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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 50 wanting you to meld with his mind. “Do you get what I’m talk- ing about here?” he asks rhetorically. What he is talking about is a lot of things. He is overflowing with ideas and visions and stories, but for the most part they center on the themes he’s pre- sented in his latest book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. “The Right Hand of God,” writes Lerner, “is the hand of power and domination... And that view of God fits neatly with a politics of militarism, xenophobic nationalism, and support for U.S. dom- ination over other countries.” That approach to spirituality has so many supporters, Lerner believes, because “most people have never been exposed to a coherent spiritual–political alternative. They’ve never encountered people who take seriously the path of love, generosity, and compassion as a realistic strategy for building a different kind of world.” In fact, Lerner says, the moment Demo- “We are unrealistic in the way that the early women’s movement was unrealistic. People thought nothing would come of it—and look at the effect that movement has had.” RABBI MICHAEL LERNER is also a spiritual animal. While the conference was sponsored by the fledgling Network of Spiritual Progressives, not every- one who took part was willing to wear that label. But everyone I met there felt that politics and spirituality belong together, even though church and state should remain separated. Some, like Doc Miller, an educator from Boston who works on history curricula that teach about racism and genocide, spoke about what politics means from a spiritual perspective. “If you feel that all life is sacred,” he told me, “then politics deals with the sacred. We are all called to care for each other, and that’s what politics is all about. People need a platform with a heart. They are hungry for spiritual vision.” Pat Casey, a former aide to the governor of Michigan who has worked on every Democrat- ic presidential campaign from Jimmy Carter on, spoke about spirituality from a political perspective. “God-talk,” he said, “has been interjected into politics by the Right in a narrow, divisive way that confuses a lot of good people. Republicans on the right are cynically exploiting church-going people, while Democrats are often dismissive of churchgoers, no matter how progres- sive their views. Democrats need to articulate a vision of social progress that has heart and meaning, that connects with the best ideas and values of many religions while insisting that organized religions be kept out of the public sphere.” The conference, attended by 1,200 people and held at All Souls Church (Unitarian) in the inner-city neighborhood of Adams– Morgan–Mt. Pleasant, provided an opportunity to meet dozens of people like Miller and Casey, with a variety of political posi- tions but united in their opposition to the religious Right. It also provided the chance to meet and talk with four strong spokes- people who espouse a spiritually motivated approach to politi- cal issues and who are not political conservatives: Rabbi Michael Lerner, of the Beyt Tikkun congregation in San Francisco and the editor-in-chief of Tikkun magazine; Sister Joan Chittister, an activist Benedictine nun who is a popular speaker for the pro- gressive spiritual agenda and a regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter; Reverend Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian, founder of Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace, and author of the best-seller, God’s Politics; and Reverend Deborah Johnson, founder of the Inner Light Ministries, near Monterey, California, and a civil-rights activist and diversity advocate. They are clergy with political vision. Each of them said their piece with great passion and conviction, and not in the abstract but as people who want to speak directly to people’s needs. It is impossible to gauge the impact of the left-leaning spiritual world of today, but listening to some of its leaders makes you wonder whether spirituality and politics are as far apart as you thought. ALTHOUGH RABBI MICHAEL LERNER is standing one story higher than you in the soaring pulpit at All Souls, it feels as if he is going to grasp you by the lapel. His hair disheveled, his suit rumpled, he is reaching out to you, thrusting his hands forward, MARKWERLIN