Barack Obama's transition team is ringing in the New Year with a series of meetings with religious groups. It is striking that the names that dominate the list are the very ones that some people (Rick Warren: "The mainline is sidelined") have declared dead such as mainline Protestants, reform Jews and social justice Catholics.
"There is the feeling that these are not perfunctory meetings but serious meetings with people in policymaking roles who know the process well," says James Winkler, general secretary of the public policy arm of the United Methodist Church, who says that he or his staff have attended nearly a dozen meetings with the Obama transition team so far. "This is not something meant to bring in the faith community to keep them happy but to solicit our views and ideas."
It's not surprising the Obama and his team are turning to these groups. Whatever people say, they still represent a very large part of American society. Obama himself is a product of mainline Protestantism and these were the religious groups that supported his candidacy most vigorously along side historically black churches and Muslims. I wonder how this preferred status will play out in the revival of religious progressives in the place where it matters most - in the pews.
Having an conservative evangelical in the white house (although it turns out Bush was really a social conservative and a religious liberal) coincided with a boom for the evangelical wing of the Christian faith as people had a constant reminder of that faith tradition in the spotlight - for better or for worse. Will Barack Obama do the same for the more liberal religious traditions? Will mainline churches see a revival? My hope is that progressive churches, synagogues, mosques and temples will seize this moment to remind people of the social nature of their faith that calls for radical compassion for others near and far. This will affect how religious people understand the current economic crisis, the environment, war, and equal rights for all people including gay and lesbians. A Barack Obama presidency will hopefully be a boon for a more enlightened approach to religion which does not fear science and eschews a fundamentalist or literalist approach to scripture.
This can be done without sacrificing the personal spiritual substance that each religious individual requires. I applaud evangelicals like Rich Cizik, Rick Warren, TD Jakes, and Bill Hybels for how they widened their congregations' focus from stictly personal religion towards social issues such as AIDS in Africa and poverty. Conversely, traditonally social justice religious bodies will do well to remember that in these hard times each person should be reminded that God cares for them individually and desires for their personal well being and trasnformation.
True religion provides both - social and personal salvation.
Cross-posted from Beliefnet's Progressive Revival blog.