STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's talk of religious voters. When we talk about voters who are people of faith, religious conservatives get most of the attention. But with liberals increasingly energized, some faith leaders want to rally religious voters for progressive causes. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on the prospects for reviving the religious left.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: There's been no hotter political issue in recent months than what to do about all the migrants, including families, showing up at the U.S. border. Among those pushing for a more open policy is a group called Faith in Public Life. It's led by an ordained Presbyterian minister, Jennifer Butler, who shows up at rallies wearing her clerical collar.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
JENNIFER BUTLER: So today we say what Moses said to Pharaoh. Let my people go. Let the children go. Say it with me. Let...
GJELTEN: Rallies like this one are not uncommon, but Reverend Butler says her movement is grounded in religion.
BUTLER: There are over a hundred verses of Scripture that say we're to welcome immigrants and welcome strangers. And so I think we're driven by our moral values and not by politics.
GJELTEN: Besides supporting migrants, Butler's movement advocates for LGBT rights, universal health care and racial justice. She founded the organization 13 years ago with a precedent in mind. It was religious leaders who drove the abolitionist movement in the 19th century and the civil rights movement in the 20th.
BUTLER: I think religion helps people understand who they should be.
GJELTEN: Butler's group and others of like mind and mission represent a renewed faith-based movement on the left. The obvious comparison is to the religious right. The reverend Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in the late '70s to oppose abortion and promote private Christian schools during a time of cultural change.
HENRY OLSEN: What motivated the religious right to begin organizing is a feeling of loss.
GJELTEN: Henry Olsen is the author of "The Four Faces Of The Republican Party."
OLSEN: They felt their deepest values from their religion were being taken away from them.
GJELTEN: Now left-leaning believers feel it's their religious values that are under threat, with respect, for example, to social and economic justice.
TARA HARRIS: Jesus talked about reaching out to the poor, reaching out to the marginalized, reaching out to the oppressed.
GJELTEN: Tara Harris is a lay leader at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., and newly active in support of immigrant rights.
HARRIS: The way that I personally interpret my own Christian faith and my own Christian walk, it's an active challenge. How can I make a difference in the lives of others? So I would say there's a direct tie and a direct linkage there for me.
GJELTEN: She was speaking there over Skype. The religious left is not yet a match for the more familiar religious right. For one thing, it draws on a smaller base. Surveys show liberals, by various measures, are simply less religious than conservatives. In fact, the agenda of the religious left doesn't seem all that different from what secular groups on the left push for. The religious right, on the other hand, is almost exclusively an evangelical movement with priorities that secular conservatives don't push quite so much.
OLSEN: They are more interested in preserving the Constitution than the Bible.
GJELTEN: Henry Olsen is now with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a center-right think tank.
OLSEN: The secular right may agree on some issues, but they are primarily motivated by a concern about what they would argue is the growing power of government.
GJELTEN: The religious left does have some advantages, Reverend Butler argues. She says her faith in public life movement is strengthened by its interfaith character.
BUTLER: We're working with Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and every sort of faith group. We all have the same sort of core values in mind, which is that everybody is created in the image of God, and we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
GJELTEN: An approach that unites religious traditions makes sense given that the nation is becoming increasingly diverse. Another advantage, Butler thinks the religious left, compared to the secular left, has a deeper commitment to bridge-building.
BUTLER: A lot of folks on the secular left are a bit reticent to form common cause with people who see things differently on an issue.
GJELTEN: Consider the abortion issue, for example.
BUTLER: We've been able to form alliances with people who are pro-life and pro-choice because all of us agree that there's a common ground of wanting to reduce the numbers of abortions in the country.
GJELTEN: One more thought. A politics inspired by moral values is especially passionate. A religious left can bring new energy to a movement with the reputation of being too cerebral.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WILLIAM BARBER: Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew...
BARBER: ...Called us...
BARBER: ...To preach good news to the poor, the broken.
GJELTEN: The most rousing speech at the last Democratic Convention was delivered by a pastor, the Reverend William Barber of North Carolina. Barber, who combines theology with activism, is now Butler's partner in her religious-left coalition. While their movement doesn't yet have the political clout of the religious right, it is growing. Faith in Public Life says it has so far mobilized more than 40,000 local clergy and faith leaders around the country. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.
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