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Lerner: Progressives and People of Faith

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Excerpts from Van Jonse's post over at the Huffington Times:

“The last time U.S progressives captured the national debate and transformed politics – people of faith were at the CENTER of the movement, not stuck in its closet. … In our do-or-die effort to set things right in America, it is long past time for U.S. progressives to return to the bottomless well of soul power that sustained the slaves and defeated Jim Crow.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner is stirring up trouble again – thank God.

This week, Lerner is the main convener of a national gathering in Berkeley, California, for the Religious Left. His “Spiritual Activism” conference will help launch a much-needed new initiative: the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP).

Lerner – of course – has been the spark-plug for many progressive, faith-based under-takings over the years, including Tikkun magazine. But this latest effort is an order of magnitude more challenging than anything he has attempted so far. And, given the stakes for our ailing would-be democracy, the birthing of NSP may prove to be his most important calling.

Lerner wants to help forge to a new alliance – of “religious, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious progressives.” This alliance will someday expose and challenge the cancer of American consumerism. And it will oppose the Religious Right’s abuse of scripture to promote war, intolerance and ugly corporate agendas.

He wants to do more than just minister to the Mall-lobotomized masses or give the fundamentalists a well-deserved spanking. He also wants to challenge the chronic and toxic bias against religious feeling, religious expression and religious people – on the left, itself.

Lerner wants to pull down that barrier, which he calls “religio-phobia among progressives.” And such efforts will not be welcome among a great many rabidly secular progressives.

But as for me, I will be praying for the Rabbi’s success. I am an African-American Christian who was raised in the American heartland. When I moved to the cosmopolitan coasts of Connecticut and later California, I ran headlong into shocking levels of anti-religious bigotry among progressives.

The implications for those who seek today to rescue and redeem U.S. society are sobering. But the facts are simple and profound: the last time U.S progressives captured the national debate and transformed politics – people of faith were at the CENTER of the movement, not stuck in its closet.

As a descendent of enslaved Africans who were told that God (and not capitalist greed) required their servitude, I know the crimes of the Christian Church as well as anyone. But as a child of the civil rights movement, I ALSO know the power of Christian faith, the power of moral appeal and the power of spiritual strength – to break asunder the bonds of servitude.

Such a movement is within reach. But progressives must abandon the old pattern of reducing the Great Faiths to their worst elements, constituents and crimes – and then dismissing all other facts and features. It is not just stupid political strategy. At a moral level, it is a form of blindness and bigotry that is beneath us all.

My prayer is that a critical mass of progressives can agree on two basic premises. Number one: any progressive approach to “faith in politics” that ignores the awful CRIMES of religiously-inspired people is dishonest, inauthentic and can never achieve emancipatory ends.

Number two: at the same time, any approach that fails to honor and embrace the POSITIVE contributions of religiously inspired people is also wrong-headed – foolishly and needlessly shutting progressives off from our own history, proud achievements and present sources of vital support."
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