Democratic Socialists of America Religion and Socialism Commission

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Democratic Socialists of America Religion and Socialism Commission


Religious types continued to meet informally at conventions of the Socialist Party USA and Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. But it wasn't until 1977 when delegates to the DSOC convention in Chicago met and organized a Religion & Socialism Committee (later Commission) and decided to publish Religious Socialism.

Among early co-editors and contributors were Harvey Cox, Cornel West, Peter Steinfels, Jim Wallace, Sister Mary Emil Penet, Maxine Phillips, Rosemary Ruether, Arthur Waskow, Joe Holland, Jim Adams, and Gary Dorrien.

In one three-way exchange, Michael Harrington, Rosemary Ruether and "labor priest" Monsignor George Higgins "sparred over Mike's claim that "the political and social Judeo-Christian God of the West is dying"; Rosemary's claim that Mike did not appreciate the vitality of liberation Christianity in Poland and among the Sandinistas in Nicaragua; and Msgr. Higgins's claim that the Sandinistas were not all that great or that Brazilian bishops did not fit Rosemary's dismissal of the institutional church in Latin America. That same year Maxine Phillips, then organizational director of DSA, organized a successful Religion & Socialism conference in a Catholic retreat center."

Most of those listed above spoke there, plus Dorothee Soelle, the German poet/theologian. About 140 attended, including a sizable Jewish contingent attracted by Arthur Waskow.[1]

Founded in 1977 as the religious socialist caucus of Democratic Socialists of America's predecessor organization the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, the Religion and Socialism Commission is one of the oldest commissions in DSA. A decade ago, after many years in the civil rights and antiwar movement, future DSA activist Gordon A. Chapman was made aware of the Commission's potential when it hosted such lecturers as the German theologian Dorothy Soelle, Harvey Cox of Harvard, Arthur Waskow, who has taught at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, and the African-American theologian James Cone.

Dr. Cone has stressed that the U.S. left would go nowhere if it forgot that the civil rights movement was based in the churches of the South. Although Chapman is an humanist, he became aware, through movement activities, of the degree to which the human rights movements and other struggles for social change were strengthened and sometimes led by Jews and Christians.[2]

Liberation Theology

Many Americans became informed about liberation theology through the Religion and Socialism Commission's quarterly, Religious Socialism. In Washington D.C., Joe Holland, Ron Pagnucco, and Jim Wallace served as co-editors. Through their efforts, Chapman came to know the significance of such writers as DSA's Vice Chair, Rosemary Ruether of Garrett Theological Seminary.[3]

1989 team

For eleven years, Religious Socialism was edited by John Cort of Massachusetts, a Catholic activist and writer. In 1988 he relinquished the chief editorship to Commission Co-Chair Jack Spooner, a national board member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a lecturer on Karl Marx, and a social activist in Central America.

From June 2-4, 1989 the Commission met in Arlington, Virginia.

Elected new Co-Chairs were Judith Deutsch, a Unitarian Universalist pastor from Massachusetts, and Ralph Del Colle, a Catholic who ttaught theology in New Hampshire. The seven member Executive Committee included Connie Benson of New York, John Cort, Andrew Hammer of Virginia, Curt Sanders of Pennsylvania, and Jack Spooner.

Among the topics discussed was the Commission's membership in the International League of Religious Socialists. According to John Cort, except for DSA, the League's affiliates "are all Christian organizations, predominantly Protestant, mostly from northern Europe." In contrast, DSA's R&S Commission includes Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and humanists.

The lead article in the summer 1989 issue of Religious Socialism was "Buddhist Socialism" by Robert Aiken, a Commission member living in Hawaii. Recent issues have carried poetry (e.g., Andrew Hammer's lyrics for "People Wil Say"); usefully provocative writing by Brian D' Agostino, Paul Buhle, and many of those mentioned previously; and articles on Islamic fundamentalism, the First Amendment, and the Christian-Marxist dialogue.[4]

International League of Religious Socialists

The fifty representatives from fourteen countries who met August 1-4 1997, in Espoo, Finland, at the International League of Religious Socialists Congress were keenly interested when Dr. Harry Heino, former Prime Minister of Finland, described the work of the Interaction Council of former state and government heads under the chairmanship of Helmut Schmidt.

Judith Deutsch (a DSA member from Sudbury, MA) was the official delegate from the United States, which Andrew Hammer, Rod Ryon and Joan Stanne also represented. All were Democratic Socialists of America.

For the first were Muslims included. They came from Algeria, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Sweden. Only Christians, and Judy Deutsch, a Jewish Unitarian Universalist, had attended previous ILRS conferences.

Paavo Lipponen, then Prime Minister of Finland, gave an informative address on the future of the Nordic state, and Ahmed Al-Rawl, President of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe disturbed some participants when it stressed the value of traditional families, in contrast to other life styles.[5]

This point highlighted the work that must be done to develop solidarity among people with differing approaches.

1993 leaders

1995 leaders

1999 editorial team

In 1999 there was a new editorial team at Religious Socialism consisting of four co-editors: Maxine Phillips, Andrew Hammer, Rev. Norm Faramelli, and John Cort, assisted by Harvey Cox, Cornel West (Charles West, the Princeton theologian, was also a contributor), Jack Clark, Rev. Judith Deutsch, David O'Brien, and Michael Eric Dyson and Rev. Marcia Dyson. "Grateful mention should also be made of Jack Spooner and Curt Sanders, who kept Religious Socialism alive from 1988 to 1998, with help the last few years from David Seymour and Lew Daly."[8]


  1. Dem. Left Millennium issue, part 2, 1999, page 36.
  2. Washington Socialist, September 1989, page 5
  3. Washington Socialist, September 1989, page 5
  4. Washington Socialist, September 1989, page 5
  5. Dem. Left, issue #7 and 8, 1997, page 19
  6. Dem. Left, July/August 1993, page 14
  7. Dem. Left, Sept./Oct 1995, page 38
  8. Dem. Left Millennium issue, part 2, 1999, page 36.