Magazine article Tikkun

Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis in Discussion

Magazine article Tikkun

Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis in Discussion

Article excerpt

After Jim Wallis spoke, Michael Lerner made his keynote address about the theoretical foundations for a spiritual politics and what a Network of Spiritual Progressives should do. The following morning, Wallis and Lerner took questions and responded. Here are a few of those questions and answers.

Q: Reverend Jim Wallis, what does being an evangelical mean to you? Do you take the Bible literally?

JW: I'm a nineteenth-century evangelical born in the wrong century. Evangelicals led the battle against slavery; they fought for women's suffrage; they fought for child labor reform; they were revivalists and reformers, evangelists and abolitionists, and people like Charles Finney (the Billy Graham of his day, the nineteenth-century evangelist who invented the "altar call" to get the names of his converts to sign them up for the anti-slavery campaign). I like the idea of altar calls. I mean, don't just listen to a talk and clap your hands and go home. Respond. Commit. Make a decision. Join something. That's what it means to me to be an evangelical.

The word "evangel" means "good news." Jesus used that particular word in his first sermon at Nazareth, what I call his "Nazareth Manifesto," his mission statement. He quoted Isaiah and said, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news"--the evangel--to the poor. Good news to the poor was at the heart of what it meant to be evangelical. The Religious Right doesn't take the Bible seriously--or literally. I want the Right to take the Bible more seriously, what it says about the poor, about war and peace, about the environment, and all the rest. So, I'm happy to be an evangelical.

ML: I want to comment also on the Bible issue. One of the things that we are trying to do in this Network of Spiritual Progressives is provide a place for people from many different religious backgrounds. There isn't one orthodoxy that unites us theologically. There are people in this alliance who are practicing Buddhists, practicing Hindus, practicing Jews, practicing Catholics, practicing Protestants, and people who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious." All are part of this, including those who reject the Bible or the Koran or any other religious text. Our minimum position is that we respect each other's spiritual lives and encourage our members to develop an inner life and a spiritual practice, but we do not push any particular theological commitment.

As Jim mentioned last night, I was in jail with Tony Campolo, one of the country's most significant evangelical progressives. We were arguing about religion. We weren't just discussing it. We had a different understanding of the text. We didn't think that the right way to do "interfaith" was to find a lowest common denominator. And that's also our approach here--the Network of Spiritual Progressives must encourage people to come into our arena with the fullness of their religious or spiritual particularity, and to present it, argue it, even debate perspectives with which they disagree, and to do so respectfully and without undermining what we have in common: our commitment to peace, social justice, ecological sanity, and a New Bottom Line for American society.

Now, having said that, I'm going to come in with my own theology, which is different from Jim's. When Jewish tradition says, "This is the Torah that Moses put before the children of Israel: By the Word of God, by the hand of Moses," it tells us that there's a transaction going on. The source is God, but the receiver is a human being. Moses was a very screwed up human being. We know that. According to the story, God decided not to let him go into the Promised Land because he couldn't totally control his anger, and he hit the rock instead of speaking to the rock, as God had told him to do. He used violence when violence wasn't appropriate.

I want to submit to you that this Torah story is meant to teach that every human being is limited, and that the way that anybody ever received God's message was through their particular psychological, spiritual, intellectual framework--that there was no other way that human beings could get it. …

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