Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
In my latest column for Figuring Faith, my blog at the Washington Post, I explore the obstacles currently facing an organized progressive religious movement.
The recent release of the PRRI/Brookings Economic Values Survey has triggered a lively discussion about a potential shift of power between religious conservatives and progressives in the American religious landscape. Most of the debate has centered around the future significance of current patterns—most prominently, the nearly linear correlation between religious conservatism and age, with religious progressives (and the nonreligious) holding an advantage over religious conservatives among the Millennial generation.
But there has been little attention paid to another set of factors crucial for evaluating the future impact of any progressive religious movement. Compared to their conservative counterparts, religious progressives face considerably higher obstacles to successful organizing. The PRRI/Brookings survey reveals six significant challenges facing any leader who may attempt to transform the one-in-five (19%) Americans who are religious progressives from a scattered constituency into an organized movement.
To read more about these six challenges, which include issues of identity, diversity, dispersion, diffusion, institutional connection and separation of church and state concerns, check out my full column at The Washington Post.