Call to Renewal, a faith-based network formed last year as an alternative voice to the religious right, drew more than 500 people to its second Washington conference over the weekend.
It has since embarked on a series of "town meetings," the first of which opens in New York City today, then continues for a total of 40 such events in 30 cities through the end of October.
"The Call to Renewal is not the religious left," said Jim Wallis, editor of the Washington-based Sojourners magazine and a founder of the new group. "We need to get beyond that idea. The media asks what we are for. What we are for is healing this nation. Lesser-of-two-evils politics is no longer an option."
His keynote speech urged bipartisan efforts to move beyond "politics as usual" and find a common ground for solutions. The new politics, he added, must have three central elements - community, civility and compassion.
Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, told the gathering the new welfare-reform law hurts the nation's poor.
After President Clinton signed the welfare bill, her husband, Peter, resigned from a top policy position at the Department of Health and Human Services.
"We have political leaders that have just passed legislation that will put another 1 million children into poverty," she said. "I believe that protecting children is a moral litmus test of our nation."
She said the success of this generation of Americans also will be judged by whether they are remembered for their material possessions, "glitz, style and banality," and acceptance of glamorized life in television and film.
"It's time for the religious community to be the moral locomotive for social change and not the moral caboose," she said.
Other speakers at the two-day event included Sen. Bill Bradley, New Jersey Democrat, who has touted a third-way politics, and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, a conservative evangelical, who observed that welfare problems are solved only by changes within people.
In a forum titled "Politics and Morality in Congress," Rep. Tony P. Hall, Ohio Democrat, said, "Ethics and morality in Congress is not a contradiction; it happens everyday."
He spoke on his concerns about world hunger, abortion, racism, the poor and the homeless, but noted that his faith often is questioned by Christians because he is a Democrat.
"People come into a congressman's office very angry, …