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Religious progressives and the case for economic justice

Religious progressives and the case for economic justice

Religious progressives played a major role in social movements ranging from the New Deal to ending slavery. Can they have such an impact in the future?

A new report for the Brookings Institution written by E.J. Dionne, Jr., William A. Galston, Korin Davis, and Ross Tilchin called “Faith in Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives” says they can, if the disparate groups can come together around one (or a few) common issues of our day, in particular economic justice.


Michelle Boorstein in the WaPo:

The religious left was never as cohesive and effective as the religious right. But a new report based on interviews with religious progressive leaders finds that the Obama era may have further weakened Democrats’ interest in the non-secular.

The report, released Thursday by the Brookings Institution, argues that religious progressives could be heading for a renaissance if they can focus on what some see as the civil rights issue of today: economic justice.

The report, by the institute’s Governance Studies Program, is based on polling and interviews with many of the top players among Washington’s religious left. They include John Carr, formerly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; evangelical writer Jim Wallis; and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform Jewish movement.

It starkly lays out the challenges facing religious progressives — activists and voters who see their faith lived out through social justice, particularly working for causes such as immigration reform and limiting budget cuts for the poor.

Here is a summary.

Religious voices have played an essential role throughout American history, inspiring and animating many movements for social reform. Today, with rising income inequality, declining social mobility, and the persistence of poverty, there is wide room for social action. Authors E.J. Dionne, Jr., William A. Galston, Korin Davis, and Ross Tilchin argue that economic justice should be the focus of today’s progressive religious movement.

“Faith In Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives” details the challenges and opportunities religiously-affiliated progressives face in building a movement for economic justice. Among the challenges are:

  • Growing secularization, particularly among the young;
  • Divisions between religious and secular Americans;
  • The difficulty of advocating for policies based on moral conviction in a political environment governed by quid pro quo deal-making;
  • And weakened infrastructure and diminished funding.

Despite these challenges, religious voices will remain indispensable to movements on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, and middle-class Americans. The authors point to specific opportunities the progressive religious movement can act on:

  • Create a new narrative based on the popular and widely held notion of the “common good” and on economic justice as a means of strengthening families;
  • Build bridges with conservative people of faith who are engaged in action for social justice globally, and with secular partners, who share very similar views on economic questions;
  • Use the model offered by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, a movement that combined religious and civic themes, was racially, ethnically and generationally diverse, was accepting of the realities of power but focused on persuasion, not simply the defeat of adversaries.

Read the full report here.

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