When politics and religion are mentioned together in the American news media, it's generally the conservative Religious Right that is making headlines. But some liberal voters want Congress to know that they, too, would like to see spiritual values reflected in public policy. They held a gathering in Washington earlier this month to deliver that message.
The Conference on Spiritual Activism drew 1200 people of various faiths and beliefs from across the United States. Calling themselves the Network of Spiritual Progressives, attendees spent part of their time in lectures, but the main reason they came to Washington was to meet with their representatives in Congress.
California Congressman Sam Farr welcomed five of his constituents who were in Washington for the conference, telling them he was pleased they were being organized.
The meeting in Congressman Farr's office was just one of hundreds set up by the Spiritual Progressives to present their concern that the only message espousing moral values that gets repeated in Washington is that of the Religious Right, and that message doesn't represent everyone's spiritual values.
The man most responsible for organizing this new movement of spiritual progressives is Rabbi Michael Lerner, whose research in the mid-1980s showed that many Americans hunger for spiritual meaning in their lives. He found that many Democrats switched to the Republican Party because conservatives spoke more openly of religious values than liberals.
"Traditional liberals have created a culture which very often makes people who are into God or into spirituality feel as though they are not welcome," Lerner says. "They give out the message that you are probably on a lower level of intellectual or psychological development if you take God seriously or if you take some kind of spiritual practice seriously."
Rabbi Lerner says conservatives are right to say there is a spiritual crisis in society, but many Americans say the image of God portrayed by the Religious Right is not the God they know.
"The God that they were taught about, whether it was in Judaism or Christianity or Islam," Lerner says, "was a God of love, of caring. They feel that that God has been made invisible. In contemporary America, people think the sacred is on the side of power and domination." He says the Spiritual Progressives are "trying to rectify that and re-balance it, by bringing out the side of God's love, of caring and of generosity."
The Spiritual Progressives, who include humanists as well as members of many faiths, presented Congressional lawmakers with a "Spiritual Covenant with America," the groups' proposal for more enlightened national policies. Among them: affordable health care, an education system that teaches values of love and caring, better stewardship of the environment, and an ambitious foreign aid plan patterned after America's post-World War Two Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild a war-shattered Europe.
This time, the U.S. led development effort would aim at eradicating poverty, hunger and environmental blight in poor countries around the world. Michael Lerner says the "global Marshall Plan" would use five percent of America's gross domestic product each year for a total of 20 consecutive years "to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and to rectify the damage done to the environment by 150 years of irresponsible industrialization in both capitalist and socialist countries."
Rabbi Lerner believes the covenant marks the beginning of an important grass roots political and social movement, like the Women's movement and the Civil Rights movement of the past. And he believes that, like them, the Spiritual Progressives can transform America.