They try to counter liberal churches that finance socialism overseas.

People in Washington are sitting up and taking note of a new organization, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), founded just last spring, but already making waves in church and government circles. Recently it was the object of a secret controversial investigation paid for jointly by agencies of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.

Scores of luminaries representing church, government, and private agencies, along with dozens of reporters, gathered at a luncheon in Washington last month to meet and listen to the recipient of the institute’s first “Freedom and Democracy” award: Nicaragua’s embattled Catholic primate, Archbishop Obando y Bravo of Managua.

The prelate was chosen, say IRD officials, because he has courageously resisted totalitarianism on both the Right and the Left, striving to achieve democratic ideals in his country.

The institute is basically the brainchild of itinerant evangelist Edmund W. Robb, 55, of Marshall, Texas, a leader of evangelical causes in the 9.7-million-member United Methodist Church (UMC). Yet its executive committee includes such heavyweights as Lutheran theologian Richard John Neuhaus, not usually associated with evangelicals, and Catholic scholar Michael Novak. Other top IRD backers range from Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger of Boston College and Jesuit James V. Schall of Georgetown University to evangelical theologian Carl F. H. Henry and historian Richard Lovelace of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Some are Democrats, others are Republicans. Political neo-conservatives and liberals alike belong.

“Religious allegiance is critical,” says Novak. “The IRD is a religious organization of ...

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