources and articles
- Institute on Religion and Democracy Board, organizational web page, accessed April 23, 2012.
- See Group Watch Article on the Institute on Religion and Democracy for detailed information on activities, as well as biographical information on the identified "players".
- The Institute on Religion and Democracy 1985-2002 grant files at MediaTransparency.
- Fred Clark, "IRD and the CEPAD Affair," Slacktivist (weblog), November 24, 2003.
- Andrew J. Weaver, "Neocon Catholics target mainline Protestants: Institute on Religion and Democracy leads serious breach of ecumenical good will", Media Transparency, August 11, 2006.
- Bill Berkowitz, "Institute on Religion and Democracy slams 'Leftist' National Council of Churches", Media Transparency, January 19, 2007.