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.”
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