The first line in the article on front page of the Washington Post on Saturday, May 20th read, “The religious left is back.” Twelve hundred people from thirty-nine states gathered at All Souls Church in Washington D.C. last week for the Spiritual Activism Conference sponsored by the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
The Network of Spiritual Progressives is an organization born out of the frustration that many religious and spiritual peoples of every faith community have had with the continuing political dominance of the Religious Right. With much of the evangelical Christian community either tacitly or overtly supporting such unspiritual positions such as the war in Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthy, the silence of many on the growing crises of global warming and increasing world poverty, and the almost idolic worship of the American flag over true moral and spiritual values, more and more people of faith are being galvanized into action to voice loudly and clearly their disapproval of these positions, and to reaffirm the God of love, compassion, forgiveness, justice, and equality.
Meanwhile, the secular Left has virtually ceded the field of ‘values’ to the Right, preferring mind-numbing social programs and plans without addressing the core emptiness that vast numbers of people are feeling as the United States moves farther and farther into the globalization of everything. The two main reasons that the Left avoids the ‘values’ issue are a) they are so disgusted with the way the Right has framed the issue, and b) many feel that ‘my values may not be your values, so who am I to impose my values on you’. This has kept the discussion of values in our schools, our workplaces, and in our society in general a right-wing monologue. When people on the secular Left say that moral values should be removed from the discourse on our schools and our workplaces they are ignoring one very important fact. This country does, in fact, have a national religion: we pray to the twin gods of money and power. Think about it. Our children spend eight hours a day (NOT including homework) for sixteen years of their life finding out that the most important thing they can learn to do is make the most money possible, and that those with the most power in our society end up with the most money. Practically every class they take is preparing them to become cogs in the corporate-capitalist system, a system that degrades the worth of the individual, while encouraging the dog-eat-dog competitiveness of our modern society. American workers are increasingly made to feel like their only ‘value’ to society is their worth as a piece of corporate machinery, and when that piece can be duplicated for twenty cents an hour in some Third World country, this human being is unceremoniously dumped back into the increasingly service-oriented marketplace, while his former boss the CEO gets an eight-figure compensation package.
The Religious Right has understood for quite some time that every human being has a need to feel valued, to want community, and to need the comfort and nourishment of a higher spiritual authority. This is what attracts so many to the doors of the evangelical Christian church. The problem is, they then turn around and vote en masse for the very policies that negate that nourishment and comfort, such as abolishing social programs for the poor, cutting the budget for food stamps and child care programs, being in favor of obscenely large ‘Defense’ budgets at the expense of the dispossessed of this nation and the rest of the world, and by their silence, allowing our government to perpetrate horrible crimes of aggression around the world in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. The silence is also deafening when it comes to the advocacy of the abolition of all nuclear weapons, including our own, not just the ones in countries we don’t happen to like. The stewardship of planet Earth is another important issue that the Religious Right is slowly awakening to— for too long they have marched in lockstep with the right-wing party line that has been now disavowed by all but a few blowhards on Fox News, and that is the almost laughable idea that there is no credible evidence of global warming.
Led by Rabbi Michael Lerner and a host of religious leaders of all faiths, the Network of Spiritual Progressives have developed a comprehensive answer to all of these important moral issues of our time, elaborated upon in Lerner’s new book The Left Hand of God, in which he proposes a Spiritual Covenant with America designed to directly challenge the Religious Right’s position on all of these issues.
More and more people of faith, including surprising numbers of evangelical Christians (their large numbers were the biggest surprise at the conference) will no longer fall for the Religious Right’s tactic of reducing the moral values field to two issues, abortion and gay marriage. For starters, most on the Religious Right aren’t even really pro-life- they are merely pro-birth. Support for the death penalty, the militarization of everything, and the undermining of the environment in return for greater corporate profit belie the pro-life moniker that they have heretofore thought they owned. As far as the gay marriage issue goes, it is an incredibly petty issue to stake one’s entire moral stance upon, considering the inherent hypocrisy of the plethora of aforementioned positions. And people of faith all over this country are becoming increasingly vocal about this hypocrisy. There are many evangelical Christians sitting in the seats of these large mega-churches who are deeply concerned about these issues, and not to acknowledge that fact would be an insult to them. But it is also true that many of these congregations, and this is true of most organized religions, are hierarchal organizations, and the opinion of the pastor matters greatly in determining the level of commitment to these great issues. That is why when the head of the United Methodists, Jim Winkler, so vocally expressed his early opposition to the War in Iraq, he took a lot of his congregation with him. When the pastor gets engaged, the sheep will follow.
Violence is not the answer to violence. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. Each and every soul is precious in the sight of God. Have compassion for your fellow human. “Whatever you do not for the least of these, you do not for me.” This is the God of Love 101, and an intrinsic part of the message Jesus brought to the world- indeed, these are the fundamental tenets of most of the world’s religions. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It has taken the increasing madness of the Bush Administration to finally galvanize the hibernating religious progressives, who were at the forefront of every great social change in this nation for the last one hundred and fifty years, from Abolition, to the rights of workers, to the Civil Rights movement, and opposition to the Vietnam War. It is time for people on the secular left to also wake up and realize that they can’t simply ignore the hole in the heart of America anymore. Merely trotting out a group of new initiatives and programs isn’t gonna cut it, as has been so blatantly evident in the last two elections. Americans hunger for deeper meaning in their increasingly impersonal and isolated lives. We need to stop being afraid to talk about this longing- it isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and if we don’t talk about it with love and caring, you-know-who will.
Brent Borgeois (firstname.lastname@example.org)
has been a recording artist, producer, songwriter, and record company executive in
both the secular and Christian music industries. He currently works at an
EvangelicaI Christian church in Sacramento, California He recently finished writing a book, "Left Behind: Jesus in the Age of the American Empire," and is currently looking
for a publisher.