Progressive Revival

President Obama’s newly unveiled Advisory Council on Faith-Based
and Neighborhood Partnerships taps four progressive religious leaders
featured in my recent book, Progressive
& Religious: How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders
are Moving Beyond the Culture Wars and Transforming American Public Life

(Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). The leaders come from across the
religious spectrum, representing Christianity (both mainline and
evangelical Protestant), Judaism (Reform), and Islam.

leaders, like many others on the council, have been at the vanguard in sustaining and reviving a progressive public face of
religion. The excerpts below illustrate how these leaders are faithfully and critically engaging their faith and religious tradition to work for social justice and the common good–a hopeful sign in this new era.

  • Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign.
    Under his leadership, HRC created a national speakers’ bureau that
    reaches more than 10 million Americans monthly and a national network
    for 22 progressive state clergy coalitions around the country. Knox was
    denied ordination because he is openly gay, and is a former licensed
    minister of the United Methodist Church in Georgia.

people that we study now as great thinkers were all revolutionary in
their time. They all listened to God first, and then made what they
were hearing bump up against the text and bump up against the tradition
of the church. And they found that maybe the text and the tradition
weren’t big enough to hold what they were hearing from God, and so they
said some new things.

-Knox, in Progressive & Religious

  • Dr. Eboo S. Patel, Founder and Director, Interfaith Youth Core.
    Dr. Patel, an Indian-American Muslim, founded his Chicago-based
    organization to build the interfaith youth movement through service and
    dialogue. Patel is a Rhodes scholar and serves on the Religious
    Advisory Committee of the Council on Foreign Relations.

religious pluralist is somebody who may believe very deeply that their
own tradition is the only “right” tradition, but who fundamentally
believes in a society where people from different backgrounds have the
freedom and the right to live by their own traditions and where they
can live together in equal dignity and mutual loyalty.

-Patel, in Progressive & Religious

  • Rabbi David N. Saperstein, Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism.
    Rabbi Saperstein was recently named the most influential rabbi in
    America by Newsweek magazine. For more than 30 years, Rabbi Saperstein
    has represented the Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the
    administration and lobbied for a variety of social justice issues.

is hardly a classic text of Judaism that does not resound with both
spiritual meaning and God’s call for us to be engaged in creating a
better world. You can open up almost any story in the Bible and feel
this deep spiritual resonance that speaks across the centuries and
embodies this call: that we are called to create a more just and fair
world for humanity.

-Saperstein, in Progressive & Religious

  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Director, Sojourners.
    Sojourners is a progressive evangelical organization that has been a
    longstanding voice for poverty reduction, peace, and the environment.
    Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, stayed on the New York Times best-seller
    list for 4 months.

thing that changes American Christians is direct proximity,
relationship to poor people. Revival is going to be triggered when the
relationship to the poor on the part of the churches reaches a critical

-Wallis, in Progressive & Religious

These leaders are featured prominently in my recent book, Progressive & Religious,
which explains how progressive religious leaders are tapping the deep
connections between religion and social justice to work on issues like
poverty and workers’ rights, the environment, health care, pluralism,
and human rights. The book is the result of three years of systematic
research and nearly 100 interviews with progressive religious leaders
in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.

The website companion to the book ( also features selected audio podcasts and transcripts with these groundbreaking leaders, including podcasts with Dr. Eboo Patel and Rabbi David Saperstein.