There’s a new meaning to the word “steeplejack” creeping into the American lexicon, and it has nothing to do with muscular craftsmen who repair aging church spires.
Picture a calculating group — a posse, if you will — of extremist Conservative Christians descending upon your mainstream or progressive-minded church congregation with the intent to topple the pastor and take over the place. That’s “steeplejacking,” a term coined by Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer in their book, Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, and it is a very real problem in the American faith landscape.
Consider a recent story of how Faith Church, a small Wisconsin congreation, fell victim to intolerant Right Wing steeplejackers:
Many blame the new pastor, saying he altered Faith’s bylaws; stacked its church council with supporters; and alienated or ejected, sometimes physically, dozens of longtime members.
“It was a hostile takeover, and how it happened is beyond me,” said former Faith Church President Cindy Connor-Duvall, one of a number of congregants who left or were dismissed by the Rev. Paul Suedmeyer after his arrival in early 2008.
Over time, more of the original members left or were kicked out, they say. They accuse Suedmeyer of stacking the church council with newcomers, who helped him change the constitution and secede from the United Church of Christ in January.
Many Religious Right watch groups warn that such aggressive takeovers are becoming part of a national conservative political campaign to silence the voice of Religious Progressives, particularly through the guise of Christian “renewal.”
Powerful organizations, such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, facillitate the spread of anti-progressive rhetoric and the fear-mongering that makes mainstream and liberal Christian congregations vulnerable to steeplejacking, and empowers the extreme Right Wing political message.
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