While conservative Catholics have doubled down on abortion policy and religious freedom for the past four years, Mr. Biden’s policy priorities reflect those of Pope Francis, who has sought to turn the church’s attention from sexual politics to issues like environmental protection, poverty and migration.
On his first day in office, Mr. Biden recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the international accord designed to avert global warming; ended the ban on travel from predominantly Muslim and African countries; and stopped construction on the border wall.
Mr. Biden’s support for abortion rights is already causing tension in the Catholic church. Even before the inaugural ceremony had finished, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued an extensive statement criticizing Mr. Biden for policies “that would advance moral evils,” especially “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.” Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who is known for his alignment with Pope Francis’ social and economic priorities, pushed back on Twitter, calling the statement unprecedented and “ill-considered.”
Mr. Biden’s priorities reflect values that progressive faith leaders have pushed for, and that motivated many to speak out for him during the campaign, said Derrick Harkins, who led interfaith outreach for the Democratic National Committee this past cycle. There is a sense of moral synergy on the left, among not only progressive Christians but also humanists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and the spectrum of faith traditions, he said.
The work now “has a chance of really having traction,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about what can unfold.”
The grassroots progressive Christian movement is center stage in Mr. Biden’s Washington.
Unlike four years ago, when many of the participants in the post-inaugural prayer service were conservative evangelicals or prosperity gospel preachers, this year’s Thursday service included a broad array of religious progressives, including two transgender faith leaders. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR, a Jewish community in Los Angeles, prayed for the coming of a new America, one “built on love, rooted in justice and propelled by our moral imagination.”
The Rev. William J. Barber II, a chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, preached and directly challenged Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to pursue a Third Reconstruction, decades after the civil rights era. He urged them to address “interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation/denial of health care, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism.”