United Methodist Insight Misfires

Cynthia Astle’s recently published article on the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Dallas this week is a textbook example of poor journalistic practice. The COB has gathered to discuss the three proposals for resolving the debate over the church’s sexual ethics put before it by the Commission on a Way Forward.

Astle, editor of United Methodist Insight, quotes Bishop William Lewis, who told her, “The WCA (Wesleyan Covenant Association) and Good News are being funded by the IRD (Institute on Religion and Democracy), which is funded by right-wing billionaires like Scaife, the Kochs and Ahmanson.” She supports Lewis’ contention by citing news accounts that have reported links between the IRD and politically conservative family foundations led by Richard Mellon Scaife, Charles and David Koch, and Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr.

Unfortunately, Astle failed to call Good News or WCA leaders to either have them confirm, deny, or decline to respond to Lewis’ allegation that the two groups “are being funded by IRD.” An attentive journalist would then have dug deeper to check the veracity of their responses by reviewing their Form 990s, which all 501(c)(3) organizations have to file with the Internal Revenue Service (they are a matter of public record). Had Astle taken the time to do this she would have discovered that neither Good News nor the WCA are being funded by the IRD.

The WCA is not even two-years old. Its funding strategy is through individual and church membership fees, and gifts from United Methodists. It has received no funding from IRD or its subsidiary UMAction. It has also received no funds, directly or indirectly, from Scaife, the Kochs, or Ahmanson, or foundations with which any of them are connected.

Bishop Lewis continues to claim the IRD is behind a conspiracy to take over or divide The United Methodist Church, but he fails to provide factual data for his claims. And Astle, who has been reporting around United Methodism for decades, should know better than to run a story with just one source without checking the veracity of her source’s claims.

Good News, founded in 1967, has worked with all evangelical and traditionalist groups within United Methodism – including IRD, formed in 1981, and its subsidiary, UMAction, – in an endeavor to reform and renew the UMC. This has never been a secret. However, the boards and staffs of all three organizations surely find Lewis’ conspiracy to be laughable. Each organization has a distinct board and staff, and independently advance their respective missions.

At a minimum Astle should correct her story and apologize to her readers for publishing such a poorly researched article.

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