Institute on Religion and Democracy

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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."[1]

Founding Document

Board of Directors

In May 1998, Group Watch last updated its file on the Institute on Religion and Democracy.


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." [2]


Accessed April 2012: [1]


Leadership, 1998

Board of Directors

Board of Advisers


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

Resources and articles

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  1. Institute on Religion and Democracy Board, organizational web page, accessed April 23, 2012.

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