If it were up to me, we’d keep religion and politics completely apart. I think one of the best things about America is the idea of the wall between church and state. But it’s not a perfect world and the religious right has become a potent political force over the last twenty years. So it makes sense for spiritual progressives to organize as a counter-weight.
Historically, elements of organized religion have been at the center of fights for social justice, and many contemporary progressives of faith are drawing from the rich and varied tapestry of faith-based activism. Think the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Or Malcolm X’s embrace of Islam. Or the liberation theologians of Latin America. Or the large Quaker involvement in the nuclear freeze movement. Or the anti-poverty work of the Catholic Worker movement. In many social movements of the last 100 years, people of faith have played an important role.
So it was extremely encouraging to see more than 1,200 people signed up for the Spiritual Activism Conference in Washington, DC, where I spent some of last week. Held in the historic All Souls Church, founded in 1821 by John Quincy Adams and later used for meetings by Eleanor Roosevelt because it was one of the few places in the District which welcomed interracial gatherings, the event was organized by the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a group co-founded by Michael Lerner, Cornel West and Joan Chittister.
A coalition of people from many faiths, the NSP is trying to incorporate new values into daily decision-making; to challenge the misuse of faith by the Religious Right, and to address the anti-religious bias within parts of the progressive community. (The new Spiritual Covenant with America offers a broad outline of the new network’s goals and objectives.)
Conceived and organized by Lerner and his extremely efficient Tikkun magazine staff for the second time, the conference featured four charged days of passionate and engaged conversation about how to better the world (and ourselves) plus a morning of lobbying on the Hill and a raft of networking opportunities with people looking to forge links to a better world. The decent media coverage of the proceedings is a testament to the event organizers who put something together that simply could not be ignored. And it wasn’t! There were reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, the Seattle Times and Miami Herald, among other outlets.