Charting the religious left

By Simon Barrow
October 18, 2007

Everyone knows that the Christian Right is a potent force in American politics. But since the mid-nineties, an increasingly influential religious movement has arisen on the left, mostly escaping the national press’s notice.

So says an article by Steve Malanga (, writing in The City Journal, Autumn 2007, A quarterly magazine of urban affairs published by the Manhattan Institute.

The ethos of the religious left (which in some accounts includes the likes of Sojourners/Call to renewal) is very different to that of the religious right. It often seeks to collaborate rather than dominate, and is more likely to work with a bi-partisan agenda. Nevertheless, the questions raised by post-Christendom also face this movement of movements. What is the appropriate Christian role and voice in politics in an era where the allinace of governance and religious institutions is being rdaically questioned. The article doesn't quite address that. But it has interesting comments to make. It begins:

"The movement expends its political energies not on the cultural concerns that primarily motivate conservative evangelicals, but instead on an array of labor and economic issues. Working mostly at the state and local level, and often in lockstep with unions, the ministers, priests, rabbis, and laity of this new Religious Left have lent their moral authority to a variety of left-wing causes, exerting a major, sometimes decisive influence in campaigns to enforce a “living wage,” to help unions organize, and to block the expansion of nonunionized businesses like Wal-Mart, among other struggles. Indeed, the movement’s effectiveness has made it one of organized labor’s most reliable allies.

"The new Religious Left is in one sense not new at all. It draws its inspiration from the Christian social-justice movement that formed in the mid-nineteenth century as a response to the emerging industrial economy, which many religious leaders viewed—with some justification—as brutal and unfair to workers. In America, the movement gained traction thanks largely to the efforts of Baptist minister Walter Rauschenbusch, who served New York City’s poor."

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