The rise of the religious left

Reuters reports that the “religious left,” long thought to be too loose a congregation to wield political influence, is beginning to organize in the wake of last year’s election of Donald Trump to the American presidency.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

The article cites a rise in attendance at religious progressive conferences, seminars, and rallies, and the explosion of faith communities associating themselves with the sanctuary movement to protect and promote the interests of immigrants.

“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing,” said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York. …

But some observers were skeptical that the religious left could equal the religious right politically any time soon.

“It really took decades of activism for the religious right to become the force that it is today,” said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, a Catholic school outside Boston.

But the power potential of the “religious left” is not negligible. The “Moral Mondays” movement, launched in 2013 by the North Carolina NAACP’s Reverend William Barber, is credited with contributing to last year’s election defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory by Democrat Roy Cooper.

Read the article on Reuters. Have you witnessed a surge in progressive religious and political engagement since November’s election?

Featured image: Christ Episcopal Church, Shaker Heights, via Facebook. The Reuters article cited an increase in faith communities involved in sanctuary efforts as evidence of the mobilization of the “religious left.”

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  1. Stuart Schadt

    I am solidly a part of the religious left but I hope we don’t rise in power in the way the religious right has. They rose in power because they proclaimed not the Gospel of Jesus but the gospel of conservative America. And finally, they abandoned all their Gospel principles and supported Donald Trump. I hope we are strong. I hope we are a voice to be heard, a force to be reckoned with, but mostly I hope we don’t forget the teachings of Jesus.

  2. David Richardson

    I am with Stuart. Politics yes, party politics absolutely not.

  3. A commitment to Gospel values will make the religious left a formidable and respected force. A commitment to partisan politics can only weaken and divide an already divided electorate. Let’s not make that mistake again. I hope the religious left can solidify for the midterm 2018 elections.

  4. Philip B. Spivey

    Having traveled in left-progressive circles most of my life, I can tell you that I hope our future Does Not rest on the ascension of a “left-wing religious movement”. Who are these people? They have not self-identified as “left”; that’s something the media has attributed to them. Probably more accurately, they would self-identify as “progressives”, “liberals or “Democrats”, which by the way, are less volatile labels.

    The terms ‘Left’ or ‘Left-wing’ are freighted bringing to mind the dark and sullen images of Marx, Mao, Stalin and Soviet labor camps. Although every effort has been made by left-wing intellectuals in the late 20th century to free themselves of these ghosts, the old images remain in the public’s eye. All this to say that—for purposes of collaboration— ‘a left-wing movement’ will never be acceptable to middle America. It would become an opportunity for isolation and sectarianism.

    A second and more important reason not to proffer a left religious movement is that ‘left’ connotes an ideology. Needless to say, we have seen what well meaning leftists have attempted to build since the (one-hundred-year anniversary of) the October 1917 revolution.

    Communism/socialism, ideologically, seeks to distribute societal wealth and power and democratize it. However, what this social theory promised, application could not fulfill. The right-wing, on the other hand, ideologically seeks to concentrate power in a very few hands; the right-wing often succeeds.

    Regardless of your political leanings, ideology is typically co-opted by a hand-few for personal and political gain; it’s less egregious to see the right-wing do it because that is their raison d’etre. It’s more egregious to see the left co-opted because—well—they started from a more promising place.

    I believe our future is contingent on the idea of a “Moral Center”; a philosophical space and place where all people of good will can gather without owing allegiance to any thing more than a shared moral compass. What does that moral compass look like? Rev. William J. Barber’s book, “The Third Reconstruction”, points the way. In particular, Rev. Barber examines effective strategies for resistance that educate, train and help protect the resisters and the resistance-movement from external and internal sabotage.

    It’s time we put our cherished ideologies aside in favor of a Moral Center that exhorts us to— Do no harm—and—Leave no one behind. Surely, Jesus would get with that.

  5. The watchword here is “power.” That is what seduced the self-proclaimed religious right in this country. Woe betide us on the left if we also are seduced. Remember Jesus’ third temptation in the wilderness?

  6. Thom Forde

    As someone observing from the “right” I would suggest that the “left” is already seduced by political power.

    • Gregory Orloff

      The right is no less seduced by political power, too.

  7. Bruce G. Kozak

    This is the problem when we start dividing God’s word into categories called “left” and “right”. Haven’t we learned anything about how politics on both sides is causing significant divisions in this country. Now religion is about to go down that dark road.

  8. Br. Cullin R. Schooley

    Re Bruce:. Religion went down that dark road a LONG time ago. After 2000 years of crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, and bigotry one would think we would have learned to be wary of the “them versus us” delusion.

  9. Pam Ostrander

    I believe, correct me if I am wrong, the religious left is about to go down that same dark road. I would posit they have already done so. Group speak and group thought that is politically correct seems to be the only acceptable way to go currently within TEC from the top down. Name calling commences if questions are raised so questions are silenced.
    Meanwhile, questions go unanswered. Will the center hold? The church has already split once?

  10. Lexiann Grant

    Let’s remember that Paul and Jesus said to obey the government — that during the Roman regime even. The problem with this sanctuary issue is the illegality. If someone needs (not just wants) to come to the US why don’t the cities & churches help them do so Legally instead of breaking laws that have existed for a long time

    • Ann Fontaine

      Lexiann: Many came at times when promises of green cards and citizenship were made to entice them to work at jobs no one in the US would do. Others are like a friend of mine who did not want to leave his home, culture, family and friends but he was a police captain and the drug gangs (who supply drugs to the US) came to him and said work for us or we will kill your family. They cut off his finger to prove their point. He packed up his family and came north. Now he works cleaning up after dairy cows so you can have cheese and ice cream and his wife cleans hotel rooms so you can be safe and comfortable. His family is safe – some of the children are DACA registered and thriving – graduating from High School and college – some were born here. What would you do for your family? This family did not have the luxury of waiting to come “legally” nor can the go back and “get in line” — this is their only home – the children do not know any other home.

      Here are some myths about immigration that you may have heard.

    • Alan Christensen

      I agree that we should do more to assist with legal immigration. As to Lexiann Grant’s point about illegality: There is a long tradition of civil disobedience in the cause of justice. Those who engage in it should be prepared to take their lumps in court, but that doesn’t make them any less right to commit acts of civil disobedience when necessary.

  11. My perspective is that the “Religious Right” – by which I mean particularly organizations brought together to seek influence with those elected, and sometimes also with those electing – lost its way first by pursuing single-issue influence (well, perhaps two or three), couched in a vision of a “more moral” past that was never what it was cracked up to be. So, I’m not talking about every conservative Christian here. I’m talking about the Moral Majority, the Family Research Council, etc. So, yes, the first concern was individuals creating organizations to appear powerful and to seek power; followed by a decision that the method was to be militantly anti- on a few issues, rather than concerned about a variety of issues that required balancing values.

    With that in mind, no, I don’t think the Religious Left will ever be that sort of “powerful.” It is precisely because folks try to hold a variety of issues in balance that we can’t go there. Look at one of the most frequent critiques of recent progressive gatherings: “Look at all the signs! They can’t even agree on a message.” In fact there are already organizations that exist, but no sense that this progressive perspective is so much more important than that progressive perspective that we can set the latter aside.

    Now, do I hope progressive religious voices can be influential? Yes, indeed, I do. I just don’t know in these days what the import or the impact of moral authority is when contrasted with political organization.

  12. Troy Haliwell

    I am also liberal religiously, socially I am a moderate, and fiscally a conservative. I cannot be either “left” or “right” or “center” when you look at me as a whole. I am a married, gay, male who defies the traditional division in left-right.

    I look for the religious “Left” to provide and equal and balanced view of religion as the “Right” does. We need to hear from both equally to be able to take a little from each and make it work.

  13. Lisa Ann Mauro

    Thank you Troy for your comment. There are many of us that can’t be “put into a box” with our political views. I have great concern that our Church just assumes we all think or should think one way. It is offensive and very narrow minded.

    • Bruce G. Kozak

      Totally agree.

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