The Religious Left and social justice

April 13, 2017

Photo by niXerKG (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo by niXerKG (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Religiosity gives a particular position the imprimatur of a moral high ground. Historically, this high ground has been used by conservative groups to add a layer of justification and ownership to a policy position. From the rise of Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right, we have seen religious conservative groups claiming moral superiority over progressives who by and large excluded references to their faith deeming it either divisive or non-inclusive. This led to the uncontested assumption that conservatives are more religious and progressives are either less religious or not religious at all. But the Religious Left is on the rise and is challenging the moral argument used by the Right to gain traction on policy issues. It is no longer “non-PC” to make references to one’s religion or divine guidance in general when advocating for progressive causes.

What is the Religious Left?

There has been a rise in what is referred to as “the Religious Left” — a movement of people whose progressive political views are inspired by their faith. Up to now ignored, the Religious Left is becoming a visible political force. Reverend Serene Jones of New York's Union Theological Seminary believes that, "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."

Religiosity does not inherently translate into conservative political ideology. While it is true, that many religious conservatives see their political ideology as originating directly from scripture, the same can hold true for progressives who do not feel that scripture and progressive political values are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, many progressive individuals believe that religious themes like social justice, peace, and mercy provide a framework for social action, and as such, it is their religious duty to advocate for causes such as immigration, healthcare, and social welfare.

Recent polling demonstrates that Americans have shifted to the left on some social justice issues. Many more Americans are concerned about climate change, support the Affordable Care Act, oppose the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and oppose the construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

Religious Groups Championing Progressive Causes

Religious groups are working together more closely and are forming active interfaith coalitions. For example, the American Jewish Committee and Islamic Society of North America formed an advisory council to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry. Interfaith Immigration Coalition members work together to advocate for just and equitable immigration policies, educate faith communities, and serve immigrant populations around the country.

We are now seeing religious denominations that have traditionally held conservative political views involved in progressive causes. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) is dedicated to ensuring that reproductive choice remains accessible. Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) advocates on behalf of the poor and marginalized, supporting their faith and political leaders when they stand up for climate action. Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) advocates for workers and their families in their struggle for good jobs and dignity in the workplace through programs that educate, organize, and mobilize the faith community.

There has also been a surge in religious congregations offering sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum in their cities. Groups like NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, urged Republicans not to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The United Church of Christ (UCC) has been among the most outspoken on issues of race-relations, especially in the Black Lives Matter movement. Religious groups have also been calling upon the administration to increase spending on U.S. foreign and humanitarian aid.

Social Justice is Integral to the Practice of All Faiths

The Religious Left is becoming more inclusive to other faiths and is expanding to include the voices of all communities, and will continue do so as each respective community recognizes their duty to uphold justice in any context. Reverend William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP, argues that a moral agenda “must be anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative and deeply rooted and built within a fusion coalition.” This agenda must be adopted by the Religious Left so that it can become far more effective and relevant.

Muslims should continue to stand alongside communities that are stigmatized and marginalized. Islam teaches that one should advocate for peace, mercy, and justice in the face of hatred and discrimination. This calling is not to Muslims only but is a duty obligated upon all religious individuals; championing social justice causes is a divine requisite.



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