December 4, 2009

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Jesus was the ultimate community organizer

David SilerI find it very unfortunate that primarily due to some affiliates of the group known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—ACORN—the term “community organizing” has gotten a very bad name.

It seems that over the past couple of years since the discovery of embezzlement, voter registration fraud and partisanship by a small group within ACORN (obviously extremely serious violations), all other groups who do community organizing are lumped in with these indiscretions.

By definition, community organizing is simply bringing together a group around a common cause in order to accomplish more as a group than can be accomplished by an individual. The cause for which a group is organized can be for good or for evil. As Jesus directs us, we need to look to the fruits or results of any activity to discern its goodness or morality.

Jesus himself was perhaps the most effective and successful community organizer in history.

It was his ability to bring together a band of misfits more than 2,000 years ago around the cause of spreading the good news of God’s love, care and desire for fellowship with humankind that we have our Catholic faith today.

Jesus knew that he could not accomplish this goal without the help of others to share the task of spreading the faith so he organized a community. No individual, not even Jesus himself, could have had the impact as strong as a group.

Of course, we all know how the story goes: one of Jesus’ original 12 community organizers betrayed him and everything that Jesus taught.

Judas, out of his own greed, handed over our Lord to be crucified in exchange for a few gold coins. One bad member could have brought down the entire organization but, of course, we know that Jesus used even this situation to demonstrate his divinity. Where would our faith be today if the rest of the world lumped in the remaining 11 Apostles with the actions of Judas?

Whenever a group of human beings comes together for even the most noble of causes, greed, self-promotion, lust for power or a host of other evils can spring up within a single member or even a subset of the larger group. It is a shame when the actions of a single member or a few spoil the fruits of the entire organization.

Proper structures, accountability measures and proper oversight help prevent problems but, as long as human beings are involved, problems will occur. And like Jesus, how problems are dealt with is an expression of the integrity of the group.

All around us in our communities today, people are joining together to advance causes that are moral, just, upright and noble. Let us not judge their causes to be otherwise just because they use a term—community organizing—that has been damaged by a few “Judases.”

Our Catholic faith compels us to carry on the community organizing work of those original Apostles—today, we call that evangelization.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

Local site Links: