Rev. Serene Jones, president of New York's Union Theological Seminary, said monthly lectures on social justice are drawing crowds three times the size they did prior to the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.
"The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action," she said.
In January, an estimated 1,000 people were turned away from the 600-seat Gothic chapel for a lecture on mass incarceration. Jones told Reuters News she has never seen such crowds in the nine years she served as president.
This group was propelled into political activism by Trump's policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. They appear to be coordinating prior to voting in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.
"It's one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn't done a good job of organizing," said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York. "It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump's election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square."
Several recent examples of religious left initiatives include a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law, and calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.
Many participants in the national Women's March this January said they were compelled by their faith to get out and participate. Their signs communicated support for abortion rights, immigrants, Black Lives Matter, science, and of their disdain with newly inaugurated President Trump. They rejected the notion that conservative religious people, who were successfully courted by Trump, represent the only voice of religious America.
Some who study religion and politics said at the beginning of this year that more left-leaning people of faith, with a clear foe in the White House, may be motivated to better organize and deploy their members during the next four years, and may even hope to regain the clout of its civil rights era days.
The number of churches volunteering to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers doubled to 800 in 45 of the 50 U.S. states after the election, said representatives of Indiana-based Church World Service, a coalition of Christian denominations that helps refugees settle in the United States.
"The religious community, the religious left is getting out, hitting the streets, taking action, raising their voices," said Rev. Noel Anderson, its national grassroots coordinator.
Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive policy group, said they were astounded when 300 clergy members turned out at a January rally at the U.S. Senate attempting to block confirmation of Trump's attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, because of his history of controversial statements on race.
"I've never seen hundreds of clergy turning up like that to oppose a Cabinet nominee," said Rev. Jennifer Butler, the group's chief executive.
The new political climate is spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents, including threats against mosques and Jewish community centers.