After the Religious Right, will the Religious Left reassert itself with focus on economic justice?

(Dallas News) The recent history of religious activism in our politics has been largely about the Christian right. Robust new churches and growing congregations are part of the success story of conservatives who have focused on social and family issues. At the same time, something else has happened. Young Americans today are less affiliated religiously than any time in our history. Fully one-third of Americans under 30 are unaffiliated with a formal religious group, according to Public Religion Research Institute. One in five 18- to 29-year-olds say that religion is not important in their lives, compared to only 10 percent of those 50 and older who say that.

A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests there is an opportunity at the moment for the Religious Left to reassert itself. How? By a concerted focus on economic justice.

The report, “Faith in Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives,” outlines big challenges for religious political witness: growing secularization, divisions between religious and secular Americans, our polarized politics and a weakened infrastructure for many mainstream churches. According to a Brookings blog post: “The Religious Right spoke to the country’s worries about social change. The religious progressive movement speaks to the country’s desire for economic change. The persistence of poverty, the decline of social mobility and rising inequality all demand new departures in policy and politics. There is wide room for social action but there is no consensus on what form new approaches to poverty, mobility and opportunity should take. “

There’s a counter-view, of course. Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy says “Religious Left dead-end activism” has contributed to problems, not solved them. “The old Religious Left is mostly faded, having helped marginalize the once mainline churches whose elites sustained it. Now liberal religious activism depends on evangelicals falling away from the core of their faith.” Sounds like political polarization.

Recognizing the virtue of helping the poor and promoting equality – which no one disagrees with, at least in principle – is Brookings right? Is the time ripe for an active push for social justice by the Religious Left, including active government involvement, active church engagement? And if so, would that actually stem our growing secularization, help close divisions between religious and secular Americans, and strengthen the weakened infrastructure of liberal churches? [More]

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Dallas Morning News