We hear a lot about “The Religious Right.” Perhaps it is time to speak up for “The Religious Left.”
Recently a friend mentioned that she would like her congregation to discuss “the religious left.” She sees local folks from many churches act on behalf of social concerns in a way that would fit a “religious left” description. Indeed, many local folks from a number of faith traditions — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and others — speak out, write letters to the editor and work diligently on behalf of various peace and social justice concerns. Martha and I have touched base with them at courthouse rallies focused on the Dreamers, Muslim-ban policies, separation of families, gun control, domestic terrorism and health care — social concerns definitely not associated with the “religious right.”
I have toyed with a “religious left” designation for my own involvements. I have never been “far left,” but always at least “center left.” Center-left and center-right citizens can work and talk together. Far right and left are more often associated with violence than with collaboration and dialogue.
My early calls to pastoral ministry were to intercultural and interracial churches. I had pursued my peace studies BA, studied a year in Japan, and had two of three years of seminary training without any vocational focus until immersing in the early 1960s civil rights movement in Boston and North Carolina. While raised in the church, this involvement allowed us to see the church as being relevant in a new and dynamic way. We also became involved in peace movements of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
In my DN-R Open Forum response to the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally (Sept. 2, 2017: Confederate Nostalgia Is Dangerous”) I mentioned times when my religious left activities brought me into scary contact with white nationalists, the KKK and neo-Nazis — the actual “deplorables” that Hillary tried to warn us about.
Terms like “religious right” and “religious left” suggest convergence of religious faith and political involvement. One does not have to have a progressive religious theology — or even be religious — to hold progressive social concerns; nor does everyone with a progressive theology hold such social views. But just as conservative theology and conservative social concerns tend to go together, so do progressive theology and progressive social concerns. One’s faith motivates such involvement.
From the 1960s until Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority in 1979, society’s view of socially concerned clergy and laity was of people speaking out, braving rejection from their congregations, and sometimes being jailed trying to secure racial civil rights, women’s rights or to end the Vietnam war and nuclear arms race — all concerns of what can be called “the religious left.”
Falwell and others changed that dramatically, to the point that now when socially concerned millennials consider joining a church, synagogue or mosque, they see the religious right as the symbol of religious social involvement. Perhaps it is time to speak up for the religious left.
Bill Faw lives in Rockingham County.