- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

A conference geared to help Democrats infuse God into their politics begins tomorrow at All Souls Unitarian Church in the District with the unveiling of a “spiritual covenant with America.”

The “Spiritual Activism Conference” aims to equip liberals to operate in a political arena where religion has played a more prominent role since 2000, says Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of the Jewish magazine Tikkun and a chief conference organizer.

“While we support the liberal agenda, we are going to a much deeper level with this spiritual critique,” he said. “We want to bring in a nonutilitarian framework that sees other human beings as embodiments of the sacred.”

After some 1,200 conferees receive copies of the covenant — an alternative to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s successful 1994 “Contract With America” that led to a Republican takeover of the House later that year — they are expected to discuss it Thursday in meetings with members of Congress.

“We’re not taking the liberal agenda and sticking on some Bible quotes,” Mr. Lerner said. “It’s a whole rethinking on how to do liberal and progressive politics in a whole different language.”

One element of this rethinking was to come up with a new term, “spiritual progressives” for the religious left. Next was to come up with some sort of document that expresses their values.

Thus Congress, the “spiritual covenant” says, should gear all its legislation, tax policies, budgets, and social programs towards being “loving and caring for others.”

It supports a national health plan, suggests members of Congress “spend part of one day a week feeding hungry people at a shelter or other … hands-on service activity,” the public funding of all state and national elections and many other innovations.

“Have you ever heard a Democrat talk like that?” the rabbi asked. “They have down one dimension of the problem, and we’re behind that. But we’re trying to add a spiritual dimension.”

The guest list for the conference, posted at www.tikkun.org, includes anti-war activists such as Cindy Sheehan, who will help lead a “pray-in for peace” outside the White House on Thursday afternoon. A range of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu speakers are also slated.

The list did not include liberals who oppose abortion, such as Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, the group Democrats for Life and Pennsylvania Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr. The covenant takes no position on abortion, except that it should not be criminalized.

A few Democratic House members, including Reps. James P. Moran of Virginia and Lynn Woolsey of California are scheduled to speak.

Part of the conference’s intent is to form “spiritual caucuses” inside all political parties by the 2008 elections. These caucuses would work to bring elements of the “covenant” onto party platforms.

“This is a whole different way to think about politics,” Mr. Lerner said. “People on a grass-roots level are going to take this seriously and push their elected officials to do so.”