The Network of Spiritual Progressives
Continuing the series on individuals and organizations integrating spirituality and political activism, allies of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, I am here focusing on the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), and its visionary leader, Rabbi Michael Lerner.
Rabbi Lerner has been an activist leader since his days with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in the ’60s. He has a very long history of challenging established power elites, especially of the military-corporate empire and offering alternate strategies for a just and peaceful world. But, he also aims an often critical voice towards liberal and progressive groups for what he sees as their failure to truly embody the core values of love and caring, and for not being respectful of people’s genuine spiritual and religious concerns.
Strongly influenced by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the religious leaders very close to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lerner was ordained as a rabbi in 1995. His active rabbinic role helped ground his evolving integration of spirituality and politics. His views are fleshed out thoroughly in his numerous books, most notably, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, and in Tikkun Magazine, the primary forum for spiritual progressive politics and culture.
NSP is an effort to bring together progressive people with a very broadly defined spiritual orientation, one that includes secular humanists and atheists. Its founders, besides Lerner, are Sister Joan Chittister, a Benectinine nun, and Cornell West, writer, professor at Princeton, and prophetic orator. Their “Caring Society Conferences,” include a long list of visionaries from the environmental, social justice and peace movements, intellectuals and spiritual leaders from a wide range of traditions.
One of the ongoing themes promoted by NSP is the creation of “a new bottom line.” From Rabbi Lerner: “Instead of a bottom-line based on money and power, we need a new bottom-line that judges corporations, governments, schools, public institutions, and social practices as efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent they maximize money and power, but to the extent they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacity to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.”
This sensibility is the basis for the development of discussions and specific proposals that reach into the areas of health care, education, law and justice, international relations and diplomacy, economic and political power, and care for the environment. It is further elaborated in the Spiritual Covenant with America, and the general principles are then specifically focused in such proposals as, The Global Marshall Plan, and The Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ESRL), each of which have very specific proposals for grass roots advocacy and legislative action.
Joining NSP brings a subscription to Tikkun Magazine and the potential to support and be involved in the development of the spread of a spiritually-oriented progressive movement. There are chapters of NSP or existing groups affiliated with the network in most states and many local cities or regions. People meet to be inspired in their vision and/or advocate locally for legislation and action that aims towards building the ‘caring society.’
While often fine tuning the nuances of political strategies and analyses of core issues facing us, Lerner and NSP offer a consistent fix on maintaining love and compassion as the primary medicine for our ills. I personally deeply appreciate their ongoing reminders to keep our eye (and heart) on that prize which is always present with us, not in some distant utopia, but right here and now.