The Common Good

President's Faith-Based Advisory Council Taps Four Progressive Leaders Featured in Recent Book, Progressive & Religious

Source: Beliefnet
Date: April 7, 2009

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.

These 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.
The 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.
A 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.
There 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.
One 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 mass.
-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.