Last month, Rabbi Michael Lerner–the founding editor of Tikkun magazine–convened a Conference on Spiritual Activism in Berkeley. It was there that he launched a new organization called the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP).
Lerner describes it as “the most significant inter-faith effort” to bring together “religious, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious progressives.” Thirteen hundred people–Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and “spiritual but not religious people”–turned out for the conference to network and hear talks from Dave Robinson, the Executive Director of Pax Christi USA; Michael Nagler, founder of Berkeley’s Peace and Conflict Studies Program; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson.
The Network, Lerner explained in an interview last week, is seeking to transform our nation’s institutions and culture by addressing the American people’s “spiritual crisis.” This crisis, he argues, stems from “an excess of selfishness and materialism” associated with American capitalism, and the fledgling organization wants to change society’s bottom line by de-emphasizing “money and power” and reinforcing values like “love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity and behavior, kindness and generosity, non-violence and peace.”
NSP’s agenda includes proposals to add a constitutional amendment that would require corporations with more than $50 million in annual income to renew their charters every ten years by appearing before a jury of citizens and proving they had behaved in a socially responsible manner; to create a G-8 “Marshall Plan” whereby 5 percent of the richest nations’ GDP would be donated to the most impoverished nations to fight poverty and guard against environmental degradation left over by decades of colonialism; and to refocus our nation’s educational efforts around values like “caring,” rather than “competition.”
Critical to Lerner’s agenda is to challenge what he calls “religio-phobia” on the left. Perhaps with that in mind, once the conference ended, he sent Tikkun‘s readers an e-mail blast that urged them to call The Nation and other progressive media outlets, which he said had failed to cover the Berkeley event, showed hostility to the religious left and had (once again) turned their backs on Tikkun and the politics of spirituality.
I traded e-mails with Lerner after receiving that letter. I pointed out that The Nation has, in fact, been committed to the inclusion of spiritual and religious perspectives since the magazine was founded by men (no women, sadly) devoted to a moral politics that sought the abolition of slavery. I reminded Lerner that leading religious left figures have appeared in our pages over the decades. Our civil rights correspondent in the early 1960s, for example, was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1970s and ’80s, Penny Lernoux wrote numerous pathbreaking articles relating Christ’s teaching to the struggle of Latin America’s people for justice in the face of powerful and corrupt elites and military juntas. More recently, in one of the first issues I edited in 1996, Harvey Cox–the eminent Harvard theology professor–argued that “to purge the public square of religion is to cut the roots of the values that nourish our fondest causes.”