Religious Left

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The Religious Left, also referred to as the Christian Left, is "a world-view based on Judeo-Christian values which emphasizes social justice rather than personal morality. The Religious Left is also called religious humanism, where the purpose of morality is the benefit of humans and discipleship consists of justice for the oppressed rather than a stand for personal righteousness." [1]

By another definition, the Christian Left "are those individuals or groups who combine left-wing or socialist ideals and Christian belief." [2]

Defining the "Religious Left"

  • In his May 23, 2004, sermon, Unitarian Universalist Carter Turner wrote "By the turn of the [20th] century, the social gospel movement was in full swing. It was the umbrella under which other movements began such as temperance, women's suffrage, tenement houses, and civil rights for freed slaves. It also birthed organizations such as the Salvation Army, the NAACP, and the urban league." [3]
"The social gospel movement's influence lasted into the 1960's. What made it so revolutionary, and also so appealing to many, was that it rejected the Puritan view that the world was inherently sinful. The movement was not utopian; denying the potential evil in humans. It was hopeful that despite the capacity of humans to do great harm, they were also capable of great good. It was this faith in human potential that lay behind the educational reforms of John Dewey, and the political reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal, and Johnson's Great Society. It was also faith in human good that motivated Civil Rights leaders to risk, and far too often, give their lives for social change.
"So what happened to the Religious Left after the 1960s? Several factors are generally sited. First, is that religious liberals have not found issues as galvanizing as civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. The religious left splintered in the 1970s into 'identity politics'. Although they passionately fought for their causes; affirmative action, feminism, gay rights, and multiculturalism, religious liberals were not equally passionate about these issues collectively. The splintering of political energy, combined with fading leadership as the 1960s activists grew older and quieter, opened the door for the religious right to seize the day. Drawing on the perceived moral excesses of the 1960s, and the impending apocalypse central to their theology, conservative Christians used the pulpit and airwaves to mobilize their congregants to engage social concerns. Conservative leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson successfully convinced people that Democrats were responsible for the nations moral decline, ensuring victory in 1980 for Ronald Reagan, a divorcee who rarely attended church, over Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian who taught Sunday school. The Christian right has become so successful in American politics in the last twenty years, they now affectively define 'true' religion, and how it should shape government."
"The religious left, whose greatest influence came between 1860 and 1960, emerged only after shedding the cloak of Biblical literalism while retaining a Christian identity, as they boldly embraced the cause of social justice. One reason for the decline of the religious left today is that it has trouble grounding its liberal principles in religion."
  • "The Christian right has co-opted religious values and recast them as relating almost exclusively to abortion, gay marriage, birth control, school prayer, and public displays of the Ten Commandments. Church-going democrats need to reclaim this territory and point out those religious values that democrats cherish and republicans for the most part ignore, like housing and giving health care to the poor, protecting our children, being good stewards for the environment, practicing tolerance." [4]
  • A post-election Zogby International poll conducted in November 2004, revealed that "Forty-four percent of all voters said that faith and/or values were very important in their decision about who they would vote for for president; three-quarters said faith was at least somewhat important to their vote. But more important than that, I think, is what voters said their moral priorities were. Forty-two percent told us that the war in Iraq was the most important moral issue facing the country and influencing their vote. When asked to identify the most urgent moral problems facing the country today, 64 percent of the voters chose either greed and materialism or poverty and economic justice. ... That notion of making God's work our own lays at the core, I think, of the American progressive tradition--the civil rights movement, the labor movement, the struggle for Southern tenant farmers, abolition." - John D. Podesta, President of Center for American Progress, January 18, 2005. [5]

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