MidTerms Show Need for Progressive Religious Leaders

Lots of people want change, progressive change. They come at it from different experiences, but the desire for real reform is ever present.

What Have We Learned?
For the most part, people hope that a political leader will lead the way. Barack Obama rode our Hope for Change to the White House. Now, that hope is looking for a new vehicle. Will it be Elizabeth Warren?

The walloping that the Democratic Party took in the mid-terms shows how weak it is as a voice for our aspirations. While one or two of its leaders invoke our desires some of the time, most of its leaders cannot. Their role is to seek 51%, and that necessity means that they will, in most cases, be uninspiring.

There is no way that someone running for the Senate in Kentucky or Georgia is going to take us to the mountain top and show us the promised land. But if they cannot do it, they cannot win, because people who want change will not turn out for them. Al Sharpton: "You have to turn them on, before you can turn them out." But if they do it, they cannot win, because that is the stage of history we live in.

In Presidential years, we are inspired by a presidential candidate. On the off-years, we are left with Michelle Nunn or Allison Lundergran Grimes.

So who will take us to the mountain top and show the route to the promised land? Who voices the vision without compromise? Who calls out the resistance to change? Who challenges those who vacillate on the sidelines? Who looks beyond the next election?

Kay Hagan almost retained her Senate seat from North Carolina.

Doesn't Need 51%.
I am sure that she would not have even come close if it had not been for the strong moral leadership of Rev. William Barber preparing the way. And the Moral Movement in North Carolina will continue after Kay Hagan moves on to her next career.

Strong, progressive religious leaders make the difference. But they are now weak. Theirs is the missing voice. And we are left with the occasionally visionary politicians, comedians like Jon Stewart, and TV commentators instead.

Cynicism is Obedience
Look at the famous Tobin Grant chart: the laity of most of the more liberal mainline denominations are quite conservative when it comes to economic and social policy. They differ from the conservatives only on the questions of traditional morality.  (You have to go to the chart; RNS does not allow me to show you the graph itself. It's VERY INTERESTING !!!! )

The mainline clergy are not going to be brave voices for social justice, or reproductive justice, or for global environmental justice. Look at where their laity is.

The laity of the African American denomination will support the demands for social justice and economic change. And African American ministers have often been in the role of moral leadership. But the success of leaders depends on the contributions of "first followers."

Oh, if only there were a denomination where the laity was as progressive as their clergy, a denomination unencumbered by a large and noisy rightwing. A denomination where religious leaders could step out into the society and give voice to the hopes of the people, amplify the stories of their struggles, and be the missing leaders and their first followers.

Oh, wait.......


  1. Our friends in the UCC are our most reliable comrades in arms in this work despite the centrist position assigned to them in that chart. I hope the leaders of both denominations will long continue to nourish that partnership.

  2. I was very depressed to learn that only 36% of eligible voters went to the polls last Tuesday. THIRTY SIX PERCENT!!! Just a get out the vote effort would be a good place to start.

  3. PB, Yeah I know. Sigh. But I know that the reason I vote is because I have a larger vision, which is greater than any of the sometimes crappy candidates I end up voting for. But I didn't get that vision from politicians and candidates. I caught that vision way back when I was younger from a bunch of people, many of whom were religious leaders, mostly non-UU's, to be frank. You talked about telling the youth in your neighborhood that you believed in them and they were worth it etc. You have to be a religious leader to get that wildly hopeful.


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