You see, the left values pluralism, and this virtue of theirs is what holds them back:
Turnout at the Spiritual Activism Conference is high, but if the gathering is any indication, the biggest barrier for liberals may be their regard for pluralism: for letting people say what they want, how they want to, and for trying to include everyone's priorities, rather than choosing two or three issues that could inspire a movement.Well, the liberal attitude about religion probably ought to lead you to want to keep religion out of politics, but, as the participants at the conference realize, if you do that, you sacrifice some clout at election time. The other side is using religion, so we're fools if we don't do it too. But liberals tend to notice and be offended by the use of religion for political purposes, so there really is a double bind here.
[Rabbi Michael Lerner of the magazine Tikkun] called on the activists at All Souls Church to define progressive faith, rather than have politicians do it. He said research begun years ago showed that Americans were experiencing a deep spiritual crisis but that only conservative Christians had responded to it, with an agenda that he said "backs the ethos of selfishness and materialism in our society."This really is a difficult problem for liberals, but it is also a problem for conservatives. I think the key is to respect religion, but not to use it directly in politics. Religion can help individuals and religious groups identify values that motivate them to work in the political sphere, but their political goals should then be framed in a way that will not require them to rely on religious belief to persuade the rest of us to vote with them. I wish both liberals and conservatives would try to do that. I'm severely put off by the grasping after political power that comes in the form of religion.
"They get away with this because the left isn't even in the relevant ballpark," Rabbi Lerner said. When people on the left "hear talk of a spiritual crisis, they think it's some kind of New Age flakery or a code word for homophobia, sexism and racism," he said.
He urged participants to offer a real alternative to the ideas that many conservative Christian groups promulgate. But identifying those alternatives proved to be the hard part for many at the conference.
Mr. Campolo, the Baptist minister, explained to the participants in a seminar that many people on Capitol Hill were religious, and that to reach them and to establish authority, liberals should rely on the Bible.
"You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven't read Scripture," he told the group. "People in Congress respect the Book, even if they don't know what it says. If we don't recognize this, we don't know squat."
A young man with long hair and a tunic challenged Mr. Campolo.
"I thought this was a spiritual progressives' conference," he said. "I don't want to play the game of 'the Bible says this or that,' or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts."