Return of the Social Gospel?

Sunday seems like an appropriate time to remind ourselves that there are a lot of religious people whose attitudes and beliefs are not reflected in headlines generated by people like Kim Davis, Micah Clark or Mike Pence.

When we read back through American history, we can see the ebb and flow of religious passions and the very different ways those passions were expressed. True, we’ve experienced frenzied Great Awakenings,  the “Christianity” of groups like the KKK, religious paranoia like the  Salem witch trials and a period of Social Darwinism that bears an eerie resemblance to the “makers and takers” dogma spouted by today’s corporatists– but religious beliefs also played a part in ending slavery and Jim Crow, and the Social Gospel motivated widespread efforts to ameliorate the miseries and injustices that came with industrialization and the Gilded Age.

A recent study reported at Think Progress suggests–fingers crossed!– that we may be on the cusp of a return to those kinder, gentler religious impulses.

Our new research shows a complex religious landscape, with religious conservatives holding an advantage over religious progressives in terms of size and homogeneity,” Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, said in a press release. “However, the percentage of religious conservatives shrinks in each successive generation, with religious progressives outnumbering religious conservatives in the Millennial generation.”

According to the survey, 23 percent of people aged 18 to 33 are religious progressives, while 22 percent are nonreligious and 17 percent are religious conservatives. By contrast, only 12 percent of those aged 66 to 88 are religious progressives, whereas 47 percent are said to be religious conservatives.

On economic issues, the study found religious progressives more passionate about eradicating income inequality than secular progressives. Eighty-eight percent of religious progressives said that the government should do more to help the poor, more than any other group polled.

Religious progressives were also refreshingly different from religious conservatives in another way: they disclaimed interest in imposing their beliefs on others.

While it’s too soon to know whether the survey signals a groundswell of faith-based progressivism, the findings echo the recent rise of an increasingly vocal—and increasingly influential—”religious left.” For example, progressive religious leaders are heading up the ongoing “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina, citing their faith as they decry the draconian policies of the state’s Republican-dominated legislature. In addition, religious progressives—as well as some religious conservatives—are spearheading efforts to produce an immigration reform bill that includes a pathway to citizenship, and prominent, left-leaning faith leaders were a driving force behind recent attempts to pass federal legislation to help prevent gun violence. Religious progressives are also playing a crucial role in campaigns to better the lives of fast food workers and Walmart staffers, with pastors and priests utilizing their congregational resources and organizational heft to push for better wages and improved working conditions for laborers.

Religious voices for social justice…now there’s a concept!

Have a nice Sunday.