A new faith coalition out in Cleveland, Ohio, raises some interesting questions about the intermingling of organized religion and leftist politics.
The founding of the Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), a group that describes itself as "a non-partisan coalition of faith communities and partner organizations in Cuyahoga County working together to build power for social justice," claims that its focus is uniting the masses to improve local neighborhoods.
While many would see this as a worthy endeavor, others -- mainly those with fears about the use of faith to progress the liberal agenda -- are questioning the GCC's motivations.
The central underpinning of the group's organizational structure is that it brings together religious leaders from multiple faiths. In encouraging these influential individuals to come on board with the GCC's mission, thousands of individuals within their congregations have now joined in to answer the group's call to arms. The issues that the organization has decided to tackle are not all that surprising -- education, jobs, health care, criminal justice and sustainable food.
As of June, nearly 40 area churches, synagogues and mosques had joined in the coalition. Below, watch a promo-video that highlights this group:
In the promo, you'll notice numerous faith leaders touting this unique partnership, with Rev. Tracey Lind calling it an opportunity to make Cleveland "a more just and prosperous place." But what, exactly, does this latter statement mean? And why has this coalition been assembled in Ohio, an important swing state in presidential politics?
FAITH AND PARTISAN POLITICS IN CUYAHOGA COUNTY
Answering these questions can get a bit complicated, but considering the epic battles raging in Washington, exploring the motivations behind groups like the GCC is paramount. While Ohio, itself, is a swing state, it's also important to note that Cuyahoga County (where the GCC is focusing its work) is the most populated county within the state.
The pressure to control this area, politically speaking, is intense, especially considering its size, scope and reach into the bowels of presidential politics. Let's take a brief look at some events that have occurred over the past few years -- events that may have assisted in creating political motivation behing the GCC's inception.
In November 2007, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an organization devoted to community organizing, filed for bankruptcy. Following allegations of fraud, mismanagement and after a video series showed staff members giving controversial and purportedly criminal advice to a "pimp" and "prostitute," the group went belly up.
Back in 2008, election officials asked a prosecutor to explore alleged campaign violations that occurred in Cuyahoga County – Ohio’s most populated county. According to sources, four individuals associated with ACORN had filled out multiple voter registration forms. One voter, Freddie Johnson, of Cleveland, claims that he signed more than 70 registration forms over a five-month period.
Johnson claims ACORN officials gave him cash or cigarettes in exchange for his assistance. The New York Post has more:
"Sometimes, they come up and bribe me with a cigarette, or they'll give me a dollar to sign up," said Freddie Johnson, 19, who filled out 72 separate voter-registration cards over an 18-month period at the behest of the left-leaning Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
"The ACORN people are everywhere, looking to sign people up. I tell them I am already registered. The girl said, 'You are?' I say, 'Yup,' and then they say, 'Can you just sign up again?' " he said.
Regardless of whether the Cuyahoga County allegations were true, it's safe to say that this county is or extreme importance during electoral seasons. With ACORN gone, left-learning community organizers may be looking for methods through which they can encourage people to support the Democratic Party. This, perhaps, is where the GCC comes in.
EXPLORING THE GCC'S TIES TO SAUL ALINSKY
Interestingly, the GCC is part of The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an infamous ultra-left group that was founded back in 1940 by the father of community organizing, Saul Alinsky. IAF, which is still very active today, is known for using religion as an adhesive force to bring individuals together in support of Democratic principles and candidates. Part of the group’s official description reads as follows:
The IAF is non-ideological and strictly non-partisan, but proudly, publicly, and persistently political. The IAF builds a political base within society's rich and complex third sector - the sector of voluntary institutions that includes religious congregations, labor locals, homeowner groups, recovery groups, parents associations, settlement houses, immigrant societies, schools, seminaries, orders of men and women religious, and others…
Over the years, conservatives have become hyper-critical of IAF. After all, Ainsky admitted working with communists and, curiously, he dedicated his book, “Rules for Radicals” to Lucifer (yes, Satan). But in the end, conservatives and Republicans have mainly taken issue with IAF’s work because, despite the group’s “non-ideological and strictly non-partisan” rhetoric, the causes and candidates it supports are typically far-left.
Considering the emerging liberal trend of utilizing faith and religion, the hole in Democratic voter registrations that ACORN's absence has left in Cuyahoga County and the IAF’s known name as a far-left institution, the emergence of this “new” political organizing body deserves scrutiny.
Upon clicking on the “About” page on GCC's web site, four paragraph’s into the group’s description, readers are greeted with the following:
We are part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s first and largest network of multi-faith coalitions, and we draw on their seven decades of experience winning tough battles across the nation.
What, exactly, are these tough "battles?" Elections, perhaps?
While it isn’t uncommon for organizations to launch associated campaigns, there are some interesting factors at play here. GCC has chosen Cuyahoga County as its primary focal point (again, Ohio’s largest populated county). Certainly, it’s prudent to bring individuals together to advance the common good, but the selection of politically-hot Cuyahoga County is curious.
Additionally, one wonders if this new effort is being launched to re-brand IAF’s mission, while providing a new framework that has a name that is unfamiliar to those who encounter it (thus, it doesn’t carry the negative connotations that IAF, ACORN and other community organizing groups may have as a result of negative publicity over the past few years). Currently, GCC is looking to become its own 501c3, a fact that simply adds more curiosity.
There's also the odd timing of the GCC's formation too -- just one year and a half before the sure-to-be contentious 2012 presidential election.
RALLYING THE FAITH COMMUNITY FOR THE CAUSE
Churches are naturally cohesive, as congregants are bound together by their shared faith. Additionally, most of the nation's most prominent faith systems advocate helping those in need -- a central tenet of the social justice mantra. JewishClevelandNews.com Douglas J. Guth, writes:
[GCC coalition co-chair Joshua] Caruso and other religious leaders spearheading the coalition said this effort reflects the “prophetic tradition” of those men and women of different faiths who called for justice for their respective peoples.
“We’re speaking up for the little guy,” Caruso said. “There’s a true and earnest feeling to want this city to be better.”
When exploring the nature of clubs and other social structures, houses of worship offer the most robust opportunity to engage a mass number of people in a movement, thought-process, etc. All facts considered, the concept of a faith coalition offers a sure-fire way to rally major support for political campaigns and the like.
But this could all be an overreaction, right? Just because the IAF is assisting the faith community in organizing doesn't mean it's necessarily going to assist in progressing the Democratic agenda, right? With the coalition still organizing itself and with solid issue campaigns not yet released, definitive views on this cannot yet be drawn.
Still one wonders, what are the coalition's stated goals? In an editorial on Cleveland.com, The Plain Dealer writes:
The goal is to have religious followers -- not just their leaders -- research key problems such as education, jobs, health care, criminal justice and sustainable food -- and then determine what kind of efforts are needed to solve them.
This, of course, is cryptic and doesn't really provide a comprehensive look at the group's planned activities. The editorial continues by explaining that the GCC's $250,000 annual budget will come from churches, mosques and synagogues. This means that the members of these institutions will essentially be footing 50 percent of the bill for what could amount to be nothing more than a political group disguising itself as a religious enterprise. In addition to these funds, GCC will apparently be seeking monies from foundations and private donors, alike.
According to the editorial, more than 2,000 people showed up for the coalition's first meeting -- no doubt a substantial gathering. But while many are eagerly jumping on board, some -- like Catholic Bishop Richard Lennon -- are skeptical. So far, the Cleveland Diocese has asked churches to hold off on supporting the GCC until further analysis can be conducted.
For its hesitation in joining in on the initiative, some have railed against the church's alleged concern. Thomas J. Allio Jr., a retired senior director over at the Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office, penned an op-ed for Cleveland.com. He wrote:
Like many Catholics in Northeast Ohio, I am concerned that the Diocese of Cleveland was absent from the recent meeting to launch Greater Cleveland Congregations. [...]
The stance of the bishop is disconcerting on several fronts: It is a potential source of division within the interfaith community; it sends a false message that the diocese is willing to go it alone when it comes to important issues impacting the region; and it runs counter to the long history of the diocese as a leader in collaborating with other faiths to promote efforts addressing poverty, human life and dignity, peace and human rights.
Of course, it could be possible that the Catholic Church, which has a complicated history with Alinsky-led initiatives, is concerned about the political nature of this endeavor. WKYC-TV addresses the debate surrounding GCC, with key players weighing in on the group's mission:
EXPLORING THE GCC'S LEADERSHIP
A brief look into the background of the group's top organizer showcases a history of what appears to be liberal activism. GCC's lead organizer is Ari Lipman who is, coincidentally, the executive director of the Ohio Industrial Areas Foundation. Additionally, he served as the founding lead organizer of Faith Vote Columbus (another "non-partisan IAF initiative). According to his biography:
In Montgomery, the IAF affiliate in Montgomery County, MD, Ari worked on successful campaigns to increase affordable housing development, expand health care clinics, improve college access programs, and protect services for immigrants.
In 2007, Lipman was honored by the leftist Campaign for America's Future as an "unsung progressive hero" and given the Maria Leavey Award. He was praised by the organization after he "mobilized 1,000 volunteers and successfully pressured the political and business elite to enact universal health care in Massachusetts." Below, watch Lipman accept his award, where he praises universal medical coverage and mixes in some prayer and thanksgiving:
And below, watch Lipman discuss a past get out the vote initiative (during which he praises Alinsky):
The Blaze reached out to Lipman to allow him to answer questions about the GCC's goals. While he initially said that he couldn't speak on behalf of the unified clergy, he pledged to assist us in reaching the faith community. When we didn't hear back from him, we followed up through e-mail, asking if he would answer some questions for us. Again, he said that he would, but he has since been unresponsive to requests for comment.
Back in June, journalist Connie Schultz described how the GCC first came to fruition, shedding light on the combined efforts of the IAF and the faith community:
Ari Lipman, a longtime community organizer, has helped start similar groups around the country through his work with the Industrial Areas Foundation. His efforts in Cleveland began about a year ago, when he met with Caruso. Soon, dozens of other religious leaders had joined their effort.
Interestingly, back in April, Michael O'Malley wrote about a group of moderate and liberal clergy that was formed back in 2006 called "We Believe Ohio." The group, which had a Cleveland chapter being led by Caruso, Lind and others, was said to be meeting earlier this year with IAF to discuss getting "organizing help."
While We Believe Ohio is no longer operating, it was founded, according to O'Malley, to counter the "state's conservative Christian movement." This information seems to indicate that We Believe Cleveland has evolved or melted into the current GCC coalition.
On the GCC's web site, some tools and articles are linked to that show participants how to become good community organizers, while describing the creation of issue campaigns and the like. In reviewing most of the documents, the inherent political organizational attributes are apparent.
There will certainly be more to come on the GCC, but the blurred nature of the group's work teamed with the overshadowing political connections are, at the least, concerning. Once the group releases more information on its intentions, The Blaze will provide readers with an updated report.
How Alinsky tactics play into these plans, if at all, is yet to be seen.