New 'Clergy Leadership Network’ Becoming More Political

( [email protected] ) Dec 06, 2003 10:10 AM EST

Nashiville, Tenn. -- A newly launched "Clergy Leadership Network" is taking more serious political action seeking for “dramatically different” direction for the United States as the Associated Press described it, "the Christian Coalition of the left."

The network is Washington based with 24 members of respected leaders of various Christian organizations.The network's founding CEO, meanwhile, Albert M. Pennybacker, is a former National Council of Churches associate general secretary for public policy and former president of The Interfaith Alliance.

Pennybacker stated in the Clergy Leadership Network's aims that the organization will pursue "collaborative relationships with the Democratic Party, Republicans who seek change and other political groups who share these goals," such as countering "economic policies that favor the wealthy over the poor" and an "us against the world" approach to international relations.

According to Associated Press, the network's activities will include issuing ads - if funds permit. It will not endorse candidates, although individual CLN members may do so. "The normal avenues of citizen participation," as Pennybacker put it, "are fully open to the clergy."

Also planned: assistance to churches, temples and mosques for voter registration drives and statewide and community CLN "clergy groups" who will, according to Pennybacker, "provide counsel to campaign leaders on issues of concern to religious communities" and organize "nonpartisan candidate forums."

"CLN funding will come from grants, gifts and membership contributions, none of which will be tax deductible," Pennybacker stated. "Grant requests have been prepared and are being considered. Potential donors and CLN members are currently being identified. Financial support is currently needed for CLN to move forward on a timely schedule." The network "will accept no party funds at any level," he also said.

Pennybacker, in his statement, noted, "Over all, we are drawn to Bill Moyers' insight that the power of the oligarchy is replacing the processes of democracy, and it simply must not be allowed!"

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, who looks at CLN as reflecting the success conservative organizations, said, There are organizations out there ... working to undermine this [presidential] administration or conservative policies that this administration has adopted."

Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an organization that monitors and challenges mainline religious bodies, said, "I've seen no evidence that the current religious left has anything to offer in terms of creative energy or ideas involve social problems in moving this country ahead in the 21st century."

Roger Moran, a Missouri layman who has studied the religious left since 1985 when he was appointed to a Baptist associational Christian moral concerns committee, said, "The recent formation of the Clergy Leadership Network is just one more example of religious liberals working frantically to put a religious face on the agenda of the political far left. The heavy involvement of prominent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship personalities in liberal groups like the CLN, The Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Baptist Joint Committee and People for the American Way should raise serious concerns among Bible-believing Southern Baptists about the nature of the battles that have now come to the various SBC state conventions.

"For too long now, the CBF crowd has tried to deflect criticism for their involvement in far-left organizations by accusing their critics of employing 'guilt by association' tactics. But for the growing number of Southern Baptists who have been watching and listening to the debate between pro-SBC conservatives and pro-CBF moderates, it is now clear: If there is any 'guilt,' it's not by virtue of their associations but by virtue of the morality, theology and political agenda they are advocating."

In a related development, a Dallas-based private foundation known as the Leadership Network has asked the CLN to "cease and desist from using its name because of confusion and adverse reaction" among existing clients of the older nonprofit foundation who are involved in developing leadership skills in large Protestant churches. Tom Wilson, CEO of the Leadership Network said, "Many of these churches have strong feelings about the position on issues being addressed by the proposed Clergy Leadership Network we believe the American culture can be best influenced and transformed for the good by working through the innovative and influential churches across America rather than political statements and lobbying activities."