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J.B. Matthews, McCarthyism, and the Religious Left

Published by on September 28, 2010

J.B. Matthews, McCarthyism, and the Religious Left thumbnail

by Dr. Norman Berdichevsky, Canada Free Press

WHILE THE TERM “Religious Right” is one of the most frequently used terms in the political lexicon, notably since the rise of what is usually referred to as the Evangelical Churches, the Political Left is alive and well and a strong crutch for the Democratic Party… During the first term of the Eisenhower administration, the role of American churches in politics became a major issue and helped precipitate the campaign to defame and censure Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

Joseph Brown Matthews (pictured) was an important witness for McCarthy, testifying before Congressional committees and had the advantage of personal experience as an organizer for communist front organizations before World War II. He took pains to explain that naïve and busy people of good will — including many clergymen — were often duped into signing petitions and lending their names to what appeared as ostensibly good causes,  unaware that the leading personalities in these organizations were fronting for the Communist Party.

In June 1953, Matthews was appointed as McCarthy’s research director and in July published an article called Reds in our Churches in the [then] conservative American Mercury magazine. In it, Matthews referred to the Protestant clergy as “The largest single group supporting the Communist apparatus in the United States.” The result was a public outrage at Matthews as well as “his boss,” Senator McCarthy. Time Magazine led the charge against Matthews and what it called “this astounding and inherently uncheckable statement.”

Reds in Our Churches

His authorship of the controversial article “Reds in Our Churches “exposed sophisticated communist manipulation to promote religious dissension in the United States. McCarthy’s critics seized the opportunity to label his efforts as a “Crusade against all Protestant ministers,” a view that Matthew certainly had not intended.  In his Mercury article, he specifically pointed out that the great majority of all clergy in America were loyal but that a highly visible minority operating under the guise of “social justice” lent the support of the Religious Left to a variety of “liberal” causes. Exaggerated and inaccurate commentaries about his intentions were used to get many U.S. congressmen to lend support to censure of McCarthy as an extremist.

J. B. Matthews was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1894 and attended Asbury College. He became a Methodist missionary in Java after which he returned to the United States and studied in several different seminaries. He then joined the faculty of Scarritt, a Methodist training college in Nashville, Tennessee where he became the center of a “scandal” due to the fact that he had held an interracial party at his home where Whites and Negroes had danced together. He was a brilliant linguist, but as a missionary, his sympathy for Indonesian nationalists made him unpopular with the Dutch administration in the islands and the executives of his own mission. In spite of this background, which would certainly be labeled as “liberal” today, Matthews was pilloried in the press as “a McCarthyite” following his article in the Mercury.

After his tour of missionary work, Matthews settled in New York City where he became an “avowed Socialist” and the executive secretary of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. He wrote that “The policy of a united front with Communism was the way to end the war,” and, due to the popularity of these views with the Roosevelt administration, he was chosen as the first head of the American League Against War and Fascism.

He later would label this organization and his own participation in it as “probably the most successful ‘front’ ever organized by the American Communists.” He wrote a book, Partners in Plunder, in which he attacked several of the mainline Protestant Churches — notably the Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations — as being in the pocket of millionaires J. Pierpont Morgan and Andrew Mellon respectively.

Matthews was regarded by many in the clergy at the end of World War II as the Communists’ No. 1 fellow traveler. A major change in his political outlook occurred soon afterward as a result of an industrial dispute and strike at Consumer’s Research, an organization where he had become a Director and Vice-President.  Employees of the firm went on strike, defying Matthews who had called upon them to reach a settlement. He became embittered, and convinced that the workers’ demands had been fomented by the Communist Party.  For Matthews, the workers’ grievances were a front and morally “they were mutineers.” He also was particularly aggrieved at what he regarded as the automatic “liberal” reactions of some of the same mainline churches he had previously attacked for being subservient to the very wealthy.  Matthews regarded himself as the victim of a Communist plot and went on to become the chief investigator for Martin Dies’ new House Committee on Un-American Activities.

If one wants to understand the censure motion against McCarthy in the Senate, much of it has to do with a backlash of influential politicians, predominantly belonging to the mainline Protestant churches, who were stung by what they perceived to be a wholly irresponsible and demagogic charge that these churches harbored potential traitors. White House operatives close to Eisenhower jumped on an opportunity to eliminate McCarthy for his embarrassing revelations about upper class appointees inherited from the previous Democratic administrations with dubious links to the USSR and the Communist Party that Eisenhower had seen fit to retain.

McCarthy, falsely accused by the Left of anti-Semitism

McCarthy, falsely accused by the Left of anti-Semitism, had taken the lead in demanding to know why the Voice of America had cancelled its Hebrew language broadcasts at precisely the time when anti-Semitism was at the top of Stalin’s agenda and the “doctor’s plot” in the USSR and Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia had pointed the finger at “subversive Jews” within the Communist bloc who had been charged with links to American imperialism….

It is necessary to take a brief detour into the increasingly leftward tilt of the Religious Left among mainline Protestant denominations (The Death of Protestant America by Joseph Botturn in FIRST THINGS, August/September, 2008), and the career of Senator Joe McCarthy to really understand the irrational behavior of so many American Jews, as part of the Religious Left, who court their enemies and spurn their friends and has passed on from one generation to the next since 1932.

Contrary to almost universal opinion among the so called “enlightened” supporters of the American Jewish Left, Senator McCarthy evinced no anti-Semitism whatsoever throughout his career. Their vilification of him is a classic example of “guilt by association,” the same charge ‘liberals’ continually hurl at detractors of Obama. Among Irish-American Catholics who were profoundly anti-Communist and therefore supporters of McCarthy and his role in the Army hearings, there were undoubtedly some anti-Semites incensed at what seemed to them as the preponderant presence of many Jews among Democrats and those who espoused a militant anti-anti-Communism. The American Jewish liberal establishment fell prey to this guilt by association and in 1954 the Conference of American Jewish Rabbis condemned McCarthy and “unanimously” called for him to be stripped of his committee chairmanship.

McCarthy’s close associates and advisers were Jewish – Roy Cohn, G. David Schine, Alfred Kohlberg and columnist George Sokolsky. McCarthy’s investigation aimed toward exposing communists and their sympathizers did not single out Jews. No anti-Semitic statement or act has ever been alleged to have been committed by Senator McCarthy. Much of the anti-McCarthy sentiment that resulted in his being censured by the Senate and President Eisenhower had to do with his revelation that among the most prominent subversives his research correctly uncovered, were a high percentage of major figures who were appointees of the Roosevelt and Truman administration and were arch-WASPS — with Ivy League educations and representing some of the most elite families at the top end of American society, including several notable Protestant clergy of the mainline churches.

McCarthy’s attack on Left-wing activists

Jews were not involved at all in this controversy but many had been upset at the sight of Jewish writers, film producers and directors who had also appeared before the House un-American Activities Committee and easily believed that McCarthy’s anti-Communism had run amuck and defamed American Jews as a group as well as the Protestant clergy. It is simply impossible for many liberal Jews today to accept that there was more than a grain of truth in McCarthy’s attack on Left-wing activists (in the same vein as the charges against Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger today) who hid behind their clerical collars, nor can many of these same Jews believe that there was considerable prejudice against McCarthy by refined, wealthy and polished Ivy League types in Congress and the White House — for his Catholicism, Irish-Midwestern background, frequent grandstanding, boorish behavior, and hard drinking….

The aftermath of the Matthews incident still casts a long shadow over American politics. The Religious Left today, as then, is so determined to support what it perceives as the pursuit of “social justice” that it has often lent support to those whom it automatically regards as the “oppressed and downtrodden” – whether illegal immigrants who defy the law and even pro-Jihadi Muslims anxious to win additional privileges and special considerations under the guise of tolerance.

Read the full article at Canada Free Press

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  1. on January 12th, 2011 6:00 pm

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  2. Ernie Lazar on January 4th, 2015 7:30 pm

    Contrary to what this article claims, J.B. Matthews was NOT circumspect with respect to his assertions about Communist infiltration of our clergy and religious institutions.

    Significantly, FBI memos which mention J.B. Matthews usually refer to him in very derogatory terms.

    In the July 1953 article by Matthews entitled “Reds In Our Churches” Matthews contended that there had been substantial communist infiltration of our clergy and religious institutions and Matthews’ assertions were used years later by his friend, Robert Welch (founder of John Birch Society) and other political extremists to overstate the problem.

    The FBI’s evaluation of the Matthews article was as follows:

    “In arrangement, handling of names, selection of facts, and in its implications, the article is not at all fair to the Protestant clergy of this country” and the FBI characterized Matthew’s charges as “more in the nature of sensational journalism than serious reporting of the facts.” [FBI HQ file 100-5821, serial #22, 7/29/53].

    Another controversy in which Matthews played a significant role concerned President Truman’s 1950 nomination of Anna Rosenberg to be Assistant Secretary of Defense. Matthews allied himself with right wing extremists who claimed that there was compelling evidence that Ms. Rosenberg had been a Communist sympathizer and member of the Party. Matthews signed an affidavit stating that FBI files contained evidence to prove that Rosenberg was “the least desirable person in the entire U.S.” for the Defense Department position because of her suspect loyalty.

    By letter dated 11/27/50 Matthews told C. Russell Turner (Assistant to Fulton Lewis Jr.) that documentation compiled by Matthews “established beyond any possibility of dispute that there had been only one Anna Rosenberg sufficiently well known in public life” to be accused of being a Communist. Matthews stated that “there is not the slightest doubt” that the Anna Rosenberg then under consideration for Assistant Secretary of Defense was the same as the one affiliated with Communist organizations shown in his documents. [“Only one” underlined in original letter.]

    Subsequently, the FBI and the Senate Armed Services Committee determined that the Rosenberg identified by Matthews was NOT the Anna Rosenberg thought to be associated with Communist groups. After extensive investigation, the FBI concluded:

    “A special inquiry was initiated by the FBI concerning Anna M. Rosenberg in December 1950 after she was named Assistant Secretary of Defense. This inquiry was based on allegations received by the Senate Armed Services Committee to the effect that Mrs. Rosenberg had been a member of the John Reed Club and the Communist Party in New York City in 1934. Our investigation disproved the allegations and identified another individual having the same name as having been a member of the above organizations at that time.” [FBI HQ file 77-27729, #18; 12/27/63 HQ summary memo on Rosenberg.]

    In subsequent years, Matthews became an Associate Editor for the Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion. He also served on its Editorial Advisory Committee. The FBI concluded that the JBS was “extremist”, “irrational”, and “irresponsible” because of false and inflammatory assertions made by its founder and leader, Robert Welch, concerning Communist influence in, or infiltration of, American institutions. Significantly, Welch credited J.B.Matthews as being one of his primary sources of information

  3. Elliot D'Arcy on January 8th, 2015 11:12 am

    Mr Lazar:

    It hardly matters what the FBI says about Matthews or anyone else. This is the same FBI that routinely plants evidence, frames the innocent, lies with impunity, suborns perjury on a massive scale, fakes news items and plants them in the media, solicits the gullible to commit crimes which the FBI plans and for which the FBI provides all the material and logistical support, and much more.

    The fact that the FBI smeared Matthews is a point which is to his credit, in my view.

    Whether there was more than one Communist Anna Rosenberg is just a red herring, if you will pardon the unintentional pun. Considering the ethnic makeup of US Communist cadres at the time, and the commonness of both the names “Anna” and “Rosenberg” in that particular group, having a spare “Anna Rosenberg” or two around is hardly surprising. The actual Anna Rosenberg did exactly what she would have done (for example, pushing the racial “integration” of the armed forces) had she been an agent of our nation’s enemies, so I consider Matthews’ charges to be vindicated — though they didn’t go nearly far enough.

    As far as the major Christian denominations go, I am a direct witness to the introduction of crypto-Communist “social gospel” memes starting in the 1950s, in almost exact parallel to the agenda of those who controlled the Communist/Left party line. So Matthews was right about that too.

    Where Matthews — and others on the Right — failed was in not seeing that the American establishment, including the armed forces, the executive, much of the Congress, and the FBI were already in the hands of the enemy by 1945. And they failed in seeing that the enemy was not Communism per se, but the ethnically-based money-mafia which created both Communism and finance capitalism.

    Awakened folks — of all ethnic groups — of both the Left and Right are now coming to an understanding of these things. A synthesis is taking place. Think of Alex Jones’ passion for liberty coupled with Revilo Oliver’s brain and racial loyalty, and Jack London’s solidarity with the honest workers of his Folk.

    I hope you are awakening, too, Mr Lazar. Imperfect as it was, the Old Right was correct about many things.

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