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A Network of Spiritual Progressives
Conference -- July 2005

Reflections on 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 very lives?

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 rhetoric.

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 toward politicking.

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. You’ll find a substantial excerpt on the Harper’s website.

Below you'll find
bullet reports from other sources
bulleta post-conference summing up by Rabbi Michael Lerner

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 monopoly.

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 life).

Here are my notes on the major presentations on the first day, that set the stage for much of the conference:

Michael Nagler: our spiritual crisis and a non-violent alternative

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 politics

Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley (these Berkeley folks 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 parenting model.

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 more consideration.


[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 of Meaning.

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 community

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 issues.

[Added on 7-30-05]

Jim Wallis: "We’re the ones to change the wind."

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 traditions.

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 public square."

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 faith.

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 evidence change."

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."  

Rabbi Michael 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 compassion.

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 creation."

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 responsible.

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 questions

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:

Being evangelical

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 categories."

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.

Practical politics

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 ...
bullet reports from other sources
bulleta post-conference summing up by Rabbi Michael Lerner
bulleta New York Times piece by Jim Wallis on "the message thing"

GA actions 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 of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

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 thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

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 lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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