Frontpage has learned that its reporting on the contentious ideological struggle within a mid-town Manhattan Unitarian/Universalist Church has set possible changes in motion. The original purpose of the article was meant to be a case study and cautionary tale of the folly of trying to work with intolerant totalitarian movements such as the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). Dr. Karen Hoover, chair of Church’s Action for Justice group, reached out to hardcore Marxist organizations beginning in the run up to the Iraq war. As a result, the RCP today enjoys large degrees of influence and partnership with sectors of the Church (Dr. Hoover has been known to direct people toward RCP’s HQ and bookstore). But because of the light that was shown on this activity, these relationships may be vulnerable to a course correction, if wisdom prevails; and an audit is in progress.
We now have more information regarding Church critic Robert Reiss’s suspension from the Community Church of New York, the former liberal but now increasingly Maoist and anti-Israel Unitarian/Universalist Church. Special Meetings were held on Wednesday June 11th and Sunday June 15th to discuss Frontpage’s June 5th article first detailing the ignominious influences on the Church, and what to do about Reiss, whom they falsely blamed for the unwanted attention. The meeting on the 15th resulted in a quorum of Board of Trustee members who, flouted both the letter and the spirit of the bylaws of the Church by voting to suspend Reiss for 6 months, barring him from setting foot on Church property – including attending Sunday Services – under threat of police arrest or ejection at the hands of Church Security personnel.
On Sunday, June 22nd, during Church coffee hour at noon, 3 Board of Trustee members, including the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board, beckoned Reiss to accompany them into the intimate “Chapel of Peace.” It was here, Reiss was told of the rogue vote against his membership and was told to comply of this banishment forthwith. Immediately thereafter, Reiss returned to the coffee hour space where he announced to the Churchgoers present before him:
“Dear Church Friends, I’ve been told just now of my banishment, which is against the bylaws of this Church — simply because of my Israel advocacy. I’ve been a loyal member here since I was 7 years old and do more volunteer work here than almost anyone else — yet I’m to be banished from your company for half a year without any due process.”
While he was addressing the church, the cabal of trustees whispered to Reiss that “we’ve called the police who’ll arrest you if you don’t leave.” An arrangement with the local police precinct was made earlier in the week by Church administration. This was apparently necessary, as the Church’s own security personnel would not be willing to comply. “Robert Reiss tells the truth…” they said, complaining that “Rev. Southworth acts like he is the king.”
Rather than a confrontation escalating, Reiss took his leave.
In recent years there was another issue that divided the congregation – the effort of a large portion of the Church to unseat the Minister, which failed during a humiliating voting session during which his detractors vented their dislike of him and his dictatorial leadership style. Over many years Southworth never censures or chastises anyone’s articulated anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements; yet he only sought to silence, harass or intimidate the articulation of pro-Israel sentiments.
Dr. Hoover cheered the recent Presbyterian vote to divest from companies doing business with Israel and hoped the Community Church would follow suit. Member Jerry Forman, of the Church’s Finance Committee stated aloud at an A.F.J. forum: “I don’t like the anti-Semitism at the Church,” thus acknowledging its presence.
Statements that troubled these Churchgoers have become common at Church meetings. They range from the typical fringe-left canard of “In Israel, they’re committing genocide,” to the outrages of “The Ashkenazi are responsible for genocide in the Middle East … What we need is a strong man … a Stalin or a Mao Zedong,” and “In Europe, the Jews got themselves in trouble for being the capitalist masterminds.”
At a Church monthly meeting on or about April 10th, It was announced: “That there will be a sign up sheet for Church members to be part of a year long study group around the Presbyterian’s booklet ‘Zionism Unsettled.’” Reiss looked askance at the announcement, which elicited his concern. “I defy you to find anything untrue in it,” yelled a leading “anti-racist” presence in the Church.
A Church meeting opened with affiliate minister and Church administrator Rev. Dr. Orlanda Brugnola turning to Reiss and saying: “I want to deal with ‘Right-relations’ – what are your views on Israel’s mistreatment of the Palistinians!?” Dumbfownded, Reiss responded, “What would that have to do with your concept of ‘Right-relations’ between us?” as he pointed out the minister’s double standards and implicit bias.
At a September meeting, hosted by Rev. Southworth, held in the Church chapel, convened to address the Syrian crisis, many Church members were saying “the Jews are behind the unrest in Syria and fomenting resistance.” Reiss, and not Rev. Southworth, corrected these big lies. (Afterwards many members privately thanked Reiss for defending the obvious.)
Once, Rev. Southworth lamented at his pulpit how he “felt for the anquish” over Israel, expressed by the then uptown Imam, founder of a so-called interfaith mosque. True to form, after this same Imam decamped for the Middle East, he now, overseas, blasted Jews “for starting the worldwide AIDS epidemic.” Here, now, the lachrymose Southworth became a self-caricature of the liberal minister who can’t see through the cobwebs of political correctness, a church member observed.
At a recent U.N. Sunday forum, Dr. Fay Lord opened the meeting with the gratuitous remarks regarding “overturning old paradigms” she chose as an example: “like Israel’s hope of conquest of the greater Middle East,” although this had nothing whatsoever to do with the guest speaker, who was the daughter of Pakistan’s admiral of the Navy.
Another time a recent chair of the Board of Trustees, Robert Bobrick, in his opening remarks at the quarterly congregational meeting, made a parallel with ongoing conflict within the Church to “the original error of the founding of Israel and the legacy of consequences.”
The above quotations are illustrative of the ubiquitous and commonly corrosive slurs that are fashionably current among these people.
Additionally, Board member Rachael Stone, who voted to boot out Reiss for his opposition to the presence of RCP front groups and Israel advocacy, helps facilitate at the Church the monthly held “People’s Voice Cafe,” which is a self-constituted “collective” promoting Communist-era Folk songs and newer compositions. A quarter century ago, historian and ex-radical Ronald Radosh says,
“Community Church in the 50′s and early 60′s banned political folk music. They had a folk sing and square dance every Sat night. All participants had to pledge not to sing any leftist songs.”
Now, contrariwise, to cite a recent example of what’s going on in the present moment, People’s Voice Cafe, during the Jewish holiday of Purim, held an anti-Israel themed event with guests Jewish Voices for Peace (sic), distorting the Purim story to their ideological ends in opposition to the state of Israel.
The Community Church of New York, today, following upon Minister Southworth’s fetishization of this politically correct “anti-racism” exemplifies the doleful reality of how political correctness can metastasize into, as it were, a petri dish of garden variety anti-Semitism. Perversly, the senior minister averts his eyes from these developments burgeoning before him, undermining his own Church’s formerly distinguished history of civic engagement of a high moral standard.
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