We've heard a lot about the religious left's appropriation-or misappropriation-of the language of "social justice." What's most troubling to me, though, has not been the abuse of this language by our religious left brothers and sisters-with whom we share a sincere bond in Christ-but by the extreme fringes of the left, namely, the atheistic communist left.
In research for my most recent book I found repeatedly-dating back a century and beginning with the Soviet Comintern and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA)-communists exploiting social-justice language. They did so not because they believed in Jesus-quite the contrary-but to dupe believers in Jesus, specifically Christian progressives. As I dug into the Soviet Comintern archives on the CPUSA, it took little time to confirm what Herb Romerstein, America's foremost expert on communism, had warned me about: "The religious left was the biggest suckers of them all."
Here I'll offer a quick snapshot of merely two examples, one from the 1940s and another from today.
First, there is the American Peace Mobilization, which Congress called "one of the most seditious organizations which ever operated in the United States," "one of the most notorious and blatantly Communist fronts ever organized in this country," and an "instrument of the Communist Party line."
I have the actual declassified Soviet document (published on page 142 of my book Dupes) stating that the American Peace Mobilization was created "on the initiative of our Party in Chicago" in September 1940. Its goal was to keep America from fighting Adolf Hitler. Why? Because Hitler had a non-aggression pact with Joseph Stalin, and American communists were loyal Soviet patriots. The American Peace Mobilization angrily demanded no Lend-Lease to England, even as the Nazis savaged the Brits.
This was a pernicious position. Yet, the "peace" mobilization, which suddenly became pro-war the minute Hitler betrayed Stalin and invaded the USSR, had more success with liberal Christians than any other group. If these Christians understood how badly they were used, they'd be on their knees.
Predictably, also taken for a ride was The New York Times, which described the American Peace Mobilization not as a communist front but as a "group of clergymen." And why not? Of the signers to the group's mass rally in New York in April 1941, a quarter of the names began with "Reverend."
This exploitation of the religious left continues to this day. Consider probably the best-known communist radical on the public's radar: Bill Ayers.
Ayers achieved infamy in the 1970s when he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, formed the Weather Underground. Committed to the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, Ayers and comrades were wanted for terrorist activities. Ultimately, they managed to evade prison time.
Where did Ayers end up? Columbia University accepted him into John Dewey's Teachers College, where he earned a Ph.D. He became a tenured professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, training public-school teachers to be "change agents." There, of course, Ayers met Barack Obama, with whom he served on several boards, and ended up being a contributor to Obama's state Senate campaign.
Ayers has not abandoned his secular utopianism. And he knows how to package his wares to religious progressives-as "social justice." He has done so with Michael Klonsky, onetime Maoist and even Stalinist, who likewise got his Ph.D. in education and trains teachers. Among Ayers' works are: Teaching for Social Justice (Teachers College Press, Columbia), A Simple Justice: The Challenge of Small Schools (Teachers College Press, Columbia), and Handbook for Social Justice in Education (Routledge, 2008).
This "social justice" language has worked brilliantly with left-leaning Christians, including those at liberal Catholic and Protestant colleges. But most disturbing is Ayers' presence in a college document titled "Preparing Teachers as Agents of Change: The Wheaton College Teacher Education Program Conceptual Framework." In this document from what many consider to be the flagship university of the evangelical world, Ayers' "social justice" work is cited multiple times. (Listen to a report on the Wheaton document that aired recently on the Sandy Rios radio show.)
In short, the atheistic communist left has been tapping these notions for decades, duping the religious left with breathtaking success.
Scripture exhorts us, incessantly, not to be deceived, misled, fooled-duped, if you will-especially by wolves in sheep's clothing. Progressive Christians, sadly, continue to be guided astray again and again.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.