Religion Taking A Left Turn?

At a church in Washington, hundreds of committed Christians met recently and tried to map out a strategy to get their values into the political debate.

But these are not the conservative Christian values which have been so influential lately. This is the religious left.

"Jesus called us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, care for the poor, care for the outcast, and that's really the moral core of where we think the nation ought to go," Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches told CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell.

The National Council of Churches represents about 50 million Christians in America — the majority of them mainline Protestants.

"Jesus never said one word about homosexuality, never said one word about civil marriage or abortion," Edgar said.

He calls this movement the "center-left" — and it's seeking the same political muscle as the conservative Christians, a group with a strong power base in the huge Evangelical churches of the South.

But the left has its own Evangelical leaders, such as the Rev. Tony Campolo.

"We are furious that the religious right has made Jesus into a Republican. That's idolatry," Campolo said. "To recreate Jesus in your own image rather than allowing yourself to be created in Jesus' image is what's wrong with politics."

The Christian left is focusing on:
  • Fighting poverty
  • Protecting the environment
  • Ending the war in Iraq

    "Right now the war in Iraq costs us $1 billion per week," said Rev. Jim Wallis, a Christian activist. "And we can't get $5 billion over ten years for child care in this country?"

    To try to attract young voters and the attention of politicians who want their votes, leaders of the religious left are promoting issues like raising the minimum wage.

    "Nine million families are working full time," Wallis said. "Working hard full time, responsibly, and not making it."

    Three decades ago liberal religious leaders had a powerful influence on politics.

    In the 1960s and 70s they led demonstrations against civil rights abuses and the war in Vietnam. But when those battles were over, the movement seemed to lose energy, while the Christian right had become well organized and committed to having its voice and concerns heard.

    After years of sitting on the sidelines, it will take more than meetings and talking points to make the liberals into a political power again.

    "The Christian right has a ground game," said Mark Silk of Trinity College's religious studies department. "Thus far the Christian left mainly has an air game: they want to throw positions, they want to talk to the media, but do they have the networks in place on the ground to get people out to vote?"

    So, it remains to be seen whether there's any action behind the words. But there's no doubt they're on a mission.

    "I've watched a generation die. And I watched them shift from idealism to a 'me' generation that was only orientated to consumerism and it hurt, and I wondered whether we ever would come back." Campolo said. "But the pendulum is swinging."
    • Christine Lagorio

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