Trump presidency reviving religious left or just liberal clergy?

The election of U.S. President Donald Trump has mobilized the leaders and clergy of mainline and liberal Catholic churches, though it remains to be seen if the members of these churches can be stirred to action to the same extent. Reports indicate that the religious left is being rejuvenated over protests against Trump on such issues as immigration, healthcare, religious freedom pertaining to the travel ban on several Muslim nations, and cuts on domestic and foreign spending. A report from Reuters (March 27) was particularly upbeat about the prospect of a religious left revival as an emerging “force in U.S. politics.” Reporter Scott Malone reports on the growth of congregations and clergy volunteering to provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants and testify before Congress on a wide range of social issues. The number of churches volunteering to offer sanctuary doubled to 800 in 45 of the 50 states after the election. Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive public policy organization, were surprised to see 300 clergy show up at a January rally to protest the appointment of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Malone links this upsurge in activism to such previous efforts as “Moral Mondays,” credited with aiding last year’s election defeat of North Carolina’s Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

New alliances and coalitions between different religious groups have also developed, especially on questions of the growth of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which brings together Muslim and Jewish women, has tripled its number of U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November, according to its founder Sheryl Olitsky. Malone acknowledges that the real strength of the new religious left will be determined by its ability to turn out voters for the mid-term elections in 2018. Since evangelicals have been more effective in mobilizing their lay members on political action than mainline churches, issues that bridge both groups may have more traction. The Economist (March 17) touches on one such issue in the form of Trump’s proposed cuts to foreign aid. While liberal and conservative churches have clashed over how best to aid the poor and the level and kind of government support for faith-based organizations, the plan to slash the foreign aid budget has moved church leaders from across a broad ideological and theological spectrum to oppose such a measure.

More than 100 church leaders and dignitaries wrote to Congressional leaders to oppose such cuts, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Hispanic Pentecostal leader Samuel Rodriguez, both of whom participated in the president’s inauguration ceremony. The statement comes at a time when humanitarian agencies are warning of a looming, acute emergency in at least four countries (Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria), where millions are at risk of possible starvation. The signatories represented mainline, evangelical, and Catholic churches, though there is always the question of whether members line up with such statements. Surveys have found that conservative Christians are far more opposed to government anti-poverty programs compared to action by voluntary groups. But the way in which the White House announced the cuts, omitting any references to alternative ways of helping the world’s poor and stressing its “America first” agenda, may generate more opposition, at least among “many Christian leaders…with first-hand knowledge of the humanitarian tragedies unfolding in certain parts of the world.”