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Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. From The New York Times

Faith leaders whose politics fall to the left of center are getting more involved in politics to fight against President Trump’s policies.

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Reverend William J Barber II delivering sermon "When Silence is not an option" on April 2, 2017 for the 50th anniversary of Reverend Martin Luther King's sermon against the Vietnam War on April 4, 1967 to an audience at Riverside Church, New York City. Photo: A Journey through NYC religions


By Laurie Goodstein


In Nashville, a crowd of ministers carrying palm fronds occupied the governor’s office during Holy Week, demanding the expansion of Medicaid to cover more of the uninsured. In California and 16 other states, an interfaith network has organized thousands of volunteers to swoop into action when immigrants are arrested or houses of worship are vandalized.

Across the country, religious leaders whose politics fall to the left of center, and who used to shun the political arena, are getting involved — and even recruiting political candidates — to fight back against President Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, poverty and the environment.

Some are calling the holy ruckus a “religious resistance.” Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics — souring some people on religion altogether, studies show — left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda. ...

Most surprising of all, perhaps, is that religious progressives are being joined at the ramparts by a noticeable number of energized young evangelicals.


A Fight for the ‘Moral Center’

Late on a Friday three weeks into the Trump administration, the Rev. William J. Barber II was in a Raleigh, N.C., hotel room, talking through his speech for the next day with advisers, including fellow ministers, a Muslim activist and a couple who had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. All confessed they remained demoralized since the election. But they also marveled at the surge in political protests, fueled in part by Christian, Jewish and Muslim activists working together. ...

To his admirers, Dr. Barber, a gifted preacher with a big-tent vision, is the strongest contender for King’s mantle. And he invites the comparison. In April, to mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark sermon at Riverside Church in Manhattan in which King denounced the Vietnam War, saying, “I cannot be silent,” Dr. Barber preached against Mr. Trump from the same pulpit and denounced what he saw as pervasive racism across the political right.

“When we see signs of a rising fascism,” he said, “we know that we cannot be silent.” In May, he stepped down from his N.A.A.C.P. post to announce a latter-day version of King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

“If you think this is just a left-versus-right movement, you’re missing the point,” Dr. Barber said in Raleigh. “This is about the moral center. This is about our humanity.”

Issues on which the religious left is at odds with Democratic doctrine include military spending and the death penalty, though the most polarizing is abortion — the main barrier, for many liberal evangelicals and Catholics, to voting as Democrats — as could be seen when the party split recently over whether to endorse an anti-abortion Democrat running for mayor of Omaha.

Setting abortion aside, political appeals based on religious beliefs continue to carry risk for Democrats, given the growing numbers of Americans who claim no religion: Secular voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and younger voters are far more secular than older voters.

Still, Hillary Clinton’s snub of even moderate evangelicals in the 2016 presidential race squandered many opportunities to cut into Mr. Trump’s support. Where Barack Obama had worked hard in 2008 to show he would at least listen to evangelicals, Mrs. Clinton rebuffed interview requests from evangelical media outlets and signaled leftward moves on abortion rights that helped many conservative voters overcome their doubts about Mr. Trump.

“The fact that one party has strategically used and abused religion, while the other has had a habitually allergic and negative response to religion per se, puts our side in a more difficult position in regard to political influence,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical social justice advocate who founded the Sojourners community and magazine in 1971.

“Most progressive religious leaders I talk to, almost all of them, feel dissed by the left,” he said. “The left is really controlled by a lot of secular fundamentalists.” ...

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