You know the religious right. Here's the religious left (and it's fired up)
Runna Othman, 26, of Chicago decided she didn't want her faith to fade away as the political arena pressured her to conform. Instead, she said she wants to be the best Muslim she can be.
NASHVILLE — The country's heightened Islamophobia fueled by President Trump's campaign rhetoric caused one Illinois woman to re-examine her Muslim faith.
The outcome: She's now unapologetically Muslim, she said.
“I’m not going to be ashamed to wear my hijab. I’m not going to be ashamed if I need to pray in public,” said Runna Othman, 26, who works as a technical recruiter in Chicago. “I’m going to be a true representative of Islam.”
Her experience isn’t unique. The divisive climate that began with the presidential election and persists under the Trump administration has galvanized some of the country’s faithful to draw on their beliefs as they push back.
“Trump pushes the moral button in you,” said Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
The religious left is rising as a result, and it’s happening with an urgency that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s, Jones said. Not only do followers find Trump’s personal comments and actions in conflict with their beliefs but also his policies, including refugee and immigration restrictions.
“All of this work has been going on for a long time, but Trump has just ignited the energy around it and brought people to the streets because of real fear,” Jones said.
The religious right has long aligned itself with the Republican Party, and the 2016 presidential election was no different. More than 8 in 10 self-identified white, born-again and evangelical Christian voters said they cast their ballot for Trump, the Pew Research Center reported.
Those voters support Trump administration proposals that would limit abortion and allow legal exemptions for people and organizations that object to same-sex marriage, pre-marital sex and transgender rights. They favor the recent appointment of conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the religious left is multigenerational, Jones sees it manifested among millennials at Union, which is a hub of progressive religious action. That bodes well for the future of the country and the church, she said.
In Nashville, Sophia Agtarap, a 37-year-old daughter of a retired United Methodist minister, found herself rereading her denomination’s principles on a host of social issues. They reinforced her belief that she needed to act.
While she is a long-time activist against homelessness and for equality, Trump administration policies — especially increased enforcement of immigration laws — increased her activism. Agtarap, an immigrant herself, recently joined the Moral Movement Tennessee’s Holy Week sit-in, where activists occupied the governor’s office to push for Medicaid expansion.
She’s applied to become a deaconess in the United Methodist Church, too.
“I’ve just felt more strongly called to be physically present,” Agtarap said. “That means showing up to gatherings big and small. That means signing petitions. That means having conversations with folks that might see the situation a little bit differently than me.”
Post election, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance in the nation's capital, didn’t see religious people filling pews to seek comfort. But he did see them responding to the tense political climate and acts of defacement and hate against Jewish institutions across the USA.
“They took some of that anger and frustration they had after the election and looked to turn it to making the world a better place,” said Moline, who noticed that response in himself, too.
After the election, Moline appeared with a diverse religious group in front of a Washington mosque to declare his support.
“That was for me not a political act because, after all, I’m a rabbi,” Moline said. “For me, that was a religious mandate. That’s what we needed when we faced this in Germany.”
Traditional faiths aren't all that people have turned to for support. In St. Louis, more people have flocked to a humanist congregation.
The Ethical Society of St. Louis typically draws 150 to 200 people to its Sunday services. But the first meeting after the Nov. 8 election drew about 300, said James Croft, the ethical society’s outreach director.
He started his Sunday address that week by asking everyone to hug one another.
“People felt shocked and distressed, like they had woken up in a different America than they went to sleep in,” Croft said. “Everyone got up and gave each other a hug because there was a clear need for people to be around other people and to reckon with what had happened.”
Othman is still figuring out how she can help in her community, but she’s interested in creating a safe space for young Muslims to talk and seek advice. She renewed her faith in God and committed to openly practicing it.
In a guest blog entry on MuslimGirl.com, she wrote about her recent enlightenment and believes that being a Muslim means loving and caring for one another.
Although she wasn’t insulated from Islamophobia as she grew up in a post-9/11 world, Othman never felt uneasy about her faith, especially in her predominantly Arab community in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview.
But after the election she had to re-evaluate what it meant to be Muslim, particularly with the president’s ban on travelers from some Muslim-majority nations. What she and others view as the president’s hateful rhetoric has emboldened others to act poorly, she said.
“It is dangerous to wear hijab in the streets, and people do say things to you. And people are ignorant,” she said. “But I want people to be confident in who they are and love themselves.”
Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter: @HollyAMeyer
Trump administration policies that mitigate the rights of groups such as immigrants made Sophia Agtarap, 37, of Nashville decide that she needed to examine her long-held United Methodist faith and become more active in it.