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Progressive Revival

The following is an open letter to Senator Obama from 150 Clergy people including several who blog for Progressive Revival such as Sister Joan Chittister and Michael Lerner.

Dear Senator Obama,

As strong supporters of your campaign to become President of the U.S. in our own personal lives and as leaders in the religious communities in the U.S., we understand well the pressures you must be facing to tone down your message so that you can win the election and then later be more courageous in challenging major assumptions in American public discourse that have been inserted there by a powerful conservative assault for the past thirty years by conservatives and champions of the elites of wealth and power in this country.

Others have articulated elsewhere why “toning down” or “moving to appeal to the Center” is a politically disastrous strategy, not only because it causes disillusionment and passivity among the youth who momentarily thought that something new was happening in American politics and who might otherwise return to apathy when they perceive you as “playing the game” the same old way, but also because it generates despair among all sections of the population that had momentarily allowed themselves to hope that America might become under your presidency a society that unequivocally supported a  politics of peace and justice. People who thought that they would vote for you as their peace candidate who seemed more unequivocal than others about ending the war in Iraq, for example, may become less enthusiastic about a candidacy that now calls for escalation of the war in Afghanistan and talks about giving Iranians ultimatums to be followed by green lights for military attacks. 

We are writing you from a different angle, not as your election strategists, but as people of faith whose primary allegiance is to be prophetic witnesses to the ethical vision articulated in the holy texts of our religion and the elaboration of those religious traditions over the course of the past two thousand years.

 It is our view that America needs “a New Bottom Line” so that both corporations and non-profit institutions, social practices, legislation, government activities, and even our own personal life activities should be deemed “rational, productive, or efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money, material security, power or gratification of our sensual desires but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacities to see others as embodiments of the sacred and enhance our capacity to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of Creation.

It is from that perspective that we appeal to you to fulfill the promise and the hopes you raised in the early months of your campaign, and to sharpen the distinctions between you and past politics by articulating new principles that would govern your presidency. In particular, we call upon you to (unequivocally and persistently in your public appearances and ads) call for:

*Replacing the “Strategy of Domination or Power Over Others” (that has shaped too much of American foreign policy in the past) with a new approach that gives at least equal weight to “A Strategy of Generosity and Caring for Others” (for example as manifested by the Global Marshall Plan suggested by the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org).  You should not allow the public discourse to push you into having to prove who will be the most effective candidate for running the next set of wars, but instead insist strongly and make this central to your campaign that that strategy for achieving Homeland Security is seriously flawed. Effective security strategy must rely on two legs, one the strong military defense of our interests, and second on the strong commitment to ending global (and domestic) poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global environment (please see House Res. 1078 introduced by Keith Ellison and endorsed by nineteen other Members of the House for some helpful language in this regard-it endorses our version of The Global Marshall Plan). Those who are ill-equipped to articulate and implement the Strategy of Generosity are “weak on national defense.”

*Rejecting the notion of armed struggle with Iran and opposing any military blockade of Iran (universally understood as an act of war) would then give the Iranians a reason to attack, which in turn would provide the pretext for a war, either before or after the U.S. elections. You should publicly call on the Bush Administration to refrain from taking any such provocative actions that might lead to military conflict before the next Administration takes office.

*A commitment to sign a Presidential Order that forbids and criminalizes torture and the direct or indirect aiding or abetting of acts of torture on the part of the U.S. , directs the U.S. military to abandon Guantanamo prison and end the activities of the School of the Americas related to training people in South and Central America in the techniques of counter-insurgency and torture, and directs the next Attorney General to explore criminal charges against those who have violated US or international law in regard to torture.

 * A commitment to make saving our global environment a top priority not only through encouraging individual and corporate environmental responsibility, but by alerting the American public to the full scientific evidence about the degree of threat to the survival of the planet that is likely unless we make major changes in the way use the resources of our planet, how we decide what products should be produced and how, and how we decide what items to consume. Tell the American people what the planet faces if the US and other countries including China don’t make a huge global effort to reverse the patterns of destruction that are already endangering our planet.

* Affirming the need for an American health care system that is based on the principle that we have an obligation to care for each other, not on the need for the health care profiteers to make a good return on their investments.
*Affirming as a guiding principle for American society in the 21st century that we have an obligation to care for each other, and that this obligation requires a rethinking of many aspects of American law, American corporations, government programs, education, and persona life, and that you will use your time in office to encourage this new ethos.
 * Calling on schools to actively engage in teaching students the skills of caring a.for each other b. for those stuck in poverty or homelessness or hunger  c. the disabled  d. our senior citizens. e. for their own health and their bodies  g. for the environment. This should include teaching about “non-violent communication” and positive negotiation skills, but also teach about the various religious and secular traditions that have made “caring for others” central to their teachings, or have made awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation part of their approach to protecting the environment.

We are firmly convinced, Senator Obama, that these are ways of thinking about what is needed in America that are unlikely to succeed unless you build a strong foundation of support for them during your campaign. By articulating this kind of thinking now, you will not only strengthen the possibility of mobilizing parts of the electorate who have given up on politics altogether, but you will also be serving God in a way that is necessary at this historical moment.

Your advisors may warn you of political dangers. We think the opposite. But as we say, our calling is not to be your political practitioners, but to provide you with the kind of ethical and prophetic voices that you need to hear.
 
Finally, if you are elected, as we very much hope you will be, and as we ourselves will try to help make happen by building support for you, we urge you to meet with us during your presidency to hear the voices not of religious cheerleaders, but of those who dare to speak truth to power even when that power, as your own, is mostly for the good and mostly in service of the God of the universe. It is precisely because we believe in you and your strong ethical and religious commitment that we are daring to write this to you, even though we know that its impact might be to make it less likely that your advisors will ever allow us to connect with you directly once you are elected.

With respect and blessings,

(all organizations listed for identification purposes and do not imply organizational endorsement of this letter)

Initiators of the Letter:
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives and author of The Politics of Meaning and of The Left Hand of God

 

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, Executive Director of Benetvision: A Resource and
Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and author of Welcome to the
Wisdom of the World, and of The Gift of Years, and dozens of other books on Christian Theology

 

Rev. Tony Campolo, Chair, The Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education,
and author of dozens of books including Red Letter Christians and The God of Intimacy and Action.

 

Father John Dear, S.J. is a Jesuit priest and author of Jesus the Rebel and A Persistent
Peace

 

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Chair, The Shalom Center and author, Seasons of Our Joy and
These Holy Sparks

 

Imam Zaid Shakir, Zeytuna Institute, California

 

Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, National President, Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic
Justice of The United Church of Christ

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