The ACLC Social Action Program: Social Action or Social Inertia?

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 8, 2007 - Pages 71-78

This position paper on the social action program of the American Clergy Leadership Conference (ACLC) has a threefold purpose. First, as a member of numerous clergy organizations I need to assure myself that the time that I devote the ACLC is, in fact, time well spent. Second, as someone who essentially lives in two religious worlds, I need to understand as much as possible about the true purpose of ACLC. My third purpose relates to a project which I previously developed and advocated for express use by ACLC of New York City.

My mindset as I approach this paper is as both a supporter and a skeptic. This diametric enables me to be objective and candid in my assessment of to what extent there exists within the organization credible social action programs.


Assessing the Problem

The American Clergy Leadership Conference has three basic foundational pillars. They are:

1. to promote the study of the Divine Principle,

2. to promote True Family Values, and

3. to promote social action.

While the first two pillars are ostensibly being realized, it is third pillar: social action, which I maintain has the ACLC in a state of inertia.

Most ACLC sponsored events—national or regional conferences and breakfasts—are geared toward providing exposure to the Divine Principle and re-enacting the Blessing Ceremony. There is also a short documentary presentation on the work of Rev. Moon as the founder of ACLC. These events give considerable structure and consistency to the first two of the aforementioned pillars. However, there is no legitimate social action program currently being administrated by the ACLC.

The obvious dearth of programming prompted me to question other conference members. I continued to examine the ACLC local agenda in New York City prior to speaking with several of the more notable and knowledgeable leaders, locally as well as nationally. Based on my interviews, I have outlined four reasons for this situation:

Reason One:
There is no commonly held concept of what constitutes social action in the ACLC.

I spoke with four prominent ACLC figures, including the national executive director, a member of the national board, a regional leader and a New York City leader. These powerful and committed men were unable to effectively articulate, individually or collectively, a coherent explanation of what exactly is social action from the perspective of ACLC.

Their responses covered the entire spectrum. One stated that social action “was a combination of promotion of True Family Values and social action.” Another said that he believed the concept was “still under discussion and would soon come forth.” A third spoke in terms of the need to connect with others and the last one spoke loosely of the need for “education and economic programming.” As limited as these responses may appear, they represent the extent of the analysis of the leaders I questioned. It would seem obvious that the level of attention shown the first two pillars is not evident with respect to social action. The term “social action” appears to be more rhetorical than real; its use prompted more by political correctness than reality.

It is problematic that this organization, which is designed to operate essentially in this country’s inner cities, has failed to formulate either a concept of social action or the corresponding programming that would complement the concept.

Reason Two:
The ACLC is primarily focused on symbolic victories wrought by theological readings and promotional activities.

I believe that because of the nature of Unification thought, many of the members may be somewhat misguided as regards social action. The almost exclusive focus upon the “Reading of the Divine Principle” and the “Promotion” of True Family Values creates a quasi-theological box which becomes somewhat insular. The result of this insular position is that most of the existing resources are utilized for organizational (ACLC) self promotion. Monthly breakfasts and conferences pretty much commence and conclude in the same fashion.

Hence, the structure is not designed to facilitate the dissemination and/ or discussion of any new, socially relevant issues and possible ACLC positions with respect to viable solutions that could be presented on the national or international stage.

Reason Three:
The current culture fails to stress accountability.

Given the transient nature of ACLC and the Unification Movement in general, priorities can change literally overnight. In such an institutional culture it is imperative that a mode of operation be in place that can function irrespective of the continual fluctuation of organizational priorities. However, where social action is concerned, there is a conspicuous absence of a chain of command emanating from the national office, down through regional and local levels. Projects are usually not clearly earmarked as official ACLC projects, and only the person directly involved has any semblance of information. Consequently, if the responsible individual loses interest or focus, the project can terminate, de facto, with little or no questions ever asked.

There is ad hoc quality to the social action pillar. Thus, in a conversation with one ACLC official about current projects, I was shown an activity that he operates in conjunction with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. However, the only ACLC member who has any direct involvement in the project is that official himself. Furthermore, he had developed the project independently and only later annexed it to the ACLC.

Another leader spoke about his project: conducting an “Economic Assistance Workshop.” These are worthy activities, yet neither originated from the ACLC as an organization. As a result, there is ad hoc quality to the social action pillar; it lacks any continuity whatsoever. This is an enemy to developing any form of accountability and process.

Reason Four:
There is a lack of quality control; a failure to stay the course

Approximately two years ago I attended a breakfast conference at the Harlem State Office Building. It was designed to re-establish the National Council for Church and Social Action (NCCSA) as a functioning partner with ACLC. The conference was, as expected, wonderful. We sang songs and listened to speeches. It was agreed that a former leader of the NCCSA would spearhead the movement. I was excited and volunteered my services and I also had some ideas to contribute. However, over the past two years nothing has been accomplished. While this leader is a brilliant and capable man, he is reportedly involved with so many different personal projects that he has hardly any time left to devote for NCCSA. I cite the example of NCCSA because it shows that there is no mechanism in place to insure that projects, once established, continue on to completion.



In order to address the deficiencies in the ACLC social action component, there are several issues which must be seriously addressed by the leadership.

Recommendation One:
ACLC needs to think and operate under a new paradigm: concrete projects instead of symbolic events.

A paradigm shift is needed with respect to social action programming. While the first two pillars of ACLC can exist in the symbolic and theoretical realm, it is imperative that the social action pillar operate from a concrete foundation.

The ACLC program is viewed by many outsiders as exclusively symbolic and theoretical. They see no practical action; only the hosting of special events and carefully crafted photo-op situations. There must be a fundamental shift in this thinking in order for corresponding action to begin to manifest. Until the ACLC evolves out of the symbolic mindset there will be no true commitment to social action.

The only way to effectively establish the social action pillar of ACLC is through mission mobilization.

Recommendation Two:
ACLC should utilize its special events to specifically focus upon development and implementation of its social action programs

There are a host of ACLC events which could be utilized to move the social action agenda forward. However, in these events there is generally no time specifically and consistently designed for social action discussion and planning. This indicates the level of priority assigned to this particular “pillar.” To systematically incorporate a dedicated slot at each scheduled event (conferences and monthly breakfasts) would engender a new level of dynamism into the organization.

I also believe that it would strengthen recruitment efforts. Extended involvement in ACLC currently can become rather perfunctory. Its several recurring themes are not developed adequately to effectively address many contemporary issues. The forum exists, but it must be exploited strategically.

Recommendation Three:
ACLC must utilize available resources and assign individuals with the both the capacity and time to do social action ministry.

While the organization is primarily minister-driven, it is important to appre­ciate that ministers have their limits. It is necessary to recruit, develop, and assign the appropriate individuals to move the social action agenda along.

The Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) could become the center­piece for social action programming. As an independent and duly accredited educational institution, UTS can be supportive while remaining viable and consistent during the seasons of change within ACLC. This would allow for the development and expansion of high-level social action programming, which could then be replicated nationally and could even have the potential for federal funding within the category of faith-based initiatives.

Recommendation Four:
ACLC must develop rational plans of action which have the potential for replication.

In this regard, I highlight excerpts of a program which I developed and have presented to the ACLC for consideration, yet which has not yet received any semblance of support. This plan would allow for the utilization of various forms of Unification-based programming (IEP character education, Tong Il Moo Do, etc.) via ACLC member churches, community centers and schools. It would allow for an expanded base of influence without the typical resistance. (See Appendix)

It is a type of social action program that addresses, clearly and directly, a need in the inner city which no organization has the capacity to dealt with alone. It has all the requisites needed to eventually secure governmental and foundation support. However, notwithstanding the benefit to both the community and the organization, the leadership does not appear to be interested. This is a graphic example of how the mindset must evolve before projects are empowered to move from a state of inertia to one of action.

Appendix: A Sample Social Action Program for ACLC

The 120th Street Life Development Institute
for the Realization of Ethical Excellence

A partnership of the First Church of the Illumination, 141 West 120th Street, and the Harlem Family Church, 147 West 120th Street

Why are life development institutes needed?

The inner city is experiencing exponential growth. Developments are being constructed on every corner. However, while such construction is taking place, the supportive elements which create stable neighborhoods and communities have been forgotten.

Adults, individually and organizationally, have shortchanged young people. There is a dearth of quality environments for young people to attend. Many places which exist are either ineffective or unresponsive to true community needs. Young people are capable of more, not less. They need environments which nurture, inspire and prepare them to take their eventual place as leaders of the community.

What is a life development institute?

A Life Development Institute is a collaborative cluster of churches and or schools/centers, operating in concert to deliver Youth and Community Development Programming. It is designed to service, principally, community residents within walking distance. (A cluster should ideally consist of no less than three and no more than four member organizations.)

How does a life development institute operate?

A Life Development Institute operates through the coordination of space and shared resources by each cluster affiliate

What is the mission of a life development institute?

The mission of a Life Development Institute is to help in the development of healthy communities through the creation a strong moral environment, in which young people can be empowered through the utilization of ethically driven programming. This programming is designed to enhance young people’s lives by assisting them in the formulation of positive character development.

LDI programming consists of three dimensions:

1. A martial arts dimension designed to introduce respect for mind and body, discipline and physical fitness;

2. A homework assistance / study skills development dimension designed empower young people with the strategies needed to enhance academic performance;

3. A leadership training dimension designed to teach problem solving, long range planning and entrepreneurship, centering on principles of ethics and character development.

Who can attend a life development institute?

The 120th Street LDI is open to children between the ages of 6-12

What are the hours of operation?

The Institute’s hours of operation are 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm, Monday through Thursday. There will be several special events scheduled on Friday.

What is the charge for institute services?

There is no charge for services; however, there is a $25.00 per trimester Registration Fee.