The Emotional Management of Progressive Religious Mobilization

The Emotional Management of Progressive Religious Mobilization Abstract Faith-based community organizations (FBCOs) have been among the most successful U.S. civic groups in forging solidarity and collective action across social difference. Building on scholarship that emphasizes how culture can ease race and class tensions within organizations, I analyze the emotional management of structural difference in FBCOs’ organizing projects. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews within a large, diverse FBCO, I identify two emotional narratives that motivate individuals’ participation—lived injustice and failed covenant. I document the streamlining of these narratives through a practice I call vulnerability talk, and show that this process can enhance group cohesion at some times, but undermine it at others. By conceptualizing faith-based organizing as the emotional management of structural difference, this article provides a clearer understanding of how culture works in religious mobilization than accounts focused on interests alone, and points to emotions as a central concern in today’s progressive movements, both religious and secular. Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 election laid bare a major cultural distinction between the American right and left. Trump built support by tapping feelings of loss, anger, resentment, fear, and mourning that had been simmering among rural, white, and conservative Christian Americans for many years (Cramer 2016; Gorski 2017b; Hochschild 2016). In contrast, the 21st century left has seen few notable attempts by public figures or political leaders to forge emotional links between its factions, or to identify and exploit emotionally resonant narratives that could become the basis for progressive policies (Braunstein 2018). With no emotional thread to tie together the left’s many potential constituencies, structural differences between them manifest as antagonism and competition, opening opportunities for astute campaigners like Trump to drive emotional wedges between groups that might otherwise have been political allies. As progressives organize in response to the Trump administration, the importance of emotional narratives in U.S. civic life (Hochschild 2016) beckons scholars to investigate how emotions become a basis for collective action, particularly among organizations whose participants’ different structural locations mean that they experience emotions and connect them to public concerns in different ways (Jasper 2011). While an established line of research shows that culture matters more than material interests for bridging structural difference both within and among organizations (Braunstein et al. 2014; Giorgi et al. 2017; Lichterman 2005; Williams 1995), this work tends to assume that culture works by revealing and/or constructing shared interests or identities (Benford and Snow 2000; Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Enriquez and Saguy 2016; Lichterman 2008), or by fostering network connections among otherwise unconnected actors (Schussman and Soule 2005; Warren 2001). In contrast, few studies have explicitly examined emotions’ role in progressive politics. Faith-based community organizations (FBCOs) comprise one of the largest fields of grassroots participatory democracy in the U.S. today (Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015). They have been among the most effective civic groups in marshaling culture to organize across race, class, and religious difference (Braunstein et al. 2014; Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Swarts 2008; Wood and Fulton 2015), and they are emerging as leading moral voices in the anti-Trump resistance, as observed in recent New York Times reports and editorials regarding sanctuary for immigrants (Goodstein 2016) and gun control (Cediel et al. 2017). Yet even as studies of FBCOs proliferate amid scholars’ increasing focus on narrative, emotion, and identity in social movements (Braunstein 2017; Swarts 2008; Wood and Fulton 2015), none have explicitly analyzed how the emotional management of structural difference shapes progressive religious mobilization. A key research question emerges: what roles do emotions play in progressive religious organizations’ cultural negotiation of structural challenges, and to what effect? An analytic focus on emotions can help address the theoretical question of how organizations use culture to mitigate structural challenges. It can also shed light on the ways progressive religious organizations are adapting to the current political moment, and to four key structural factors in particular. First, against the backdrop of the Trump administration, the goals and activities of many progressive religious actors are becoming more closely aligned with those of the secular left. Religious progressives have often kept party politics at arm’s length (Sager 2017), but the urgency of the current political moment means that religious people who are concerned with issues like sanctuary for immigrants, access to health care, environmental protection, and criminal justice reform must increasingly grapple with questions of how they fit into the larger progressive landscape and the discourses and narratives dominant therein. Second, as intersectional thought and action becomes more commonplace, and even normative, in progressive movement spaces (Chun et al. 2013; Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018; Tucker 2017), there is an increasing need for progressive religious actors to develop explicit accounts of what their faith traditions say about overlapping hierarchies based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration status. Third, efforts are increasing to synthesize the longstanding efforts of locally focused coalitions into nationally networked political action. Organizations like the Gamaliel Foundation, Faith in Action (formerly the PICO National Network) (Wood and Fulton 2015), and the Industrial Areas Foundation (Stout 2010) are looking for scalable models for connecting faith and action that can be implemented across many local contexts and contribute to building political and cultural power at the national level. Fourth, even as these factors pull progressive religious actors toward more explicitly political critique and action, progressive religious activism is still religious, and its practitioners must find ways to assert and extend their religious faith in and through their work, no matter how political it becomes. This article explains the emotional management of progressive religious mobilization. I define emotional management as leaders’ intentional use of emotions to mitigate the challenges imposed by social difference, and argue that it is central to the strategies that FBCOs are developing in response to the above contextual factors as they adapt a longstanding organizing tradition to the demands of 21st century politics. Drawing on 30 months of fieldwork and 31 interviews, I show that a large and diverse Midwestern FBCO that I call ELIJAH engages in emotional management to foster cohesion and organize action. ELIJAH participants use two distinct emotional narratives to make sense of the inequities of U.S. society and their roles in responding to them. The first, a lived injustice narrative, highlights personal experiences of deprivation and oppression and draws out their emotional consequences, emphasizing how culture compounds economic suffering by bringing guilt, shame, and fear upon marginalized people. The second, a failed covenant narrative, reflects privileged people’s efforts to make sense of their roles in producing and contesting the problems from which other people suffer. It focuses on the guilt and anger that privileged people feel about living in a society that violates God’s sacred trust by allowing deep inequalities to persist. These distinct narratives reflect different combinations of interests, identities, and motivations for involvement in social change projects, but emotions are highly salient in both. This provides the basis for ELIJAH to forge a shared group culture across structural differences through emotional management. At the same time, while the two narratives both center emotions as motivation for political involvement, they describe different sources of emotional discomfort and different amounts of urgency and privilege. This disjuncture means that ELIJAH’s emotional management is fraught with race and class tensions, and the resulting solidarity is capricious. In ELIJAH’s organizing work, we can see how social structure ripples through the cultural practices of the FBCO field, posing major barriers to the emergence of a shared emotional framework among different progressive constituencies. The article is structured as follows. First, I outline a few empirical and conceptual features of progressive religious activism and FBCOs. Then, I use a discussion of a large ELIJAH rally held soon after President Trump’s inauguration to demonstrate how ELIJAH’s culture centers emotions through the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives. I then explain how ELIJAH leaders work to synthesize these narratives into a unified framework through the practice of vulnerability talk—introspective discussion of personal emotions, especially pain, shame, guilt, fear, and anger. Focusing on emotional trauma, rather than interests or political issues, vulnerability talk is the primary discursive practice through which the emotional management of structural difference is accomplished. Discussion of personal vulnerability resonates across social locations and faith traditions, and provides a basis for structurally distant actors to bond over emotions, even when the sources of their emotions are different. I present one example in which vulnerability talk facilitated solidarity in ELIJAH and helped it overcome significant internal tension related to a controversial protest. I then discuss an episode in which vulnerability talk had the opposite effect, amplifying race and class difference and undermining solidarity, and provide an example of how strategic concerns can lead ELIJAH to elevate the failed covenant narrative at the expense of the lived injustice narrative. I conclude by discussing the challenges that a discursive focus on emotions presents for diverse organizing coalitions. CULTURE AND EMOTIONS IN PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS MOBILIZATION Is a “Religious Left” Emerging? The FBCO field is far from the only strain of progressive religious activism in the United States (Braunstein et al. 2017), but it is the largest and most influential (Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015), and it has grown markedly in recent years. A 2011 survey identified 189 FBCOs in the United States, an increase from 133 in 1999, and the number has grown more since (Wood and Fulton 2015). Many of these local and regional federations cooperate through national networks including the Gamaliel Foundation, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Faith in Action to confront economic and racial inequalities nationwide. This combination of local organizing and national networking makes the FBCO field one of the largest venues of grassroots political participation in the United States (Wood and Fulton 2015), and a key incubator of discursive linkages between the transcendent languages offered by religious traditions and the structural critiques offered by the secular left (Fuist 2017). ELIJAH is a regional coalition of over one hundred churches of many denominations. It was a Christian only organization for nearly 20 years after its founding, but just after my fieldwork ended, it began organizing in mosques as well. As a leading member of one of the national FBCO networks, ELIJAH is part of a growing field of organizations coordinating to mobilize everyday people on the basis of religious faith. As one of the largest FBCOs in its national network, ELIJAH contributes substantially to the cultural and strategic development of the FBCO field as a whole, and its top leaders often help design and execute the training of other FBCO leaders across the country. Hence, while this study uses data from only one organization, there is good reason to believe that processes I observed in ELIJAH are also at work elsewhere. In response to the 2016 election, press reporters (e.g., Goodstein 2017; Jenkins 2016) are beginning to ask whether a new “Religious Left” is emerging. However, this question mischaracterizes FBCOs’ work. For one thing, this framing’s symmetry with the Religious Right presumes an electoral focus, but in contrast to religious conservatives, most progressive religious activists have not been primarily concerned with influencing election results. Instead, they have established a strong tradition of organizing around local issues and building power to sway the decisions of officials already in office (Sager 2017). The growth of national organizing networks is an attempt to connect this tradition of local organizing with a national political strategy and enhanced cultural power (Wood and Fulton 2015). A second problem with the “Religious Left” framing is that the diverse array of religious people that the phrase is often meant to describe is not a unified bloc, but an amalgam of groups with distinct histories, interests, priorities, and organizing traditions (Braunstein et al. 2017). The Religious Right, while multidenominational, has always been racially and ethnically homogeneous. While its origins required unifying denominational groups ranging from conservative Catholics to Reformed Protestants to charismatic Pentecostals (Wuthnow 1988), its racial homogeneity supported a strong subcultural identity that could be easily marshaled for political action (Smith 1998). The importance of white identity in forging the coalition that became the Religious Right (Jones 2016; Kruse 2015; Wuthnow 1988) stands in stark contrast to the racial and ethnic diversity of the progressive religious field. FBCOs’ internal diversity means that they must find ways to organize groups with unique histories, political theologies, and issue priorities, from black evangelicals to Latino/a Catholics to white mainline Protestants. Some of these groups have long fostered their own religious resistance tactics in response to economic or political oppression. The black church social reform tradition and Latin American liberation theology, two prominent cultural influences in FBCOs, developed as means of protecting imperiled communities, and their preferred tactics are often more confrontational than those of white Christians (Kucinskas 2014; Wuthnow and Evans 2002). Hence, whereas the Religious Right took shape with the help of a shared racial identity, many progressive religious groups must build their collective identities on the fly, synthesizing not only multiple religious traditions, but also different interests and different cultural traditions for connecting faith with political action. In the absence of a shared racial or ethnic identity that can bridge these differences, emotional management provides an alternative basis for cohesion. In this context, the most important question about religion and progressive politics today is not whether a leftist mirror image of the Religious Right will appear. Instead, social scientists should be asking whether and how progressive religious actors can forge a cultural framework through which structurally distant constituencies can identify shared ethical commitments and advance them through collective action. As I will show below, emotional management is one basis for this cultural production. In assessing how and to what effect ELIJAH uses emotions as a basis for its organizing, we can move scholarship on religion, social movements, and political action forward in two key ways. Empirically, we can better understand religious organizations’ present and potential future contributions to movements that contest deepening racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the 21st century. Theoretically, this work will help to develop a better account of how groups’ internal cultural dynamics shape their mobilization potential, and the ways that talk about emotions can contribute to or undermine solidarity in diverse organizations. ELIJAH and the Complexities of Progressive Religious Organizing ELIJAH has been striving to build political power by mobilizing religious congregations since it was founded in 2000. It has contributed to many important “wins,” including the passage of a major affordable housing bill, the defeat of a voter identification amendment to the state constitution, and the adoption of mandatory earned sick time policies and a minimum wage increase at the city level. These wins have been the results of efforts to mobilize members of ELIJAH’s affiliated churches to knock on doors, make phone calls, meet with state and local representatives, confront landlords, housing developers, corporate leaders and other power holders, and occasionally disrupt government meetings or business events. Such activities have made ELIJAH recognizable at the state capitol and in the local press. Yet, like other FBCOs across the country, ELIJAH’s power is limited in several important ways. Its presence in many of its member congregations is restricted to small groups of activists who receive little financial support from clergy and denominational staff, and who often struggle to recruit others from their congregations into political work (Delehanty 2016). Moreover, even its most committed leaders, including both whites and nonwhites, express frustration with its struggles to organize effectively in majority black and Latino/a churches. For every issue reform that ELIJAH has “won,” there are many that it has not, and its power remains small compared to that of business groups, corporate lobbyists, and the Religious Right. In this regard, ELIJAH’s work provides a useful window into the challenges facing progressive religious activist organizations. Its affiliated congregations represent many kinds of communities, from wealthy whites to disadvantaged minorities, and from theologically conservative Pentecostals (mostly African Americans) to theologically liberal United Church of Christ (UCC) members, one of whom described herself as “one small step away from being Unitarian Universalist.” While ELIJAH is highly successful by the standards of the FBCO field, its power is ultimately constrained not only by the surrounding political economy, in which many skeptical nonmember churches, denominational decision makers, political leaders, and funders write it off as simply another left-leaning activist group, but also by cultural frictions within its member churches and among its individual leaders. To wit: ELIJAH employs faith language constantly, but is seen as “too political and not religious enough” for many members of its affiliated churches; it is intentionally multiracial, but its culture is “too white” for some while others are put off by its incisive critiques of white supremacy; its embrace of gay, lesbian, and transgender equality has alienated powerful clergy and hampered organizing efforts in its more theologically conservative congregations, particularly black churches; and its strong opposition to school voucher programs has harmed its relationship with the local Catholic diocese. ELIJAH’s past successes and its stature as a leading FBCO obscure this array of challenges from the view of the public and even some of its participants. Its public action appears to many as the logical output of a tidy organizing process, but the reality is more complex. In ELIJAH’s work, some of the deepest challenges facing the modern American left are on display. Amid these divergent cultural models of how faith connects to public life (Becker 1999), emotional management becomes a means for FBCOs to foster consensus about how and why to engage in politics, and helps them move beyond some of the challenges associated with organizing on the basis of interests alone. The models of community organizing from which the FBCO field emerged, and in which many of its leaders are trained, traditionally focused on “winnable” quality of life issues at the neighborhood and municipal levels (Alinsky 1971; Frost 2001; Swarts 2008; Warren 2001). This local orientation persists in many aspects of FBCOs’ work, and is reflected in the existing scholarship’s focus on interests as a basis for mobilization. But as the FBCO field evolves, local and regional federations are increasingly couching issue campaigns within a larger ambition: to synthesize the many cultural repertoires that their diverse constituencies bring into activism into a cohesive emotional framework that can seep into people’s learned assumptions and dispositions and alter their understandings of who they are, who is like them, and what their political, economic, and moral interests are (Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017). This requires constructing a more expansive discourse of why social change matters and whom it can benefit than the Alinsky tradition offers (Giorgi et al. 2017; Hart 2001; Polletta and Jasper 2001; Swarts 2008). Against the backdrop of the progressive left’s longstanding struggles to organize effectively on the basis of shared interests (Schlozman et al. 2013; Wood 2002), FBCOs’ turn toward emotional management as a basis for organizing offers a useful perspective on the cultural complexities of progressive political organizing in the current era. RESEARCH METHODS The data for this study come from participant observation and 31 in-depth interviews that I conducted in ELIJAH from January 2015 through June 2017. The fieldwork involved becoming embedded within an ELIJAH congregation and experiencing its leadership development process as a newcomer. During the fieldwork period, I attended an average of two events per week, including rallies, protests, and other social movement actions; leadership assemblies involving ELIJAH’s executive leaders, staff organizers, and clergy and lay leaders; and issue meetings, where staff organizers trained clergy and lay leaders to plan strategies and actions within particular issue campaigns. I also participated in congregation-level events, where congregations’ internal ELIJAH teams planned events and actions and strategized to recruit members and increase commitments to ELIJAH’s work within their churches. I also attended two national FBCO conventions organized by ELIJAH’s national network. I recruited interview participants through personal invitations and networking with key contacts to identify respondents in ELIJAH congregations I was less well connected to. Of the 31 interviewees, 11 are people of color and 19 are women. Four interviewees were no longer active in ELIJAH or had significantly cut back their involvement at the time of interview, seven had been involved for less than 1 year, and four had been in ELIJAH for more than 10 years. Thus, the interviews capture the experiences of people from different social locations and varying levels of experience in and commitment to the organization. The interviews were semi-structured conversations ranging from one to two and a half hours long in which I asked respondents about their histories in ELIJAH, their reasons for becoming involved, and their perspectives on the organization’s successes and challenges. Interviews were transcribed, then coded for emergent themes. A second round of coding identified interview segments that could provide additional perspective on key events I observed in the field. DATA ANALYSIS A Major ELIJAH Rally On a Saturday afternoon in January 2017, over 2,000 people gathered at Broadway Christian Center,1 a majority-black Pentecostal church, to share stories and discuss strategies for resisting the policies they expected the white House and Congress to implement in the following weeks and months. They had come together not to worship, but to affirm a set of ethical propositions derived from their faith traditions: that U.S. society has enough resources to allow all people to live economically secure lives; that its current distribution of those resources violates religious principles about dignity and compassion; and that this problem is deepened by a political culture that pits Americans of different backgrounds against one another, serves the economic elite, and prevents millions from enjoying the basic security that should come with life in a prosperous democracy. The event, entitled “For Such a Time as This: Building Our Prophetic Resistance,” aimed to use these ideas as the springboard for a program of action that would inject a broad-based moral voice into the political debates to come. President Trump’s inauguration 8 days earlier had endowed the proceedings with a tangible sense of urgency. But while the rally looked and felt like a response to Trump, ELIJAH organizers had been planning it since the previous summer, when most of them had expected 2017 to bring very different political circumstances. As they worked in summer 2016 to plan activities that would follow the fall’s elections, they wanted to demonstrate that they could mobilize large numbers of people to support their agenda. The more they could rally, the more seriously politicians beginning their terms in January 2017 would take them. But after Trump’s election, the meaning of “prophetic resistance,” as ELIJAH leaders had titled the rally, changed. It suddenly meant not only continuing steadfast opposition to the economic and racial inequalities that ELIJAH has been fighting since its founding, but also fostering immediate action to counter an administration whose policy proposals threatened to upend millions of already troubled lives across the country. With many people suddenly hungry for political involvement, word about ELIJAH and its upcoming public meeting spread quickly, especially at the previous week’s Women’s March. Registration exploded in the days before the event, and as it became evident that Broadway Christian Center would be filled beyond capacity, the planning team rented 500 folding chairs to set up in the aisles and any other spaces they could find in the church, and arranged for New Kingdom, another ELIJAH-affiliated church a few blocks away, to livestream the event in case overflow space was needed. Together, the 2,000 attendees represented 170 churches and 21 denominations. As they arrived, they stopped at check-in tables to collect folders containing agendas, calendars, and contribution forms, then sought seats in the enormous sanctuary, a theater-style venue with padded seats instead of pews and large projectors hanging above the altar. To say the church was packed would be an understatement: the rented folding chairs occupied every available space, and those who had not arrived at least 20 minutes early had to stand, clogging the aisles and entryways. Latecomers were directed to New Kingdom. Although I had been studying ELIJAH for more than 2 years by this time, and knew most of the people at most of the events and meetings I attended, it was hard for me to pick out familiar faces among the massive crowd as I helped direct parents with young children to the child care room. Broadway Christian Center occupies a full city block in a poor, mostly black urban neighborhood. In the surrounding streets, a few nonprofit offices and churches interrupt a flow of fast food restaurants and check cashing storefronts. The area does not typically attract many outside visitors, but on this day, it welcomed whites, blacks, Latino/as, East Africans, Filipino/as, and Native Americans, most from the surrounding metropolitan area, but also a few from other parts of the state. In one area sat a group of about 150 Catholics, mostly white and middle to upper class, who had traveled together by bus from their church across the city. Near them was a group of roughly 30 black Pentecostals from a smaller city 70 miles northwest. Across an aisle from them were about 100 UCC members from a town an hour south, where immigrant factory workers had suddenly become potential deportation targets. Sprinkled throughout were groups of Latino/as, some of whom wore headsets that would convey a Spanish translation of the proceedings. In all, the assembly was just over half white. Upon the altar, about two dozen clergy members sat in two rows of chairs facing the audience. They were young and old, black and white, male and female. A woman UCC pastor’s pink hair stood out against their mostly dark clerical garb. Facing them in the front row of seats were more than 30 elected officials whom ELIJAH lay leaders had invited through letters, phone calls, and in-person meetings. Being able to procure meetings with elected officials is a good indicator of a community organization’s power (Stout 2010; Warren 2001), and the number of politicians present attested to ELIJAH’s local stature. An U.S. Senator was there, along with the city’s mayor, several state legislators, and other mayors and municipal officials from surrounding cities and towns. The Lieutenant Governor had also been scheduled to attend, but had fallen sick the previous day. The Lived Injustice Narrative Over the next 3 hours, these officials would listen to a mix of preaching and storytelling. Clergy gave theological reflections on themes of love, justice, and dignity, endowing the proceedings with a religious flavor that appealed across the many Christian traditions represented in the crowd. But the bulk of the time was spent on personal testimony from lay leaders. People of various backgrounds told stories about hardships and losses caused by the government’s failure to act on issues ranging from family leave policies to criminal justice to immigration. One black woman explained how taking out a payday loan for a few hundred dollars had trapped her in a 10-year debt cycle. A white man described how the stigma of having a felony drug conviction diminished his confidence while looking for jobs. Such testimonies are a key part of ELIJAH’s culture, and not only because learning to tell one’s own story to others is an effective way to build civic skills (Han 2014; Oyakawa 2015; Polletta 2006). Personal testimony is also effective for another reason: it is a religious practice, familiar across many traditions, that highlights emotions and makes them the basis of structural critique. Because religious people’s emotions are shaped at the intersection of their religious beliefs and their experiences of the world, discussing them provides a means of endowing political critique with moral meaning. Hence, emotions are salient in nearly every personal story told in ELIJAH, even though the specific emotions discussed and the reasons people feel them vary widely. Personal testimony is a central part of nearly every ELIJAH event, from small congregational planning meetings in church basements to large rallies like this one. The testimonies shared at the rally differed in tone and content, but they all contained emotional descriptions of pain, fear, guilt, anger, or shame. Antoine, a black man in his 30s, described how fear of police brutality compounds his struggle to get by on low wages.2 He spends a lot of money keeping his car looking perfect to minimize the chances of being pulled over and potentially shot by a police officer. But more important than the budget hit, he said, is that his fear of police makes him feel isolated and lonely, as if his life were disposable. Yolanda, a Latina in her 50s, said that she and her family and friends are shamed and dehumanized when they are accused of taking jobs and resources from native-born Americans. She then performed a calculation of the amount in taxes that she has paid into Social Security and Medicare, programs that undocumented people like her cannot benefit from. She arrived at a figure over $50,000. Antoine and Yolanda used talk about fear and shame to link their personal experiences with incisive critiques of white supremacy and capitalism, emphasizing the connections between social class, race, immigration status, and other dimensions of difference. In doing so, they accomplished two key cultural tasks. First, by highlighting emotions, they made their own personal experiences resonate across many social locations. People in the crowd came from many backgrounds and had many different sets of experiences and issue priorities, but all could sympathize with Antoine and Yolanda for having been made to feel afraid and inadequate. Second, the presentation of emotional stories about different issues one after another amplified a discourse of intersectionality that is increasingly prominent in progressive movements. In this discourse, individuals’ distinct racial, class, religious, and sexual identities combine within a larger vision of social change (Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018; Tucker 2017) that emphasizes how multiple problems overlap to compound people’s struggles. The stories’ focus on emotions highlighted how multiple social hierarchies—for Yolanda, being poor, undocumented, and a woman—combined within people’s daily lives to cause fear and shame. Emotion-laden testimonies provide a way for ELIJAH participants to connect their own stories and religious commitments with the intersectional perspective flourishing in today’s youth-driven progressive social movements. Antoine’s and Yolanda’s stories, along with others told at the rally, described contemporary social life, in which economic marginalization and social stigma combine to produce feelings of shame, fear, and isolation, as emotionally draining and dehumanizing. Antoine’s biggest concern, as expressed in his story, was not his poverty, but his fear. Yolanda was less bothered by the money lost to taxes than by the derogatory accusations that she and her community are subject to. Stories like theirs reflect a lived injustice narrative: they depict individuals struggling not only against economic systems, but also against the shame, fear, anger, and guilt that result from living in a society that preys on its most vulnerable members. While the specific problems that lived injustice stories discuss are tied to individuals’ distinct experiences, as rooted in their backgrounds, their emotional implications resonate across many social locations, and provide a basis for solidarity and collective action across substantial social difference. The Failed Covenant Narrative Personal testimony is effective in ELIJAH because it connects social critique with an emotionally powerful religious practice that appeals across many backgrounds. Middle class whites, who comprise much of ELIJAH’s membership, have been relatively insulated from the effects of increasing socioeconomic inequality. But when asked, most can think of moments when they have felt emotional discomfort related to some larger social or economic problem, and these moments can become the basis of “politicized personal narratives” (Oyakawa 2015) that legitimate their activism. For instance, after hearing from Antoine and Yolanda, the audience at the rally also heard from Sharon, a white, upper middle class Catholic woman whose corporate employer had recently implemented a policy requiring all department managers to fire the worst-performing 10 percent of their employees each year, regardless of the department’s overall performance. Sharon’s voice trembled with anger as she explained that such a policy violated her beliefs about human dignity by treating people as disposable. Sharon decided to retire early rather than conform to the policy change. She is angry about injustice done to others, but during her frequent tellings of this story at ELIJAH events, she talks mostly about her own personal outrage caused by the new policy. Without denying that her work in ELIJAH benefits others, she emphasizes that it benefits her by fulfilling her moral ambitions and helping her live out her calling from God. Her anger is a fundamental part of this, as it is only by embracing her anger, rather than suppressing it, that she can fully appreciate how deeply this situation violates her religious beliefs, and hence incorporate the imperative to act into her religious identity. In describing her work in ELIJAH as an emotion-driven personal project of helping society to move toward a more just and equitable future and redeeming its unjust past and present, Sharon’s story reflects a failed covenant narrative. This failed covenant narrative appears often in ELIJAH. It is usually espoused by people in comfortable social locations, especially middle to upper class whites. It reflects sincerity and solidarity with the marginalized, but also implicitly projects privilege. The irony that Sharon was only able to make the principled decision to retire early because she was already financially secure was not mentioned at the rally. But this irony is at the heart of ELIJAH’s emotional management. As a white woman who is financially comfortable enough to retire early rather than continue working for an employer whose policies she finds repugnant, Sharon occupies a drastically different structural position than Antoine and Yolanda do. Emotion work provides a means of bridging this structural chasm. By telling a story that was primarily about her own anger, Sharon offered an emotional basis for people in marginalized situations to connect with her story even though it reflected a great deal of privilege, and offered a model for other privileged people to follow as they sought to forge connections with less privileged others and incorporate action against injustice into their own religious identities. By predicating its efforts to bridge multiple constituencies on the discussion of personal emotions in public settings, ELIJAH aligns the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives in a platform for broad-based collective action. By emphasizing that every person has emotions that can become the basis of activism (Oyakawa 2015), it creates a path of entry into organizing work that is available to people of many backgrounds, not only those who are directly marginalized. Its focus on emotions illuminates cultural pathways for cooperation among people of different social locations, and at times levels the playing field between marginalized and privileged participants by giving everyone, not just the marginalized, an emotional stake in the outcome. The stories told by Antoine, Yolanda, and Sharon demonstrate how people from ELIJAH’s distinct constituencies draw on different kinds of emotional narratives that lead to different understandings of why political action matters and how it intersects with religious faith. Antoine’s and Yolanda’s stories reflect a lived injustice narrative that emphasizes the emotional consequences of marginalization. It is typically rooted in individual, family, or community experience, and usually invoked by poor people and people of color in ELIJAH. In contrast, Sharon’s story advances a failed covenant narrative that highlights emotions derived from one’s own relationship to and complicity in the marginalization of others, and expresses regret about society’s failure to live up to God’s expectations. It is most salient among privileged people who feel guilty about injustices done to others, but who wish to develop and articulate a personal stake in the work to avoid problems associated with the white savior complex in progressive organizations (Eichstedt 2001; Ward 2008). Personal commitments to rectify a failed covenant thus become an emotional pathway into activism for privileged religious progressives. Emotional Management through Vulnerability Talk ELIJAH’s participants articulate different types and sources of emotional trauma through distinct narratives that are associated with their social locations. Across these differences, they share a high salience of emotions in their respective conceptions of what injustice is and how they should respond. At the rally, the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives came together to depict ELIJAH as a highly unified organization in which “people of faith” come together across race, class, and religious differences to demand political solutions to ethical problems. But the unity that emanated from the rally stage does not come about easily. ELIJAH’s success depends upon its ability to capitalize on the shared salience of emotions in participants’ personal narratives without allowing their different sources of emotional anguish to splinter the organization along race and class lines. Hence, ELIJAH’s solidarity is only as strong as the emotional empathy between groups that it can forge at the intersection of the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives. Vulnerability talk—intentional and explicit discussion of personal emotions—is ELIJAH’s main mechanism for building these links. Its utility can be observed in a series of discussions at a strategy meeting in June 2016. Nina, a white ELIJAH staff organizer in her late 20s, was leading a debrief after the roughly 80 people (of mixed races, ages, and denominations) in attendance had broken into five smaller groups to discuss issue campaigns ELIJAH was working on at the time: a renewable energy project, a campaign against payday lending, reforms regarding mass incarceration and private prisons, a push for paid family leave and earned sick time policies, and a project to bolster mass transit in the region. Leaders working on each issue had set up stations in corners of the meeting room, and each of the five groups visited two stations during the breakout session. To refocus the group after the issue discussions, Nina first appealed to a symbolic boundary between the morally motivated faith actors of ELIJAH and the political elites standing in their way, asking people to shout out “what you have learned about what we are up against in this fight.” People mentioned things like big money, corporate greed, backroom political deals, and the Chamber of Commerce. Although this boundary work energized the group, Nina quickly turned the focus to emotions. After a brief discussion of the powerholders preventing change on the five issues, she said, “I want to talk about something else that’s stopping us. How many of you feel like all your life you’ve been a rule follower?” Most people in the room raised their hands. Nina replied, “that’s right, we’re church people, we follow rules. But what’s our responsibility when the rules are immoral? What do we do when the rules don’t work for us and our families and the people we love in our churches?” People murmured back that in this situation it was necessary to change the rules. Clarice, a Filipina Catholic who has been part of ELIJAH for nearly 20 years, spoke up: “there’s a lot of trepidation about it. I know that I hate breaking rules, it makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious and I just don’t like it. But when there are a lot of people that are breaking the rules with me, I can muster the courage to go ahead because I know that it’s the right thing to do.” Years of experience have taught FBCO leaders that talk about interests and issues is often not a sufficient basis for maintaining solidarity among the many constituencies involved in their work (Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Giorgi et al. 2017; Hart 2001; Oyakawa 2015; Wood 2002). Here, boundary work against political and corporate elites contributed to a sense of group identity (Eliasoph and Lichterman 2003), but Nina quickly turned to the discomfort that people feel about breaking rules—a feeling shared across social difference—as a stronger basis for unity amid participants’ different identities, interests, and preferred styles of action. This pivot to emotions allowed Nina to move into a discussion of a contentious protest that had recently taken place in the mass incarceration campaign, and had been discussed in the private prisons breakout at this meeting. Nina said, So in the private prisons conversation, for those of you who didn’t get to attend that one, we talked about a state Senate hearing that we and our allies disrupted because we knew we were not going to be able to speak the truth that we needed to speak. We needed to move the Governor and the Senate Majority Leader to say, “we will not open a for profit prison.” And we did it. They both came out against it after our disruption. The hearing protest that Nina mentioned had been highly controversial. A group of leaders from ELIJAH, Black Lives Matter, and the local NAACP chapter had jointly disrupted a Senate committee hearing on a bill that would have directed the state to reopen a prior lease on a privately owned prison in a rural area. Some legislators had argued that reopening the prison would provide jobs to an economically struggling region. In response, activists filled the hearing room, shouted down the committee chairperson, and refused to leave. The message they shouted was that incarcerating people in order to provide jobs for rural whites would be an act of white supremacy. This was an aggressive protest that made some ELIJAH participants feel uncomfortable, and discussion of this kind of direct action had proved divisive at other ELIJAH meetings I had attended. Many participants, primarily older whites, felt that the disruption was disrespectful and inappropriate for a religious organization. In contrast, other ELIJAH leaders, including those who had jointly organized the disruption with Black Lives Matter and NAACP allies, saw it as necessary, and viewed ELIJAH’s explicit support of the protest as an important affirmation that its leaders were serious about contesting white supremacy. To ease this tension, Nina employed vulnerability talk to highlight the role that religious people’s fear and hesitation to act can play in upholding the status quo. She asserted that only by overcoming fear were the protesters able to achieve their goal: We only did it [persuaded the Governor and Senate Majority Leader to oppose reopening the prison] because we were able to collectively shed our yokes of being rule followers. We had to get over that together. Are any of us experts in incarceration policy? No. But everybody at that hearing, we just decided that we’re here, our voices matter, I understand how power works, and I’m going to disrupt some things. Vulnerability talk can streamline different identities, interests, and lived experiences into a shared emotional framework that eases structural tensions. Here, Nina asserted that the emotionally cathartic liberation from “being rule followers” provides a basis on which to act, regardless of the sources of one’s fear or hesitation, and regardless of one’s knowledge of or direct stakes in the particular issue at hand. One needs only courage and a command of the underlying moral imperative—what Nina called “the truth that we needed to speak.” This truth, she implied, is actively undermined by a culture whose focus on politeness and “being rule followers” prevents many people from acting on their religious beliefs about justice and equality. This protest was an important strategic moment in the mass incarceration campaign, and the debate surrounding it was a good example of the tensions that plague diverse progressive religious groups, particularly as they strive to combine the intersectional and aggressive protest repertoire of social movement organizations like Black Lives Matter with the cultural, economic, and political capital of privileged white progressives. By centering the discussion on shared emotions, Nina affirmed the protest’s importance for everyone, not just those involved. This validated the need to act decisively on the urgent concerns of black activists without chastising those who had opposed aggressive social movement tactics. Vulnerability talk—the discussion of the discomfort that people feel about breaking rules—enabled Nina to skillfully navigate a delicate situation of the type that had often caused conflict in ELIJAH in the past. Having been set up by Nina’s deft discussion, Alissa, a white woman in her forties and ELIJAH’s executive director, then gave additional voice to this framework by employing vulnerability talk in her own affirmation of the protest’s importance: My name is Alissa Kern, and I’m the director of ELIJAH. And before I start, I just want to thank the disrupters of that meeting for doing what they did. And in the spirit of what they did and what we just experienced together, I want to start with a confession about being the director of this organization. What I wrestle with when I look at my children, I have an eleven year old and a nine year old, both are girls. And every time I read or think about the future, and understand all the things we’ve been talking about this morning, whether we’re talking about private prisons or how hard it is for people to take care of their families and work at the same time, or the amount of wealth extraction that’s going on, or the amount and scale of power that we’re actually up against, when I sit and look at my children, I am afraid. I don’t know what their future looks like, because we’re in trouble. We are in big trouble. Okay? Using concern about her children’s future to suggest that “we are in big trouble,” Alissa drew connections among ELIJAH constituencies that are objectively in different kinds and different amounts of trouble. As a highly educated white professional, Alissa’s immediate material security is assured, in contrast to that of ELIJAH’s nonwhite, poor, undocumented, and other marginalized participants. But highlighting her fear about her children’s future implicitly connected her emotionally to people who are at more immediate risk, as their children’s futures are all made uncertain by deepening inequalities. Alissa went on, using this bond as the basis for an inspiring assertion that amid their shared uncertainty about the future, people can draw confidence from their faith as they engage in collective action: If you think about what happened here this morning, there’s sort of a headiness. We’re going into these campaigns [the five issue campaigns mentioned earlier], and it’s fun and interesting and energizing, but there’s something underneath we are trying to get to, which is that every single one of these pieces, it’s not about the policy, it’s about the scale of power, and the unbelievable stakes that are going on in people’s lives. So as the director of ELIJAH, sometimes I feel like my job can be to give you an answer. How are we going to make a difference? What is the strategy going to be? Do we have enough people, how many doors are we going to knock on, do we have an eighteen month plan? And I have to tell you that the thing that we are up against, and what we’re talking about here today, I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer! We have to walk with faith into the chaos. That’s what my children need me to do. So the invitation here today is not to fill out a worksheet. It’s not to sign up for the email list. It’s not to do one more activity. It’s to join this conspiracy. And that we’re just going to walk in. I don’t want to pretend anymore that there’s an answer. You hear what I’m saying?” In these remarks, Alissa described her fear in language that aligns with the failed covenant narrative. She used her fear about what the future holds for her children to highlight “something underneath”: a set of shared emotions at the heart of ELIJAH’s work. She described fear, referring to the “unbelievable stakes” that appear both in marginalized people’s immediate futures and in the more distant futures of Alissa’s children. She assigned blame to the “scale of power” held by elites and the politicians who advance their agendas. And she pointed to collective action as the solution by legitimizing people’s fear and uncertainty, calling them to “walk with faith into the chaos,” just as Nina had asked them to become rule breakers. ELIJAH’s culture combines these elements: emotion, in this case, fear, as described in the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives; blame, attributed to social structures and the culture that upholds them; and action, which takes on emotional resonance above and beyond its material effects. Amid divergent interests, sources of emotional discomfort, and preferred styles of protest, vulnerability talk focuses ELIJAH participants on what they share: a high salience of emotions in their personal experiences and their motivations for being involved in social change projects. Nina’s and Alissa’s remarks show how personal emotions provide a cultural logic through which aggressive protest acts that would often seem inappropriate to many faith actors, like disrupting a Senate hearing, can come to be seen as appropriate civic actions when seen through the lens of a group and its norms (Lichterman and Eliasoph 2015). Here, it is the emotional management of social difference, more than attention to interests, networks, or other structural factors, that facilitates the cultural work of progressive religious organizing. An Uneasy Synthesis The preceding analyses showed how ELIJAH organizes its work around the emotional management of structural difference. The salience of emotions in both the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives is at the heart of ELIJAH’s culture, and evidence from other scholarship suggests that similar processes have been part of FBCOs’ success in building powerful organizations across the country (Braunstein 2012, 2017; Braunstein et al. 2014; Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015). But there are moments when the differences between the sources and degrees of emotional trauma in the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives rear their heads, undermining the solidarity that organizations like ELIJAH are striving to construct. One example of this occurred at a different strategy meeting, where Luke, a Black ELIJAH organizer in his early 30s, led an exercise intended to foster trust and connections between ELIJAH participants who did not know each other. He introduced the session by saying, We as people of faith know that when the enemy is winning, it’s because of division. It’s because we’ve been separated into all these different categories, and we don’t know how to connect with each other anymore. So today we’re going to do an exercise in being vulnerable with each other. We’re going to break up into pairs with a person you have never had a conversation with before, and person A is going to tell their story. And person B is going to listen, do nothing but listen. And then person B is going to name…where they heard anger and suffering and woe in that story. And then we’ll switch roles. To demonstrate, he invited Hannah, a white woman in her mid 20s, to share her personal story before the audience. Her testimony was couched in the failed covenant narrative, describing how her parents’ relationship was polluted by rigid gender roles. She said that her own relationship with her mother had suffered because patriarchy had divided her parents from one another. The pain of knowing this motivated her to work with others in ELIJAH: I don’t want to cast my family in a negative light, because they have done so much for me, but also feeling that I didn’t do enough for my mother to be her ally in her relationship with my dad and in other parts of her life. But knowing these dynamics, and my privilege, makes me want to work for a level playing field for everybody. So how can I be a strong woman by myself, and how can God steer me toward that, because of but also in spite of what I grew up with? ELIJAH’s success requires building trust between white and nonwhite communities. One way of doing this is to demonstrate that privileged people, especially whites, do not act only out of altruism, but have something at stake in activism. The failed covenant narrative creates these emotional stakes by placing one’s ability to live up to religious beliefs about dignity, justice, and redemption on the line. Here, Hannah acknowledges her own privilege while talking about how gender roles and patriarchy hampered her mother’s life and her parents’ marriage. Guilt about her mother’s pain becomes an emotional basis for her own engagement in collective action to create a “level playing field for everybody,” and this gives her a stake in ELIJAH’s work that goes beyond simply helping others. Her painful recollection of not having recognized or acted upon her mother’s troubles helps to generate solidarity with people who are suffering from problems caused by patriarchy and other damaging social hierarchies. People in the audience had mixed reactions to Hannah’s story. Everyone applauded, but I could hear people around me murmuring reactions that were not all enthusiastic. Here was a paradox: Hannah had bravely shared intimate personal details and sincerely acknowledged her privilege. By using her story to demonstrate the exercise, Luke had signaled that acknowledging vulnerability is not only a task for people of color—that white people also have a responsibility to probe their experiences for emotions that can be the basis of activism. Yet, by making a failed covenant story the focus of attention, Luke also gave voice and platform to a privileged person whose struggles were clearly less urgent than those of other people present. One person who found this objectionable was Victor, a 30-year-old Latino who came to the U.S. undocumented at age 15. When I asked him in an interview if he had had any experiences in ELIJAH that made him upset, he mentioned Hannah’s story. He told me, I mean, I understood what they were trying to do, but as a person who was undocumented for over ten years, I just didn’t need to hear about that. It was good for her to work through that, and I’m glad she has done that, but I know my own pain. I live with it every day, when people second guess me because I’m not White or because I didn’t have papers. And that day I didn’t need to be part of talking about White people’s pain. I was ready to talk about action! I was angry, I was fired up, I was ready to talk about how we were going to get to work and what we were going to do. And here we were listening to this wealthy White woman talk about her mother, and that just seemed like such an affront to me at the time. So I texted Steve [an ELIJAH staff organizer] and said, ‘this is bullshit, Steve. This is not cool. I’m leaving.’ While Victor recognized that talking about pain can help bring people like Hannah into activism, he felt that hearing her story in this setting was an inappropriate use of his time and that of other people of color in ELIJAH. He does not dispute that Hannah’s story is essential for her own activism, but he was frustrated that ELIJAH organizers had chosen to spend time during one of its leadership assemblies on an exercise that seemed primarily oriented toward helping white people learn how to talk about emotions that people of color already understood. He felt that white people should work to cultivate their own emotional commitments to activism, but that it was a mistake for ELIJAH leaders to elevate them in front of people of color, who may not need to publicly practice deep introspection to recognize the importance of decisive political action. In a cultural context where people of color often have good reasons to be skeptical of whites’ desires to work with them (Eichstedt 2001), attention to emotions is necessary for demonstrating whites’ sincerity and commitment. But vulnerability talk also runs the risk of amplifying barriers of privilege and trust, as happened here. In ELIJAH, two factors combine to fuel perceptions that the failed covenant narrative is elevated at the expense of lived injustice, and hence that “White people’s pain,” as Victor called it, takes on outsized importance. The first is that middle class people are often skilled in performative personal testimony, because they tend to recognize institutions and organizations as venues for self-cultivation and self-actualization (Lareau 2003). Hannah saw in ELIJAH an opportunity to process experiences from her past and cultivate a morally authentic self. In contrast, marginalized people often wish to focus more explicitly on anger and action, like Victor said he did here (Leondar-Wright 2014; Polletta 2005). They know their own stories and often wish to tell them, but their emotional troubles often reflect material struggles, and warrant immediate action. Hence, their stories are often less oriented toward expressive performance, and more oriented toward getting things done. As a result, the practice of vulnerability talk can implicitly elevate whites’ voices despite organizations’ sincere desire to be multiracial. The second reason that the failed covenant narrative sometimes overshadows lived injustice involves political strategy. Religious actors can benefit from appearing to be motivated by “politically neutral” morality, rather than self-interest. But political powerholders are more likely to view middle class whites in this favorable manner than they are people of color; white religious actors can draw on religious discourse to appear politically neutral, but religious nonwhites are often assumed to be motivated an agenda related to their race or ethnicity (Edgell 2017). This is why covenant-oriented frames like the failed covenant narrative are often better received by powerholders than frames centered race or class analysis, as testimony based in the lived injustice narrative often is (Williams 1995; Williams and Demerath 1991). This dynamic can lead ELIJAH to elevate privileged white voices at crucial political moments, occasionally at the expense of voices espousing lived injustice narratives. In an interview, discussing a rally that ELIJAH had organized to protest a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, Janelle, a 45-year old black Catholic woman, lamented: I don’t know how many faith leaders took over the rotunda in city hall, and it was a kaleidoscope of colors, and you know male and female leaders, gay and straight, but those who had the microphone, well I heard mostly White people. And there were plenty of nonwhite people to talk, but I just wonder if they have to be more concerted about giving the mike to people of color. Long an ELIJAH stalwart, Janelle now spends more of her time working in a secular community organization instead. She said that she sees ELIJAH as “a mostly white space,” even though about a third of its membership and more than half of its board of directors are nonwhite. Above, we saw that ELIJAH intentionally centers its activities on emotions, because emotions are more easily shared across social difference than interests or issue goals. Nina and Alissa showed how emotion work can smooth tensions between constituencies with distinct interests, priorities, and preferred styles of action. But in practice, this framework takes form at the confluence of distinct narratives that reflect different levels of privilege. ELIJAH’s cultural work is a project of struggling, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so, to streamline these distinct narratives. In this struggle, we can see how social structure penetrates the cultural work happening in ELIJAH, and reproduces race and class difference even as actors work intentionally to minimize them. CONCLUSION Donald Trump’s success in tapping white voters’ emotions in his 2016 campaign highlights the general lack of talk about emotions in progressive political discourse. But there is evidence that this is changing. Amid the growth of intersectional organizing in youth-driven social movements (Enriquez and Saguy 2016; Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018), attention to emotions provides a way to link the different experiences and identities of diverse actors within a cultural framework that supports collective action. While few if any studies directly examine emotions’ role in progressive religious mobilization, this article has shown that ELIJAH’s organizing work is predicated on the emotional management of distinct and occasionally conflicting narratives of political involvement: lived injustice and failed covenant. Streamlining these narratives is a potentially powerful but practically difficult endeavor. The complexity of the emotion work taking place in progressive religious activism matters because scholars and activists alike are looking to this field as the potential source of a compelling “story of peoplehood” (Smith 2003) that can stir progressives’ emotions in similar fashion to how Trump’s decline narrative captivated conservatives (Braunstein 2018). I am not arguing that religious progressives cannot or will not carry such a story—to the contrary, their success in bringing together Americans across race, class, and religious difference suggests that they are better suited to this task than many secular movements are. In addition, the salience of personal emotions in many forms of Christianity, including evangelical and charismatic traditions, may form a cultural opportunity structure for future cooperation across the orthodox-liberal religious divide. Yet being organizationally connected within a strategic action field—here, progressive religious activism—does not necessarily make people unified in their emotional understandings of why action matters or how to carry it out. My argument is that progressive religious activists are not putting forward one narrative, but two. Forging them into a unified story that can withstand the structural tensions imposed by race and class difference requires a delicate balance. Whether a durable shared framework can be forged at the intersection of these narratives, what this framework might look like, and how it might be perceived by different constituencies on the left are important questions for future study. Despite the differences between the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives and the tensions that can bubble up at their intersection, they nevertheless share themes that could potentially form the basis for a more unified progressive moral narrative to emerge. For example, both lived injustice and failed covenant lament the consolidation of political power among elites, the corresponding alienation of everyday people from the political process, and the implications of these developments for America’s ability to live up to its founding ideals. For Gorski (2017a), such themes form the basis of a civil religious tradition that rejects both religious nationalism and radical secularism, and hence can provide a compelling moral foundation for rebuilding the “vital center” of American civic life. And Braunstein (2018) suggests that progressive religious groups are well positioned to advance such a narrative. The challenge for religious coalitions seeking to mobilize on such themes is that by elevating postmaterial concerns about citizenship, norms, and identity, they also risk implicitly suppressing concerns about material status and economic necessities, and thereby continuing to subtly favor privileged people at the expense of more vulnerable constituencies (Bracey 2016). In this regard, the emotional management of progressive religious mobilization requires continued attention from scholars and development from activists. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I gratefully acknowledge the people in ELIJAH for participating in this research. I also thank Ron Aminzade, Ruth Braunstein, Penny Edgell, Teresa Gowan, Michelle Oyakawa, Evan Stewart, four anonymous reviewers and the Editor of Sociology of Religion, and audiences at Clark University, the University of Minnesota, and the 2017 meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society for helpful comments on the argument. 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Ward , Jane . 2008 . “ White Normativity: The Cultural Dimensions of Whiteness in a Racially Diverse LGBT Organization .” Sociological Perspectives 51 : 563 – 86 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Warren , Mark R . 2001 . Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize American Democracy . Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press . Williams , Rhys H . 1995 . “ Constructing the Public Good: Social Movements and Cultural Resources .” Social Problems 42 : 124 – 44 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Williams , Rhys H. , and N. J. Demerath . 1991 . “ Religion and Political Process in an American City .” American Sociological Review 56 : 417 – 31 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wood , Richard L . 2002 . Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America . Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press . Wood , Richard L. , and Brad R. Fulton . 2015 . A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy . Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wuthnow , Robert . 1988 . The Restructuring of American Religion . Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press . Wuthnow , Robert , and John H. Evans , eds. 2002 . The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism . Berkeley, CA : University of California Press . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Sociology of Religion Oxford University Press

The Emotional Management of Progressive Religious Mobilization

Sociology of Religion , Volume Advance Article (2) – May 11, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract Faith-based community organizations (FBCOs) have been among the most successful U.S. civic groups in forging solidarity and collective action across social difference. Building on scholarship that emphasizes how culture can ease race and class tensions within organizations, I analyze the emotional management of structural difference in FBCOs’ organizing projects. Drawing on fieldwork and interviews within a large, diverse FBCO, I identify two emotional narratives that motivate individuals’ participation—lived injustice and failed covenant. I document the streamlining of these narratives through a practice I call vulnerability talk, and show that this process can enhance group cohesion at some times, but undermine it at others. By conceptualizing faith-based organizing as the emotional management of structural difference, this article provides a clearer understanding of how culture works in religious mobilization than accounts focused on interests alone, and points to emotions as a central concern in today’s progressive movements, both religious and secular. Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 election laid bare a major cultural distinction between the American right and left. Trump built support by tapping feelings of loss, anger, resentment, fear, and mourning that had been simmering among rural, white, and conservative Christian Americans for many years (Cramer 2016; Gorski 2017b; Hochschild 2016). In contrast, the 21st century left has seen few notable attempts by public figures or political leaders to forge emotional links between its factions, or to identify and exploit emotionally resonant narratives that could become the basis for progressive policies (Braunstein 2018). With no emotional thread to tie together the left’s many potential constituencies, structural differences between them manifest as antagonism and competition, opening opportunities for astute campaigners like Trump to drive emotional wedges between groups that might otherwise have been political allies. As progressives organize in response to the Trump administration, the importance of emotional narratives in U.S. civic life (Hochschild 2016) beckons scholars to investigate how emotions become a basis for collective action, particularly among organizations whose participants’ different structural locations mean that they experience emotions and connect them to public concerns in different ways (Jasper 2011). While an established line of research shows that culture matters more than material interests for bridging structural difference both within and among organizations (Braunstein et al. 2014; Giorgi et al. 2017; Lichterman 2005; Williams 1995), this work tends to assume that culture works by revealing and/or constructing shared interests or identities (Benford and Snow 2000; Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Enriquez and Saguy 2016; Lichterman 2008), or by fostering network connections among otherwise unconnected actors (Schussman and Soule 2005; Warren 2001). In contrast, few studies have explicitly examined emotions’ role in progressive politics. Faith-based community organizations (FBCOs) comprise one of the largest fields of grassroots participatory democracy in the U.S. today (Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015). They have been among the most effective civic groups in marshaling culture to organize across race, class, and religious difference (Braunstein et al. 2014; Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Swarts 2008; Wood and Fulton 2015), and they are emerging as leading moral voices in the anti-Trump resistance, as observed in recent New York Times reports and editorials regarding sanctuary for immigrants (Goodstein 2016) and gun control (Cediel et al. 2017). Yet even as studies of FBCOs proliferate amid scholars’ increasing focus on narrative, emotion, and identity in social movements (Braunstein 2017; Swarts 2008; Wood and Fulton 2015), none have explicitly analyzed how the emotional management of structural difference shapes progressive religious mobilization. A key research question emerges: what roles do emotions play in progressive religious organizations’ cultural negotiation of structural challenges, and to what effect? An analytic focus on emotions can help address the theoretical question of how organizations use culture to mitigate structural challenges. It can also shed light on the ways progressive religious organizations are adapting to the current political moment, and to four key structural factors in particular. First, against the backdrop of the Trump administration, the goals and activities of many progressive religious actors are becoming more closely aligned with those of the secular left. Religious progressives have often kept party politics at arm’s length (Sager 2017), but the urgency of the current political moment means that religious people who are concerned with issues like sanctuary for immigrants, access to health care, environmental protection, and criminal justice reform must increasingly grapple with questions of how they fit into the larger progressive landscape and the discourses and narratives dominant therein. Second, as intersectional thought and action becomes more commonplace, and even normative, in progressive movement spaces (Chun et al. 2013; Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018; Tucker 2017), there is an increasing need for progressive religious actors to develop explicit accounts of what their faith traditions say about overlapping hierarchies based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration status. Third, efforts are increasing to synthesize the longstanding efforts of locally focused coalitions into nationally networked political action. Organizations like the Gamaliel Foundation, Faith in Action (formerly the PICO National Network) (Wood and Fulton 2015), and the Industrial Areas Foundation (Stout 2010) are looking for scalable models for connecting faith and action that can be implemented across many local contexts and contribute to building political and cultural power at the national level. Fourth, even as these factors pull progressive religious actors toward more explicitly political critique and action, progressive religious activism is still religious, and its practitioners must find ways to assert and extend their religious faith in and through their work, no matter how political it becomes. This article explains the emotional management of progressive religious mobilization. I define emotional management as leaders’ intentional use of emotions to mitigate the challenges imposed by social difference, and argue that it is central to the strategies that FBCOs are developing in response to the above contextual factors as they adapt a longstanding organizing tradition to the demands of 21st century politics. Drawing on 30 months of fieldwork and 31 interviews, I show that a large and diverse Midwestern FBCO that I call ELIJAH engages in emotional management to foster cohesion and organize action. ELIJAH participants use two distinct emotional narratives to make sense of the inequities of U.S. society and their roles in responding to them. The first, a lived injustice narrative, highlights personal experiences of deprivation and oppression and draws out their emotional consequences, emphasizing how culture compounds economic suffering by bringing guilt, shame, and fear upon marginalized people. The second, a failed covenant narrative, reflects privileged people’s efforts to make sense of their roles in producing and contesting the problems from which other people suffer. It focuses on the guilt and anger that privileged people feel about living in a society that violates God’s sacred trust by allowing deep inequalities to persist. These distinct narratives reflect different combinations of interests, identities, and motivations for involvement in social change projects, but emotions are highly salient in both. This provides the basis for ELIJAH to forge a shared group culture across structural differences through emotional management. At the same time, while the two narratives both center emotions as motivation for political involvement, they describe different sources of emotional discomfort and different amounts of urgency and privilege. This disjuncture means that ELIJAH’s emotional management is fraught with race and class tensions, and the resulting solidarity is capricious. In ELIJAH’s organizing work, we can see how social structure ripples through the cultural practices of the FBCO field, posing major barriers to the emergence of a shared emotional framework among different progressive constituencies. The article is structured as follows. First, I outline a few empirical and conceptual features of progressive religious activism and FBCOs. Then, I use a discussion of a large ELIJAH rally held soon after President Trump’s inauguration to demonstrate how ELIJAH’s culture centers emotions through the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives. I then explain how ELIJAH leaders work to synthesize these narratives into a unified framework through the practice of vulnerability talk—introspective discussion of personal emotions, especially pain, shame, guilt, fear, and anger. Focusing on emotional trauma, rather than interests or political issues, vulnerability talk is the primary discursive practice through which the emotional management of structural difference is accomplished. Discussion of personal vulnerability resonates across social locations and faith traditions, and provides a basis for structurally distant actors to bond over emotions, even when the sources of their emotions are different. I present one example in which vulnerability talk facilitated solidarity in ELIJAH and helped it overcome significant internal tension related to a controversial protest. I then discuss an episode in which vulnerability talk had the opposite effect, amplifying race and class difference and undermining solidarity, and provide an example of how strategic concerns can lead ELIJAH to elevate the failed covenant narrative at the expense of the lived injustice narrative. I conclude by discussing the challenges that a discursive focus on emotions presents for diverse organizing coalitions. CULTURE AND EMOTIONS IN PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS MOBILIZATION Is a “Religious Left” Emerging? The FBCO field is far from the only strain of progressive religious activism in the United States (Braunstein et al. 2017), but it is the largest and most influential (Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015), and it has grown markedly in recent years. A 2011 survey identified 189 FBCOs in the United States, an increase from 133 in 1999, and the number has grown more since (Wood and Fulton 2015). Many of these local and regional federations cooperate through national networks including the Gamaliel Foundation, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and Faith in Action to confront economic and racial inequalities nationwide. This combination of local organizing and national networking makes the FBCO field one of the largest venues of grassroots political participation in the United States (Wood and Fulton 2015), and a key incubator of discursive linkages between the transcendent languages offered by religious traditions and the structural critiques offered by the secular left (Fuist 2017). ELIJAH is a regional coalition of over one hundred churches of many denominations. It was a Christian only organization for nearly 20 years after its founding, but just after my fieldwork ended, it began organizing in mosques as well. As a leading member of one of the national FBCO networks, ELIJAH is part of a growing field of organizations coordinating to mobilize everyday people on the basis of religious faith. As one of the largest FBCOs in its national network, ELIJAH contributes substantially to the cultural and strategic development of the FBCO field as a whole, and its top leaders often help design and execute the training of other FBCO leaders across the country. Hence, while this study uses data from only one organization, there is good reason to believe that processes I observed in ELIJAH are also at work elsewhere. In response to the 2016 election, press reporters (e.g., Goodstein 2017; Jenkins 2016) are beginning to ask whether a new “Religious Left” is emerging. However, this question mischaracterizes FBCOs’ work. For one thing, this framing’s symmetry with the Religious Right presumes an electoral focus, but in contrast to religious conservatives, most progressive religious activists have not been primarily concerned with influencing election results. Instead, they have established a strong tradition of organizing around local issues and building power to sway the decisions of officials already in office (Sager 2017). The growth of national organizing networks is an attempt to connect this tradition of local organizing with a national political strategy and enhanced cultural power (Wood and Fulton 2015). A second problem with the “Religious Left” framing is that the diverse array of religious people that the phrase is often meant to describe is not a unified bloc, but an amalgam of groups with distinct histories, interests, priorities, and organizing traditions (Braunstein et al. 2017). The Religious Right, while multidenominational, has always been racially and ethnically homogeneous. While its origins required unifying denominational groups ranging from conservative Catholics to Reformed Protestants to charismatic Pentecostals (Wuthnow 1988), its racial homogeneity supported a strong subcultural identity that could be easily marshaled for political action (Smith 1998). The importance of white identity in forging the coalition that became the Religious Right (Jones 2016; Kruse 2015; Wuthnow 1988) stands in stark contrast to the racial and ethnic diversity of the progressive religious field. FBCOs’ internal diversity means that they must find ways to organize groups with unique histories, political theologies, and issue priorities, from black evangelicals to Latino/a Catholics to white mainline Protestants. Some of these groups have long fostered their own religious resistance tactics in response to economic or political oppression. The black church social reform tradition and Latin American liberation theology, two prominent cultural influences in FBCOs, developed as means of protecting imperiled communities, and their preferred tactics are often more confrontational than those of white Christians (Kucinskas 2014; Wuthnow and Evans 2002). Hence, whereas the Religious Right took shape with the help of a shared racial identity, many progressive religious groups must build their collective identities on the fly, synthesizing not only multiple religious traditions, but also different interests and different cultural traditions for connecting faith with political action. In the absence of a shared racial or ethnic identity that can bridge these differences, emotional management provides an alternative basis for cohesion. In this context, the most important question about religion and progressive politics today is not whether a leftist mirror image of the Religious Right will appear. Instead, social scientists should be asking whether and how progressive religious actors can forge a cultural framework through which structurally distant constituencies can identify shared ethical commitments and advance them through collective action. As I will show below, emotional management is one basis for this cultural production. In assessing how and to what effect ELIJAH uses emotions as a basis for its organizing, we can move scholarship on religion, social movements, and political action forward in two key ways. Empirically, we can better understand religious organizations’ present and potential future contributions to movements that contest deepening racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the 21st century. Theoretically, this work will help to develop a better account of how groups’ internal cultural dynamics shape their mobilization potential, and the ways that talk about emotions can contribute to or undermine solidarity in diverse organizations. ELIJAH and the Complexities of Progressive Religious Organizing ELIJAH has been striving to build political power by mobilizing religious congregations since it was founded in 2000. It has contributed to many important “wins,” including the passage of a major affordable housing bill, the defeat of a voter identification amendment to the state constitution, and the adoption of mandatory earned sick time policies and a minimum wage increase at the city level. These wins have been the results of efforts to mobilize members of ELIJAH’s affiliated churches to knock on doors, make phone calls, meet with state and local representatives, confront landlords, housing developers, corporate leaders and other power holders, and occasionally disrupt government meetings or business events. Such activities have made ELIJAH recognizable at the state capitol and in the local press. Yet, like other FBCOs across the country, ELIJAH’s power is limited in several important ways. Its presence in many of its member congregations is restricted to small groups of activists who receive little financial support from clergy and denominational staff, and who often struggle to recruit others from their congregations into political work (Delehanty 2016). Moreover, even its most committed leaders, including both whites and nonwhites, express frustration with its struggles to organize effectively in majority black and Latino/a churches. For every issue reform that ELIJAH has “won,” there are many that it has not, and its power remains small compared to that of business groups, corporate lobbyists, and the Religious Right. In this regard, ELIJAH’s work provides a useful window into the challenges facing progressive religious activist organizations. Its affiliated congregations represent many kinds of communities, from wealthy whites to disadvantaged minorities, and from theologically conservative Pentecostals (mostly African Americans) to theologically liberal United Church of Christ (UCC) members, one of whom described herself as “one small step away from being Unitarian Universalist.” While ELIJAH is highly successful by the standards of the FBCO field, its power is ultimately constrained not only by the surrounding political economy, in which many skeptical nonmember churches, denominational decision makers, political leaders, and funders write it off as simply another left-leaning activist group, but also by cultural frictions within its member churches and among its individual leaders. To wit: ELIJAH employs faith language constantly, but is seen as “too political and not religious enough” for many members of its affiliated churches; it is intentionally multiracial, but its culture is “too white” for some while others are put off by its incisive critiques of white supremacy; its embrace of gay, lesbian, and transgender equality has alienated powerful clergy and hampered organizing efforts in its more theologically conservative congregations, particularly black churches; and its strong opposition to school voucher programs has harmed its relationship with the local Catholic diocese. ELIJAH’s past successes and its stature as a leading FBCO obscure this array of challenges from the view of the public and even some of its participants. Its public action appears to many as the logical output of a tidy organizing process, but the reality is more complex. In ELIJAH’s work, some of the deepest challenges facing the modern American left are on display. Amid these divergent cultural models of how faith connects to public life (Becker 1999), emotional management becomes a means for FBCOs to foster consensus about how and why to engage in politics, and helps them move beyond some of the challenges associated with organizing on the basis of interests alone. The models of community organizing from which the FBCO field emerged, and in which many of its leaders are trained, traditionally focused on “winnable” quality of life issues at the neighborhood and municipal levels (Alinsky 1971; Frost 2001; Swarts 2008; Warren 2001). This local orientation persists in many aspects of FBCOs’ work, and is reflected in the existing scholarship’s focus on interests as a basis for mobilization. But as the FBCO field evolves, local and regional federations are increasingly couching issue campaigns within a larger ambition: to synthesize the many cultural repertoires that their diverse constituencies bring into activism into a cohesive emotional framework that can seep into people’s learned assumptions and dispositions and alter their understandings of who they are, who is like them, and what their political, economic, and moral interests are (Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017). This requires constructing a more expansive discourse of why social change matters and whom it can benefit than the Alinsky tradition offers (Giorgi et al. 2017; Hart 2001; Polletta and Jasper 2001; Swarts 2008). Against the backdrop of the progressive left’s longstanding struggles to organize effectively on the basis of shared interests (Schlozman et al. 2013; Wood 2002), FBCOs’ turn toward emotional management as a basis for organizing offers a useful perspective on the cultural complexities of progressive political organizing in the current era. RESEARCH METHODS The data for this study come from participant observation and 31 in-depth interviews that I conducted in ELIJAH from January 2015 through June 2017. The fieldwork involved becoming embedded within an ELIJAH congregation and experiencing its leadership development process as a newcomer. During the fieldwork period, I attended an average of two events per week, including rallies, protests, and other social movement actions; leadership assemblies involving ELIJAH’s executive leaders, staff organizers, and clergy and lay leaders; and issue meetings, where staff organizers trained clergy and lay leaders to plan strategies and actions within particular issue campaigns. I also participated in congregation-level events, where congregations’ internal ELIJAH teams planned events and actions and strategized to recruit members and increase commitments to ELIJAH’s work within their churches. I also attended two national FBCO conventions organized by ELIJAH’s national network. I recruited interview participants through personal invitations and networking with key contacts to identify respondents in ELIJAH congregations I was less well connected to. Of the 31 interviewees, 11 are people of color and 19 are women. Four interviewees were no longer active in ELIJAH or had significantly cut back their involvement at the time of interview, seven had been involved for less than 1 year, and four had been in ELIJAH for more than 10 years. Thus, the interviews capture the experiences of people from different social locations and varying levels of experience in and commitment to the organization. The interviews were semi-structured conversations ranging from one to two and a half hours long in which I asked respondents about their histories in ELIJAH, their reasons for becoming involved, and their perspectives on the organization’s successes and challenges. Interviews were transcribed, then coded for emergent themes. A second round of coding identified interview segments that could provide additional perspective on key events I observed in the field. DATA ANALYSIS A Major ELIJAH Rally On a Saturday afternoon in January 2017, over 2,000 people gathered at Broadway Christian Center,1 a majority-black Pentecostal church, to share stories and discuss strategies for resisting the policies they expected the white House and Congress to implement in the following weeks and months. They had come together not to worship, but to affirm a set of ethical propositions derived from their faith traditions: that U.S. society has enough resources to allow all people to live economically secure lives; that its current distribution of those resources violates religious principles about dignity and compassion; and that this problem is deepened by a political culture that pits Americans of different backgrounds against one another, serves the economic elite, and prevents millions from enjoying the basic security that should come with life in a prosperous democracy. The event, entitled “For Such a Time as This: Building Our Prophetic Resistance,” aimed to use these ideas as the springboard for a program of action that would inject a broad-based moral voice into the political debates to come. President Trump’s inauguration 8 days earlier had endowed the proceedings with a tangible sense of urgency. But while the rally looked and felt like a response to Trump, ELIJAH organizers had been planning it since the previous summer, when most of them had expected 2017 to bring very different political circumstances. As they worked in summer 2016 to plan activities that would follow the fall’s elections, they wanted to demonstrate that they could mobilize large numbers of people to support their agenda. The more they could rally, the more seriously politicians beginning their terms in January 2017 would take them. But after Trump’s election, the meaning of “prophetic resistance,” as ELIJAH leaders had titled the rally, changed. It suddenly meant not only continuing steadfast opposition to the economic and racial inequalities that ELIJAH has been fighting since its founding, but also fostering immediate action to counter an administration whose policy proposals threatened to upend millions of already troubled lives across the country. With many people suddenly hungry for political involvement, word about ELIJAH and its upcoming public meeting spread quickly, especially at the previous week’s Women’s March. Registration exploded in the days before the event, and as it became evident that Broadway Christian Center would be filled beyond capacity, the planning team rented 500 folding chairs to set up in the aisles and any other spaces they could find in the church, and arranged for New Kingdom, another ELIJAH-affiliated church a few blocks away, to livestream the event in case overflow space was needed. Together, the 2,000 attendees represented 170 churches and 21 denominations. As they arrived, they stopped at check-in tables to collect folders containing agendas, calendars, and contribution forms, then sought seats in the enormous sanctuary, a theater-style venue with padded seats instead of pews and large projectors hanging above the altar. To say the church was packed would be an understatement: the rented folding chairs occupied every available space, and those who had not arrived at least 20 minutes early had to stand, clogging the aisles and entryways. Latecomers were directed to New Kingdom. Although I had been studying ELIJAH for more than 2 years by this time, and knew most of the people at most of the events and meetings I attended, it was hard for me to pick out familiar faces among the massive crowd as I helped direct parents with young children to the child care room. Broadway Christian Center occupies a full city block in a poor, mostly black urban neighborhood. In the surrounding streets, a few nonprofit offices and churches interrupt a flow of fast food restaurants and check cashing storefronts. The area does not typically attract many outside visitors, but on this day, it welcomed whites, blacks, Latino/as, East Africans, Filipino/as, and Native Americans, most from the surrounding metropolitan area, but also a few from other parts of the state. In one area sat a group of about 150 Catholics, mostly white and middle to upper class, who had traveled together by bus from their church across the city. Near them was a group of roughly 30 black Pentecostals from a smaller city 70 miles northwest. Across an aisle from them were about 100 UCC members from a town an hour south, where immigrant factory workers had suddenly become potential deportation targets. Sprinkled throughout were groups of Latino/as, some of whom wore headsets that would convey a Spanish translation of the proceedings. In all, the assembly was just over half white. Upon the altar, about two dozen clergy members sat in two rows of chairs facing the audience. They were young and old, black and white, male and female. A woman UCC pastor’s pink hair stood out against their mostly dark clerical garb. Facing them in the front row of seats were more than 30 elected officials whom ELIJAH lay leaders had invited through letters, phone calls, and in-person meetings. Being able to procure meetings with elected officials is a good indicator of a community organization’s power (Stout 2010; Warren 2001), and the number of politicians present attested to ELIJAH’s local stature. An U.S. Senator was there, along with the city’s mayor, several state legislators, and other mayors and municipal officials from surrounding cities and towns. The Lieutenant Governor had also been scheduled to attend, but had fallen sick the previous day. The Lived Injustice Narrative Over the next 3 hours, these officials would listen to a mix of preaching and storytelling. Clergy gave theological reflections on themes of love, justice, and dignity, endowing the proceedings with a religious flavor that appealed across the many Christian traditions represented in the crowd. But the bulk of the time was spent on personal testimony from lay leaders. People of various backgrounds told stories about hardships and losses caused by the government’s failure to act on issues ranging from family leave policies to criminal justice to immigration. One black woman explained how taking out a payday loan for a few hundred dollars had trapped her in a 10-year debt cycle. A white man described how the stigma of having a felony drug conviction diminished his confidence while looking for jobs. Such testimonies are a key part of ELIJAH’s culture, and not only because learning to tell one’s own story to others is an effective way to build civic skills (Han 2014; Oyakawa 2015; Polletta 2006). Personal testimony is also effective for another reason: it is a religious practice, familiar across many traditions, that highlights emotions and makes them the basis of structural critique. Because religious people’s emotions are shaped at the intersection of their religious beliefs and their experiences of the world, discussing them provides a means of endowing political critique with moral meaning. Hence, emotions are salient in nearly every personal story told in ELIJAH, even though the specific emotions discussed and the reasons people feel them vary widely. Personal testimony is a central part of nearly every ELIJAH event, from small congregational planning meetings in church basements to large rallies like this one. The testimonies shared at the rally differed in tone and content, but they all contained emotional descriptions of pain, fear, guilt, anger, or shame. Antoine, a black man in his 30s, described how fear of police brutality compounds his struggle to get by on low wages.2 He spends a lot of money keeping his car looking perfect to minimize the chances of being pulled over and potentially shot by a police officer. But more important than the budget hit, he said, is that his fear of police makes him feel isolated and lonely, as if his life were disposable. Yolanda, a Latina in her 50s, said that she and her family and friends are shamed and dehumanized when they are accused of taking jobs and resources from native-born Americans. She then performed a calculation of the amount in taxes that she has paid into Social Security and Medicare, programs that undocumented people like her cannot benefit from. She arrived at a figure over $50,000. Antoine and Yolanda used talk about fear and shame to link their personal experiences with incisive critiques of white supremacy and capitalism, emphasizing the connections between social class, race, immigration status, and other dimensions of difference. In doing so, they accomplished two key cultural tasks. First, by highlighting emotions, they made their own personal experiences resonate across many social locations. People in the crowd came from many backgrounds and had many different sets of experiences and issue priorities, but all could sympathize with Antoine and Yolanda for having been made to feel afraid and inadequate. Second, the presentation of emotional stories about different issues one after another amplified a discourse of intersectionality that is increasingly prominent in progressive movements. In this discourse, individuals’ distinct racial, class, religious, and sexual identities combine within a larger vision of social change (Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018; Tucker 2017) that emphasizes how multiple problems overlap to compound people’s struggles. The stories’ focus on emotions highlighted how multiple social hierarchies—for Yolanda, being poor, undocumented, and a woman—combined within people’s daily lives to cause fear and shame. Emotion-laden testimonies provide a way for ELIJAH participants to connect their own stories and religious commitments with the intersectional perspective flourishing in today’s youth-driven progressive social movements. Antoine’s and Yolanda’s stories, along with others told at the rally, described contemporary social life, in which economic marginalization and social stigma combine to produce feelings of shame, fear, and isolation, as emotionally draining and dehumanizing. Antoine’s biggest concern, as expressed in his story, was not his poverty, but his fear. Yolanda was less bothered by the money lost to taxes than by the derogatory accusations that she and her community are subject to. Stories like theirs reflect a lived injustice narrative: they depict individuals struggling not only against economic systems, but also against the shame, fear, anger, and guilt that result from living in a society that preys on its most vulnerable members. While the specific problems that lived injustice stories discuss are tied to individuals’ distinct experiences, as rooted in their backgrounds, their emotional implications resonate across many social locations, and provide a basis for solidarity and collective action across substantial social difference. The Failed Covenant Narrative Personal testimony is effective in ELIJAH because it connects social critique with an emotionally powerful religious practice that appeals across many backgrounds. Middle class whites, who comprise much of ELIJAH’s membership, have been relatively insulated from the effects of increasing socioeconomic inequality. But when asked, most can think of moments when they have felt emotional discomfort related to some larger social or economic problem, and these moments can become the basis of “politicized personal narratives” (Oyakawa 2015) that legitimate their activism. For instance, after hearing from Antoine and Yolanda, the audience at the rally also heard from Sharon, a white, upper middle class Catholic woman whose corporate employer had recently implemented a policy requiring all department managers to fire the worst-performing 10 percent of their employees each year, regardless of the department’s overall performance. Sharon’s voice trembled with anger as she explained that such a policy violated her beliefs about human dignity by treating people as disposable. Sharon decided to retire early rather than conform to the policy change. She is angry about injustice done to others, but during her frequent tellings of this story at ELIJAH events, she talks mostly about her own personal outrage caused by the new policy. Without denying that her work in ELIJAH benefits others, she emphasizes that it benefits her by fulfilling her moral ambitions and helping her live out her calling from God. Her anger is a fundamental part of this, as it is only by embracing her anger, rather than suppressing it, that she can fully appreciate how deeply this situation violates her religious beliefs, and hence incorporate the imperative to act into her religious identity. In describing her work in ELIJAH as an emotion-driven personal project of helping society to move toward a more just and equitable future and redeeming its unjust past and present, Sharon’s story reflects a failed covenant narrative. This failed covenant narrative appears often in ELIJAH. It is usually espoused by people in comfortable social locations, especially middle to upper class whites. It reflects sincerity and solidarity with the marginalized, but also implicitly projects privilege. The irony that Sharon was only able to make the principled decision to retire early because she was already financially secure was not mentioned at the rally. But this irony is at the heart of ELIJAH’s emotional management. As a white woman who is financially comfortable enough to retire early rather than continue working for an employer whose policies she finds repugnant, Sharon occupies a drastically different structural position than Antoine and Yolanda do. Emotion work provides a means of bridging this structural chasm. By telling a story that was primarily about her own anger, Sharon offered an emotional basis for people in marginalized situations to connect with her story even though it reflected a great deal of privilege, and offered a model for other privileged people to follow as they sought to forge connections with less privileged others and incorporate action against injustice into their own religious identities. By predicating its efforts to bridge multiple constituencies on the discussion of personal emotions in public settings, ELIJAH aligns the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives in a platform for broad-based collective action. By emphasizing that every person has emotions that can become the basis of activism (Oyakawa 2015), it creates a path of entry into organizing work that is available to people of many backgrounds, not only those who are directly marginalized. Its focus on emotions illuminates cultural pathways for cooperation among people of different social locations, and at times levels the playing field between marginalized and privileged participants by giving everyone, not just the marginalized, an emotional stake in the outcome. The stories told by Antoine, Yolanda, and Sharon demonstrate how people from ELIJAH’s distinct constituencies draw on different kinds of emotional narratives that lead to different understandings of why political action matters and how it intersects with religious faith. Antoine’s and Yolanda’s stories reflect a lived injustice narrative that emphasizes the emotional consequences of marginalization. It is typically rooted in individual, family, or community experience, and usually invoked by poor people and people of color in ELIJAH. In contrast, Sharon’s story advances a failed covenant narrative that highlights emotions derived from one’s own relationship to and complicity in the marginalization of others, and expresses regret about society’s failure to live up to God’s expectations. It is most salient among privileged people who feel guilty about injustices done to others, but who wish to develop and articulate a personal stake in the work to avoid problems associated with the white savior complex in progressive organizations (Eichstedt 2001; Ward 2008). Personal commitments to rectify a failed covenant thus become an emotional pathway into activism for privileged religious progressives. Emotional Management through Vulnerability Talk ELIJAH’s participants articulate different types and sources of emotional trauma through distinct narratives that are associated with their social locations. Across these differences, they share a high salience of emotions in their respective conceptions of what injustice is and how they should respond. At the rally, the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives came together to depict ELIJAH as a highly unified organization in which “people of faith” come together across race, class, and religious differences to demand political solutions to ethical problems. But the unity that emanated from the rally stage does not come about easily. ELIJAH’s success depends upon its ability to capitalize on the shared salience of emotions in participants’ personal narratives without allowing their different sources of emotional anguish to splinter the organization along race and class lines. Hence, ELIJAH’s solidarity is only as strong as the emotional empathy between groups that it can forge at the intersection of the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives. Vulnerability talk—intentional and explicit discussion of personal emotions—is ELIJAH’s main mechanism for building these links. Its utility can be observed in a series of discussions at a strategy meeting in June 2016. Nina, a white ELIJAH staff organizer in her late 20s, was leading a debrief after the roughly 80 people (of mixed races, ages, and denominations) in attendance had broken into five smaller groups to discuss issue campaigns ELIJAH was working on at the time: a renewable energy project, a campaign against payday lending, reforms regarding mass incarceration and private prisons, a push for paid family leave and earned sick time policies, and a project to bolster mass transit in the region. Leaders working on each issue had set up stations in corners of the meeting room, and each of the five groups visited two stations during the breakout session. To refocus the group after the issue discussions, Nina first appealed to a symbolic boundary between the morally motivated faith actors of ELIJAH and the political elites standing in their way, asking people to shout out “what you have learned about what we are up against in this fight.” People mentioned things like big money, corporate greed, backroom political deals, and the Chamber of Commerce. Although this boundary work energized the group, Nina quickly turned the focus to emotions. After a brief discussion of the powerholders preventing change on the five issues, she said, “I want to talk about something else that’s stopping us. How many of you feel like all your life you’ve been a rule follower?” Most people in the room raised their hands. Nina replied, “that’s right, we’re church people, we follow rules. But what’s our responsibility when the rules are immoral? What do we do when the rules don’t work for us and our families and the people we love in our churches?” People murmured back that in this situation it was necessary to change the rules. Clarice, a Filipina Catholic who has been part of ELIJAH for nearly 20 years, spoke up: “there’s a lot of trepidation about it. I know that I hate breaking rules, it makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious and I just don’t like it. But when there are a lot of people that are breaking the rules with me, I can muster the courage to go ahead because I know that it’s the right thing to do.” Years of experience have taught FBCO leaders that talk about interests and issues is often not a sufficient basis for maintaining solidarity among the many constituencies involved in their work (Delehanty and Oyakawa 2017; Giorgi et al. 2017; Hart 2001; Oyakawa 2015; Wood 2002). Here, boundary work against political and corporate elites contributed to a sense of group identity (Eliasoph and Lichterman 2003), but Nina quickly turned to the discomfort that people feel about breaking rules—a feeling shared across social difference—as a stronger basis for unity amid participants’ different identities, interests, and preferred styles of action. This pivot to emotions allowed Nina to move into a discussion of a contentious protest that had recently taken place in the mass incarceration campaign, and had been discussed in the private prisons breakout at this meeting. Nina said, So in the private prisons conversation, for those of you who didn’t get to attend that one, we talked about a state Senate hearing that we and our allies disrupted because we knew we were not going to be able to speak the truth that we needed to speak. We needed to move the Governor and the Senate Majority Leader to say, “we will not open a for profit prison.” And we did it. They both came out against it after our disruption. The hearing protest that Nina mentioned had been highly controversial. A group of leaders from ELIJAH, Black Lives Matter, and the local NAACP chapter had jointly disrupted a Senate committee hearing on a bill that would have directed the state to reopen a prior lease on a privately owned prison in a rural area. Some legislators had argued that reopening the prison would provide jobs to an economically struggling region. In response, activists filled the hearing room, shouted down the committee chairperson, and refused to leave. The message they shouted was that incarcerating people in order to provide jobs for rural whites would be an act of white supremacy. This was an aggressive protest that made some ELIJAH participants feel uncomfortable, and discussion of this kind of direct action had proved divisive at other ELIJAH meetings I had attended. Many participants, primarily older whites, felt that the disruption was disrespectful and inappropriate for a religious organization. In contrast, other ELIJAH leaders, including those who had jointly organized the disruption with Black Lives Matter and NAACP allies, saw it as necessary, and viewed ELIJAH’s explicit support of the protest as an important affirmation that its leaders were serious about contesting white supremacy. To ease this tension, Nina employed vulnerability talk to highlight the role that religious people’s fear and hesitation to act can play in upholding the status quo. She asserted that only by overcoming fear were the protesters able to achieve their goal: We only did it [persuaded the Governor and Senate Majority Leader to oppose reopening the prison] because we were able to collectively shed our yokes of being rule followers. We had to get over that together. Are any of us experts in incarceration policy? No. But everybody at that hearing, we just decided that we’re here, our voices matter, I understand how power works, and I’m going to disrupt some things. Vulnerability talk can streamline different identities, interests, and lived experiences into a shared emotional framework that eases structural tensions. Here, Nina asserted that the emotionally cathartic liberation from “being rule followers” provides a basis on which to act, regardless of the sources of one’s fear or hesitation, and regardless of one’s knowledge of or direct stakes in the particular issue at hand. One needs only courage and a command of the underlying moral imperative—what Nina called “the truth that we needed to speak.” This truth, she implied, is actively undermined by a culture whose focus on politeness and “being rule followers” prevents many people from acting on their religious beliefs about justice and equality. This protest was an important strategic moment in the mass incarceration campaign, and the debate surrounding it was a good example of the tensions that plague diverse progressive religious groups, particularly as they strive to combine the intersectional and aggressive protest repertoire of social movement organizations like Black Lives Matter with the cultural, economic, and political capital of privileged white progressives. By centering the discussion on shared emotions, Nina affirmed the protest’s importance for everyone, not just those involved. This validated the need to act decisively on the urgent concerns of black activists without chastising those who had opposed aggressive social movement tactics. Vulnerability talk—the discussion of the discomfort that people feel about breaking rules—enabled Nina to skillfully navigate a delicate situation of the type that had often caused conflict in ELIJAH in the past. Having been set up by Nina’s deft discussion, Alissa, a white woman in her forties and ELIJAH’s executive director, then gave additional voice to this framework by employing vulnerability talk in her own affirmation of the protest’s importance: My name is Alissa Kern, and I’m the director of ELIJAH. And before I start, I just want to thank the disrupters of that meeting for doing what they did. And in the spirit of what they did and what we just experienced together, I want to start with a confession about being the director of this organization. What I wrestle with when I look at my children, I have an eleven year old and a nine year old, both are girls. And every time I read or think about the future, and understand all the things we’ve been talking about this morning, whether we’re talking about private prisons or how hard it is for people to take care of their families and work at the same time, or the amount of wealth extraction that’s going on, or the amount and scale of power that we’re actually up against, when I sit and look at my children, I am afraid. I don’t know what their future looks like, because we’re in trouble. We are in big trouble. Okay? Using concern about her children’s future to suggest that “we are in big trouble,” Alissa drew connections among ELIJAH constituencies that are objectively in different kinds and different amounts of trouble. As a highly educated white professional, Alissa’s immediate material security is assured, in contrast to that of ELIJAH’s nonwhite, poor, undocumented, and other marginalized participants. But highlighting her fear about her children’s future implicitly connected her emotionally to people who are at more immediate risk, as their children’s futures are all made uncertain by deepening inequalities. Alissa went on, using this bond as the basis for an inspiring assertion that amid their shared uncertainty about the future, people can draw confidence from their faith as they engage in collective action: If you think about what happened here this morning, there’s sort of a headiness. We’re going into these campaigns [the five issue campaigns mentioned earlier], and it’s fun and interesting and energizing, but there’s something underneath we are trying to get to, which is that every single one of these pieces, it’s not about the policy, it’s about the scale of power, and the unbelievable stakes that are going on in people’s lives. So as the director of ELIJAH, sometimes I feel like my job can be to give you an answer. How are we going to make a difference? What is the strategy going to be? Do we have enough people, how many doors are we going to knock on, do we have an eighteen month plan? And I have to tell you that the thing that we are up against, and what we’re talking about here today, I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer! We have to walk with faith into the chaos. That’s what my children need me to do. So the invitation here today is not to fill out a worksheet. It’s not to sign up for the email list. It’s not to do one more activity. It’s to join this conspiracy. And that we’re just going to walk in. I don’t want to pretend anymore that there’s an answer. You hear what I’m saying?” In these remarks, Alissa described her fear in language that aligns with the failed covenant narrative. She used her fear about what the future holds for her children to highlight “something underneath”: a set of shared emotions at the heart of ELIJAH’s work. She described fear, referring to the “unbelievable stakes” that appear both in marginalized people’s immediate futures and in the more distant futures of Alissa’s children. She assigned blame to the “scale of power” held by elites and the politicians who advance their agendas. And she pointed to collective action as the solution by legitimizing people’s fear and uncertainty, calling them to “walk with faith into the chaos,” just as Nina had asked them to become rule breakers. ELIJAH’s culture combines these elements: emotion, in this case, fear, as described in the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives; blame, attributed to social structures and the culture that upholds them; and action, which takes on emotional resonance above and beyond its material effects. Amid divergent interests, sources of emotional discomfort, and preferred styles of protest, vulnerability talk focuses ELIJAH participants on what they share: a high salience of emotions in their personal experiences and their motivations for being involved in social change projects. Nina’s and Alissa’s remarks show how personal emotions provide a cultural logic through which aggressive protest acts that would often seem inappropriate to many faith actors, like disrupting a Senate hearing, can come to be seen as appropriate civic actions when seen through the lens of a group and its norms (Lichterman and Eliasoph 2015). Here, it is the emotional management of social difference, more than attention to interests, networks, or other structural factors, that facilitates the cultural work of progressive religious organizing. An Uneasy Synthesis The preceding analyses showed how ELIJAH organizes its work around the emotional management of structural difference. The salience of emotions in both the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives is at the heart of ELIJAH’s culture, and evidence from other scholarship suggests that similar processes have been part of FBCOs’ success in building powerful organizations across the country (Braunstein 2012, 2017; Braunstein et al. 2014; Stout 2010; Wood and Fulton 2015). But there are moments when the differences between the sources and degrees of emotional trauma in the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives rear their heads, undermining the solidarity that organizations like ELIJAH are striving to construct. One example of this occurred at a different strategy meeting, where Luke, a Black ELIJAH organizer in his early 30s, led an exercise intended to foster trust and connections between ELIJAH participants who did not know each other. He introduced the session by saying, We as people of faith know that when the enemy is winning, it’s because of division. It’s because we’ve been separated into all these different categories, and we don’t know how to connect with each other anymore. So today we’re going to do an exercise in being vulnerable with each other. We’re going to break up into pairs with a person you have never had a conversation with before, and person A is going to tell their story. And person B is going to listen, do nothing but listen. And then person B is going to name…where they heard anger and suffering and woe in that story. And then we’ll switch roles. To demonstrate, he invited Hannah, a white woman in her mid 20s, to share her personal story before the audience. Her testimony was couched in the failed covenant narrative, describing how her parents’ relationship was polluted by rigid gender roles. She said that her own relationship with her mother had suffered because patriarchy had divided her parents from one another. The pain of knowing this motivated her to work with others in ELIJAH: I don’t want to cast my family in a negative light, because they have done so much for me, but also feeling that I didn’t do enough for my mother to be her ally in her relationship with my dad and in other parts of her life. But knowing these dynamics, and my privilege, makes me want to work for a level playing field for everybody. So how can I be a strong woman by myself, and how can God steer me toward that, because of but also in spite of what I grew up with? ELIJAH’s success requires building trust between white and nonwhite communities. One way of doing this is to demonstrate that privileged people, especially whites, do not act only out of altruism, but have something at stake in activism. The failed covenant narrative creates these emotional stakes by placing one’s ability to live up to religious beliefs about dignity, justice, and redemption on the line. Here, Hannah acknowledges her own privilege while talking about how gender roles and patriarchy hampered her mother’s life and her parents’ marriage. Guilt about her mother’s pain becomes an emotional basis for her own engagement in collective action to create a “level playing field for everybody,” and this gives her a stake in ELIJAH’s work that goes beyond simply helping others. Her painful recollection of not having recognized or acted upon her mother’s troubles helps to generate solidarity with people who are suffering from problems caused by patriarchy and other damaging social hierarchies. People in the audience had mixed reactions to Hannah’s story. Everyone applauded, but I could hear people around me murmuring reactions that were not all enthusiastic. Here was a paradox: Hannah had bravely shared intimate personal details and sincerely acknowledged her privilege. By using her story to demonstrate the exercise, Luke had signaled that acknowledging vulnerability is not only a task for people of color—that white people also have a responsibility to probe their experiences for emotions that can be the basis of activism. Yet, by making a failed covenant story the focus of attention, Luke also gave voice and platform to a privileged person whose struggles were clearly less urgent than those of other people present. One person who found this objectionable was Victor, a 30-year-old Latino who came to the U.S. undocumented at age 15. When I asked him in an interview if he had had any experiences in ELIJAH that made him upset, he mentioned Hannah’s story. He told me, I mean, I understood what they were trying to do, but as a person who was undocumented for over ten years, I just didn’t need to hear about that. It was good for her to work through that, and I’m glad she has done that, but I know my own pain. I live with it every day, when people second guess me because I’m not White or because I didn’t have papers. And that day I didn’t need to be part of talking about White people’s pain. I was ready to talk about action! I was angry, I was fired up, I was ready to talk about how we were going to get to work and what we were going to do. And here we were listening to this wealthy White woman talk about her mother, and that just seemed like such an affront to me at the time. So I texted Steve [an ELIJAH staff organizer] and said, ‘this is bullshit, Steve. This is not cool. I’m leaving.’ While Victor recognized that talking about pain can help bring people like Hannah into activism, he felt that hearing her story in this setting was an inappropriate use of his time and that of other people of color in ELIJAH. He does not dispute that Hannah’s story is essential for her own activism, but he was frustrated that ELIJAH organizers had chosen to spend time during one of its leadership assemblies on an exercise that seemed primarily oriented toward helping white people learn how to talk about emotions that people of color already understood. He felt that white people should work to cultivate their own emotional commitments to activism, but that it was a mistake for ELIJAH leaders to elevate them in front of people of color, who may not need to publicly practice deep introspection to recognize the importance of decisive political action. In a cultural context where people of color often have good reasons to be skeptical of whites’ desires to work with them (Eichstedt 2001), attention to emotions is necessary for demonstrating whites’ sincerity and commitment. But vulnerability talk also runs the risk of amplifying barriers of privilege and trust, as happened here. In ELIJAH, two factors combine to fuel perceptions that the failed covenant narrative is elevated at the expense of lived injustice, and hence that “White people’s pain,” as Victor called it, takes on outsized importance. The first is that middle class people are often skilled in performative personal testimony, because they tend to recognize institutions and organizations as venues for self-cultivation and self-actualization (Lareau 2003). Hannah saw in ELIJAH an opportunity to process experiences from her past and cultivate a morally authentic self. In contrast, marginalized people often wish to focus more explicitly on anger and action, like Victor said he did here (Leondar-Wright 2014; Polletta 2005). They know their own stories and often wish to tell them, but their emotional troubles often reflect material struggles, and warrant immediate action. Hence, their stories are often less oriented toward expressive performance, and more oriented toward getting things done. As a result, the practice of vulnerability talk can implicitly elevate whites’ voices despite organizations’ sincere desire to be multiracial. The second reason that the failed covenant narrative sometimes overshadows lived injustice involves political strategy. Religious actors can benefit from appearing to be motivated by “politically neutral” morality, rather than self-interest. But political powerholders are more likely to view middle class whites in this favorable manner than they are people of color; white religious actors can draw on religious discourse to appear politically neutral, but religious nonwhites are often assumed to be motivated an agenda related to their race or ethnicity (Edgell 2017). This is why covenant-oriented frames like the failed covenant narrative are often better received by powerholders than frames centered race or class analysis, as testimony based in the lived injustice narrative often is (Williams 1995; Williams and Demerath 1991). This dynamic can lead ELIJAH to elevate privileged white voices at crucial political moments, occasionally at the expense of voices espousing lived injustice narratives. In an interview, discussing a rally that ELIJAH had organized to protest a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, Janelle, a 45-year old black Catholic woman, lamented: I don’t know how many faith leaders took over the rotunda in city hall, and it was a kaleidoscope of colors, and you know male and female leaders, gay and straight, but those who had the microphone, well I heard mostly White people. And there were plenty of nonwhite people to talk, but I just wonder if they have to be more concerted about giving the mike to people of color. Long an ELIJAH stalwart, Janelle now spends more of her time working in a secular community organization instead. She said that she sees ELIJAH as “a mostly white space,” even though about a third of its membership and more than half of its board of directors are nonwhite. Above, we saw that ELIJAH intentionally centers its activities on emotions, because emotions are more easily shared across social difference than interests or issue goals. Nina and Alissa showed how emotion work can smooth tensions between constituencies with distinct interests, priorities, and preferred styles of action. But in practice, this framework takes form at the confluence of distinct narratives that reflect different levels of privilege. ELIJAH’s cultural work is a project of struggling, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so, to streamline these distinct narratives. In this struggle, we can see how social structure penetrates the cultural work happening in ELIJAH, and reproduces race and class difference even as actors work intentionally to minimize them. CONCLUSION Donald Trump’s success in tapping white voters’ emotions in his 2016 campaign highlights the general lack of talk about emotions in progressive political discourse. But there is evidence that this is changing. Amid the growth of intersectional organizing in youth-driven social movements (Enriquez and Saguy 2016; Fisher et al. 2017; Terriquez et al. 2018), attention to emotions provides a way to link the different experiences and identities of diverse actors within a cultural framework that supports collective action. While few if any studies directly examine emotions’ role in progressive religious mobilization, this article has shown that ELIJAH’s organizing work is predicated on the emotional management of distinct and occasionally conflicting narratives of political involvement: lived injustice and failed covenant. Streamlining these narratives is a potentially powerful but practically difficult endeavor. The complexity of the emotion work taking place in progressive religious activism matters because scholars and activists alike are looking to this field as the potential source of a compelling “story of peoplehood” (Smith 2003) that can stir progressives’ emotions in similar fashion to how Trump’s decline narrative captivated conservatives (Braunstein 2018). I am not arguing that religious progressives cannot or will not carry such a story—to the contrary, their success in bringing together Americans across race, class, and religious difference suggests that they are better suited to this task than many secular movements are. In addition, the salience of personal emotions in many forms of Christianity, including evangelical and charismatic traditions, may form a cultural opportunity structure for future cooperation across the orthodox-liberal religious divide. Yet being organizationally connected within a strategic action field—here, progressive religious activism—does not necessarily make people unified in their emotional understandings of why action matters or how to carry it out. My argument is that progressive religious activists are not putting forward one narrative, but two. Forging them into a unified story that can withstand the structural tensions imposed by race and class difference requires a delicate balance. Whether a durable shared framework can be forged at the intersection of these narratives, what this framework might look like, and how it might be perceived by different constituencies on the left are important questions for future study. Despite the differences between the lived injustice and failed covenant narratives and the tensions that can bubble up at their intersection, they nevertheless share themes that could potentially form the basis for a more unified progressive moral narrative to emerge. For example, both lived injustice and failed covenant lament the consolidation of political power among elites, the corresponding alienation of everyday people from the political process, and the implications of these developments for America’s ability to live up to its founding ideals. For Gorski (2017a), such themes form the basis of a civil religious tradition that rejects both religious nationalism and radical secularism, and hence can provide a compelling moral foundation for rebuilding the “vital center” of American civic life. And Braunstein (2018) suggests that progressive religious groups are well positioned to advance such a narrative. The challenge for religious coalitions seeking to mobilize on such themes is that by elevating postmaterial concerns about citizenship, norms, and identity, they also risk implicitly suppressing concerns about material status and economic necessities, and thereby continuing to subtly favor privileged people at the expense of more vulnerable constituencies (Bracey 2016). In this regard, the emotional management of progressive religious mobilization requires continued attention from scholars and development from activists. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I gratefully acknowledge the people in ELIJAH for participating in this research. I also thank Ron Aminzade, Ruth Braunstein, Penny Edgell, Teresa Gowan, Michelle Oyakawa, Evan Stewart, four anonymous reviewers and the Editor of Sociology of Religion, and audiences at Clark University, the University of Minnesota, and the 2017 meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society for helpful comments on the argument. 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Sociology of ReligionOxford University Press

Published: May 11, 2018

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