What Progressive Christians are Doing to U.S. Politics

Progressive Christians, who have found a louder voice this election year, have helped expand the issues that matter to religious people in the public square and brought together previously opposing communities, said a panel of progressive leaders and scholar recently.

The movement, which some label the religious left, has often been defined by its advocacy work on behalf of the poor and oppressed.

"Clearly the goal of most of these organizations, although not necessarily all of them, is to shape public policy and to influence policymakers in some meaningful way," said Laura Olson, political science professor at Clemson University, during a Pew Forum discussion titled "Religion and Progressive Politics in 2008."

"And of course the justification for that would be, again, to help the poor, the disadvantaged, and the forgotten – around justice issues, around peace issues, around racism and around matters such as that," she added.

But during this election year, progressives expanded their role to organizing events that bring together conservative and liberal Christian leaders to question presidential candidates.

They have also acted as a bridge between the religious community and secular groups.

In October, the progressive ecumenical group Faith in Public Life helped bring together Christian and secular leaders to try to end the cultural war on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the role of religion in public life.

Conservative and moderate Christian leaders, while not compromising their moral beliefs, expressed their commitment to human dignity and the Golden Rule when it came to gay rights.

And on abortion, the pro-choice members of the project agreed that abortion is something unwanted and measures should be in place to prevent a woman from having to make that choice.

One of the Pew panelists, Jennifer Butler of Faith in Public Life, predicted that perhaps in 10 years there may be a "whole restructuring" of religion in politics where the divides will not be the focus, but rather people may unite around the current culture-war issues.

"People may also come together on the culture-war issues, on the issues that they disagreed on before, and find common-ground solutions to those that don't compromise either on their positions," Butler commented.

"So I think you'll have a broader coalition of people that would include not only the Christian left, but the 'convertible Catholics', moderate evangelicals, African-American churches, the Muslim community and the Jewish community – all working together around issues of common concern," she added.

Butler said she thinks progressives will help make this year's election one about the "common good voter" instead of the values voters.

Panelist Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, agreed and said he thinks there will be a redefinition of the "values narrative" that was established in the 2004 election of President George W. Bush.

"Life and family aren't going away as essential and important concerns, but the way we think about them is going to change," Korzen predicted. "And we can't have strong families in this country if people don't have jobs and healthcare. That's the message that's going to define this election cycle, in terms of those kinds of values."

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