Is There Such a Thing as the Religious Left?

Observers of American politics may be quite familiar with the demographic known as “the religious right,” a conservative bloc of Christian voters which famously propelled former President Ronald Reagan to victory in the elections of 1980 and 1984 and has been a source of varying strength for Republican candidates ever since.

Evangelists such as Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Joel Osteen of the Lakewood Church in Texas, Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California and Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network are key identifiable figures of the religious right who are well-known for being able to motivate and deliver Christian voters.

But ever since the election of President Donald Trump, a new force has emerged from national shadows that’s currently making itself known in American political circles: the religious left. Very simply, the religious left is made up of left-leaning and progressive voters who feel a strong connection to their faith and are happy to use evangelical platforms to promote their activism and political ideology.

While no major leaders of the religious left are as well-known as those of the religious right, figures such as the NAACP’s Reverend William Barber and Reverend Noel Anderson of the Church World Service, based in Elkhart, Indiana, acknowledge the movement’s growing influence.

“The religious community — the religious left — is getting out, hitting the streets, taking action, raising their voices,” declared Anderson, noting that like Catholicism’s popular Pope Francis, his organization condemns anti-immigrant policies and coordinates efforts across the country to help refugees settle in this country.

“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there’s been a religious left all along, and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing,” says J. Patrick Hornbeck II, the chairman of the department of theology at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York City. “It’s taken a crisis — or perceived crisis — like Trump’s election, to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square.”

At Manhattan’s 181-year-old Union Theological Seminary (UTS), a graduate school resembling London’s Westminster Abbey, crowds of up to 1,000 people have been turned away from lectures on various topics from mass incarceration to social justice.

“The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action,” said the school’s Reverend Serene Jones, noting that in the nine years she’s been at UTS, she’s never seen such crowds, which are now filling the school’s 600-seat Gothic-style chapel to capacity.

In January, at a protest outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. against the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 300 members of the clergy demonstrated against Sessions’ purported racism (a completely baseless charge), surprising many political watchers.

“I’ve never seen hundreds of clergy turning up like that to oppose a Cabinet nominee,” stated Reverend Jennifer Butler, chief executive of the Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive policy group. The same group convened another rally which drew hundreds of pastors from states as far away as Texas, North Carolina and Ohio to protest the potential repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Religion and progressive activism actually have a long history in the United States, with religious leaders and followers playing key roles in the campaigns to promote civil rights, abolish slavery and end the Vietnam War, in addition to numerous other causes.

At least 800 churches in 45 states have volunteered sanctuary to asylum seekers since the election of Donald Trump, and still others would like to see federal spending for foreign aid preserved instead of cut under the Trump administration.

Financial support for these denominations and other Christian activist groups is on the rise. One such group called Sojourners reported a 30 percent increase in donations since Trump’s election, according to its representatives.

Along with donations and activism comes political power, and the NAACP’s Reverend Barber is partially credited with the defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina last year.

Threats against mosques and synagogues have strengthened or renewed alliances between disparate religious groups. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization that encourages alliances between Muslim and Jewish women, tripled the number of its U.S. chapters to almost 170 since Trump’s election, according to its founder Sheryl Olitzky.

“This is not about partisanship, but about vulnerable populations who need protection, whether it’s the LGBT community, the refugee community or the undocumented community,” declared Rabbi Jonah Pesner of Washington’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Pesner said that more than 1,000 people had signed up for his organization’s 2017 meeting on activism — three times previous numbers for the annual confab.

Still, the power of the religious left pales in comparison to that of the religious right. “It really took decades of activism for the religious right to become the force that it is today,” notes Peter Ubertaccio, the chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, a Catholic learning institution near Boston.

Religious right supporters say they’re happy that Trump is delivering on his promises of defunding Planned Parenthood and cutting sponsorship of abortion overseas. “We haven’t seen any policy proposals that run counter to our faith,” stated Lance Lemmonds, spokesman for Georgia’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit group.

Trump has both acknowledged and supported his followers on the religious right, affirming his commitment to freedom of religion and the right of businesses of faith to deny services or benefits based on their beliefs. It’s expected that new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will uphold the right of religious groups to keep their faith sacrosanct and maintain this right as a cornerstone of civil rights.

“The [law] doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs; it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance,” wrote Gorsuch in his opinion favoring the Green family in the famous “Hobby Lobby” case of 2012.

Conservatives can rest assured that as long as Trump is president, additional justices in the mold of Gorsuch will be headed for the Supreme Court and the rights of Christians will likely be preserved.

~ Christian Patriot Daily


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