Yesterday Brookings released a major new report, co-authored by E.J. Dionne, Bill Galston, Korin Davis and Ross Tilchin, entitled: “Faith in Equality: Economic Justice and the Future of Religious Progressives.” (There is a very brief overview of the report at the Brookings blog).
I haven’t had a chance to do more than quickly scan the report, and will have more to say about it next week. But as someone who occasionally complains that liberal Christians have become all but invisible in American politics, I’m naturally interested in the report’s analysis, and its prescriptions for again making progressives of faith an important contributor to broader movements for economic and social justice.
The report quite soundly notes that one reason for the relative marginalization of people of faith on the Left is simply that they a much smaller and much less homogeneous component of progressive political coalitions when compared with their religious conservative counterparts, who hold real and abiding power in the conservative movement and the GOP, and overlap enormously with such theoretically secular forces as the Tea Party Movement. The authors also score some secular progressives for an attitude of contempt towards religious progressives. I would add to these observations the abiding problem that a lot of political progressives who do pay attention to faith communities bypass religious progressives and try to conduct “outreach” to religious conservatives. President Obama, despite his own roots in mainline liberal Protestantism, has been guilty of this habit on more than one occasion. It tends to reinforce the belief of both religious conservatives and of many secular observers that the only authentic faith traditions are those that identify godliness with patriarchal cultural conservatism and/or literalist or biblicist approaches to holy scriptures.
But another problem facing religious progressives is that they do not typically offer the sort of uniform, easy-to-understand, “God Said So In the Bible” rationales for their political commitments. Some religious progressives themselves profess to be following specific scriptural injunctions; others (e.g., liberal Catholics) appeal to a distinctive teaching tradition; still others react to the limitations of their charitable work by entering politics. Personally, my own religious progressivism flows from a belief that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ by definition implies the radical equality of human beings, making all forms of inequality presumptively (though sometimes it is a rebuttable presumption) evil, and disrespect for other people as “losers” or “parasites” downright satanic. I also favor marriage equality and reproductive rights for women on religious grounds, not as some sort of compromise between godliness and worldliness. But there are few if any nationally recognized “religious authorities” articulating such views, so they are not regarded as a “viewpoint.”
I suppose the popular notion that religious progressives are a dying breed being ground up in the competition between rapidly growing secularist and religious-conservative “teams” will limit interest in the Brookings report. But we haven’t gone away just yet, and are still an indispensable part of any successful progressive coalition in the foreseeable future.