More thinking about the old religious left and its muddled future in America's public square

Here we go again.

If seems that the time is right for people to think about the religious left. In some cases, people are clearly yearning -- as they have for decades -- for some doctrinally liberal movement that is the grassroots equivalent of the Religious Right to rise up and help save the world from, well, the Religious Right.

You might recall that there was a whole tread of commentary online about this topic just the other day.

It started with a Reuters report that was perfectly summed up in the headline: " 'Religious left' emerging as U.S. political force in Trump era."

That led to a Religious Dispatches thinker by liberal scribe Daniel Schultz with this headline: "IS THE RELIGIOUS LEFT EMERGING AS A POLITICAL FORCE? NO." I left all the caps in that headline, since it kind of helps sum things up.

Now all kinds of things happened at that point, including my piece pointing readers to Sculltz, with this headline: "Rising force in American politics? Define the 'religious left' and give three examples." That led to a podcast and follow-up piece: "Yes, the religious left exists: Can you think of a logical person (Oprah) to serve as its leader?"

Then there was a piece by Mark Tooley at the "Juicy Ecumenism" blog, as well as a podcast and transcript of a feature by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr.

Finally, Schultz reacted to all of this disturbing acclaim by conservative writers (of various kinds) with a follow-up at Religion Dispatches that ran with this headline: "WHY THE RELIGIOUS LEFT ISN’T COMING TOGETHER, AND WHY IT MATTERS."

The basic idea is that the old religious left, which focused on the work of a predictable set of doctrinally liberal flocks, including progressive Catholics and Reform Jews, appears to be a thing of the past -- outside some elite leaders in politically blue zip codes. The big problem is that the old mainline flocks are not, shall be say, in growth mode. Why?

This reminded me of that talk I had several years ago with John C. Green on one of the fine points in that Pew Research data about the Nones. I have shared this "On Religion" column material before, but read it carefully in this new context:

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 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.

The bottom line?

... Increasing numbers of Americans – especially the young – are now willing to say that they do not believe. The Pew Research Center numbers indicate that millions of Americans are no longer willing, as was common in the past, to remain lukewarm members of religious bodies in which they were raised.

However, the Nones and the new secularists were united with the old religious left when it came to hot-button issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. So they were all headed -- one way or another -- into Democratic Party life.

In other words, what is the title that journalists can use for this new coalition of secularists, Nones, spiritual-but-not-religious types and the remaining old religious left? Rainbow coalition? I think that has been used before.

Now this brings us to yet another think piece on this same topic, by Daniel Cox at FiveThirtyEight, The headline: "Don’t Bet On The Emergence Of A ‘Religious Left’."

Does any of this sound familiar?

It’s doubtful, however, that a revitalized “religious left” will actually materialize.
The first and perhaps most significant reason for skepticism is that there are far fewer religious liberals today than there were a generation ago. Nearly four in 10 (38 percent) liberals are religiously unaffiliated today, more than double the percentage of the 1990s, according to data from the General Social Survey. In part, the liberal mass migration away from religion was a reaction to the rise of the Christian right. Over the last couple decades, conservative Christians have effectively branded religious activism as primarily concerned with upholding a traditional vision of sexual morality and social norms. That conservative religious advocacy contributed to many liberals maintaining an abiding suspicion about the role that institutional religion plays in society and expressing considerable skepticism of organized religion generally. Only 30 percent of liberals report having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in organized religion. Half say that religion’s impact on society is more harmful than helpful.

Oh yeah, and the tech-savvy young?

Young liberals today are simply not that religious. Nearly half (49 percent) of liberals under 30 are religiously unaffiliated, according to the General Social Survey, which is more than the number who belong to all Christian denominations combined. Only 22 percent of liberal seniors are unaffiliated, while the overwhelming majority identify as religious. Your average left-leaning Christian is pushing 50. Coaxing young progressives to join a movement that would require them to reset their approach to religion is no small undertaking.

Oh and how about the rising tide of ethnic voters?

... The politics of religious groups don’t always align along a typical left-right spectrum. For example, according to the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Atlas, a survey of over 100,000 Americans, most Hispanic Catholics are supportive of same-sex marriage and other rights for gay and lesbian people, but are much more ambivalent about abortion; they also tend to express more traditional attitudes about gender roles. Muslims are more likely to hold socially conservative views on the issue of same-sex marriage. Black Protestants are generally supportive of making abortion accessible but are more reticent when it comes to pushing for LGBT equality. The politics of white mainline Protestants are even more diverse. Members of these denominations tend to be culturally liberal but tilt right economically and express more negative views of immigrants. A majority of them have also supported Republican candidates in each of the past four presidential elections.

By all means, read it all. This is an important story -- one that your GetReligionistas have been pushing journalists to cover for all 13 years of the life of this blog.

Stay tuned.

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