American Prophets

by Jack Jenkins


Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


Turning to the back of the book, one realizes it is a well-researched book as the

endnotes are a modest 76 pages. The author is thorough in making his points.

Religion reporter Jenkins delves deeply into the origins, activities, and leadership

of the Religious Left, a movement he describes as “an amorphous, ever-

changing group of progressive, faith-based advocates, strategists, and political

operatives.” The author highlights the widespread—though not always widely

recognized—role that progressive faith communities have long held in political

and social causes. Jenkins illuminates these causes through stories of individual

leaders of specific movements. After an introductory chapter discussing how faith

communities were essential in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the author

segues into a discussion of Barack Obama’s own expressions of faith in public

discourse. He then covers a number of well-known movements from the past two

decades and important leaders associated with them. Examples include the Rev.

William Barber with North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, the Rev. Traci Blackmon

with Black Lives Matter, and Sioux activist Chase Iron Eyes with the Standing

Rock protests. Jenkins goes on to cover a number of other topics, such as the

Religious Left’s role in LGBTQ activism, the influence of Roman Catholicism in

the environmental movement, and interfaith organizing to support the Muslim

community. Beyond providing stories of the Religious Left, Jenkins attempts to

determine how it has operated in politics and society. For example, he writes, “to

understand the New Sanctuary movement [which advocates for immigrants] is to

understand how the Religious Left builds power through a mixture of moral

arguments, liberation theology, and the art of protest.” Throughout, Jenkins

analyzes as well as reports, adding further value to his work. The author has

provided a contemporary history that will be useful to students of the intersection

of politics and religion in our current era.


There is a profound power of progressive faith on those who claim it, inspiring

action and activism-sometimes boisterous, sometimes quiet on any number of

issues. He reminded me that faith is one of the few things that can, as its best,

exist outside the often bleak narratives journalists paint for the world, inspiring

million to hold fast to hopeful truths in the face of a society that bitterly insists that

all is lost. The author followed up some of his convictions with other journalists

and they said that like many faith-rooted advocates, he doesn’t necessarily align

his gun violence prevention activism with one ideology or party (although he was

leaning toward supporting former vice president Joe Biden in the democratic

primary.) “It doesn’t matter if it’s Republican or Democrat, just do the right thing.”

Because of Biden and his life experience as well as the modern Religious Left,

broadly defined, is likely to impact politics for years to come. It draws from a

seemingly bottomless well of resilience that is paradoxically adaptable and

immutable. I tis undeterred by those who mock it, and even if the cameras

vanish form the rallies, or the food of activists slows to a trickle, or the politicians

stop listening to them altogether, religious communities dedicated to progressive

causes will endure. For they have the audacity to believe in a faith that gives

them no other choice but to cry out! This menagerie of communities, activists,

and everyday believers will not always agree with each other, nor will they avoid

mistakes. But if you know where to look, you will still find them in the streets,

along the picket lines or even in the halls of power. Just as prophets have. This

book is best geared for like-minded readers. It is filled with energy and

enthusiasm for what is best for all.

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