Where Religion and Politics Embrace


July 26, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - "I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods before me." Exodus 20:2-4.

With a foot in both worlds, PICO provides precisely the kind ofDemocrat party controlled links from society, to the faith-basedcommunity,and to the state, that are so scarce in contemporary American society.Faith in Action: Religion, Race and Democratic Organizing in America,Richard L. Wood, 2002.

The next time a politician or a priest tells you that politics andreligion shouldn't mix, tell him or her about Richard Wood's2002 book "Faith in Action: Religion, Race and Democratic Organizingin America." The book details the successful raising of communityorganizing for political power to the heights of religious fervor.

Though Wood is a proponent of community organizing, he writes a powerfulexpose of the goals, objectives and tactics of direct action programs.

Community organizing became a common catchphrase with the presidentialcampaign of Barack Obama and questionable voter registration activitiesconducted by a group called ACORN, the Association of CommunityOrganizations for Reform Now. Even so, little has been written aboutwhat this and similar groups actually do and how they organize.

Religion and politics have been mixing it up long before PresidentGeorge W. Bush's administration created funding for the Office ofFaith-Based Initiatives and certainly well before President Obama, onFebruary 5, 2009, expanded it to include neighborhood partnerships.

A good example of a community organizer is found in the popular 1957musical production "The Music Man," which tells the tale ofProfessor Harold Hill arriving in a small town. Unbeknownst to thetownsfolk, he is a musical instruments salesman. And he cons the entiretown into believing that the best way to keep their youngsters out oftrouble is by starting a boys' band, adding for emphasis, "Imean they need it right now." He gets the townspeople's hopesup and they buy his band instruments, even as they wonder how they aregoing to form a band when the would-be musicians can't even readmusic. They trust him so much that they believe him when he tells themthat they don't need practice; they just have to have the confidencethat they can succeed.

That's basically what a community organizer is. He plants dreams andhopes into the minds and hearts of selected communities and thenconvinces these people that their personal hopes and dreams are what theentire community needs. What the good citizens don't realize is thatthis community organizer's own priorities are always uppermost inhis mind. And these priorities always encompass more laws, taxes,legislation and government interference in private lives.

Just as Professor Hill sounded the cry for a boys' band in the Music Man, today'scommunity organizer would have you believe that what your town needs isaffordable housing. ("And I mean you need it right now!") Ormaybe it's health care that he's selling, telling you that youhave the right to demand it from the government right now. I'm sureyou can recall the slogans. "What do we need? Health care. When dowe need it? Now!"

In so doing, the organizer takes a thesis, creates an antithesis fromwhich oozes forth a synthesis. In other words, he takes the people asthey are, creates a yearning in them to strive for something that theymost likely will not be satisfied with in the long run, i.e., affordablehousing, (the antithesis) and the community ends up with a synthesis (adislike of officials and burdensome laws). Or, put another way, hevictimizes them, causing them to blame the government for what they nowview as their oppression.

There are four main federations of community organizing agencies. Two ofthem - DART, Direct Action and Research Trainingwww.thedartcenter.org; and ACORN, www.acorn.org - focus on secularand political organizing of the most marginalized people andneighborhoods. This includes the recent immigrant, the welfare recipientand the racial and ethnically victimized.

Gamaliel, www.gamaliel.org (named for a minor, rather shadowy figure in the Old Testament), and PICO, Pacific Institute for CommunityOrganizing, www.piconetwork.org, emphasize organizing within religiouscommunities and are often referred to as faith-based entities. Thesegroups tend to search out the lower to middle income faith-basedcitizens who are members of ethnic and racial minorities, recentimmigrants and those church members who are anxious to do the GoodSamaritan work that their ministers and pastors have been preachingabout for years.

It can be said that the direct-action folks soften up the politiciansand that the faith-based groups make the politicians feel ashamed thatthey are preventing the people from living the America-as-Utopia lifethat was presented to them.

All of these groups share a common base from the Saul Alinsky IndustrialAreas Foundation method of training for organizing communities. Alinskybegan in Chicago in the 1920's with the help of a Jesuit priest toorganize the "back of the Yards" neighborhoods aroundChicago's slaughterhouses. Their first success was in bullying thebanking industry to provide housing loans to the local residents who,basically, had little or no collateral to put up.

Jesuit priests John Baumann and Jerry Helfrich were two Alinsky-trainedorganizers. They came to Oakland, California, in 1972 and formed PICO.Baumann retired as PICO's director in December 2008. During thoseyears PICO grew to involve more than 50 organizations in the UnitedStates, Central America and Africa. Here are Fr. Baumann'spraise-filled words:

PICO's success points to the powerful role that faith communitiesplay in shaping our nation. Across the U.S., people from all varietiesof religious traditions are hungry to put their faith into action, andPICO has helped channel this energy into concrete wins for workingfamilies."http://www.piconetwork.org/news-media/news/archive?id=0413

PICO started out, according to Wood's book, relying strictly ontheir skills as community organizers to rouse up the neighborhoodresidents to demand change. They had only minor and scattered successuntil they began to realize that they were ignoring the very people whowould best respond to their call to be organized - the faithful,church-going community. And, after all, they were Catholic priests; theyhad a natural entry into the churches.

PICO set up its first local organized affiliate within St.Elizabeth's Parish in East Oakland in 1982. St. Elizabeth's is amostly Latino neighborhood parish of lower income and welfarerecipients.

To quote from Wood's book (pg 51):

"But when faith-based organizing is successful, many factorscontribute simultaneously to that success. Such factors include trainedleaders, astute strategy, professional staff organizing, the legitimacyaccorded by church affiliation and clear pastoral support, the culturalresources of church life and of American traditions...makes faith-basedorganizing unique."

It is somewhat easy to recognize a PICO affiliate at work in yourcommunity. Its name tends to reflect the title of its parentorganization, using words such as "community organizing" or"interfaith organizing" or "reform now."

East Oakland's local PICO affiliate is called COR, which stands forCommunities Organizing for Reform. This group tends to focus on localcommunity issues of affordable housing and workforce development in theschool setting. The official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese ofOakland continually reports on COR's activities within the parishesand general community.

Groups that operated in West Oakland and other parts of Alameda Countyare collectively referred to as OCO, or Oakland Community Organizations.OCO tends to work on organizing around statewide issues of education,health care and jobs while also working on the parish level. PICO alsopromotes charter schools.

Often, in tracking state legislation, I have seen PICO and CCISCO(Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Communities Organizing) listed assupporters of health care bills or workforce development and educationbills right along with Planned Parenthood and the California CatholicConference.

Another of PICO's early pioneers is Jim Keddy. He was a student atthe Berkeley-based Graduate Theological Union when Fr. Baumann came togive a talk about PICO. He now is a PICO director based in Sacramento,working closely with the CCC.

PICO, like the other organizations, is a parish or fraternal membershiporganization. The fee for joining is anywhere from $200.00 to $1,000.00,depending upon the size of the group. However, the major portion oftheir funding comes from large donors, foundations, gifts and,especially, the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development. This isa nationwide fundraising endeavor conducted annually. The CCHD, bothnationwide and locally, has been held up to close scrutiny for a fewyears now due, in part, to its funding of both ACORN and PICO.

In the adjoining county of Contra Costa, where CCISCO is based, theorganization periodically makes slight changes to its name, but theacronym stays the same.

CCISCO is very busy in Richmond, Concord and Antioch, cities with denseethnic and lower income neighborhoods. A young, Latina communityorganizer proudly stated to me recently that she was working within fourof the five Catholic churches in Concord. The pastor of Queen of AllSaints Church is so enamored of CCISCO's efforts that he hasincluded their logo on his parish letterhead and provided the young ladywith an office and a committee.

They have also captured the heart and soul of the Catholic Community ofImmaculate Heart Parish in Brentwood, where the pastor, formerly anEpiscopal priest and registered nurse, has openly embraced theirpresence, placing his signature on CCISCO letters, even though he knowsthat abortion and contraception is a main thrust of CCISCO's healthcare advocacy. The same is true for the Antioch parish of St. Ignatius.

So, what's wrong with all of this organizing of communities andparishes? Haven't we all, at some point, prayed that our churcheswould wake up to the need to address the state of politics and humanstruggles? Aren't we constantly reminded that we are a nation ofimmigrants and we should, like the Good Samaritan, help our neighbor whomay be, figuratively at least, lying alongside the road with no one tocome to his aid?

The answers to these questions can be seen in the following story. Irecently attended daily Mass at my parish, during which the Gospelreading was Matthew 12: 1-8. This is the passage about the Phariseescomplaining to Jesus because his disciples were breaking a Sabbath law.

Our pastor said, in his homily, that in the Old Testament many of thelaws had become too burdensome to follow. These laws were inflictingsuffering on the people. Jesus, on the other hand, had encouraged hisdisciples to go into the field and pull off the heads of wheat so thatthey would have more to eat - a clear violation of the law. In otherwords, as told by our pastor, Jesus favored setting aside laws that wereburdensome. In telling this story as he did, I believe our pastorendorsed - whether directly or tacitly - the violation ofcurrent laws that are equally burdensome, including immigration laws.While we're at, just for sake of argument: Aren't all laws,civil and religious, somewhat burdensome to those who do not wish tofollow them?Father continued with his sermon, saying Jesus came to preach love, notto support burdensome laws that were causing His people suffering. Whatdid it matter which side of the border these people of God came from;weren't God's laws, His new way of life, for all people?

This very nice priest, an admitted anchor baby, sees restraints onillegal immigrants as a sin. He openly advocates for amnesty, the soonerthe better. I asked him if he thought abortion couldn't also beconsidered a burdensome law on the faithful. He said of course abortionis wrong. I reminded him that when groups like PICO and CCISCO organizegroups of parishioners to travel to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. tolobby for health care they are, in fact, lobbying for abortion. They arelobbying for the very thing that our church declares immoral. At thatpoint, the good Father responded as any non-religious person might."Oh, so, what, we shouldn't have health care? You would denyhealth care to sick, poor people just because it has abortion init?"

He is not the only member of a religious organization who has utteredsuch words. A church spokesperson once told me that abortion is a givenin California. The people need health care and they need it now. If apatient chooses abortion, that's not the church's fault. And so,the church is selling out its soul for a few doses of medicine. It issymbolically placing health care on the high altar of worship. It is nolonger God who saves His people, but the almighty federal bureaucrat.

Many immigrants risk their lives and their health to come here to havethe good life, or so they believe. What happens is that they becomepawns in the hands of unscrupulous activists who lead them to the verybondage from which they tried to escape.

It's as if Professor Henry Hill were telling them that the answer totheir troubles can be found in new band uniforms and musicalinstruments. Only, in this case, it's the community organizersconvincing them that their salvation can be found not in God, but ingovernment.

© 2010 PipeLineNews.org, Beila Rabinowitz. All rights reserved. .