Progressive Rabbi on “Spiritual Politics” Speaks Feb.15, Minneapolis


Facing George W. Bush’s second term, attributed by some to “values voters,” progressive religious leaders are raising their voices. Last spring, liberal evangelical pastor Jim Wallis’ bestseller God’s Politics challenged the right-wing monopoly of Christianity. Speaking in Minneapolis on February 15, progressive Rabbi Michael Lerner weighs in with his newest book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country From The Religious Right.

“Progressive, liberal activists need to welcome people with religious and spiritual beliefs,” Lerner asserts. “We’re also challenging the misuse and misdirection of right-wing religious communities that use the Bible but missed the points about ‘turning the other cheek’ or the poor and the committment people in religious, spiritual traditions to care about the powerless.”

Lerner edits Tikkun, a progressive Jewish magazine, and co-chairs, with progressive African American minister and distinguished professor Cornel West, the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Lerner says NSP is “a whole different vision of what politics should be about,” taking progressive positions from anti-racism to anti-war, grounding them in spiritual values and offering fresh solutions his new book explores.

“People have heard progressives be about a fairer distribution of money and political rights—which we are totally for. We totally believe spiritual vision has to incorporate inclusion and material fairness, but, that’s not enough,” Lerner explains.”It doesn’t speak to the hunger people have for a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that trancends the materialism and competition of the marketplace. A politics of meaning or a spiritual politics addresses those needs. We’re about restructuring our institutions, so, they’re no longer judged by the old bottom line, which says people are valuable to the extent that they maximize money, power, or the egos of those who control our society’s institutions.”

Lerner’s proposed New Bottom line boldly redefines “success,” by prioritizing values other than the current ones of competition and profit: love, caring, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sustainability with enhancing what he calls “our capacities to respond to the universe with wonder and radical amazement.”

Lerner’s book Left Hand of God concretely applies these idealistic
aims with eight planks of a Spiritual Convenant that take on the most serious issues of our time: beleagureed families—from “traditional” to single parents and GLBT—working longer hours with fewer social supports; poverty at home and abroad; crime, environmental destruction, war. This expands some projects, such as reparative justice initiated by Tikkun 15 years ago.

“You start seeing that people engaging in crime are human beings, distorted by the realities of their lives, doing stuff that runs counter to the impluse we all have to be caring. They’ve lost an essential part of their humanity. We need to help repair them,” Lerner explains. “It’s also extremely important they engage in acts of reparation to those they’ve hurt, to deeply understand what their victims’ lives are like and how they’ve been hurt.”

Former criminals would also be part of prevention, sharing their own transformation to guide others—especially youth—away from crime.

Corporate crime would be addressed by passing the Social Responsiblity
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Corporations with annual revenues of $50 million or more would be required to have their charter renewed every decade. Corporations would have to prove they’re socially responsible. Juries of ordinary citizens would make that determination based on testimony by workers, community organizations, and the corporation.

Lerner recognizes poverty’s role in war, calling for a global Marshall Plan, alluding to America’s post-WWII rebuilding of Europe and Japan.

“It’s possible to protect our country from the crazies in the world by putting 5 percent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the U.S. and other industrial Western nations towards ending global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and healthcare. That’s a different vision for being a human being and being safe,” he says. ” For 5,000 years, people have been taught that the way to deal with violence is more violence That we have to be more violent than the violent ones and then there will be less violence. For 5,000 years that has not worked. It’s
time for a different strategy.”

Lerner is best known for what he calls “a progresive middle path that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian.” He’s condemned Palestinian suicide bombers as well as Israel’s violent repression in the Occupied Territories, earning the ire of some on both sides.

May 17-20, the Network of Spiritual Progressives will host a conference in
Washington, DC. ( May 17-20. Lerner sums up the perspective he hopes to inspire: “The fundamental change we need is to recognize that our individual well-being and our society’s well-being depends on the well-being of every person on the planet.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner will speak Wed., Feb. 15, 7 p.m., at Joan of Arc Church, 4537 Third Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Hear an interview with him Tues. Feb. 14, 11 a.m. on Catalyst and Thur., Feb. 16, 11 a.m. on Write On Radio, KFAI 90.3 FM in Mpls. and 106.7 FM in St Paul

The Twin Cities chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives has its next meeting on Mon., Feb., 13, 7p.m., at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicolett Ave. S. (@ East Franklin) in MInneapolis.