Friday, March 17, 2006

Institute on Religion and Democracy Taps Former Prison Fellowship Staffer for President Role

One of the most potent organizations promoting renewal in the mainline denominations, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, announced the naming of Dr. James Tonkowich as their new president. Following the untimely death of the very effective Diane Knippers, who died of cancer last April, observers have been watching IRD to see who they would tap as their new executive.

Recently, a number of mainline leaders have begun to speak out against the organization. In his address, "The IRS, the IRD, and Red State/Blue State Religion," delivered Sunday, March 12, 2006 the UCC's president, John Thomas, told a Gettysburg College audience his concerns with the work of IRD.

Here is the press release found on the IRD site.

The board of directors of the IRD is pleased to announce Dr. James Tonkowich has been named the new president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Formerly managing editor of BreakPoint with Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, Tonkowich started work at IRD today.

New IRD President Dr. James TonkowichTonkowich is the successor to Diane Knippers, who died of cancer last April. The IRD was founded in 1981 to reform the political witness of America’s churches, especially its mainline denominations.

“Because Christ’s Church is one, renewal in any part of the church causes the tide to rise for all churches,” Tonkowich said. “Similarly if any part of the Church is diminished, we all suffer. The work of the IRD in seeking to restore accountability, theological integrity, and a vibrant social witness in the mainline is a benefit to all Christians.” Tonkowich cited religious freedom and the defense of marriage as “issues that no Christian can in good conscience ignore.”

The chairman of IRD’s board, Dr. Jay J Budziszewski, commented: “Dr. Tonkowich brings an articulate, gracious, thoughtful voice that will represent IRD well. His commitment to church renewal is central to his vocation.”

Budziszewski noted that like IRD’s first president, Kent Hill, Tonkowich comes from a non-mainline denomination. But like Hill, he is “firmly committed to reforming the mainline while at the same time helping the IRD to build alliances with other groups, such as evangelicals.”

Tonkowich served at Prison Fellowship from 2001-2006. Before that he worked for a technology firm in Northern Virginia, pastored a Presbyterian church in California, and worked for a campus ministry in Massachusetts. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America, has doctorate and masters degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and graduated from Bates College in Maine.

“I look forward to working with the long-established and highly competent IRD team as we continue to engage in expert analysis, grassroots advocacy, and ecumenical networking,” Tonkowich said.


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