What the Churches and the Media Missed in the ACORN Scandal

politics | Oct 28, 2009 | By Stephanie Block

Thanks to current media coverage, every political junkie probably knows about ACORN’s voter fraud (one wag suggested half of Chicago’s tombstones should sport “I voted” stickers), its embezzlement scandal, and that millions of public dollars will be going to hire ACORN to run the next US census.

Some of the more conservative media sources have fleshed out the picture by describing the influential work of community organizer Saul Alinsky, about whom Hillary Clinton wrote her college thesis, in whose organizations President Obama garnered his work history, and from whose training ACORN sprang. Alinsky’s thought, capsulated in two books, Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, operates from the Marxist perspective of class warfare and an unabashed glorification of political pragmatism. He teaches that, in politics, the ends justify the means, that there is no fixed truth, and – most significantly – the organizer or the politician who wants to be effective must wrap his issues in a “moral garment.”

It’s this last point that the media and many religious institutions fail to appreciate.

ACORN, with its hundreds of local affiliates around the country – not to mention scores of related corporate entities – is only one national network. Alinsky himself founded the first of these in 1940, the Industrial Areas Foundation, which today has about 70 locals. And there are still others: Gamaliel, PICO, DART, Interfaith Worker Justice, Citizen Action, the National Council of La Raza, the United Farm Workers, and more.

In this collection of organizing networks patterned on the thought and training of Saul Alinsky, several have found their “moral garments” through organizing inside of religious bodies.

The socially “traditional” Catholic Church has been a particularly hard hit target of this organizing effort, aided by a politically progressive faction within her members. In the late 1960s, early 1970s, the United States Catholic bishops approved an annual collection, called the Campaign for Human Development (CHD), that was advertised as a charity to “break the vicious cycle of poverty” but was, in reality, funding left-wing political organizations, many of them carrying the brand of Saul Alinsky.

For their part, these CHD-funded organizations with parish memberships collected a percentage of Catholic tithes, given in good faith to the Church, as “dues.” They sent priests and parishioners to Alinskyian trainings, espousing a form of liberation theology.

It bore fruit. In anticipation of the US bicentennial celebrations, the bishops approved months of “hearings” leading up to the first Call to Action conference. Little did most of them know these hearings and the conference were under the control of an Alinskyian-trained priest, so they were taken completely by surprise when the conference ratified a long list of demands that the Church change not only disciplinary rules but structurally and even her moral teachings. The organized dissent propagated by Call to Action was a product of organized parishes, filled with Alinskyian-trained clergy and laity.

Meanwhile, a young fellow by the name of Barak Obama was lead organizer in Chicago for the Alinskyian Developing Communities Project, which received a $40,000 Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant in 1985 and another $33,000 grant in 1986.

While he was in Chicago, Obama was trained by the top Alinskyian organizers. One mentor was the ex-Jesuit, Greg Galuzzo, lead organizer for Gamaliel. The Developing Communities Project operated under the Gamaliel Foundation, a network of Alinskyian organizations that receive 4-5% of all Catholic Campaign for Human Development grants each year.

The Developing Communities Project, which hired Obama as lead organizer, was an offshoot of Jerry Kellman’s Calumet Community Religious Conference. Kellman, another of Obama’s mentors, was himself trained by Alinsky. The network of community organizations Alinsky founded, the Industrial Areas Foundation, receives about 16% of all Catholic Campaign for Human Development grants annually.

After Obama went to Harvard Law School, he returned to Chicago and taught Alinskyian organizing to ACORN staff. Although ACORN has a different structure than other Alinskyian networks, its tactical philosophy and world view are formed by men who were trained by Alinsky, in a sort of diabolical apostolic succession. Obama ran ACORN’s 1992 voter-registration drive, Project Vote, and in turn received ACORN’s endorsement for Illinois senator. ACORN annually receives about 5% of Catholic Campaign for Human Development grants.

This translates into millions of dollars of Catholic money over the last four decades going into Alinskyian community organizing, although ACORN’s “People’s Platform” has nothing in common with Catholic social justice teaching and everything in common with socialism and although Gamaliel and the Industrial Areas Foundation teach liberationism, a form of “Christianized” socialism. The Alinskyian networks are political. They work closely with politicians such as Obama and with other progressive organizations fighting for abortion and homosexual “rights” though the Church adamantly opposes such positions.

This has serious ramifications for Catholics. The Alinskyian networks operate ecumenically and include numerous Catholic parishes. The Catholics involved in the extensive trainings these networks offer are not catechized in Catholic principles of social activism or political analysis but in Marxist analysis and praxis. Their worldview is marred by visions of class struggle and perpetual revolution. They are systematically trained to renounce moral truth in favor of consensus-based “values.”

Catholics trained in Alinskyian thought become confused about the comparative moral weight of the issues they encounter in the public arena. They also become confused about the legitimate authority of the Church, frequently imagining they can apply consensus-building strategies to doctrines and moral truth. They are the same Catholics who people the dissident Call to Action chapters around the country.

This may sound like a Catholic problem, but the Alinskyian networks the seeking the “moral garments” of religious bodies are ecumenical. While Catholics make up a third of these networks, Baptists, United Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopals, Presbyterians and Untied Church of Christ congregations, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist congregations make up the rest. There is even a smattering of “liberal” Muslims in some locals.

Many of these religious bodies have their own “left flank,” including funding campaigns for organizing efforts and their own re-education programs, such as the Inter-religious Organizing Initiative (IOI) between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the National Baptist Convention USA.

The “moral garments” borrowed from these religious institutions make the Alinskyian philosophy of governance – called variously “third way,” “participatory democracy,” or “democratic socialism,” and other things – seem noble and “righteous.” Proponents of this “middle ground” believe that their system of government can use democratic mechanisms to administer the state’s benefits. The mechanisms of administration for those benefits are the “mediating institutions”— such as churches – which they believe will render government control more benevolent and “just.” The community organization can use the “mediating institutions” to help them restructure civil society and distribute federal benefits, pushing comprehensive Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community packages, massive housing projects, transformative education reform with its workforce development components, universal health care, and other comprehensive, federally controlled, womb-to-tomb “services” for the citizen.

This is the story about which the media isn’t talking, that embedded in hundreds of religious congregations – Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Church of Christ, Catholic, and so forth –Alinskyian organizations are changing the way traditional religious bodies understand governance and even their own faith beliefs.

Stephanie Block is the editor of the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and a founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.



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