A Network of Spiritual Progressives
Conference -- July 2005
the conference on spiritual activism:
A progressive voice
for the culture war?
by Doug King
I’ve reported earlier on the
conference on spiritual activism that was held in July in Berkeley, CA, as a
kick-off for a Network of Spiritual Progressives. More than 1200 people came
together for four days for a first-time, remarkable gathering. Jews and
Christians, Muslims and Hindus, theological liberals and evangelicals, and
lots more – all were drawn by an invitation to shape a positive progressive
response to the conservatives’ success in making faith and values something
on which they seem to claim a monopoly.
There were so many ideas to digest that I’m still sorting
things out, but here are some of my early reflections. They are tentative,
because this is a project still in its formative stages, but it is one which
might have great impact on the political life of the United States. If you
were there, or have thoughts about reports of the conference, I’d love to
hear your views!
The main themes of the conference were clear, and were
consistently asserted through the whole event: (1) America is in a crisis –
the Right is right about that, and the Left has largely (and disastrously)
ignored it. But the Right misunderstands the nature and roots of the crisis.
(2) The real nature of the crisis is alienation: people are lonely –
isolated from one another and from the natural human capacity to live in
relationships, in community.
Why does this happen? The Right tends to blame the
problems of loneliness and weakened family life on liberalism, secularism,
science, and all the other familiar demons. But in fact our problems are
created by our market economy, with its demand for profits at all costs. In
this market-based culture we are shaped by competition, so we see other
people as threats, and look at life with fear. The economic system assumes
that self-interest is our basic value, and the constant barrage of
advertising reinforces that for all of us, and especially for our children.
Work becomes a constantly rising demand; friends and relationships (even
families) must be sacrificed to the demands for the "bottom line" – the
profits produced by work.
So the American people become more and more deeply bound
by the market system that is defended so fiercely by the Right – even as it
undermines and destroys the very "family values" they treasure so deeply.
What can we do about this threat to our society, to our
The approach offered by the conference seemed to offer not a new politics,
but a new approach to the "culture war" that is so much a part of right-wing
A few examples:
Michael Nagler proclaiming the
urgent need for a non-violent alternative to the world’s growing violence,
and asserting that non-violence must begin within ourselves, expanding
into a struggle to replace the "commercial civilization" which so
undermines our social nature.
George Lakoff on "framing" the
issues in language and metaphors that will appeal to people’s deeply held
values and views of the world.
Peter Gable dealing with our human
predicament: "The greatest source of violence and social misery is our
experience of isolation," which denies our essentially social nature.
Jim Wallis describing his
best-selling book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the
Left Doesn’t Get It, as providing "inspiration and action ... a vision
of what we can be," and affirming that religion should be the bridge to
unite us, critiquing both right and left and providing a new "moral center
for our public life."
Michael Lerner calling for
progressives of faith to offer a vision of hope which might move "our
social energy from the isolation of fear to connectedness." He explicitly
said that this movement would not be a political movement of right or
left, but a much broader shift from fear to hope.
For those who like to think theologically about these
questions, it might be fruitful to consider the brothers Niebuhr – two of
the greatest American theologians of the mid-20th century.
Reinhold Niebuhr proclaimed a need for Christian realism – a recognition
that politics is about power, not about ideals like justice or peace. The
program outlined for the Network of Spiritual Progressives seems to offer
little of the practical political strategies, the appeals to self-interest
of individuals and groups, that Reinhold Niebuhr saw as the only way to
achieve significant change in our society.
H. Richard Niebuhr, on the other hand, saw faith as
shaping society not by gaining and using power, but by shaping (or
reshaping) culture – the values and worldviews by which people live their
lives, make their choices, and organize their institutions. This seems to be
what the proposed Network will aim to do, by presenting a new vision of how
we might live together, not fearing one another but trusting each other; not
seeking control of the world, but celebrating the creation in all its rich
diversity; not competing against one another for power, but cooperating with
each other to achieve shared goals.
I’ll admit to a preference for Richard Niebuhr’s
faith-transforming-culture approach, but I think we need to be wary of
ignoring his brother’s warnings that politics must be realistic, shaped by
self-interest and compromise – "the art of the possible" rather than a way
to achieve our highest values.
So I’m eager to see where this initiative may lead. At
this early stage, it seems focused on developing a new, clear, faith-based
vision for our society – a vision that will be shared by people of faith in
many different religious traditions. Many observers have said that the
Democratic Party and other progressives have failed to articulate a broadly
based vision; this band of spiritual progressives aims to offer them some
help in that urgent project.
It’s not clear to me how this movement will progress from
vision-building to the gritty realities of political action. And yet this
faith-transforming-culture approach is just what has won such power for the
right. By giving voice to people’s discontent with their lives, and
explaining it (even if incorrectly), the religious conservatives have
mobilized people who have been alienated from politics, and have given them
directions for action – and effective action at that.
But groups on the right have also engaged in grass-roots
politics – winning election to school boards so they could fight the
teaching of evolution; supporting candidates at all levels, and attacking
those whom they find offensive – with personal action, money, and the use of
their vast channels of mass communication.
Rabbi Lerner and the others who planned the conference
clearly have this kind of grass-roots action in mind, too – urging
participants to form local small groups, to get involved in party caucuses,
and much more. The Network for Spiritual Progressives isn’t there yet, but
it may have taken some crucial first steps in that direction – not aiming
for political control, but seeking to shape the conversation, and to
re-define (or re-frame) some of the great issues our nation faces today.
The group is planning
another conference to be held in Washington, DC, in April on 2006.
Billed as "a teach-in to Congress," that suggests a pretty speedy shift
Jim Wallis confronted the conference with a choice between cynicism that
says the world can’t be made better, and hope that insists on trying.
Clearly this group is ready to try, and keep trying, to shape a nation of
justice and peace, of respect, of kindness and love. A tall order, but isn’t
there something in the Bible about all things being possible for God?
A couple more helpful items:
Questions and Answers on the Network of Spiritual Progressives >>
Another look at the Christian right
For another incisive statement of the challenge of
right-wing Christianity in the US, you might look at "The Christian
Paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong," by William McKibben,
published in the August 2005 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
find a substantial excerpt on the Harper’s website.
Progressives of spirit, moving
toward working together
by Doug King [7-25-05]
More than 1200 people came together for four days last week for a
first-time, remarkable gathering. Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus,
theological liberals and evangelicals, and lots more – all were drawn by an
invitation to shape a positive progressive response to the conservatives’
success in making faith and values something on which they seem to claim a
People were drawn too, no doubt, by the star-studded list
of speakers. Rabbi Michael Lerner, the founder of the progressive Jewish
organization Tikkun, began working for this event after last November’s
election, in which the religious right exercised such a large influence, and
claimed such a grip on debates in the name of religion and "moral values."
The Rev. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, has long been active as an
evangelical committed to work for peace and justice. His recent book
God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It
has become a best-seller because it articulates a progressive view of
America’s current mess from a Biblically informed perspective. Lerner and
Wallis gave the keynote addresses on the first evening of the conference.
They laid out some of the main themes that were woven
through the rest of the four days: That America is in a profound moral
crisis (that’s where the right gets it right), and the crisis arises out of
our nation’s long-standing commitment to an ethic of materialism and
individualism, which leaves most people in a state of deep loneliness and
dissatisfaction, which they try to overcome by buying more and more of the
stuff that our market economy keeps pushing at them (that’s where the left
has some understanding of the problem, but can’t offer a deep enough
critique because it refuses to recognize the spiritual dimension of human
Here are my notes on the major presentations on the first
that set the stage for much of the conference:
Michael Nagler: our spiritual crisis and a
Dr. Michael Nagler gave the first address on Wednesday
morning (July 20, 2005), with the title "Our Spiritual Crisis and the Role
of Nonviolence" – which he suggested amending to talk about spiritual
opportunity. Professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature
at UC, Berkeley, he also founded the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, and
still teaches there, as well as offering courses in meditation. Without
minimizing the crisis, he did see real signs of hope. A veteran of
Berkeley’s free speech struggle in the 1960s, Nagler reminded the group of
how that group of students, responding to the civil rights movement, "woke
up our nation to the fact that racism was wrong. And now," he said, "we have
to show that violence is wrong."
But the struggle against violence "must start with
ourselves," dealing with the violence in our inner worlds. And then we must
build a constructive alternative, a new platform to replace the "commercial
civilization," with its barrage of 3,000 advertising messages a day that
insist to each of us that we have a right to feel good about ourselves, that
life is a matter of "you, you, you!"
He noted that Zbigniew Brzezinski said of our current
approach to the world, "This is not working. We are making terrorists faster
than we can kill them." It’s time to try something new. It’s time, he said,
to recover our true human nature, which is not to be violent. And we can do
that by using "our secret weapons of spirituality," transforming our sexual
energy into creative energy and non-violence.
Nagler also tossed out a quote from someone who offered a
delightful note of realism: "The purpose of the peace movement is to take
the angriest people in the world, and keep them out of the military."
George Lakoff: language of values in American
Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley (these
did turn up fairly often here – and with good reason) and Senior
Fellow at the Rockridge Institute, Dr. Lakoff is author of two books –
Don’t Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics – that have made
"reframing" a key concept for progressives as they try to find more
effective ways to connect with the American people. He outlined some of the
insights he has gained from research in cognitive science and neuro-science.
These have led him to the distinction between people who are raised in
families with a "strict father model" and those who grow up with a nurturant
While all children are born with the capacity for empathy,
those who are reared under the "strict father" model learn to see life as
competition, people as basically evil, and the pursuit of self-interest as
the only way to a good life. For these folks, social programs to help people
as immoral, because the undermine discipline. People raised under the
nurturant model, on the other hand, learn to value relations with others, to
empathize them and trust them. Such relationships for them are not a matter
of indulgence, but of permission to live a good life. They value fairness
and fulfillment and freedom, and participation in community. They live with
an attitude of trust rather than fear of the other, cooperation rather than
competition, and confidence rather than anxiety.
Lakoff acknowledged that we carry both models within us in
various sorts of mixes. Many "red state" citizens are deeply involved in
nurturing families and community; some environmentalists care for the
natural world because they love hunting and the challenge of defeating
animals in a kind of contest.
Lakoff used this contrast to consider the shift in
religion’s role in American politics. From 1850 to 1920, he said, Protestant
Christianity reflected a faith in a nurturant, gracious God (he mentioned
Horace Bushnell’s ground-breaking book Christian Nurture), and so it
generated social and political actions that abolished slavery, strengthened
laws against child labor, and gained women’s suffrage. But this has changed
over recent decades, as conservatives have taken seriously the fact that
morality is shown in action, while progressives have forgotten that.
Finally, Lakoff noted that metaphors are the only way we
can talk about God. That might be strongly contested, of course, by many of
the religious conservatives with whom he wants to communicate. But he
suggested that there are many metaphors beyond the parental ones; he
mentioned talk about God through metaphors of infinity, or as the source of
all good things, or of the world. He opened a window there that invites much
|[Added on 7-26-05]
Peter Gable: the politics of meaning, an
alternative to traditional liberal politics
The third major address on the first day of the conference
was given by Peter Gable, who is President Emeritus of New College of
California and associate editor of Tikkun magazine. He has worked
with Michael Lerner in developing the Politics of Meaning, and is author of
The Bank Teller and Others Essays on the Politics
His role was to set forth an introduction to spiritual
politics and the politics of meaning, which he has been developing with
Rabbi Lerner. He began by elaborating a point that had been made by
Michael Nagler, and that echoed through the whole conference: "The greatest
source of violence and social misery is our experience of isolation," seen
in blank gazes and flatness of expression. He posed the question, "If we
long to be fully present to each other, we long for mutual recognition, why
don’t we do this? This is just as important as the need for food and
shelter," he went on. "It’s our essentially social nature." But this desire
for connections with other people is denied in our everyday life – just as
our TV news presents us with newscasters playing artificial roles, not even
present to what they are saying. We internalize that artificiality, and
learn not to show ourselves to others.
We deny our own longing for recognition, he explained,
because we learn to fear humiliation. We have learned to perceive the
other as a threat, rather than as a source of our fulfillment. This happens
because society teaches us to be afraid. He pointed to the "circle of
collective denial" that occurred after the attacks of September 11th.
For two weeks after 9/11, he said, "there was a breakthrough of the
collective denial, an outpouring of awe and compassion." Then the forces of
denial shifted to an attitude of "we’re gonna get 'em," and we
retreated into our habitual patterns of fear and isolation. Even the
progressive voices – "Al Gore, John Kerry, the Democratic Party" – ignored
the spiritual dimension of the crisis, and simply offered lists of things to
do, all external, all simply deepening the isolation.
Since the time of Ronald Reagan, he continued, the Right
has addressed this spiritual need, providing a framework of moral discourse,
and offering images of connectedness. (Remember Reagan’s early ads: "It’s
morning in America" and images of loving families?) Those images and slogans
may be fantasies, but they also point to realities in the lives of many
people, and in their religious congregations. Now, he said, religious
progressives need to be willing to talk about their values, their sense of
the meaning of life, their experiences of mutual recognition and the
sacredness of nature.
Finally he posed the question of how progressives can
break through the cycle of collective denial, and elicit a new sense of
hope. The first step, he said, is to become, as persons, "a moral presence."
That means learning to attend to our own lives and how we relate to the
other. It means "being present," which he contrasted to the "hollowness"
people saw in John Kerry.
The second step is "building a parallel universe ... a
culture which nurtures relationships, offers mutual recognition and caring."
As an example he cited his own suggestion at New College, that the
evaluation of each other in the college be done on the model of Rosh
Hashanah – with ten days of reflection on the past year, people talking with
one another in pairs, and writing up their evaluations of each other and
suggestions for the coming year.
The third step is to develop "a spiritual-activist
platform connecting a vision of community with specific actions. So, for
example, we might talk about health care not in terms of insuring bodies,
but as a matter of caring for one another. Starting from that value
of mutual care, then universal health care would simply become a clear moral
imperative. Likewise we should talk about Social Security, not just about
"keeping it the way it is," as the Democrats have been doing, but as one of
the great human achievements of our society, as people care for one another
across the generations. And about education? "No child left behind" is a
good idea, he said, but we need to think about it in terms of our children,
and our desires that they learn awe and reverence, cooperation, and so much
more than can be subjected to required testing programs.
Thandeka on building
One of the central elements in the conference was the
small groups – workshops and work groups, and small groups of ten that met
once each day for a few minutes of personal sharing. This process was
introduced by the Rev. Dr. Thandeka, who is co-president of the Center for
Community Values, and Research Professor of Theology at Meadville/Lombard
Theological School in Chicago.
She opened by proclaiming, "We’re here because we can
transform the world, and we’re here because we cannot do this work alone."
The group needed to form a community, she said, in order to build "a
coordinated vision and practice." With Martin Buber’s image of dialogue as
sacramental, she invited conference participants to join actively in their
small groups, and in the discussions in workshops, as well as in the work
groups that were asked to develop planks for a "platform" on a number of
|[Added on 7-30-05]
Jim Wallis: "We’re the ones to change
The first day of the Spiritual Activism conference was
climaxed by two keynote presentations by Jim Wallis and Rabbi Michael
Lerner, both speaking out of the deep involvement in the movement to involve
people of faith more actively and more effectively in the political life of
the United States at this critical time.
Wallis led off, speaking mostly out of his thinking as
reflected in God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left
Doesn’t Get It – and his wide range of encounters around the country on
book tours since its publication.
He described his book as a statement of "what this
movement is all about," and as his effort to provide "inspiration and action
... a vision of what we can be."
He gave flesh to this vision with stories, including one
of being with a group of religious leaders in the Capital Rotunda, joining
in a call for an end to the war in Iraq. The group of clerics was ordered to
leave the sacred (and secure) halls of Congress, and refused to move, so
they were arrested. As they were being handcuffed, an eighth grade civics class from
a Catholic high school, watching from the balcony above, broke into
applause. One of the boys in the class said later what it meant to him: "I
learned that sometimes you can get arrested for your faith. But when you do
it’s good to have some friends with you."
And he told of preaching not too long ago at Ebenezer
Baptist Church in Atlanta, from the pulpit graced over the years by the
likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was having trouble preaching there,
and was far from matching the great African-American preachers that the
congregation has heard. One deacon in the front of the congregation kept
urging him on, calling out to him to preach it – and slowly he found himself
warming to the job. That deacon, he said, pulled out of him preaching he
didn’t know he could give. And so, said Wallis, "religion’s job is to pull
out our best stuff." But today through the religious right, religion "is
pulling out some of our worst stuff." The last election showed clearly a
deepening polarization, "growing out of the uses and abuses of religion."
But after his book tour, and meeting 80,000 people in 21
cities around the land, he says "I am now convinced that the monologue of
the religious right is over, and a new dialogue has begun." He sees that in
the fact that many evangelical Christians come to his book signings and
appreciate what he is saying. After all, he says, millions of evangelicals
in America don’t feel represented by the Jerry Falwells of the Right. George
Bush’s visit to Calvin College, a
conservative Christian school where his advisor Carl Rove expected a
friendly reception, showed that conservatives can stand in opposition to the
administration, as many faculty and students did by sponsoring newspaper ads
stating their (faith-based!) reasons for rejecting the war in Iraq.
Likewise, he added, many Catholics do not feel they are
represented by the statements of their bishops opposing Catholic political
candidates who favor women’s choice. And black evangelicals are saying that
"the evangelicals" supporting Bush are white evangelicals. Many
Jewish and Muslim leaders, and people from other traditions as well, are
recognizing the struggle today between fundamentalist and prophetic
So, he said, "I think what we’re seeing today is much more
than the rise of a religious left." We are seeing a response to "the
political seduction of the religious right," which is making it into "a
partisan wedge to divide," while the true function of religion is "to be a
bridge to unite." Thus the role of religion is to critique both left and
right, by providing a "moral center for our public life."
Bad religion, he added, leads to "arrogance ... and bad
foreign policy," while good religion "leads to humility and patience."
The religious right is wrong, he said, because "they
narrow everything to two moral issues: abortion and homosexuality. But when
I find 3,000 verses in the Bible about wealth and poverty, I have to insist
that poverty is a moral issue" far more important. He has to ask, then, "how
did Jesus become pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?"
Wallis has seen an enthusiastic response from young people
on his travels. "One kid who saw me on a TV interview said ‘I didn’t know
you could be a Christian and care about poverty ... and war.’" That points,
he went on, to the biggest error of the religious left, which has been to
"concede moral values to the political and religious right. I believe in the
separation of church and state, but we don’t have to leave faith out of the
It's an issue of faith, he said, that most of the inmates of Sing Sing prison,
north of New York City, come from just four or five neighborhoods in the
city, as if from the beginning of their lives they are destined to "get on a
train that takes them there." The fact that one billion
people in the world are living on less than $1 a day – that’s a issue of
faith. When 30,000 children are dying today of hunger – that’s an issue of
Wallis closed by presenting the group with some choices.
The biggest choice, he said, is between hope and cynicism. George Brown,
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently said that we can end extreme
poverty in the world for 5 billion dollars. Cynics respond that they see
the world as it is, they’ve tried to change it, they've failed, and now they’re
against any more efforts. But hope, he said, is a choice, a decision made
because of faith, "believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the
So young people are facing a choice too, between career
-- assembling and protecting their assets for themselves, and vocation –
discerning their gifts and putting them to use for the world.
As an example he cited Lisa Sullivan, a young
African-American woman of great gifts. Friends told her, "Lisa, the problems
are too big – the drugs, the poverty – and we’re too small. We haven’t got
any leaders any more." She responded, "We’re the ones we’re waiting
for," and went to work to make changes happen.
Politicians, he went on, wet a finger and put it up to see
which way the wind is blowing. "Changing politicians won’t change that," he
added. "We have to change the wind. The time of the religious right is now
passing, and our time has finally come. We are the ones to change the wind."
Wallis, concluding his talk, went on to introduce Rabbi Michael Lerner as
"the person who thought this all up."
Lerner was arrested for anti-war protests during the
Vietnam war; later in his doctoral studies he focused on the psychodynamics
of America’s shift to the right after that war. Eventually he realized that
Americans were in a state of "spiritual crisis," feeling isolated from one
another and unable to build relationship. And this crisis was pushing them
to the right.
So Lerner founded Tikkun magazine, where he offered
commentary about the need for peace-making between Israel and Palestine –
"not such a simple thing!" So Lerner found himself saying "it’s not just
about politics. It’s about the heart, about reconciliation." And that, said
Wallis, "led to more death threats than anyone I know."
Lerner: Offering a new vision [8-5-05]
Rabbi Lerner opened his talk by inviting the group into a few moments of
visualization – seeing ourselves on a globe with 6 billion people, 2 billion
of whom are living on less than $2 a day – in a universe so vast that "half
our prayers boil down to ‘Wow!’"
But in this universe, he said, "the truth seems to be that
people are selfish," and many people live out of a cynical (or "realistic")
vision of life which leads them to be fearful, seeking safety for themselves
by seeking domination over others. But there is another vision, rooted in
the great spiritual traditions of the world, which sees human beings as
capable of loving and caring. "We come into the world with loving
connections with another – a mothering connection. We have the capacity to
feel safe with one another."
The cynical view, he went on, has been ascendant for the
past several hundred years, so even religious people have lost that original
vision of connectedness. These two visions are constantly in tension,
leading one group to see God as power, and the other to see God as
Lerner’s call is for progressives of faith to offer the
vision of hope which can move "our social energy from the isolation of fear
to connectedness." He noted that the movement from fear to hope is not the
same as a political movement from right to left. The left, too, he said,
sometimes appeals to fear, as we have seen in some anti-war demonstrations.
The vision of cynicism and fear has led many people toward
the political right, even when their own economic interests are being
undermined by the politics of the right. The left has simply thought these
people were being "stupid" or racist or something of the sort, when in fact
they have been trying to deal with a spiritual crisis in their own lives.
The world of work has been teaching them that everything has "a bottom
line," and if they don’t advance profits, they lose their jobs. This means
that they have to see other people always through the question of "how can
they be of use to you?" They’re being forced to see people as objects to be
manipulated, so even their friendships become exchange relationships,
"thinner, ... with less resilience, less to be counted on."
So all our commitments are reduced to a matter of how they
can help me, until it’s almost impossible not to see people this way. And
this, he said, is the real crisis in family life.
But there is another way to see people, through the faith
traditions that help us recognize humans as fundamentally valuable, as
reflections of the sacred. And we can look at nature not as what we can own
or sell, but with awe and wonder and radical amazement at the majesty of
In our culture’s time of spiritual crisis, the right named
the pain and so earned great credibility. But then they named "the other" in
society as the cause. In Europe it was the Jews; in our society it was
African-Americans, and Indians, and now gays and liberals and immigrants.
So ironically, the right serves as the primary support of
the market economy, which is the source of the materialism that is
destroying our human relationships – and our families. They get away with
this, he said, "because there’s no other voice in the argument."
So what we need, he went on, is an acknowledgment from
spiritual progressives that there is a real problem, but that gives a true,
spiritual explanation of the crisis.
In the face of this challenge, he asked, what would a
network of spiritual progressives look like? How can we call our society’s
attention to the need for "a new bottom line"?
[See Tikkun’s website for a brief statement of the
goals of the Network of Spiritual Progressives.]
Today our society’s institutions are judged by how well
they produce profits; we must expand that vision by working for "a new bottom
line." So we will ask what our world would look like if we allowed people to
live with love and caring, to take their own spiritual values seriously, to
put love and kindness and generosity at the center of their lives.
Specifically, Lerner mentioned a proposed "social
responsibility amendment," which would free good people in corporations to
stop maximizing profits, and begin operating in ways that are socially
This change would also mean teaching values in our
schools – not the values of getting ahead, being "productive" and using
people, but the values of love and generosity.
So, said Lerner, "I hope we’ll form a Spiritual Covenant
with America [echoing and transforming former Sen Newt Gingrich’s "Contract
with America"), putting our values at the center." "Our goal," he want on,
"is not to beat the Republicans, but to build a better world with love and
kindness and generosity at the center of our world."
And this change, he added, will require changing ourselves
– getting over our fear of saying we believe in love, not in power, and
getting over our need for domination. So we need a movement in which we can
be compassionate to each other, accepting each other as flawed human beings,
nourishing one another."
So, he urged, "come out of the closet as a spiritual
person. Affirm it publicly." After all, there is no one without flaws, "but
if we accept our humiliations, our movement will transform this continent."
|Lerner and Wallis respond to
The morning after the presentations by Wallis
and Lerner, the conference crowd was given a chance to put questions to both
of them, and later members of the press were also given a brief time to
question them. Here are a few gleanings from the two sessions:
Wallis was asked if he is an evangelical. He clearly
identified himself as such, but defined "evangelical" in his own way, noting
that the altar call developed in the 19th century as a way to
sign people up for the abolition movement, aimed at ending slavery. He went
on: "The evangelicals today don’t take the Bible seriously. Jesus’ mission
statement was from Isaiah: ‘I have come to proclaim good news to the poor.’
And that’s not the message of the evangelical movement today." He
continued: "Don’t let the right have the Bible; and don’t think we’re going
to be progressive by doing without the Bible."
To this little discussion of the Bible, Michael Lerner
added that the Biblical critique of society is much deeper and more radical
than Marxist or any other critiques.
Finding spiritual nourishment
Asked about what they do for their own spiritual renewal,
Wallis said he finds sustenance in his children, and in the shared liturgy
of the Sojourners community. He added that we cannot change the world by
protests; we have to "become contemplatives for the long term," developing
small groups, spiritual disciplines, and communities. Lerner pointed to his
practice of observing Sabbath – "25 hours of celebration, a time for love
and sex, no TV, no computer, no e-mail. [Many envious sighs were heard
around the room - and a few gasps of disbelief.] It’s a celebration of the
universe, not fixing things or trying to control the world."
Summarizing the conference
In the press conference, Lerner and Wallis were asked to
summarize what the conference was all about. Wallis said "the monologue of the
religious right is finally over, and this conference shows that
dramatically. A silent majority of modern spiritual people are saying of the
right, ‘That’s not my faith,’" and many voices from many traditions are
joining in on this. They are all saying we need a real dialogue about the
future of our society, and are insistingat "blue and red are not biblical
Lerner added that "we’re creating a network of spiritual
communities, challenging the left as well as the right to recognize that
there is a spiritual crisis." The left and the Democrats have not
understood the crisis, while the right has seen the crisis but
misunderstands its causes, which are really economic.
Michael Lerner was asked about how the prophetic tradition
"fits" with the Democratic Party. He replied that the progressive spiritual
movement support parties of the left in their efforts to include the poor in
the society, "But we challenge them to deal with the spiritual crisis, and
to recognize that it is more than a matter of material issues."
Wallis added that "like Martin Luther King, we won’t
endorse a candidate for president. He didn’t do that, but instead asked the
candidates to endorse his movement for justice."
|More on the conference, including
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New
York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive
New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the
Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian
Church in Flushing, NY.
John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive
A Presbyterian minister, currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!