The American religious left is a nebulous thing in modern times; never quite hitting the headlines or having enough causal power, at least not as far as I am aware. An interesting NPR article recently claimed that Trump could be stoking the fires of the religious left:
Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organized a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice.
“We believe that faith has a critical role to play in shaping public policies and influencing decisionmakers,” says the Rev. Jennifer Butler, an ordained Presbyterian minister and founder of the group Faith in Public Life. “Our moral values speak to the kinds of just laws that we ought to have.”
Her group, part of what could be considered a religious left, says it has mobilized nearly 50,000 local clergy and faith leaders, with on-the-ground operations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio. Butler founded the organization in 2005 with a precedent in mind: It was religious leaders who drove the abolitionist movement in the 19th century and the civil rights movement in the 20th century….
The religious left, having been largely eclipsed in recent years, has a ways to go before it can match the clout of the religious right. Butler’s group and those allied with it have primarily kept their focus on protest rallies and social media campaigns. Conservative religious groups, with 40 years of organizing experience, conduct sophisticated campaigns in support of those candidates whose views align with their own.
In his book The Four Faces of the Republican Party, Henry Olsen says conservative evangelical Christian voters demonstrate “unusual strength” in Republican presidential contests, especially in caucus states. While the Moral Majority organization was disbanded in 1989, the religious right is still active through such groups as the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which prepares voter guides spelling out candidate positions on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.
“We distribute those voter guides, door to door,” says Virginia Galloway, a regional director, based in Atlanta. “We distribute them through the mail. We go to rallies and hand them out, and then people take them home and share them with their friends.”
The Faith and Freedom Coalition has an army of trained volunteers at its disposal and access to sophisticated technology.
“When I started,” Galloway says, “we had a clipboard and a piece of paper with names of voters on it. Now we have an app on our phone. It will even give us directions to the next house.”
As the article indicates, black churches have certainly played an important role in mobilising Democratic voters in recent times. Voter registration has been a hot button topic, as was highlighted in the recent mid-term elections.
Of course, part of the problem in comparing the power of the religious left to the religious right is that the religious left is a much smaller collective than the religious right. Liberals tend to be less religious, after all.
The article ends with an interesting you or the part that religious groups can play in generating more passion on the campaign trail:
Activists on the left should welcome the emergence of a religious core in their ranks because when political activity is morally inspired, it becomes more passionate — as conservatives already understand. Liberals are famous for being cerebral. A religious left may bring more energy to the progressive movement.
Democrats got a jolt of that passion at their last national convention with an appearance by the Rev. William Barber, an African-American preacher from North Carolina who started the “Moral Monday” movement in that state.
“Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken, the bruised, and all those who are made to feel unaccepted!” Barber thundered, bringing the delegates to their feet.
Describing himself as “an evangelical Biblicist,” Barber said the nation is need of “moral defibrillators” to work on its weak heart.
“We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all!” Barber said, in the most rousing speech of the convention.
Barber has since launched a new Poor People’s Campaign and is now a key partner in Butler’s Faith in Public Life coalition. The two often show up at rallies and demonstrations together, walking arm in arm, both wearing their clerical collars.
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