NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (REUTERS – Since U.S. President Donald Trump’s election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat gothic chapel of New York’s Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually see.
In January, the 181-year-old upper Manhattan graduate school that evokes London’s Westminster Abbey turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.
Jones said the election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to taking action.
“When I hear, oftentimes, religious right figures use Christianity to justify the destruction of the Earth, to justify the destruction of public education, to justify mass deportation, I’m shocked because if you read the scriptures time and again all of those issues are addressed as something that Christians are called to be on the front lines of giving care,” Jones told Reuters.
Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.
Leaders of the religious right who supported Trump say they see him delivering on his promises and welcomed plans to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health services including abortion, through the proposed Obamacare repeal. But the disparate group of those on the left has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, health care and social welfare, according to members of the clergy, activists and academics.
“The grounding that we have for these political issues comes straight out of the same scriptures that they’re using to justify the diminishment of health care – we say no. In the scriptures you have a picture of a world in which taking care of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and feeding people and taking care of their sick bodies is a priority,” Jones said.
Some in the religious left are inspired by Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic leader who has been an outspoken critic of anti-immigrant policies and a champion of helping the needy.
Although support for the religious left is difficult to measure, leaders point to several examples, such as a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, in churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law and in calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.
The number of U.S. churches volunteering to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers doubled to 800 in 45 states after the election, said the Elkhart, Indiana-based Church World Service, a coalition of Christian denominations who help refugees settle in the United States, and the number of new churches offering help has grown so quickly that the group has lost count.
Financial support is also picking up. Donations to the Christian activist group Sojourners have picked up by 30 percent since Trump’s election, the group said.
The new political climate is also spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents including threats against mosques and Jewish Community Centers.
The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which encourages alliances between Jewish and Muslim women, has tripled its U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November, said founder Sheryl Olitzky.
But some observers were skeptical the religious left could equal the religious right politically any time soon. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm Congressional elections.