The Religious Left is Getting under Right-Wing Media’s Skin

Jack Jenkins

Jack Jenkins Senior Religion Reporter, ThinkProgress

For years, conservatives ignored them. Some dismissed them. Others chided their prayerful efforts as ineffectual or destined for failure.

But this year, right-wing media outlets can’t seem to stop talking about major players in the Religious Left — a strong sign that left-wing faithful are making a splash.

The shift coincides with a well-documented surge of activism among religious progressives, whose leaders have become increasingly visible since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. Their members have organized in opposition to the president’s cabinet picks, anti-climate policies, proposed repeal of Obamacare, and both iterations of the Muslim ban. Other liberal faithful, hailing from a diverse range of traditions, have opened their worship spaces to harbor undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation under Trump, with some even contemplating offering up their homes.

Analysts were quick to cast aspersions on this rise, with commentators on the right and the left expressing doubt that liberal people of faith could muster a sustained political movement, especially given their relatively small size.

But roughly six months into Trump’s presidency, the groundswell of progressive faith activism has yet to subside, and conservatives are taking notice — and getting nervous. More specifically, they appear to be going out of their way to condemn, discredit, and explain away the Religious Left.

Evidence of right-wing unease over progressive faith emerged over the weekend, when conservative media jumped on comments made by Rev. William Barber II. During an appearance on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Barber derided evangelical pastors who recently prayed over Donald Trump while also supporting — or at least remaining silent about — issues such as the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Barber accused the pastors of hypocrisy, saying their actions constituted “a form of theological malpractice bordering on heresy.”

Barber’s remarks, while bold, are hardly unprecedented. Condemnation of hypocrisy is a biblically-rooted idea. Nonetheless, right-wing outlets such as The Blaze, Fox News Insider, and even Fox and Friends covered his words as if they were inflammatory, insisting Barber expressed “hatred” and arguing that he said praying for the president was heresy.

“Hatred of president of Trump [is] reaching a new low,” a Fox News host said in response to Barber’s remarks, despite the fact that Barber did not, in fact, say that Christians shouldn’t pray for leaders.

Roughly six months into Trump’s presidency, the groundswell of progressive faith activism has yet to subside, and conservatives are taking notice — and getting nervous. More specifically, they appear to be going out of their way to condemn, discredit, and explain away the Religious Left..

The fervor over Barber comes a little over a week after the right attacked Linda Sarsour, a progressive Muslim activist and one of the chief organizers of the Women’s March. Like Barber, the right’s fervor was rooted in a misunderstanding, intentional or otherwise: when Sarsour called on her fellow Muslims to participate in a nonviolent “jihad” for social justice against Trump, conservative outlets such as Fox News Insider, Conservative Review, and Breitbart filed her remarks under categories such as “outrageous” and “terror.” Using inflammatory headlines, they appeared to be generally unaware that the word “jihad” is not an inherently violent theological term.

Meanwhile, a myriad of conservative authors are crafting messages designed to discredit the Religious Left as a whole. Writers at the National Review and The American Conservative recently reinvigorated a (dubious) claim that progressivism is somehow inherently incompatible with religion. Nationally syndicated conservative columnist Cal Thomas —who was vice president of the Moral Majority from 1980 to 1985 — insisted that liberal people of faith who engage in politics lead to decline in church affiliation. And Mark Tooley, head of the right-wing Institute of Religion and Democracy, pushed back against the “Christian left” in the Christian Post, calling it “unreflective.”

Others have worked to obscure or dismiss the potential impact of the Religious Left. The National Review, for instance, pushed the un-nuanced claim that the Democratic Party is actively hostile to religion, making the “dream” of a Religious Left supposedly “hopeless.”

“The Religious Left will never be a formidable force in politics because, quite frankly, the left is not that religious,” Rev. Robert Jeffress, a prominent right-wing pastor and an ardent supporter of Trump, declared in an April interview with Fox News. (As of 2016, 72 percent of Democrats claim a religious tradition, according to PRRI data provided to ThinkProgress.)

To be sure, right-wing attacks on progressive leaders of all stripes are nothing new, and conservatives have blasted progressive people of faith in the past. Republicans (including Trump and some of his advisers), for instance, have spent years dismissing the relatively progressive proposals of Pope Francis and his American fans.

But the scope and intensity of conservative media fervor over the Religious Left is new, and if current trends hold — and if the Religious Left continues to rise — the attacks may intensify.

Either way, it looks like the Religious Left is riling up the right, and there’s little indication they’re ready to call it quits.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

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Photo by Pilar Timpane

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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