The United States is a deeply religious country. Very early on, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) realized that if the United States was ever to be brought to socialism, religion would have to be harnessed to the task.
Enter the CPUSA’s Religion Commission, where socialist pastors, religious academics, and laypeople network to spread Marxist ideas through their churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.
As the United States is primarily a Christian country, the communists began to infiltrate churches, seminaries, and theological colleges even before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
In congressional testimony in July 1953, former CPUSA Chairman Ben Gitlow described how the first communist front was established in the United States, by minister and later Party member Harry Ward:
“The Methodist Federation for Social Action … was first organized by a group of Socialist, Marxist clergymen of the Methodist church headed by Dr. Harry F. Ward. … Its objective was to transform the Methodist Church and Christianity into an instrument for the achievement of socialism. It was established in 1907, 12 years before the organization of the Communist Party in the United States in 1919.”
In testimony a few days later, another high-ranking communist defector exposed Ward as a card-carrying communist and a powerful “agent of influence” for the communist cause:
“The Methodist Federation for Social Action, headed by the Rev. Harry F. Ward, whom I have already identified as a Party member, was invaluable to the Communist Party in its united-front organizations campaign. It was invaluable because, through it, the Party was able to get contacts with thousands of ministers all over the country.”
That defector, Manning Johnson, also went on to reveal how the CPUSA’s Soviet masters had shifted emphasis to co-opting religion from destroying it:
“Once the tactic of infiltrating religious organizations was set by the Kremlin, the actual mechanics of implementing the ‘new line’ was a question of following the general experiences of the living church movement in Russia, where the Communists discovered that the destruction of religion could proceed much faster through infiltration of the church by Communist agents operating within the church itself.
“The Communist leadership in the United States realized that the infiltration tactic in this country would have to adapt itself to American conditions and the religious make-up peculiar to this country. In the earliest stages, it was determined that with only small forces available it would be necessary to concentrate Communist agents in the seminaries and divinity schools. The practical conclusion drawn by the Red leaders was that these institutions would make it possible for a small Communist minority to influence the ideology of future clergymen in the paths most conducive to Communist purposes.”
According to Johnson, the CPUSA set about infiltrating American Christianity at every level:
“In the early 1930s, the Communists instructed thousands of their members to rejoin their ancestral religious groups and to operate in cells designed to take control of churches for Communist purposes. This method was not only propounded but was executed with great success among large elements of American church life. Communists operating a double-pronged infiltration, both through elements of Communist-controlled clergy and Communist-controlled laymen, managed to pervert and weaken entire strata of religious life in the United States.”
All over the United States, CPUSA members went back to their childhood churches. Over time, many gained positions of influence. This activity ramped up during the Vietnam era.
Some examples follow:
In Utah, Wayne Holley was a proud member of the Mormon Church and founder of the Joe Hill Club of the CPUSA. Holley worked for “all economic and social issues including universal health care, fair housing, jobs with justice, women’s issues, and all ‘movements for peace.’ He fought against nuclear testing at the Nevada test site, the Vietnam War, and the MX Missile Program,” according to CPUSA publication People’s World.
In Chicago, Bill Hogan, a CPUSA member and Catholic priest, joined in the national campaigns to end the U.S. war in Vietnam, was a leader in Chicago Clergy and Laity Concerned (an anti-war group), and “was one of the plaintiffs in a pair of federal lawsuits in 1974 and 1975 that sought to stop alleged Chicago Police Department harassment of political activists,” according to his obituary.
In New York, CPUSA member the Rev. Richard Morford was executive director of the National Council of American–Soviet Friendship and a leader of the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam war era, the American Communist movement split into Maoist, Trotskyist, and “democratic socialist” factions. The traditional CPUSA was dramatically reduced in numbers. However, far-left infiltration of seminaries and theological schools increased as thousands of young draft-dodgers opted to promote socialism in divinity school rather than fight communists in Vietnam.
Today, most of the leftist divinity professors and religious leaders come out of the 1960s Maoist and “democratic socialist” movements rather than the CPUSA.
However, the CPUSA did continue to make considerable progress in black-majority churches. Since the 1960s, when the CPUSA began to more deeply infiltrate the Democratic Party, a larger emphasis was put on recruiting black pastors. These pastors could be used to promote socialist policies within the Democratic Party, and to keep their congregations loyally voting for the left.
In April 2005, the CPUSA re-organized its Religious Commission with a conference in Des Moines, Iowa. The CPUSA’s People’s World newspaper quoted several participants to give a flavor of the event:
“’The word of God and communism are hand in hand,’ said Diana Sowry, a school bus driver from Ashtabula County, Ohio. … Sowry is a union activist and also active in her church, where she sings in the choir. She feels communists and others who are working to defeat the ultra-right and advance peace, social and economic justice, and socialism are ‘doing the work of the Word.’
“The Rev. Scott Marks, from New Haven, Conn., said ‘people in the pews’ cannot simply stick to ‘feel-good issues,’ but must ‘be willing to go to the wall on the real issues.’ … [Marks] is a Pentecostal minister who leads the Connecticut Center for a New Economy. For him, this is doing ‘the real work’ of Jesus. ‘It’s not pie in the sky when we die,’ Marks told the World. ‘It’s how are we going to change things in the here and now.’ …
“In the session on work in local churches, the Rev. Gil Dawes, a retired volunteer pastor at Trinity Methodist Church here, emphasized that grassroots progressive religious activism has deep historical roots, and has to be re-energized today. ‘That’s where the right is way ahead of us,’ he said. …
“’People suffering will become leaders if they have a chance to put it together with other people,’ Dawes said. This kind of Bible study helped turn one congregation from fundamentalist to one of the most progressive, he said.
“In the session on Marx and religion, Paul Nelson, a Lutheran minister who teaches at a community college in Iowa, disputed the idea that Marx opposed all religion. What Marx denounced was an ‘illusory’ form of religion that served as ‘ideological cover for the exercise of aristocratic economic and political power.'”
Today’s CPUSA is still very active in the church. Here are some examples:
Edward Carson, chairman of the Boston Communist Party, was an editor for The Christian Century “Then and Now” blog.
Michael Adam Reale served on the CPUSA Religious Commission in 2004 and 2005. Reale told the CPUSA newspaper People’s Weekly World (later changed to People’s World) in 2004:
“I personally felt led to bring into the Communist Party three friends who are active in their faiths, one a Quaker, another who is the pastor of the United Church of Christ, and the third a Jehovah’s Witness—all three had expressed an interest in the party. We all need to confront the myth that communism is anti-religion. Communism is not anti-religion—it is anti-opulence. …
“I came to the Communist Party because of my deep Quaker faith. I have become convinced (a Quaker expression) of the ‘rightness’ of Marxism.”
In 2010, Pierre Williams was secretary of the Religion Commission of the CPUSA. He received his master’s in divinity from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. He also completed pastoral residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and served as staff chaplain at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore. He is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and has been a member of the Florida Interfaith Commission on Children and Youth.
Millstein holds a doctorate in Jewish Studies from the University of California–Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, with a focus on Jewish–Christian relations, and has taught humanities and history of religion at Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and the Graduate Theological Union.
Millstein is currently programs manager at Islamic Networks Group in San Jose. His LinkedIn profile states: “His background includes both academic and experiential acquaintance with a variety of cultures and religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Native American traditions. In his current position at ING-Islamic Networks Group, he brings together his experience in moving across boundaries of faith and culture with his passion for peace, nonviolence, and social justice.”
The Rev. James Caldwell is one of two black pastors in the Houston Communist Party branch. He is a graduate of Phyllis Wheatley High School and Texas Southern University’s School of Public Affairs. He also attended Dallas Theological Seminary and has been an ordained minister for over 30 years.
The Rev. Tim Yeager was, in 2010, chairperson of the Religion Commission of the CPUSA. He has served on the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns and the Advocacy Center of The Episcopal Church.
After a Christian upbringing in Iowa, Yeager went on to study Russian and History at the University of Iowa. The Vietnam War was raging then, and he became involved in the anti-war movement.
“That opened my eyes to a whole host of issues. I moved away from Christianity and became a Unitarian. As time went on, I became a leader in left-wing student activities … I had read Karl Marx on Ludwig Feuerbach [a German philosopher and anthropologist] and decided that I had to move away from religion altogether and became a Marxist,” Yeager said in a 2015 interview in British local magazine Westcombe News.
Yeager also became chief organizer of the Communist Party in Iowa, but was drawn back to the church by communist pastor Gil Dawes.
“I never really lost my connection to my home church in Iowa. It was part of my family. And then, I met a wonderful man named Gil Dawes. He was a Methodist minister and liberation theologian who showed me what I had not really taken on board, that Christianity and socialism had much in common and so I joined his church … but I have to admit that I had not yet become a Christian again in my heart,” Yeager said in the same interview.
In 2011, Yeager was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, and, in 2012, he took on responsibility for serving a small inner-city church on the West Side of Chicago.
He currently serves at a church in London and is a member of the Communist Party of Britain.
Communists want to be gods on Earth. Their main competition for the minds of men is revealed religion. Attempts to brutally suppress Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the early days of the Soviet Union proved counter-productive; infiltrating and twisting religion is far more effective. This tactic has been applied all over the world and has made huge inroads in the United States.
Much of what is preached today in U.S. churches has been influenced, if not dominated, by communist ideology posing as religion.
Trevor Loudon is an author, filmmaker, and public speaker from New Zealand. For more than 30 years, he has researched radical left, Marxist, and terrorist movements and their covert influence on mainstream politics.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.