IRD agrees not to use church mailing list info

The North Texas Annual (regional) Conference has reached an out-of-court settlement with the Institute of Religion and Democracy over the latter’s use of names and addresses of church members within the conference.

IRD agreed to no longer use mailing list information purchased from UMR Communications Inc., and to destroy the information that pertains to ZIP codes within the conference, according to a conference press release.

“We must do all we can to ensure the protection of our member’s private information and this agreement goes a long way in accomplishing our goal,” said Bishop Michael McKee in announcing an accord between the North Texas Conference, which he leads, and IRD.

Mark Tooley, president of IRD, confirmed the agreement in a phone interview.

UMR Communications Inc., parent to The United Methodist Reporter newspaper and a printer of newspapers for United Methodist conferences and churches, decided to go out of business last May amid mounting financial struggles.

The nonprofit company’s president, Alan Heath, sold mailing lists to IRD to help with expenses as UMR Communications wound down operations. (The Reporter continues as a website, under different ownership.)

IRD is a Washington, D.C.-based conservative Christian group committed to monitoring and reforming what it considers to be as the liberal trajectory of mainline Protestant denominations, including The United Methodist Church.

In May of this year, IRD used names and addresses from the mailing lists to send fundraising letters to church members. The letter lamented various developments within The United Methodist Church, with a focus on retired Bishop Melvin Talbert’s officiating at a same-sex union.

North Texas Conference pastors began to get complaints from church members, most of whom wanted to know how IRD got their names and addresses, said the Rev. Don Underwood, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas.

Underwood and his church went to state court and got a temporary restraining order against IRD. The North Texas Conference approved a resolution at its annual gathering on June 3, demanding IRD cease using the names and addresses.

Commenting on the out-of-court settlement, Underwood stressed that churches must take care to protect church members’ information.

 “We live in a world where mailing lists are the new coin of the realm,” he said.

The May letter from IRD offered donors its publication UMAction, described as an “insider’s newsletter” about The United Methodist Church.

Tooley said Thursday that the demise of The Reporter newspaper had created a void.

“IRD’s UMAction is committed to reaching as many United Methodists as possible with our reporting and perspective, and we hope other groups do likewise,” he said. “A healthy denomination needs regular access to informed and diverse reporting sources.”

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. He was managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter at its closing. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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