The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is helping to organize mainline Protestants who are disturbed by the public policy positions of their denominations. During two days of meetings in Washington, D.C., Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and United Methodists explored ways to introduce different points of view to church officials on positions regarding Central America, U.S.-Soviet relations, and political choices facing Third World governments.

There is a strong evangelical component in each of the caucus groups, but they differ from theologically based movements, such as Good News within the United Methodist Church. By concentrating on issues of human rights, democratic values, and religious liberty, IRD spokesmen say, caucus members may attract a broad following within their churches and press ahead for discussion about what their churches stand for and how corporate witness should be carried out.

IRD is a Washington-based nonprofit research and education organization that has vigorously challenged the foreign affairs initiatives of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). It attracted national news media attention in 1983 when Reader’s Digest and “60 Minutes” reported on links between the ecumenical movement and left-wing political causes abroad.

The recent meeting with mainline Protestants indicates a shift in focus for IRD, said program director Diane Knippers. “We want to be more than just a gadfly, critic, think tank, or publisher. We want to change our churches, and that calls for efforts by church activists.” The only way ecumenical councils will change, she said, is through pressure from within their member denominations.

United Methodists make up the single largest block ...

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