Is There a Religious Left?

On June 27, 2015, Bree Newsome, an artist and the daughter of a Baptist preacher, removed the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina State House. (Image: Source: Photograph by Adam Anderson / Reuters)

Why progressive activism rooted in faith is so often misconstrued.

(The New Yorker)

“In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down.” So begins one of the most consequential sermons of the twenty-first century. Bree Newsome, a thirty-year-old artist from North Carolina, was a few dozen feet above the ground, scaling a flagpole in front of the South Carolina State House. Police officers were hollering up at her, demanding that she come down, but she kept climbing, and kept preaching: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.”

Newsome had been thinking about that Confederate flag for some time. Her ancestors had been enslaved in South Carolina, and she had heard stories from her grandmother about the violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan in Greenville. Then, on June 17, 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine black parishioners during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, and Newsome decided it was time for the flag to come down. Ten days later, after meeting with other activists—including one who had scaled trees for Greenpeace—and practicing on a few lampposts, she climbed the thirty-foot pole outside the State House, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-seventh Psalm as she rose higher and higher, removed the flag, and returned it to the ground, where a crowd applauded and the police arrested her. Newsome spent about seven hours in jail; the Confederate flag was restored before she had even been released. But, by the second week of July, after millions of Americans had seen photographs or footage of her climb, the state legislature voted to permanently remove the flag from the capitol, and, in the years that followed, many other Confederate memorials and statues have come down around the country.

The daughter of a Baptist preacher who was once the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, Newsome came by her faith and her preaching honestly, yet almost all of the publicity that followed her act of civil disobedience stripped her protest of its theological tenor. Such is the fate of much of the activism of the so-called religious left: if it is successful, it is subsumed by broader causes and coalitions; if it fails, it is forgotten. For all the opprobrium directed at the religious right, the activism of religious leftists suffers a different fate, alternately ignored and fetishized, trotted out every election cycle with a tone befitting the Second Coming: always just about to happen. This year’s Presidential race is the most obvious occasion for the new book “American Prophets: The Religious Roots of Progressive Politics and the Ongoing Fight for the Soul of the Country,” by the reporter Jack Jenkins.

Read Full Story: The New Yorker

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