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“Steeplejacking:” Are Ultra-Conservative Christians Hijacking Our Churches?

“Steeplejacking:” Are Ultra-Conservative Christians Hijacking Our Churches?

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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9:52PM PDT on May 22, 2011

The right wing religious nuts are trying to take over everything. It doesn't surprise me that they would try and take over some of the more middle of the road or liberal churches. It's important that if we don't want them to take over, we need to stand up for our rights. There is no reason to let a right wing facist minister kick long standing members of a congregation out of their church. The church members need to band together to fire any minister who tries to take over and change the basic tenets of their church.

2:20AM PDT on May 17, 2011

One more symptom of America imploding on itself.
"If you seek me, I am in the wilderness" - God.
All Christians should read Christ's admonition of the Pharisees.
If a pagan like myself has to tell you where to find it, find a new priest.
And don't be fooled, a pastor/preacher/reverend is a priest. Or he wouldn't be flocking you.

9:16PM PDT on May 15, 2011

ANd the church's can't figure out why attendance is shrinking. They have no other reason than to look in the mirror and look at themselves.

8:25AM PDT on May 15, 2011

And this surprises anyone how? Remember the "stealth" candidacy the wing-nuts (the "right") launched years ago to infiltrate local school boards and governments? And guess what happened - lunatic rewriting of textbooks, teaching dogmatic mythology in place of real science, censoring library books, etc. A lot has come to pass. Desperate people will always take desperate measures and since religious people already have a strike against them (the belief that all christians must be honorable and would never betray other christians; yeah, I'm lumping you all together), they are the perfect target for the next wave subterfuge. Good luck, small, naive congregations...

9:03AM PDT on May 14, 2011

Our churches? One is forced to stay in a church?

The First Amendment hasn't yet been outlawed by the bureaucracies so if you don't like the political views of your church, move. Look at the Episcopalians, they are splitting and the more conservative are rejoining the Orthodox/Catholics or setting up a different form of Episcopalians. Its not an overreach to say that many churchgoers are not in tune with modern liberalism.

Anyway, churches are made up of people not robots despite liberal accusations of that-liberals can fight such moves in their churches, split off from their parent churches, or rejoin other denominations. Its not the end of the world and it's one reason why Christianity is so vast across this world, its flexible compared to other faiths.

1:51AM PDT on May 13, 2011

Religion is weird.

3:33PM PDT on May 11, 2011

What. utterly. arrogant. and moronic. fools. I for one am NOT falling for this political-right-disguised-as-religion crap!! *ANGRY**DISGUSTED*

2:22PM PDT on May 11, 2011

OK, here's what I don't get.... it's not that this isn't completely plausible, but is there evidence that any conservative groups are actively plotting to systematically take over progressive churches? This article suggests there is (as does the book it quotes), but the example given is so vague as to be meaningless. It's quite common for new pastors to change the face of a congregation, and many churches not "steeplejacked" have had pastors who "stacked the committees" with their people, etc.

Simply having websites or organizations that attack liberal ideas isn't enough to prove that ultra-conservatives are intentionally taking over churches.

10:32AM PDT on May 11, 2011

Jason, Nazis and Fascists are RIGHT wing extremists. The behavior of that preacher is more in line with the T-Bag philosophy - "me, me, me".

6:03AM PDT on May 11, 2011

I just left an Episcopal church that was steeplejacked--this time by extreme left wing types.

Our previous priest was a gay man (he didn't make a big issue out of it) who was from the midwest and a middle of the road type of guy. The priest who was there before him was so badly behaved that only the elderly and members with family ties to that church were left. In the three years, he had attracted more people and was beginning to grow a true Christian community. He resigned in order to follow his partner to a new job.

The vestry committee only interviewed one candidate, a priest who is a social worker. She talked a good game but she was ALL talk. She talked a lot about social justice, and other liberal causes. The extreme liberals, including feminazis and members of her own minority group loved her. Unfortunately, they are the majority of the vestry committee. The priest REFUSED to visit a long standing member, our music director when he was in the rehab hospital for two months. She REFUSED to participate in the committee formed to help him--she found it more important to decorate the church for Christmas than to actually do her job. This is one incident in a whole string of incidents. The choir was so angry that most refused to sing for Christmas.

I'm outta there. That church has six inch high grass in it's churchyard and trash. It looks like a dump. This is a typical fate of a steeplejacked church.

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