13 Powerful Essays From Progressive People Of Faith In 2016

Required reading for people of faith who are going into 2017 fighting.
About 60 demonstrators gather outside the White House to protest the anti-Muslim policy proposals of President-elect Donald T
About 60 demonstrators gather outside the White House to protest the anti-Muslim policy proposals of President-elect Donald Trump and to stand 'with Muslims against Islamophobia and racism' December 21, 2016 in Washington, DC. Organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, protesters heard messages of tolerance and interfaith solidarity from ministers, rabbis and imams.

It’s been a tough year for America’s progressive faith community.

The religious left in this country is a racially and theologically diverse contingent of people who see social justice and progressive social values as an important part of their faith practice. The movement traces its legacy back to the Civil Rights Era and to the development of liberation theology ― the idea that people of faith must always stand up for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized of society.

Many on the religious left felt betrayed this year as they watched religious people rally behind a president-elect who has helped fuel hatred towards women, Muslims, Latinos, refugees, and the disabled. Progressive faith leaders witnessed rising intolerance against Muslims and Jews, and saw reports of churches, mosques synagogues being threatened or desecrated. 

But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped fighting the good fight.

From gathering to pray for the earth at Standing Rock to showing up at rallies to protest bigotry in all forms, progressive faith leaders spent 2016 organizing and building interfaith coalitions. They’ve spoken out in action and with their words, holding Americans of all faiths accountable to the core values of love and peace that all religious traditions share.

We took a look back at the great writing that has emerged from this difficult year. While this list is by no means not exhaustive, we hope the pieces listed here capture the struggles the progressive faith community has faced, as well as their determination to keep up the fight in 2017. 

Here are 13 important pieces from Huffington Post bloggers and other writers that should be required reading for progressive people of faith who want to grow stronger and love harder next year.  

Ghazala Khan (L), accompanied by her husband Khizr Khan (R), walks off stage on the final night of the Democratic National Co
Ghazala Khan (L), accompanied by her husband Khizr Khan (R), walks off stage on the final night of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

This essay is itself an act of resistance. 

Ghazala Khan is a military mom whose son was killed while serving in Iraq. She appeared with her husband at the Democratic National Convention this year, but wasn’t able to speak on stage because she was too overcome with emotion. Donald Trump later insulted the Khans and questioned whether Ghazala didn’t speak because she wasn’t allowed to speak.

In this riveting essay, Ghazala tells her story in her own words, lashing back at Trump for being “ignorant” about Islam.

“If he studied the real Islam and Koran, all the ideas he gets from terrorists would change, because terrorism is a different religion,” Khan wrote in The Washington Post. “Donald Trump said he has made a lot of sacrifices. He doesn’t know what the word sacrifice means.”


“I Refuse To Believe In Your God” by Mette Ivie Harrison

In this essay, Mette Ivie Harrison, a Mormon blogger, writes about a scenario that is probably familiar to progressive people of faith ― how to react when others claim that liberal theology has stepped too far away from from orthodox religious belief. 

Harrison lists out 20 circumstances in which she wouldn’t believe in the conservative vision of God.

“Some may argue that I have created a God in my own image,” Harrison writes. “I don’t believe that I have, because the God I worship isn’t like me. He is much greater than I am.”


Weeks after North Carolina’s governor signed a controversial bill banning people use the bathrooms for the gender they identify with, Rev. Emily C. Heath, a United Church of Christ minister, shared her own story in a Huffington Post blog post.

As gender non-conforming person, public bathrooms aren’t safe spaces for Heath. She tries to avoid them, if possible. In her essay, she gets to the heart of what the bill was really about:

“I’m telling you that no trans or gender non-conforming person wants to use the bathroom for any other reason than you do. I’m telling you that this has never been about sexual predators (who don’t need bathrooms to hurt people, and who won’t be discouraged by an anti-trans bathroom law), but about harming trans people.”


John Halstead, a pagan blogger and editor-at-large at Humanistic Paganism, breaks down why hearing the words “Black Lives Matter” makes white people uncomfortable, and why some prefer to replace it with the phrase, “All Lives Matter.”

Halstead suggests that white people have the luxury of not paying attention to race. On the other hand, being “colorblind” isn’t an option for black people, who are constantly reminded by the American judicial system that black lives still don’t matter in this country.

 “’All Lives Matter’ lets us get back to feeling comfortable. ‘Black Lives Matter’ makes us uncomfortable. Why? Because it reminds us that race exists,” Halstead writes.  “It reminds us that our experience as white people is very different from the experience of black people in this country. It reminds us that racism is alive and well in the United States of America.”

A woman prays inside a church.
A woman prays inside a church.

Ilesha Graham, a Christian writer and speaker, noticed that conservative Christians were attempting to minimize the fear and anxiety that black and brown Christians were feeling in the aftermath of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory. In an election week blog post, she wondered if there is really room for people like her in the evangelical church. 

“The truth of the matter is, while you may be claiming a win for the church, the church cannot win if the body is hemorrhaging. And the church cannot turn a blind eye to the needs (and feelings) of its poor, immigrant, disabled, brown and female members. Not today,” she writes.


In this op-ed, Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Forward, examines the place that liberal American Jews have in Donald Trump’s America. She points out the spike in anti-Semitic hate that she and fellow Jewish journalists received online over the course of the election cycle. She also takes a look at the issues that propelled Trump’s win, and finds that American Jews disagree with him on many points. 

Eisner asks, “How do we cope with a man whose ideology — if it can be called that — reflects none of these values? How do we live in a country in which half the inhabitants don’t see the world in the same way, at all?”


In this essay, John Pavlovitz, a pastor, delivers a powerful rebuke of white Christians who claim they are voting for Donald Trump because they are pro-life. If these single-issue voters were really pro-life, Pavlovitz claims they would continue to treasure and care for all lives after birth ― even if that life was fleeing from a war-torn country as a refugee, if it fell in love with a person of the same sex, if it converted to Islam, or needed financial assistance from the government. For this pastor, being “pro-life” means being an advocate for life well beyond the womb.

“I wish you were pro-life, my friend — I really do,” Pavlovitz writes. “I wish all human beings mattered as much to you as caucasian embryos do. I wish that once these diverse babies are thrust out into a violent, difficult, painful world; many enduring disadvantages, obstacles, and trials you will likely never experience — that you actually gave more of a damn about them.”


Sunita Viswanath, a progressive Hindu and social justice activist, reflects on the election in a prayer that has resonance beyond Thanksgiving. She writes about the hateful rhetoric acts that have popped up in her neighborhood and in various places around the country since the election. She then makes a pledge to stand with every community that is targeted with “unjust and hateful acts and laws in the months and years to come.”

“And I pledge to always make room for joy, beauty and laughter. Let us not be afraid, but instead build justice together,” she writes. “LOKA SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU. May all beings in the world be happy.” 

A camper walks through high winds during a blizzard inside the Oceti Sakowin camp as "water protectors" continue to demonstra
A camper walks through high winds during a blizzard inside the Oceti Sakowin camp as "water protectors" continue to demonstrate against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline adjacent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, U.S., December 6, 2016.

In this piece, Native American spiritual leader Chief Arvol Looking Horse, who helped lead interfaith prayers at Standing Rock, called on people of all continents and religious beliefs to come together as one to pray in defense of the Earth. 

“Look around you. Our Mother Earth is very ill from these violations, and we are on the brink of destroying the possibility of a healthy and nurturing survival for generations to come, our children’s children,” he writes. “To us, as caretakers of the heart of Mother Earth, falls the responsibility of turning back the powers of destruction. You yourself are the one who must decide.”


Sister Simone Campbell is a Catholic nun whose activism has taken her around the country to advocate for immigration reform and economic justice. In this essay, she speaks about the divisions she sees in American society, and how an economy shaped by “trickle-down economics” has failed vulnerable Americans.

“This is not a time for ‘business as usual.’ Everyone has his or her part to play to do something,” Campbell writes. “Our first act, I believe, must be to engage with our communities to touch the pain and anguish of this moment. We need to weep together, but we also need to find the courage to face the deeper truth together: We all share similar frustrations, including those who voted for Mr. Trump.”


“A Letter To My Son,” by Rev. Otis Moss III 

This poignant letter, from a black pastor to his young son, is a must read. Rev. Otis Moss III wrote this letter a few days after the police shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. In it, he wonders how to tell his son Elijah about these deaths and about whether his son’s body is safe and his mind is valued in America.

“I am sorry I must write this letter to you, but it is the duty of every Black father to share the stories of this battle with his son. You are the solution to this nation’s problems and the prey of dying wolves who want yesterday to always be tomorrow,” Moss writes. “You and your generation are the gifts God has sent to victims of an old story.”


Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant religion professor at Trinity University, dives into centuries-old Sikh texts seeking wisdom that will help save children from being targets of bigotry and from perpetuating bigotry. Sikhs in America have been victims of racist attacks and harassment in the years since 9/11, and Singh, a father himself, is searching for a way towards peace.

Singh writes that true people of conscience can’t sit by idly while others are being persecuted ― they must be willing to put their lives on the line.

Another nugget of truth comes from a composition by the Sikh teacher Guru Tegh Bahadur: “A truly wise person is one who doesn’t fear anyone or frighten anyone.”


Jim Wallis, founder of the faith-based advocacy organization and magazine Sojourners, gives progressive people of faith a simple answer to what they need to do over the next four years: “Stand up and defend those most at risk at this crucial moment in America’s political history. “

How exactly to go about that is a bit more complicated. Wallis goes on to give three recommendations.



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