St. Antoninus Institute
Evangelization is a radical endeavor. Two good efforts have been proposed by the Catholic bishops for evangelization in modern-day America. These efforts are good doctrinally. However, it would also be most helpful to gain some tactical and practical insights in the evangelization efforts of the unholy and ungodly, e.g. the gays and the radical ecologists. We will study an article which appeared in a management journal as it is of great help in this regard.


Fr. Alvin Illig, CSP, was first Executive Director of the NCCB committee on Evangelization. In recognition of his leading role in evangelization in America, the Bishops Committee on Evangelization dedicated its 1992 report to him.

Fr. Illig also founded a Committee of Catholic Professionals and Businessmen which folded three months after launching, due to the extreme difficulty encountered by Father to get American Catholic professionals and businesspeople interested in standing up for their faith. We talked to father and he shared with us precious insights from this experience.

At the November 1992 Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, another pastoral letter was proposed for the body to vote on: "Stewardship a Disciples Response. In many ways this document is complementary of the Evangelization plan. The letter on Stewardship states: "Although religious faith is a strong force in the lives of many Americans, our country's dominant secular culture often contradicts the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition... There is a strong tendency to privatize faith, to push it to the margin of society, confining it to people's hearts of, at best, their homes, while excluding it from the marketplace of ideas where social policy is formed and men and women acquire their view of life and its meaning."

Evangelization is a radical endeavor. It involves the whole Christian, it involves the whole Christian community. It is directed to all our neighbors. It is directed to all social and human occupations. It intends to permeate the whole culture.

Naturally the success of evangelization depends very much on the faith of evangelizers. Evangelizers need also a plan and the Bishops offer a plan. But we must realize that there are also counter plans developed by the ungodly. While members of the Church must work with their positive plan; they must also deal with the organized opposition which is itself supported by the Kingdom of Darkness. Acquiring Organizational Legitimacy Through Illegitimate Actions: A Marriage of Institutional and Impression Management Theories, by Kimberly D. Elsbach and Robert I. Sutton, Academy of Management Journal, 1992, Vol. 35 offers a pretty good glimpse at what the Radical Unholy are up to. The article offers a process model of how controversial and unlawful actions of members of 2 organizations can lead to endorsement and support from key constituencies. These organizations are the homosexual AIDS Coalition to unleash power (ACT-UP) and another violent radical group, the ecologist group "Earth First!".

The Core Methocological Issue:

The model developed by the authors is based on interviews, observations and archival data about eight widely publicized actions attributed to members of Earth First! and ACT UP. The researchers found that such illegitimate activities create legitimacy dilemmas for these organizations: "On one hand, culturally illegitimate activities can provoke negative comments and attacks that drive away members and jeopardize outside support. On the other hand, the resulting publicity can bolster an organization’s reputation within the very narrow segment of society that endorses such controversial action. Furthermore, such publicity, if managed correctly, can indirectly lead the organization to acquire legitimacy from those relatively broad segments of society that supports its culturally acceptable goals."

On the one hand therefore, illegitimate radical actions can drive away members. On the other hand, the same illegitimate actions can help the organization gain members by producing publicity which will draw attention to the other, more widely respected, activities of these organizations. The authors found that the two organizations studied were very good masters of this balancing act.

The Illegitimate Events

This is the list of "events" the researchers studied:

"ACT UP—Disruption of filming of an episode of the "Midnight Caller" TV show that depicted a bisexual man with AIDS who was deliberately infecting women. 10/20/88.—Golden Gate Bridge shutdown by AIDS activists that was largely attributed to ACT UP. 1/31/89.—Disruption of a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City; some activists were accused of desecrating sacred hosts. 12/10/89.—Shouting down of the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Louis Sullivan, at the Sixth International Conference on AIDS in San Francisco. 6/24/90."

"Earth First!—A tree-spiking (metal wedges hammered into tree as to be invisible), commonly attributed to Earth First!; a lumber worker's saw blade hit the spike, which seriously injured him. 5/8/87.—National Day of Protest against the U.S. Forest Service; including monkey-wrenching, office takeovers, and demonstrations. 4/21/88.—Arrest of four Earth First! members, caught in all alleged rehearsal run for the sabotage of a nuclear facility in Arizona. 5/30/89.—Arrest of Earth First! members for blocking road and tree-sitting during Redwood Summer protests in northern California. 6/90-9/90.

The Process Model

"First Step: Illegitimate action by an organization's members that attracts attention to the organization.

"Step 2: Institutional Conformity and Decoupling. "Institutional Conformity involves displaying visible organizational structures and practices which are of the same type as those of legitimate organizations. This conformity implies that the organization and its spokespersons are credible, rational and legitimate. Thus on December 10, 1989, ACT UP spokespersons from the New York chapter claimed that the St. Patrick Cathedral protest was designed to be non violent and peaceful and that the event was well publicized in advance to warn churchgoers.

"Decoupling involves separating legitimate organizational structures and practices from members’ illegitimate actions. Decoupling also protects, AND MAY ENHANCE [our emphasis], organizational legitimacy by allowing spokespersons to distance the organization and its legitimate goals from the illegitimate actions of members of subgroups. On December 11, 1989, spokesperson for San Francisco ACT UP chapters announced that the St. Patrick Cathedral protest was an independent action by the New York chapter and had been carried without their approval.

"Step 3: Institutional conformity and decoupling set the stage for impression management used in the third step.

Institutional conformity and decoupling increase the overall credibility of spokespersons' interpretation and pave the way for two specific impression management tactics: Defense of Innocence and Justifications. "Defenses of Innocence are claims that one is not responsible for an event or that the event did not occur.

"Justifications are claims that an event was not "bad, wrong, inappropriate of unwelcome" because of the positive outcomes it led to and the extreme circumstances it was performed under. Institutional conformity makes more plausible justifications that shift attention away from the socially undesirable actions of a few members and towards the socially desirable goals of all members. Thus on December 17, 1989, gay and lesbian community spokespersons claimed that the St. Patrick's Cathedral Action was necessary because peaceful negotiations with church officials had not produced satisfactory changes in their policy toward safe sex and AIDS.

"Step 4: Defenses of Innocence and Justifications set the stage for the fourth step: "enhancements" and "entitlings".

"Enhancements are attempts to improve the perceived merit of an event. Spokespersons typically emphasize the progress made toward socially desirable goals as a result of illegitimate actions.

"Entitlings are attempts to gain credit for a desirable event. Spokespersons may assert that the organization deserves credit for the action because of the socially desirable goals that it achieved. On December 25, 1989, a journalist knowledgeable about AIDS claimed that ACT UP had made profound changes in drug policies, and an ACT UP spokesperson took credit for these changes, claiming that his organization would continue to "take charge" of the situation.

"Fifth Step: Acquiring Organizational legitimacy. It results from the influence of both design features and impression management tactics. Design features allow and organization to attain credibility as rational and gain distance from members’ illegitimate actions. Defenses of Innocence and justifications extend this distance and shift attention away from illegitimate means and towards legitimate ends. Enhancements and entitlings draw further attention to these legitimate ends and lead to endorsement and support from the fairly broad segments of society that may support the organization’s goals. Thus three weeks after the St. Patrick Cathedral action, a January 3, 1990, New York Times article called ACT UP "effective" in changing drug policies and reported endorsements from the New York City health commissioner and the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease."

Immediate Conclusions

We remark that, in the course of this very elaborate paper, several other organizations have been mentioned. However, the actions of the pro-life group Operation Rescue were never mentioned. Operation Rescue claims that its actions are legitimate, however, technically speaking, most have been illegitimate: organizing demonstrations without a police permit or breaking a police line for sit-ins so that they can block an abortuary's entrance. Did the authors prefer to distance themselves from the pro-life issue or is it that Operation Rescue’s actions are not following the researcher's model? Perhaps the Operation Rescue leadership may gain in looking at this research.

Another point. Catholics and supporters of "Traditional Values" may be impatient with the whole exercise. Their attitude may well be: "this is nice and fine but organizations like ACT UP and Earth First! are almost guaranteed to have the attention of the media because, to a large extent, the liberal media share their values and agenda." This is an excellent point. However, it is also true that there are many other gay and lesbian organizations, as well as environmentalist organizations which have not gained the support of the media; whatever they were doing was not worthy of extensive media coverage.

Third point: out of 5 steps, 5 examples (one for each step of the model) and 8 actions, the action of gays at St. Patrick Cathedral has been referred to 4 times. It is an irrefutable proof that the identity of these actions, even in the minds of secular researchers, is largely based on their opposition to values promoted by the Catholic Church. These radical groups are conducting counter-evangelization efforts and their groups can therefore be identified essentially for their opposition to the Church, hence the qualifiers we use, unholy and ungodly, for the purpose of making clear the objectives of evangelization.

Adapting the Model for Evangelization

We are not recommending illegitimate action on the part of evangelizers. Indeed, let us first examine the purpose of illegitimate action in this model. There is are strong indications that "illegitimate actions" are there not to oppose the legal system as to reach the consciousness of people.

Illegitimate actions' major purpose is its shock value. In view of this conclusion, we propose that a Christian and charitable version of the illegitimate actions in the model should be replaced by actions which are directed against the quasi sacred American principle of "pluralism".

Illegitimate actions are breaking laws, that is rules of conduct institutionalized by means of the judicial system. Pluralism is a rule of conduct which pervades the social culture. To go against pluralism is, for many Americans, considered breaking an unspeakable taboo, worse than sexual taboo and social taboos, an ultimate perversion.

According to pluralism, each person can believe what he wants but cannot "impose" this belief on the rest of the population who has a right to believe something else. Isn't interesting that this principle of "pluralism" is exactly what is to be faulted in the Bishops pastoral letter on Stewardship, "there is a strong tendency to privatize faith, to push it to the margin of society, confining it to people's hearts of, at best, their homes, while excluding it from the marketplace of ideas where social policy is formed and men and women acquire their view of life and its meaning." Breaking the American taboo regarding "pluralism" is not only a good tactical ploy to advance evangelization efforts; it is also performing evangelization work per se.

Furthermore, are not illegitimate actions of groups like ACT UP also breaking the taboo against pluralism? The media would not mention the taboo-breaking aspect of the actions because, to a large extent, they share the values of these fringe organizations and they share the "legitimate objectives" of these organizations, e.g. protection of homosexual lifestyles, an appreciation of nature from a purely materialistic and secular viewpoint, i.e. animist and pagan.

The other technical element that the "illegitimate actions" possess are that they are all very spectacular. They offer the opportunity of vivid, strange and unusual public scenes, a boon for still and TV cameras.

Religious processions for saints feast days and Easter week celebrations down the street of winding Europeans towns and villages had always been extremely spectacular and a great tool of evangelization as well as expression of the dominant culture. They were not illegitimate; they did not break any moral or cultural taboo. However, any display of symbolism of the spiritual life and of religious values will always contain a shock element, and even did so at the heyday of Christendom. Indeed, the cross will always be a sign of contradiction for people who live with their fallen nature and in very imperfect societies.

The re-institution of frequent religious processions in each diocese, lead by bishops, is therefore a must. Processions are demonstrably among the most effective efforts of evangelization. Processions need not break any laws. However, they must break the taboo of "pluralism" by being public (they should boldly invade main arteries and not be confined to the close neighborhood of churches) and spectacular, even entertaining. They must incorporate symbols which clearly clash with the secular symbolism of modern culture. However, new tool may need be devised to promote the whole gamut of religious symbolism adapted to modern concerns It is not because evangelization promotes age-old traditional values received from Jesus Christ and His Church that we need to restrict ourselves to tools and implements unchanged from the Middle-Ages.

Isn't interesting that the Saint Patrick procession in New York and many other cities have been institutionalized by being de-sacralized? Today's judges rule that anyone, in particular Irish homosexuals, can participate in the Saint Patrick's parade because this particular procession is pluralistic. Processions in honor of Christ the King and of the Immaculate Conception might be a little more difficult to secularize and render pluralistic.

Other Actions of Evangelization

Processions constitute a communal effort for the general Church community to go public with one's faith. It certainly is necessary for the Church to stop relying on in-house programs, the distribution of pamphlets to the converted and similar business-as-usual programs.

But efforts of evangelization can also be conducted by subgroups within the Church, e.g. Christian housewives who can devise public, bold, vivid, spectacular, and uncommon actions to make their points (the Christian equivalent of the 196O’s burning of bras by feminists).

Efforts of evangelization can also be conducted with the purpose of addressing a specific barrier to evangelization. In particular, any public, bold, vivid, uncommon action which puts a glaring light on the secular and bias media would be most effective. Some groups could specialize in covering major media reporters, follow them everywhere, preferably with a camera, and report on the bias of the reporters and broadcast these images and reports in community-access cable TV. Some demonstrations could be conducted in front of media houses to protest specific biased coverage of an issue dear to the Church, by the media. Some demonstrations could be conducted at general purpose rallies which would be covered by the media with the specific goal of denouncing the secular bent of the media relative to the issue, theme of the rally. Demonstrations at political rallies, picketing of corporate plants and headquarters could also be most useful.

The Other Steps of the Model

The abortion proponents have been very successful at promoting their views thanks to the principles underlying steps 3 and 4.

The Church need not use the principle of "institutional conformity" principle in the model. The Church is the only surviving organized institution, under the same principle of leadership and structure, that has survived 2,000 years. However, when associated groups which are active in innovative efforts of evangelization need institutional support from the Church at large, it behooves the guardians of the Church at large not to betray their friends in religion and chop off their fingers when they attempt to hoist themselves into the boat of Peter.

Many people of good faith will always be aware of the good performed by the Church for the general public. In this sense, there should be no technical need for the principle of "decoupling" in the model according to which evangelization actions will be shocking as they appear "sectarian" (against the pluralism taboo) but perception towards the Church will be mitigated by the knowledge that the Church in other ways, serves all people.

But in a more restricted sense, "decoupling" is a very useful principle for subgroups. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has frequently stated that the real poor are the spiritually poor who abort and who support abortion. Her public image is still intact in the larger arena, in spite of the strong pro-abortion bias of the media, because of the high level of positive public opinion in favor of her work to help the poorest of the poor dying in the slums of Calcutta.

Special evangelization programs or task forces should similarly combine their evangelical program with a program of support for the larger population. In addition, each organization within the Church, which by definition must also have a evangelization extension, must be very careful to establish its credentials as concerns its contribution to the common good and all individuals independently of their religion, a non sectarian "goodwill" program joined to the "sectarian" evangelization program.

The different steps of the model mostly help illustrate how the unholy and ungodly lie and cheat their way into public consciousness. Lying and cheating are naturally not recommended here.

However, the steps show how anti-evangelization groups are also obviously making the most of the natural bends and weaknesses of the media. We should also take advantage of these natural bends and weaknesses: a taste for stories with shock value, a natural laziness (we should make it easy for the media to cover evangelization programs), the shere ambition of young reporters going for high "ratings" with unusual, unique, stories and pictures containing promises of notoriety.

Evangelization means public witnessing and being a shocking sign of contradiction. We should not shrink at this reality. We will be opposed, naturally, and even fiercely by some. But we also know that the heart of man is hungry for the Good News of the Gospel. There is a built-in success mechanism in any evangelization effort. Therefore, if the children of darkness are not afraid, we should be even less afraid.

Research Study File 5/3a
St. Antoninus Institute

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