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Correction to This Article
A quotation was incorrectly attributed in a May 20 article on the religious left. It was John C. Green, a professor of political science at the University of Akron, not Allen D. Hertzke of the University of Oklahoma, who said: "My gut tells that all this foment [on the religious left] is bound to create more involvement in politics. I don't know whether there's going to be more of them numerically, but you don't need greater numbers to have a political impact; all you need is to be more active. You already see that in Ohio and some other states, where Christian conservatives no longer have a monopoly on faith in politics."

Religious Liberals Gain New Visibility

The Network of Spiritual Progressives held a
The Network of Spiritual Progressives held a "Pray-In for Peace" in Lafayette Square on Thursday. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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By Caryle Murphy and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 20, 2006

The religious left is back.

Long overshadowed by the Christian right, religious liberals across a wide swath of denominations are engaged today in their most intensive bout of political organizing and alliance-building since the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, according to scholars, politicians and clergy members.

In large part, the revival of the religious left is a reaction against conservatives' success in the 2004 elections in equating moral values with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Religious liberals say their faith compels them to emphasize such issues as poverty, affordable health care and global warming. Disillusionment with the war in Iraq and opposition to Bush administration policies on secret prisons and torture have also fueled the movement.

"The wind is changing. Folks -- not just leaders -- are fed up with what is being portrayed as Christian values," said the Rev. Tim Ahrens, senior minister of First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio, and a founder of We Believe Ohio, a statewide clergy group established to ensure that the religious right is "not the only one holding a megaphone" in the public square.

"As religious people we're offended by the idea that if you're not with the religious right, you're not moral, you're not religious," said Linda Gustitus, who attends Bethesda's River Road Unitarian Church and is a founder of the new Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture. "I mean there's a whole universe out there [with views] different from the religious right. . . . People closer to the middle of the political spectrum who are religious want their voices heard."

Recently, there has been an increase in books and Web sites by religious liberals, national and regional conferences, church-based discussion groups, and new faith-oriented political organizations. "Organizationally speaking, strategically speaking, the religious left is now in the strongest position it's been in since the Vietnam era," said Clemson University political scientist Laura R. Olson.

What is not clear, according to sociologists and pollsters, is whether the religious left is growing in size as well as activism. Its political impact, including its ability to influence voters and move a legislative agenda, has also yet to be determined.

"I do think the religious left has become more visible and assertive and is attempting to get more organized," said Allen D. Hertzke, a University of Oklahoma political science professor who follows religious movements. "But how big is it? The jury is still out on that."

"My gut tells me that all this foment [on the religious left] is bound to create more involvement in politics," he said. "I don't know whether there's going to be more of them numerically, but you don't need greater numbers to have a political impact; all you need is to be more active. You already see that in Ohio and some other states, where Christian conservatives no longer have a monopoly on faith in politics."

Conservative Christian activist Gary L. Bauer said the religious left "is getting more media attention" but "it's not clear" that it is getting more organized.

"My reaction is 'Come on in, the water's fine' . . . but I think that when you look at frequent church attenders in America, they tend to be pro-life and support marriage as one man and one woman, and so I think the religious left is going to have a hard time making any significant progress" with those voters, he said.


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