Progressive Revival

Explanatory Note from Rabbi Lerner: Why I Signed This Very Weak Statement

        On the one hand, I wanted
the Network of Spiritual Progressives to be included in a list of some
of the most important religious forces in the U.S. I was honored that
we had been invited to be among them.  On the other hand, my requests
that a stronger statement be floated or that the Religious Summit on
Health Care being held today in Washington D.C. include an endorsement
of Single Payer (Medicare for Everyone–not just for people over 65)
or  at least a strong public option that could negotiate lower
costs for drugs from pharmaceuticals and could force insurance
companies to lower their costs in order to compete with the far more
efficient public sector possibilities (already demonstrated by
were met with explanations that the coalition would be
narrower should the statement be stronger, and that in any event the
“realities” of “Inside the Beltway” consciousness already guaranteed
that Single Payer was “off the table” and even “public option” might
seem Utopian (note the coded message to Congress from Rahm Emanuel
yesterday saying that the Obama Administration was willing to give up
on a public option since that was only one possible way of achieving
cost savings, and that “enhanced competition” between insurance
companies might achieve the same goal).

         My counter argument was
this: Obama loves to find “common ground” among the contending forces.
So if the only voices he hears contending range from centrists who back
his already compromised notions to right-wing forces who oppose any
health care reform to insurance companies, hospitals and other
health-care profiteers who seek to weaken any pressure on them to
provide for the common good, of course the outcome will be a compromise
toward the political Right. That’s why the Religious Community has a
responsibility to be a Prophetic Voice, and to insist on the approach
that is most consistent with actually giving “care” the priority over
“profits” for the health-care profiteers, and saying that that must be
the principle guiding the health care debate. That would mean endorsing
Congressman John Conyers’ 
HR 676, The United States National Health Insurance Act ,
insisting that the media give attention to the ways that that kind of
“single-payer” plan would be both more cost efficient and provide
better care, and insisting that the discussion be shifted to the issue
of care rather than “what will fly in D.C.” which is simply code words
for “what will those Congressional reps who are dependent on the
contributions of the health care industry be willing to allow to get
through their committees.”  In terms of how to have an impact, the only
way we can get something close to reasonable (by the criterion on
providing the best care accessible to the greatest numbers) through the
Congress is if the White House fights for it, and the White House will
NOT fight for that unless they face the pressure for a “care-oriented”
proposal rather than a “mollify the health-profiteers” proposal. 

        Why, you might ask, does it
have to be “the religious community” that should take the lead in
creating the more progressive alternative? Why isn’t that already
happening from the liberal and progressive forces? The answer is
because Obama has organized those forces into a campaign for an already
compromised position without any clear guiding principle other than “we
urgently need health care reform”–and that is precisely what is
reflected in the statement I signed below. In effect, Obama has cut the
ground from under the progressive perspective by convincing them all to
be “realistic”–and as a result, he faces no counter-pressure apart
from the pressures to his ri

       So then why did I sign? I
succumbed to the same pressures that have “de-Prophet-ised” the
religious world. “Wouldn’t it be better for the Network of Spiritual
Progressives to be represented on this list of liberal religious forces
than for it to be absent?” I asked myself.
lure of “inclusion” and “access to the powerful” and “being part of the consensus” seemed attractive, while there seemed to be little to be
gained by simply not being on the list–no one would be asking “why
wasn’t the NSP part of the statement?” but instead they’d just assume
“the NSP isn’t important enough to be part of it. After all, there’s
nothing in the statement we disagree with, so why not keep our name as
part of the process? ” And this is precisely how the psycho-political
dynamics of “lowest common denominator consensus” works, driving
prophetic critique out of the discourse and replacing it with the bland
generalities that will disturb no one  that is reflected in the
statement below.

         Unfortunately, my
desire to explain to you the behind-the-scenes reasoning is precisely
ruining our temporary status as “insiders.” The moment I talk like
this, I break the cardinal rule of “inclusion” and “access to the
namely: keep
your prophetic ideas to yourself and never expose the way that
fundamental principles are being abandoned for the sake of having
In fact, it is
precisely the tendency in me to not play by that rule which has kept me
from being part of the insider-crowd all along. But that is the price
of taking seriously that our fundamental commitment is to the God of
the universe (or, for our secular spiritual members, a commitment to
the highest ethical values of the humanist tradition)–and hence our
responsibility is to fight for the full picture of what we need in
order to alleviate unnecessary human suffering!

         “But wait,” some of our critics will shout out, “don’t you realize that politics is ‘the art of the possible’ and that you are making the mistake of making ‘the best’ become the enemy of ‘the good-enough‘?” 
This is the standard line of the compromises, and it is based on the
false assumption that they, the realists, know what is possible. But
my  experience as a social change activist for the past 45 years of my
life has taught me the opposite: that one never knows what is possible
until one struggles for one’s highest vision. And over and over again
when people struggle for their highest vision, what appeared to be
unrealistic and impossible becomes actual and achieved. It is actually
the professional “realists” who don’t understand, or don’t want to
understand, this essential truth about politics, in part because
understanding it would push them into having to engage in struggles
thaat might alienate them from the forces that are currently powerful,
an alienation that would then make them feel that they had lost their
one claim to “being important,” namely their access to the powerful!
But there is another way to “be important,” namely to
your life with the highest values and deepest truths you know, and
fight for them even when doing so risks putting you out of step with
whatever the media, the corporate powers and their allies in
government, and the manipulated consensus of public opinion tells you
is “realistic.” And that is why, despite signing this statement, I
decided to tell you about why the religious community leaders are not
playing prophetic politics in Washington today, and why, after saying
all this, we at the NSP are unlikely to be included in the future.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun Magazine and Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives

P.S.–If you want our voice to continue to speak this level of clarity, please Join the Network of Spiritual Progressives at


(we need your financial support) and also check out our new blog at– it’s called Tikkun Daily

The Statement of the 47 Religious Leaders

Today health care reform has become an urgent priority, with many
Americans fearful about the health care they now hold and more than 45
million lacking coverage altogether. Rising unemployment,
underemployment and a decline in employment benefits have deprived many
more of health care.  The health of our neighbors and the wholeness of
the nation now require that all segments of our society join in finding
a solution to this national challenge.
“…Learn to do good, seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:17  
“…Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39
“…Ye who believe! Stand up firmly for Allah, witness to justice…be just, that is next to piety.”  Qur’an 5:8
Our diverse communities of faith -Jewish ,Christian and Muslim- are
each shaped and guided by our respective sacred texts which compel us
to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Today that means making comprehensive and compassionate health care
reform an urgent priority so that all of our neighbors, especially the
people living in poverty, children, and the aged, can be assured of the
fullness of life that is central to the holy vision of a beloved and
peaceable community.
No longer can we afford to squander the hopes and dreams of the
American people through a much-too-costly system that contributes to
economic despair.  Families and individuals must be able to rely on
affordable care in times of illness or accident and preventative care
to safeguard health and well-being.  Those who are ill need the
assurance that coverage will not be canceled by illness or employment
circumstance. They should also be afforded the dignity of selecting
their own caregivers.
Today we pray, each in our own custom, for discernment, boldness,
clarity and leadership in each segment of our society so that we may
find the resolve to achieve health reform worthy of this land.  As we
together pursue this vision our direction is certain-it is toward the
common good.  The prospect of high-quality, affordable health care for
everyone is a measure of our wholeness as a nation.
We pray that our best minds and kindest hearts might be joined in this
effort so that all men, women and children will have the health care
they need to live the lives for which they were created.  We stand
ready to give our support and energies to its achievement.

See signatories 

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian 
Armenian Apostolic Church 
President of the National Council of Churches 
Bishop Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in America, Southern Province 

Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett
Medical Director
African Methodist Episcopal Church Health Commission
Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, Ph.D.
Claremont School of Theology
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Margurite Carter
National Board President
Church Women United
Dr. Iva E. Carruthers 
General Secretary
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference,Inc.
The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Episcopal Bishop of Washington 
District of Columbia
Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham
Ecumenical Officer
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Amy Echeverria
Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach 
Matthew Ellis
Executive Director
National Episcopal Health Ministries
National Episcopal AIDS Coalition 
Bishop Christopher Epting
Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
The Episcopal Church 
Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell 
Ecumenical Officer 
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 
Rabbi Steve Gutow
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Dr. Richard L. Hamm
Former General Minister & President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US & Canada
Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Dr. Michael Kinnamon 
General Secretary 
National Council of Churches 
Dr. Ken Brooker Langston 
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network
Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness
Elaine Lee 
Vice President at Large
Health Ministries Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco
Chair of the Interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives
Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner 
Connectional Presbyter
Presbytery of the Palisades (NJ)
Rev. Michael E. Livingston 
Executive Director, International Council Community Churches
Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches
Marie Lucey, OSF
Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Felton Edwin May United Methodist Bishop Retired 
Executive Director 
Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry  
Dr. David McAllister-Wilson
Wesley Theological Seminary
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley 
General Secretary 
American Baptist Churches 
Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren 
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary, Women’s Division
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk 
Presbyterian Church USA
Rev. Dr. Tyrone Pitts 
General Secretary 
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader
Ecumenical Officer
United Methodist Church

Nancy Ratzan
National Council of Jewish Women
Rabbi David Saperstein 
Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel, 
The Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center 
The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church
Dr. Robert Seymour
Minister Emeritus 
Binkley Memorial Baptist Church 
Ronald J. Sider
Evangelicals for Social Action
Rev. Dr. T. DeWitt Smith
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed 
National Director 
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances 
Islamic Society of North America 

Russell M. Testa
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network
Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ 
Daniel Vestal
Executive Coordinator 
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Bishop George Walker, Jr.
Senior Bishop
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 

Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Dr. Robert Welsh
President, Council on Christian Unity
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada 
The Rev. David L. Wickmann
Moravian Church-Northern Province 

Jim Winkler 
General Secretary 
General Board of Church and Society 
United Methodist Church 
Bishop Gabino Zavala
Bishop President
Pax Christi, USA

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus