Your GetReligionistas have long argued that the mainstream press doesn't pay enough attention to the Religious Left. In fact, I wish that the Associated Press stylebook team could help us all get consistent on the question of whether -- as with the term Religious Right -- it's "religious left" or "Religious Left." I vote for the second option.
Also, anyone who dug into the details of the famous "Nones on the Rise" materials from the Pew Forum realizes that religion-beat pros need to change our thinking about who is in the Religious Left, these days.
You see, it's not enough to focus on the declining numbers of people in liberal Christian and Jewish pews. That story is still important, and worthy of coverage, but it's old. Journalists really need to think of the new Religious Left as a growing coalition of atheists, agnostics, "Nones" and then doctrinally liberal Christians and Jews. When it comes to hot-button religious, cultural and moral issues this is the coalition that stands together. We will come back to that.
I bring this up because of some interesting passages in the main Religion News Service story about the Women's March in Washington, D.C. (Click here for Julia Duin's wrap-up of other angles linked to that important event.)
The first hint of what is coming is this:
Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, they rejected the notion that the conservative religious people successfully courted by Trump -- out in force on the National Mall for his inauguration Friday -- represent the only voice of religious America.
But here was the start of the main block of material on this topic:
Andy Miller said his Judaism brought him to Washington Saturday.
“We’re here because we have to be here, and everything in our religious texts tell us to stand up for justice, for human rights, for equality,” said Miller, past president of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Baltimore. “Obviously this is a women’s march but it’s about a lot more than women’s rights only because it’s about communities of color, it’s about protection of populations that are at risk. It’s about protection of First Amendment rights. It’s about everything we hold dear.”
Miller’s views mesh with those of the religious left, a portion of the electorate that has long taken a back seat in politics to the religious right, which is now watching Trump fill the upper echelons of the federal government with members from its ranks.
This leads into material addressing a basic question: Is it time for the Religious Left to swing back into action, seeking a return to the glory days of the Civil Rights Movement and its opposition to the fighting in Vietnam?
RNS says "yes," but with some vague language in the mix, saying that -- in the Donald Trump era -- the Religious Left leaders "may be motivated" to be more active and "may even hope" to be as powerful as in the past.
Why think this, at this particular moment in time? Here comes another "may be" clause, opening another statement of the RNS thesis:
The immense turnout at the women’s march -- which by some estimates rose beyond half a million people and eclipsed the crowd that showed up for Trump’s inauguration -- may be one indication that the religious left is gaining strength.
Another possible sign: the recent spike in the number of congregations that have designated themselves sanctuaries for immigrants. Trump has threatened to deport millions.
The causes embraced on the Mall -- on signs and in speeches -- embodied more liberal points of view on issues ranging from LGBT rights to climate change. Abortion rights was part of the march’s platform, and organizers denied “partnership” status to a Texas group opposed to abortion.
There are crucial questions to be answered, the kinds of questions that are hard, if not impossible, to address in an event story of this kind.
For example, if you paid close attention to video coverage of the D.C. march, one would have to ask how many African-American churches were highly involved. Once again, journalists need to ask if the largest mainstream African-American flocks -- such as the Church of God in Christ and mainstream Baptist groups -- are DOCTRINALLY on board with key D.C. march themes.
Yes, it's also crucial to ask if the liberal Protestant churches in the "seven sisters" have enough young members, or members in general, to play a grassroots level role in this new movement. It may be time to hand the leadership role to the "Nones" and the online world of enthusiastic atheists-agnostics.
Why do I say this?
Let's flash back to an "On Religion" column I wrote when the "Nones" phenomenon was making its first headlines. This long chunk of material features a familiar voice to Godbeat pros who pay close attention to these topics:
For the first time, America lacks a Protestant majority, with only 48 percent of the population claiming ties to Protestant denominations. Meanwhile, the surging tide of Americans rejecting ties to specific religious groups -- the so-called "Nones" -- appears to pose a new threat to the declining "seven sisters" of liberal Protestantism. These churches, in descending order by size, are the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
This survey shows that "it's going to be much more difficult for mainline churches to turn things around simply by focusing on higher levels of commitment," said political scientist John C. Green of the University of Akron, after a briefing at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association of America. ...
Part of the problem is that fewer Americans remain committed to supporting religious institutions and a high percentage of those who do seem to favor faiths that embrace the very doctrines and traditions the unaffiliated often reject. It also appears that young people who are rejecting traditional faiths -- during the past five years in particular -- are quitting organized religion altogether, rather than joining progressive institutions.
"It's going to be hard for something like a 'fewer Methodists, but better Methodists' approach to work because these mainline churches are already so small and there are so many of them," said Green. "The mainliners will have to find their niche. But who are they? What do they believe? Do they know?"
In other words, is the world of liberal religion -- in terms of its congregations and institutions -- healthy enough to play a major role in the future of this new movement, if the Women's March effort turns into that? Does the Christian Left, in particular, have much common doctrinal ground with growing, healthy African-American (and Latino, for that matter) churches when dealing with abortion and many LGBTQ issues?
Sexuality is the key, you see, according to the Pew Forum numbers. That's where the "Nones" kick into gear in public life:
The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters -- with 75 percent supporting Barack Obama in 2008. The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.
So here is my basic set of questions: Which elements of the Religious Left coalition are growing? Other than the think tanks he has supported in the past, to whom should activist George Soros send his checks? In terms of RELIGION, what thriving institutions speak for the growing "Nones" world? Or is the idea of a "Nones" institution a non-starter?