Avenging angel of the religious right
Quirky millionaire Howard Ahmanson Jr. is on a mission from God to stop gay
marriage, fight evolution, defeat "liberal" churches -- and reelect George W.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Max Blumenthal
Jan. 6, 2004 | In the summer of 2000, a group of frustrated
Episcopalians from the board of the American Anglican Council gathered at a
sun-soaked Bahamanian resort to blow off some steam and hatch a plot. They were
fed up with the Episcopal Church and what they perceived as a liberal hierarchy
that had led it astray from centuries of so-called orthodox Christian teaching.
The only option, they believed, was to lead a schism.
But this would take money. After the meeting, Anglican Council vice
president Bruce Chapman sent a private memo to the group's board detailing a
plan to involve Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a Southern California millionaire, and
his wife, Roberta Green Ahmanson, in the plan. "Fundraising is a critical
topic," Chapman wrote. "But that topic itself is going to be affected directly
by whether we have a clear, compelling forward strategy. I know that the
Ahmansons are only going to be available to us if we have such a strategy and I
think it would be wise to involve them directly in settling on it as the options
clarify." It was a logical pitch: As a key financier of the Christian right with
a penchant for anti-gay campaigns, Ahmanson clearly shared the Anglican
Council's interest in subverting the left-leaning church. Moreover, Ahmanson and
his wife were close friends and prayer partners of David Anderson, the Anglican
Council's chief executive, while Chapman and his political team were already
enjoying hefty annual grants from Ahmanson to Chapman's think tank, the
Soon, the money came rolling in to the Anglican Council, with more than $1
million in donations from Ahmanson in 2000 and 2001. And the newly flush
Anglican Council redoubled its anti-gay campaign, climaxing in November when the
Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. Eugene
Robinson. With its war chest full and its strongest pretext yet for a schism,
the group cranked up a smear campaign against Robinson, falsely accusing him of
sexual harassment and administering a bisexual pornography Web site, prompting
three wealthy dioceses to split with the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican
Council's renegade network. Now more dioceses and parishes are poised to follow,
a prospect that threatens to weaken the progressive Episcopal Church's political
influence -- 44 members of Congress are Episcopalian -- and provide an important
new tableau for right-wing political organizing.
The Episcopal Church split is only a small part of Ahmanson's concerted
efforts to radically transform not only American religion, but the nation's
moral culture and, thereby, the country itself. His money has made possible some
of the most pivotal conservative movements in America's recent history,
including the 1994 GOP takeover of the California Legislature, a ban on gay
marriage and affirmative action in California, and the mounting nationwide
campaign to prove Darwin wrong about evolution. His financial influence also
helped propel the recent campaign to recall California Gov. Gray Davis. And
besides contributing cash to George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign,
Ahmanson has played an important role in driving Bush's domestic agenda by
financing the career of Marvin Olasky, a conservative intellectual whose ideas
inspired the creation of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
At the root of Ahmanson's quirky asceticism and ardent conservatism is his
rocky path from cloistered rich kid to Bible-believing philanthropist.
Ahmanson's father, Howard Sr., was a savings and loan tycoon whose net worth was
valued at over $300 million at the time of his death in 1968. Howard Jr. was
only 18 at the time he inherited the fortune. Ejected from his sheltered youth
to confront a world suddenly in his palm, the reluctant heir feared that he
would never surpass his father's accomplishments; at the same time, he viewed
his inherited fortune as a wall separating him from humanity. After wandering
the country and the world searching for peace of mind, he returned home in the
mid-'70s still a lost soul.
It was then that he found his salvation in the church and in R.J.
Rushdoony, a prolific author and an influential theologian of the far right.
Rushdoony is the father of Christian Reconstructionism, a strange variant of
Calvinism that stresses waging political struggle to put the earth, and in
particular the U.S., under the control of biblical law. In his 30-some books, he
advocated everything from the end of government-administered social welfare and
public schools to the execution of homosexuals. For around 20 years, until
Rushdoony's death in 1995, Ahmanson served on the board of his think tank,
Chalcedon, granting it a total of $1 million. In exchange, Rushdoony acted as
Ahmanson's spiritual advisor, imbuing him with a sense of order and a
Today, Ahmanson says he is more mature than the card-carrying
Reconstructionist who told the Orange County Register in 1985: "My goal is the
total integration of biblical law into our lives." In brief, written responses
to questions I e-mailed to him, he placed special emphasis on his disagreement
with Rushdoony's opinion that homosexuals should be executed. "Due to my
association with Rushdoony, reporters have often assumed that I agree with him
in all applications of the penalties of the Old Testament Law, particularly the
stoning of homosexuals," Ahmanson wrote. "My vision for homosexuals is life, not
death, not death by stoning or any other form of execution, not a long,
lingering, painful death from AIDS, not a violent death by assault, and not a
tragic death by suicide. My understanding of Christianity is that we are all
broken, in need of healing and restoration. So far as I can tell, the only hope
for our healing is through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his
resurrection from the dead."
While Ahmanson was reluctant to speak, his wife clarified his views for me
in a series of interviews that marked her first encounter with the press since
1992. In our talks, she recounted how she and her husband met in 1984, in their
30s, while she was covering religion and the San Bernardino square-dancing scene
for the Orange County Register. As a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist, raised
Christian in Perryville, Iowa, schooled at Calvin College, and a teacher at what
she called "experimental Christian" schools throughout Canada as a young woman,
she made a perfect match for Ahmanson. Two years later they were married. With
her media experience and extensive theological education to go with a warm,
refreshingly humorous personality that constrasts starkly with her husband's
insularity, Mrs. Ahmanson has enthusiastically taken on the role of his able
spokesperson and indefatigable guardian.
Roberta Ahmanson made pains to highlight her husband's charitable side,
stressing his donations to the Nature Conservancy, the evangelical humanitarian
aid group World Vision, and the Orange County Rescue Mission, a Christian
homeless shelter that President Bush recently singled out for funding under his
faith-based initiative. For her, Ahmanson is a complicated yet balanced man
whose political activism and charitable giving are driven by a higher
"His goal is -- this is going to sound crazy -- his goal is to do with his
money what God wants him to do," she explained.
And why does God want him to give to so many right-wing causes?
"The Christian view of man is that we're not perfect. You don't give to
things that base themselves on the optimistic view that human beings are going
to be doing it right," Mrs. Ahmanson explained. When I asked if this meant she
and her husband would still want to install the supremacy of biblical law, she
replied: "I'm not suggesting we have an amendment to the Constitution that says
we now follow all 613 of the case laws of the Old Testament ... But if by
biblical law you mean the last seven of the 10 Commandments, you know,
Ahmanson's first major political success came in 1992, when he banded
together with four right-wing businessmen to back the campaigns of anti-gay,
anti-abortion, pro-big business candidates to take over the California state
Assembly. With $3 million funneled through seven pro-business, anti-abortion and
Republican political action fronts, Ahmanson and company tipped the balance of
the Legislature to the Republicans, capturing a startling 25 of the GOP's 39
seats for their candidates. Their push ushered two important movement cadres
into power: Tom McClintock, a veteran activist and former director of economic
and regulatory affairs of the Ahmanson-funded libertarian think tank Claremont
Institute; and Ray Haynes, an unknown lawyer from another Ahmanson-funded group,
the Western Center for Law and Justice, which once filed a brief defending a
local school district for banning Gabriel Garcéa Marquéz's novel "One Hundred
Years of Solitude."
Upon seizing power, McClintock sponsored a bill returning the death penalty
to California, while Haynes led a failed 1995 attempt to ban state funding for
abortion and numerous futile fights to block anti-hate crime and domestic
partnership legislation. In 2003, the two Ahmanson cadres became instrumental
figures in propelling the campaign to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. In
March 2003, Haynes personally convinced a fellow arch- conservative, U.S. Rep.
Darrell Issa, to bankroll the recall ballot qualification. After the recall
qualified with the help of $1.7 million from Issa, McClintock entered the recall
campaign, ultimately finishing third as the token cultural conservative. As in
1992, Ahmanson's camp provided the groundwork for McClintock's campaign: John
Stoos, an avowed Reconstructionist associated with Chalcedon, served as his
deputy campaign manager, and Ahmanson hosted some of the most prominent leaders
in the Christian right for a fundraiser in Colorado in September that, according
to the Los Angeles Times, raised $100,000.
To complement his electoral efforts, Ahmanson has pumped enormous amounts
of money into ballot measure committees, dramatically altering California's
social landscape in the process. In 1999, Ahmanson helped to sharply restrict
affirmative action in California with a $350,000 donation to Proposition 209;
that same year he helped ban gay marriage with a donation of $210,000 -- 35
percent of all total funds -- to Proposition 22. To avoid giving voters the
impression that Prop. 22 was somehow anti-gay, its "Protection of Marriage
Committee" spent nearly half of Ahmanson's donation on billboards presenting the
measure as "pro-family."
Despite his penchant for behind-the-scenes string-pulling, Ahmanson's
anti-gay campaigns have attracted close scrutiny by Jerry Sloan, a Sacramento
gay-rights advocate and founder of Project Tocsin <http://www.rthoughtsrfree.org/images/theocolr.jpg
"Ahmanson's financing of these various initiatives both statewide and
locally and his financing of anti-gay legislators who fight tooth and toenail
against any legislation that would protect people or enhance our rights as
citizens has made the struggle for our rights probably two or three times harder
than it should be," Sloan told me. "I can't think of anybody who's more
dangerous to the average Californian than Howard Ahmanson."
With President Bush running for reelection cautiously signaling support for
a constitutional amendment -- modeled after California's Prop. 22 -- to ban gay
marriage, one of Ahmanson's key causes has gone national. And as donors to
Bush's 2000 campaign, the Ahmansons couldn't be more pleased with the dividends
of their investment. "We supported him the first time and we'll support him
again," a doting Mrs. Ahmanson said of Bush.
Ahmanson's money has also sustained the operations of influential
Washington insiders like Grover Norquist, an anti- tax lobbyist who once
compared the federal income tax to date rape, as well as far-out groups like the
Spiritual Counterfeits Project <http://www.scp-inc.org/
>, an evangelical ministry
entrenched in the shadows of Berkeley's People's Park working to undermine the
local New Age scene, or what its monthly journal has called the "neo-pagans."
As an ardent anti-pornography activist, Ahmanson granted $160,000 in 1997
to the woman who helped bring down Gary Hart's 1988 presidential campaign, Donna
Rice-Hughes, and her group Enough Is Enough, which this year successfully
lobbied Congress to provide web filters in public libraries. "While I might
advocate less liberty for vice, I recognize that all we can do in most cases is
limit it somewhat and drive what remains underground rather than wipe it out,"
Ahmanson told me.
One of Ahmanson's most significant investments has been in the career of a
man Mrs. Ahmanson describes as his "dear friend," Marvin Olasky, the most
influential propagandist of the Christian right in the last decade. A former Jew
turned Marxist who then converted to Rushdoony's Reconstructionism, Olasky spent
most of the 1980s as an obscure journalism professor at the University of Texas
in Austin. His first book, "Turning Point: A Christian Worldview Declaration,"
was published by Ahmanson's privately held philanthropic entity, the Fieldstead
Institute, and was co-authored by Fieldstead's director, Herbert Schlossberg.
Though theological scholars ignored the book, it found its way into Washington's
conservative circles, and by 1989 Olasky was offered the well-paying Bradley
scholarship at the Heritage Foundation.
In 1992, Olasky wrote "The Tragedy of American Compassion," an argument for
transferring government social welfare programs to the church. In his book,
Olasky cites his "conservative Christian" friend Howard Ahmanson as proof that
faith can cure poverty, describing how Ahmanson "found that poverty around the
world is a spiritual as well as a material problem -- most poor people don't
have faith that they and their situations can change."
Ahmanson told me "The Tragedy of American Compassion" is one of his
favorite books, as it articulates his long-standing views on government's role
in social welfare. "For government, social service is at best a secondary
responsibility; it's a primary responsibility for the philanthropic-religious
sector," he explained. "Governments feeding people, and priests and nuns firing
cannon in national defense, may sometimes be necessary; but they are not the
In 1993, "The Tragedy of American Compassion" earned Olasky an invitation
from political strategist Karl Rove to meet with the new, evangelical governor
of Texas, George W. Bush. Eventually the man Time magazine dubbed the "unlikely
guru" would become a key advisor to Bush, instilling in him the politics of
"compassionate conservatism." And when President Bush signed an executive order
to create a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in
January 2001, Olasky was standing by his side, beaming with pride as he watched
the new president sign his ideas into government policy.
Another man who owes the success of his work to Ahmanson is Bruce Chapman,
a former Reagan administration official and founder of the Seattle think tank
Discovery Institute <http://www.discovery.org/
>, a bastion for the
intelligent design movement, which seeks to debunk Darwin's theory of evolution
with scientific-sounding arguments. Americans United for Separation of Church
and State calls Discovery "the most effective and politically savvy group
pushing a religious agenda in America's public school science
Ahmanson has been a major funder of Discovery. According to the Baptist
Press, this year Ahmanson granted $2.8 million to the Center for the Renewal of
Science and Culture <http://www.baptist2baptist.net/b2barticle.asp?ID=147
Discovery's intelligent design wing. With 48 well-heeled research fellows,
directors and advisors, almost all of whom have advanced degrees from
respectable universities, the center has given intelligent design a level of
influence traditional creationism has not enjoyed.
This September, Discovery lobbied the Texas State Board of Education to
mandate language in its high school biology textbooks challenging what Chapman
called "fake facts" in evolutionary studies. After a heated debate in which
dozens of Discovery fellows and their opponents from the scientific community
testified, a panel voted to adopt the textbooks after a promise from the
commissioner of the Texas Education Agency that all remaining "factual errors"
would be addressed by publishers before the textbooks get into the hands of
students. Discovery hailed this as a major victory, but the effect is clear: The
fact that both human and other mammal embryos have gill slits -- which proves to
mainstream scientists that we share an evolutionary lineage with prehistoric
vertebrates -- is slated for "correction."
Since Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks in the nation
(next to California), it has a major influence on what publishers decide to put
in their books. And so, as it has gone with other cleverly orchestrated
Ahmanson-funded campaigns, Discovery's small victory is intended to have
Howard Ahmanson Sr. never let politics get in the way of his good name.
Most of his $300 million fortune was made driving California's postwar housing
boom through his savings and loan company, Home Savings & Loan (known today
as Washington Mutual). In his later years, he spent as much as 60 percent of his
fortune on philanthropy and today his name is emblazoned on a cardiology center
at UCLA's Medical Center, an entire wing at Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
and one of Los Angeles' premier theaters. The young Ahmanson was raised to
continue this legacy.
Howard Jr. was born in 1950, when his father was 44. By that time,
according to Roberta Ahmanson, the elder Ahmanson was "in his palatial stage,"
feting visiting kings and queens and basking in the opulence of his three-lot
mansion on Harbor Island, an exclusive peninsula jutting out into San Diego Bay.
Meanwhile, young Ahmanson was tended to by an army of servants and ferried to
and from school in a limousine. As he watched the world go by behind darkened
windows, he was gripped with a longing to cast off his wealth and disappear into
anonymity. He came to burn with resentment toward his father, a remote, towering
presence who burdened him with high expectations. "I resented my family
background," he told the Register in 1985. "[My father] could never be a role
model, whether by habits or his lifestyle, it was never anything I
His youth was plagued with loneliness and loss. At age 10, his mother
served his father with divorce papers. A few years later, she died. Then, when
Howard was 18, his father died too, sinking him into spiraling depths of despair
and therapy. To escape his background, Ahmanson drifted to the far-off plains of
Kansas and enrolled part-time in college classes. "It was like taking the lid
off a pressure cooker," Mrs. Ahmanson recalls of her husband's self-imposed
Ahmanson returned to California to attend Occidental College, where he
earned generally poor marks as an economics major. After graduating with a
bachelor's degree, he spent a year backpacking through Europe and "being
grungy," as he told the Register. He might have stayed there, living off his
trust fund, if not for a bout with arthritis, an affliction he later would call
his "miracle disease." This sent him back to the States, where he earned his
master's degree in linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington. Because
he suffers from Tourette's syndrome, a disease that makes stringing sentences
together a frustrating ordeal - - "like a slow modem," his wife explains -- the
degree reflected a major triumph. In his single-minded determination to overcome
his handicap, Ahmanson became fluent in Japanese, Spanish and German.
When Ahmanson came back to Orange County driving an old Datsun pickup and
dressed in clothing more befitting a Seattle alt-rocker than a trust-fund baby,
it was clear he was still struggling with the burden of guilt left to him by his
father. With millions at his disposal, he had imposed an allowance of $1,200 a
month upon himself. Most of his fraternity brothers from Occidental had become
evangelical Christians while he was away and reconnecting with them also sparked
a new interest for him. He joined a singles group organized by Mariners Church,
a Bible-based, nondenominational church in Newport Beach, which he credits with
his spiritual and social salvation. It was there, he told the Register, that he
was convinced to take full advantage of his inheritance and to stop "cheating
Ahmanson sold his stock in his father's company and invested it in
lucrative real estate acquisitions, with a goal of earning returns of 20 to 25
percent per year. That assured that his wealth would grow quickly, but it made
him feel vulnerable to people who would manipulate his guilt complex to get a
cut of his fortune. These were usually the people closest to him -- girlfriends,
family members and friends. In one instance, his former roommate at Occidental
asked him to fund his surf shop, explaining that the shop could bring in
potential Christian converts off the street. Ahmanson wasn't convinced. "If you
don't do this, these kids will go to hell," his roommate threatened. In that
very hour, according to his wife, he became a full-fledged Calvinist, giving
himself to Calvin's doctrine of predestination, which holds that God "elects"
individuals for salvation based on factors beyond their control.
"If someone's eternal goal is dependent on him [Ahmanson] giving a grant,
then we're all in trouble," Mrs. Ahmanson explained. "So that made Calvin's
approach that God is in charge of all of this quite appealing." Ahmanson's
sudden religious turn did not automatically lead him to right-wing political
activism, according to his wife. He voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and, as Mrs.
Ahmanson claims, was not politicized until 1979, when the Orange County Rescue
Mission, a Christian homeless shelter where he played piano once a week, was
condemned when the city of Santa Ana failed to issue it a conditional use
permit. As Mrs. Ahmanson recounts, her husband was outraged by what he
considered an act of government tyranny; as he stood on a picket line outside
the doomed shelter, he became an ardent believer in God-given property rights
and the spirit of capitalism.
But contrary to his wife's account, evidence suggests Ahmanson's political
conversion was not exactly the result of a heroic epiphany. According to Sloan,
founder of Project Tocsin in Sacramento, Ahmanson became a board member <http://www.skepticfiles.org/fw/alliance.htm
Rushdoony's Chalcedon in the mid-'70s, so by the time he was picketing outside
the Mission, he was fully immersed in the right-wing politics that are part and
parcel of Chalcedon.
Whatever the case, Ahmanson's Calvinist ideology rapidly crystallized under
Rushdoony's tutelage. As Mrs. Ahmanson told me, Rushdoony was like a father
figure to her husband when he was young and wayward. "Howard got to know
Rushdoony and Rushdoony was very good to him when he was a young man and my
husband was very grateful and supported him to his death," she said, adding that
they were with Rushdoony at his deathbed.
The Ahmansons today bristle at questions about their past alliance with
Rushdoony: "It's like, 'Have you now or ever been?'" remarked Mrs. Ahmanson,
comparing journalistic inquiries about her husband's links to Rushdoony to
McCarthyite guilt-by-association tactics. Yet it is only by understanding this
little-known cleric that one can grasp the philosphy behind Ahmanson's politics.
"I discovered his works at a time when I had no clear vision for Christian
philanthropy and no model that I liked," Ahmanson told me of Rushdoony. "Here
was someone responding to questions that in the late '70s no one was even
Rushdoony descended from six generations of Armenian priests, aristocracy
in the world's oldest Christian country. His parents narrowly escaped the
Armenian genocide, in which over 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by Turks
attempting to "Ottomanize" the country. As a young boy growing up in New York,
Rushdoony was haunted by tales of the slaughter that persisted despite
impassioned pleas from the Armenian clergy for foreign intervention. As
Rushdoony made his way through conservative seminaries during the 1940s and
'50s, he was gripped by a bitter cynicism about the betrayal that became his
"His whole life's work was aimed at finding a philosophy that would stand
against the kind of tyranny his parents had to flee," Ahmanson
Rushdoony spelled out his philosophy in painstaking detail in his 1973
magnum opus, "Institutes of Biblical Law," which he self-consciously named after
John Calvin's "Institutes of Christian Religion." In the 800-page tome,
Rushdoony presents his vision for a new America in which the church subsumes the
federal government and society is administered according to biblical law, or at
least his interpretation of it. According to biblical law, he writes,
segregation is a "basic principle," and slavery is permitted "because some
people are by nature slaves and will always be so." Those who don't comply with
Rushdoony's rules -- disobedient children, "pagans," adulterers, women who get
abortions, repeat criminal offenders and, of course, homosexuals -- would be
executed. Mrs. Ahmanson, who described Rushdoony as "quirky in some ways,"
qualified his extremism: "To impose the death penalty you need two witnesses. So
the number of executions goes down pretty quickly."
Though Ahmanson has read "Institutes of Biblical Law," he told me he
prefers books by Rushdoony that deal more explicitly with ethical and moral
issues. One such book is "The Politics of Guilt and Pity," a polemical suite of
caustic riffs <http://www.serve.com/thibodep/cr/negro.htm
> on the
pathology of liberals. In this book, Rushdoony writes: "The guilty rich will
indulge in philanthropy, and the guilty white men will show 'love' and 'concern'
for Negroes and other such persons who are in actuality repulsive and
intolerable to them ... The Negroes demand more aid, i.e., more slavery and
slave-care, and dwell on their sufferings."
There is no indication that Ahmanson shares Rushdoony's bellicose racism,
but Rushdoony's scathing critique of "the guilty rich" resonated with the young
man constantly beset upon by human parasites seeking a chunk of his money. In
possibly his only published piece of work <http://www.acton.org/publicat/randl/article.php?id=219
a 1997 essay for the Acton Institute, a conservative religious think tank,
Ahmanson parroted Rushdoony's harsh style and viewpoint: "The argument that we
ought not do any particular thing because the poor exist is the argument of
Judas, and if you hear it made, know that thieves are about who want to get
their piece of the action."
As an avid reader, Ahmanson often explores literature beyond the Bible for
insight on his struggle to harness his inheritance. As Mrs. Ahmanson told me,
her family is captivated by J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy -- by
her count, her husband has read "The Hobbit" six times. "Howard kind of
identifies with Frodo," she said, referring to the heroic Hobbit who must
destroy a magical ring to save the world.
In my latest conversation with Mrs. Ahmanson, in which she spoke by
cellphone while strolling through an Orange County shopping mall on a search for
socks and underwear for her teenage son, David, we negotiated my request for an
interview with her husband. As she rattled off a litany of engagements he had to
make before leaving the following week for a three-month tour of New Zealand,
Japan and Australia, I heard a man's voice in the background and realized
Ahmanson was there all along. "He'd talk on the phone but he doesn't want to. It
just doesn't work well," she explained regretfully, hinting at her husband's
Though Ahmanson himself declined to sit down for a face-to-face interview,
Roberta Ahmanson's interviews for this story were her first since a two-part
L.A. Times story in 1992 on her husband's role in the Allied Business PAC. "They
burned me so badly," she said of the Times. "The reporter didn't know anything
and wasn't going to be taught." Her suspicion of the media was often apparent.
While the premise for my interview was to discuss her and her husband's
involvement in the Episcopal Church split, she bristled at the notion that they
are involved in any way other than granting money. "They [Anglican Council
officials] don't call us up and say, 'What do you want us to do?'" she
Unlike other Ahmanson-funded campaigns, Mrs. Ahmanson has assumed a
personal role in the Episcopal Church split. She and her husband are longtime
members of St. James Church in Newport Beach, a leading parish in the Episcopal
Church's Los Angeles diocese where their "good friend" and Anglican Council CEO
David Anderson served as rector until this year. (Anderson refused my interview
request.) Mrs. Ahmanson, moreover, is on the board of the Institute of Religion
and Democracy, a right-wing Washington think tank that shares ideas -- and an
office in Washington -- with the Anglican Council.
The institute is directed by Diane Knippers, an evangelical Episcopalian
and syndicated columnist who also happens to be a founding member of the
Anglican Council and its acting executive director. She is the chief architect
of the institute's Reforming America's Churches Project, which aims to
"restructure the permanent governing structure" of "theologically flawed"
mainline churches like the Episcopal Church in order to "discredit and diminish
the Religious Left's influence." <http://www.theocrcywatch.org/internal_document_Institute.html
This has translated into a three-pronged assault on mainline Presbyterian,
Methodist and Episcopal churches. With a staff of media-savvy research
specialists, the institute is able to ply both the religious and mainstream
media, exploiting divisive social issues within the churches.
"The larger framework for the challenge to the Episcopal Church is the
ongoing right-wing effort to get control of the mainline denominations," says
Alfred Ross, president of the Institute for Democratic Studies, a New York think
tank that monitors anti-democratic political movements. "As the right looks to
consolidate different squares on the chessboard, the mainline churches occupy
key positions on that board."
The Institute for Religion and Democracy's project did not come together
until 2001, when Knippers and her husband were invited by the Ahmansons for a
five-week vacation in Turkey during which Mrs. Ahmanson says the Knippers
"inveigled me to go on the [institute] board." Ahmanson then opened up his
checkbook. IRS 990 forms show that, to go along with his $1 million to the
Anglican Council, he made five anonymous grants totaling $460,000 to the
institute in 2001, accounting for a 35 percent spike in its fundraising from the
The campaign against the Episcopal Church climaxed on Aug. 5 last year,
just a day before the Rt. Rev. Eugene Robinson was scheduled to be elected as
the church's first openly gay bishop. In a column titled "The Gay Bishop's
Weekly Standard editor and Institute board member Fred Barnes alleged that the
Web site of a gay youth group Robinson founded contained links to "a
pornographic website." Further, Barnes alleged, Robinson "put his hands on" a
Vermont man "inappropriately" during a church meeting "several years ago." The
institute shopped the column to various cable news networks but only Fox News
broadcast it. Barnes did not return calls seeking comment.
Though Barnes' smear was discredited by a panel of bishops investigating
the charges, it helped widen the rift within the Episcopal Church and isolate it
from its global affiliates. Since Robinson's Nov. 2 consecration, 13 dioceses
affiliated with the Anglican Council have threatened to break with the Episcopal
Church and form a renegade network. Though the network has yet to congeal, the
momentum for a full-blown split continues to build. And the Nigerian and
Southeast Asian churches, which, like the Episcopal Church, belong to the global
Anglican Communion, have broken off contact with the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church split is the best evidence yet that Ahmanson's plan to
bring America closer to resembling Calvin's elitist "church of the elect," or
what Rushdoony has called a "spiritual aristocracy," is working. The split is
also the crowning achievement of Ahmanson's nearly 30-year career in the
business of radically transforming the country. Though he still remains an
unknown quantity to most Americans, he has surpassed his father's
accomplishments, and in the process, vanquished -- or at least tamed -- his
Reflecting on his prodigious achievements, Ahmanson has every reason to be
satisfied. "I may have had 'a plan to change American society' once," he mused.
"Now I'm just trying to be faithful with what I have."