How to build a progressive movement

Print More

For a few days now I’ve been pondering Christopher Evans’ essay, “Grassroots Faith: The Lessons of the Social Gospel,” over on Religion Dispatches. It’s a rather Socratic exercise, in the sense that it raises questions without answering them; but what’s clear is that Evans 1) is in favor of a grassroots approach; 2) is anxious that progressives not scant their spiritual side; and 3) believes that, mutatis mutandis, conservative evangelicals (i.e. the religious right) provide a pretty good model of what’s needed.

What’s important to recognize about the religious right is that, as a national movement, it began in close association with the GOP and has never sundered the connection. Naturally, it hasn’t gotten all it wanted, but neither should its successes be minimized. That it has garnered real grassroots support and maintained real religious commitments (however one feels about the latter) cannot be denied. The point to ponder, then, is the degree to which religious progressives need to go and do likewise. The congeries of organizations prophetically dismissed as the Religion Industrial Complex are pretty much to the Democrats what the religious right has been to the Republicans. And they’re marching as to war–most recently in the form of a new climate change effort by a new organization called the American Values Network.

There are obvious perils in tying a faith-based social agenda to a political party–as the religious right is finding out after three decades. But it’s not clear to me that, in this day and age, there’s any other game in town.