It's rather interesting though admittedly inconclusive that a character like Mark Tooley, an admitted former CIA agent is heading an 'institute' devoted to influencing the mainline United Methodist Church.
Tooley is an outspoken opponent of not only Liberal Theology but any form of theology that takes an anti-conservative tone in the realm of politics. He's very hostile to Christians who don't support militarism, patriotism or US policy in general.
I was surprised to see his name pop up on the recently rebooted radio programme 'Iron Sharpens Iron'. This show could be described as Reformed Baptist in orientation. It's interesting at times though I think the host is lacking in basic interviewing skills and thus the show can drag. I don't say that to be unkind but to warn for those who listen to the programme. It will show up as being 2hrs in duration but it's actually two shows back-to-back. The Tooley interview runs for one hour.
It's also interesting that the show is willing to bury the Calvinist-Arminian hatchet. Apparently Dominionism is the ecumenical force that trumps all divisions.
If you don't understand what is meant by the statement, suffice it say that it must be understood that Arnzen (the host) as well as Tooley (the guest) are very committed to standard Christo-Republican type thinking and immediately view as suspect anything that questions it. They make a basic error that equates Leftist or Liberal politics with Theological Liberalism. Granted they often go together but it's not always the case. There are plenty of political conservatives who are theologically liberal. There have been theological liberals that are nationalistic and capitalist as well. And yet it also must be granted that there are indeed many theological liberals who are also politically on the left.
But there are also some Christians who reject the Right and yet that does not make them automatically Leftist sympathisers. They may agree with aspects of both political movements or as in my case they may agree with some of the Leftist critique without ascribing to the Leftist agenda.
Those who embrace the type of thinking represented on this programme are in a permanent state of polarization and cannot grasp those who take a prophetic position, a sort of non-aligned posture that is non-committed. It must be noted that for many on the Right, non-alignment or simple non-allegiance is the same as enmity and hostility.
Of course from my standpoint, my own theology in terms of Theological Prolegomena is as about as conservative as is possible, and yet that does not translate into allegiance with Constantinian Orthodoxy and/or political conservatism. I would argue as would a great many others that Christian thinking must necessarily transcend political struggle and its inherent and thus consequent violence.
Tooley is scandalized by Mainline denominations rejecting Right-wing narratives and embracing what he identifies as Marxist thinking. Of course he's referring to Liberation Theology which it must be admitted does find some affinity with Marxism. That said, to be technical Marxism is of course atheistic and so Liberation Theology represents a significant modification of the movement. While it is certainly wrong for Christians to embrace Marxism it's somewhat dubious if dishonest to label them thus. Tooley is either ignorant of the terminology and its nuances or he's trying to use the term for effect. Either way it's a misrepresentation.
Of course we might label Tooley and what he represents as a form of Christian Fascism and we could certainly make a case every bit as strident as his labeling of non-conservatives as being Marxist. That wouldn't be entirely fair even if like the equation of Liberation Theology with Marxism there are elements of truth within the labeling.
We can agree with Tooley that we ought to be scandalized by the fact that Christians supported the Sandinistas and other Leftist groups in Latin America, but I find it both ironic and offensive that Tooley and those like him can support military dictatorships and believe it's morally acceptable. Tooley admitted that he was involved in Mozambique while working for the CIA, itself something worthy of Christian scandal. If you know anything about Mozambique and Angola in the 1980's and 1990's you know that America was supporting guerilla movements in very nasty civil wars and that many of their allies were involved in all kinds of abominable activities. Oliver North and others, some with Heritage Foundation connections, were involved in this sad and bloody chapter of American intelligence and covert action. Tooley is apparently quite proud of his service when he ought to be ashamed and condemned as the moral equivalent of Christians who supported Leftist guerilla movements. Like them he's guilty of heresy and has blood on his hands... or at the very least is guilty of approving of those who have done evil.
Apparently it was okay that the CIA at the same time was supporting the Mujahideen of which not a few later morphed into Al Qaeda. Tooley's Consequentialism is morally bankrupt as his form of Christianity.
Liberal Theology is certainly apostate, and we can agree with Tooley in rejecting it. But his Sacral version of Christianity and the ethics it produces is in the end just as evil. I guess if someone goes out and assassinates, murders and blows things up it's okay as long as they believe in the Virgin Birth and the Inerrancy of Scripture.
It's striking how hostile many Sacralists are to the Sermon on the Mount. It upsets them that Liberal Theology utilizes it as an ethical base and then tries to apply it to the larger society. While they in viewing Jesus as a Gandhi type figure are certainly off base as well, it's the ethics that causes such a tangle for Sacralists. The Sermon on the Mount presents an ethical framework that casts down and is antithetical to the Sacralist project. It's almost like they don't want to talk about the Sermon on the Mount or really any of the ethics of Christ. They would prefer to bury them in the tangle of Systematic Theology, dogmatics and philosophical tradition. They rightly rail against the Liberals pitting Paul against Christ, but then they ironically do something that's very much the same, just in a different direction. The Liberals have misread Christ and not a few of the Conservatives have misread Paul. The Pauline ethic does not support their position and neither does Romans 13.
Why is Tooley wasting his time on the United Methodist Church? He's a lover of institutions and there's a lot of money and soft power floating around in a large denomination like the United Methodists. He seems to believe he can counter the trend toward apostasy. We would argue the trend is no trend at all but a reality that set in before the UMC was officially founded in 1968 by the merger of several groups.
He insists that most congregants are still fairly conservative. I suppose it's possible but I sure don't know any. My area is saturated with UMC congregations. The area in which I live was settled just after the American Rebellion and many of the settlers who came into the area embraced Methodism through the agency of Circuit Riders. The Presbyterians and some of the other groups lagged behind in reaching out to the frontier and lost out (badly) to groups like the Methodists and Baptists. My point is that I regularly talk to UMC members (and clergy) and I have yet to find any who are Biblically literate or conservative. Tooley is right in saying they will vocalise adherence to orthodoxy, expressing belief in fundamentals and the veracity of Scripture. But once you probe a little you'll quickly find it's at best a veneer. They don't know what the Bible teaches and embrace many beliefs and ethical positions quite contrary to it. In fact when confronted with what the Scripture teaches I've encountered nothing less than hostility. I've spoken with many UMC ministers who affirm their belief in the 'jot and tittle' of Scripture only to find out that they have a very different, fluid and dynamic concept of what that means.
I have no doubt Tooley has a personal commitment and perhaps some sentimental attachment to the UMC and yet one must wonder, and this is certainly speculation, if an ex-CIA operative is in fact serving in more than one capacity. Is he just labouring for the renewal of the UMC? Is it possible he's also being funded by other interests who wish to subvert the UMC?
Nixon and Colson did what they could to prop up individuals in conservative Evangelicalism hoping for reciprocal political support. We know the CIA has worked to infiltrate news media and academia. It's also common knowledge that many think-tanks are saturated with 'ex' intelligence agents. Would they fund or offer some support to a conservative working within the ecclesiastical mainline trying to steer people away from political paths that are contrary to Establishment goals? It's not much of a stretch in my mind. The mainline denominations are vocal in divestment vis-à-vis Israel and in some cases are supportive of Environmental agendas. A figure like Tooley working to influence their ranks would be helpful. In addition he will certainly be making contacts with the most conservative elements within the denomination... the overseas populations and in particular the ecclesiastical authorities in Africa and elsewhere. Could Tooley be coordinating, gathering Intel, moving money around and in general manipulating the course of events... or at least trying to? It's not too hard to imagine.
Tooley's project is openly political. For Tooley the theological elements really only seem to matter in terms of the overall political goals. Sacralism is nothing more than a politicised theology, a civil religion. Tooley like all Sacralists has categorically rejected the Scripture's teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. Everything is read through the Sacralist lens. I had to chuckle as I heard him make the same basic Sacralist error when reading and interpreting the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. If he read it more carefully he would discover the field is the world, not the Church.
That said, the purist vision that many Baptists embrace doesn't do justice to the Scriptures either. The New Testament Church is most certainly a "Believer's Church" but that does not eliminate the membership of children, the possibility of apostasy or the efficacy of God ordained means.
In no way do I mean to defend the apostasy that is mainline Christianity but Tooley's reading and interpretation of 'liberal' motivations is reductionist at the least or deliberately misleading at the worst. He believes there are many subversive agents (Alinsky types) at work in the UMC. That's interesting because we might say the same about him.
Not everyone who rejects the politically conservative narrative and the Sacralist marriage with 'conservative' theology is therefore a Theological and/or Political Liberal. Tooley's not dumb. He knows that, but to speak thus is contrary to his goals.
The interview is not all that interesting but for those who wish to wrestle with these topics, then it's worth listening to and thinking about.