150 Clergy Appeal to Obama: Don’t Lose Your Ethical Vision, Don’t Move to the Political Center

150 Clergy Appeal to Obama: Don’t Lose Your Ethical Vision, Don’t Move to the Political Center

In an open-letter to Senator Obama, over 150 American clergy appealed to the Democratic candidate for President to retain the ethical and spiritual vision that won him the nomination in the first place. Rejecting the “inside-the-Beltway” wisdom that a Democrat must “move to the center to win the election,” the clergy disputed the very notion that this is an accurate understanding of American politics.


“Just look at Obama’s downturn in the polls in the last few days, and you can immediately see how disastrous the switch in Obama strategy has been as he and his advisors capitulate to the inside-the-Beltway logic imposed by the media and the hired-gun p.r. advisors of the Democratic Party. The reason? The “experts” and the media mavens all misunderstand the psychodynamics of American politics. The central dichotomy in American politics is not Left/Right but fear/hope,” says Rabbi Michael Lerner, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, editor of Tikkun Magazine, and an initiator of the letter. “When Senator Obama positioned himself as the prophet of a new kind of politics, he energized millions of young people, and even older Republicans and people who had become so cynical about politics that they have not voted in recent years. But that depended on him being the voice of peace against war, social justice against capitulation to the rich and the large corporations, and ecological sanity. If he now moves to what the inside-the-beltway crowd call The Center, he ends up in an election campaign in which he will be trying to prove that he is a better general for wartime than McCain, and a better mini-manager of the same old system-and that will undermine the hopefulness that was the ticket to his political success and the Republicans will become Republicans again, the youth and the cynics will return to their other concerns, and Obama’s political possibilities will be worse, not better.”


“Still,” Lerner continued, “we approach Obama not as his political strategists but as religious, ethical and spiritual leaders to challenge him to put forward a fundamentally new ethical vision, which is actually the oldest vision-the vision of our various religious and spiritual traditions and of the wise humanistic values that pervade all religions but can be accessed without being religious. We hope that Senator Obama will allow himself to be Obama again, rather than be swallowed up by the ethical visionless-ness of business-as-usual American politics.”


The full text of the letter is below.


Dear Senator Obama,


As strong supporters of your campaign to become President of the U.S. in our own personal lives and as leaders in the religious communities in the U.S., we understand well the pressures you must be facing to tone down your message so that you can win the election and then later be more courageous in challenging major assumptions in American public discourse that have been inserted there by a powerful conservative assault for the past thirty years by conservatives and champions of the elites of wealth and power in this country.


Others have articulated elsewhere why “toning down” or “moving to appeal to the Center” is a politically disastrous strategy, not only because it causes disillusionment and passivity among the youth who momentarily thought that something new was happening in American politics and who might otherwise return to apathy when they perceive you as “playing the game” the same old way, but also because it generates despair among all sections of the population that had momentarily allowed themselves to hope that America might become under your presidency a society that unequivocally supported a politics of peace and justice. People who thought that they would vote for you as their peace candidate who seemed more unequivocal than others about ending the war in Iraq, for example, may become less enthusiastic about a candidacy that now calls for escalation of the war in Afghanistan and talks about giving Iranians ultimatums to be followed by green lights for military attacks.


We are writing you from a different angle, not as your election strategists, but as people of faith whose primary allegiance is to be prophetic witnesses to the ethical vision articulated in the holy texts of our religion and the elaboration of those religious traditions over the course of the past two thousand years.


It is our view that America needs “a New Bottom Line” so that both corporations and non-profit institutions, social practices, legislation, government activities, and even our own personal life activities should be deemed “rational, productive, or efficient” not only to the extent that they maximize money, material security, power or gratification of our sensual desires but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacities to see others as embodiments of the sacred and enhance our capacity to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of Creation.


It is from that perspective that we appeal to you to fulfill the promise and the hopes you raised in the early months of your campaign, and to sharpen the distinctions between you and past politics by articulating new principles that would govern your presidency. In particular, we call upon you to (unequivocally and persistently in your public appearances and ads) call for:


*Replacing the “Strategy of Domination or Power Over Others” (that has shaped too much of American foreign policy in the past) with a new approach that gives at least equal weight to “A Strategy of Generosity and Caring for Others” (for example as manifested by the Global Marshall Plan suggested by the Network of Spiritual Progressives http://www.spiritualprogressives.org).  You should not allow the public discourse to push you into having to prove who will be the most effective candidate for running the next set of wars, but instead insist strongly and make this central to your campaign that that strategy for achieving Homeland Security is seriously flawed. Effective security strategy must rely on two legs, one the strong military defense of our interests, and second on the strong commitment to ending global (and domestic) poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global environment (please see House Res. 1078 introduced by Keith Ellison and endorsed by nineteen other Members of the House for some helpful language in this regard-it endorses our version of The Global Marshall Plan). Those who are ill-equipped to articulate and implement the Strategy of Generosity are “weak on national defense.”


*Rejecting the notion of armed struggle with Iran and opposing any military blockade of Iran (universally understood as an act of war) would then give the Iranians a reason to attack, which in turn would provide the pretext for a war, either before or after the U.S. elections. You should publicly call on the Bush Administration to refrain from taking any such provocative actions that might lead to military conflict before the next Administration takes office.


*A commitment to sign a Presidential Order that forbids and criminalizes torture and the direct or indirect aiding or abetting of acts of torture on the part of the U.S. , directs the U.S. military to abandon Guantanamo prison and end the activities of the School of the Americas related to training people in South and Central America in the techniques of counter-insurgency and torture, and directs the next Attorney General to explore criminal charges against those who have violated US or international law in regard to torture.


* A commitment to make saving our global environment a top priority not only through encouraging individual and corporate environmental responsibility, but by alerting the American public to the full scientific evidence about the degree of threat to the survival of the planet that is likely unless we make major changes in the way use the resources of our planet, how we decide what products should be produced and how, and how we decide what items to consume. Tell the American people what the planet faces if the US and other countries including China don’t make a huge global effort to reverse the patterns of destruction that are already endangering our planet.


* Affirming the need for an American health care system that is based on the principle that we have an obligation to care for each other, not on the need for the health care profiteers to make a good return on their investments.


*Affirming as a guiding principle for American society in the 21st century that we have an obligation to care for each other, and that this obligation requires a rethinking of many aspects of American law, American corporations, government programs, education, and persona life, and that you will use your time in office to encourage this new ethos.


* Calling on schools to actively engage in teaching students the skills of caring a.for each other b. for those stuck in poverty or homelessness or hunger c. the disabled d. our senior citizens. e. for their own health and their bodies g. for the environment. This should include teaching about “non-violent communication” and positive negotiation skills, but also teach about the various religious and secular traditions that have made “caring for others” central to their teachings, or have made awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation part of their approach to protecting the environment.


We are firmly convinced, Senator Obama, that these are ways of thinking about what is needed in America that are unlikely to succeed unless you build a strong foundation of support for them during your campaign. By articulating this kind of thinking now, you will not only strengthen the possibility of mobilizing parts of the electorate who have given up on politics altogether, but you will also be serving God in a way that is necessary at this historical moment.


Your advisors may warn you of political dangers. We think the opposite. But as we say, our calling is not to be your political practitioners, but to provide you with the kind of ethical and prophetic voices that you need to hear.


Finally, if you are elected, as we very much hope you will be, and as we ourselves will try to help make happen by building support for you, we urge you to meet with us during your presidency to hear the voices not of religious cheerleaders, but of those who dare to speak truth to power even when that power, as your own, is mostly for the good and mostly in service of the God of the universe. It is precisely because we believe in you and your strong ethical and religious commitment that we are daring to write this to you, even though we know that its impact might be to make it less likely that your advisors will ever allow us to connect with you directly once you are elected.


With respect and blessings,


(all organizations listed for identification purposes and do not imply organizational endorsement of this letter)


Initiators of the Letter:


Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun and Chair, The Network of Spiritual Progressives and author of The Politics of Meaning and of The Left Hand of God

Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, Executive Director of Benetvision: A Resource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality, and author of Welcome to the Wisdom of the World, and of The Gift of Years, and dozens of other books on Christian Theology

Rev. Tony Campolo, Chair, The Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, and author of dozens of books including Red Letter Christians and The God of Intimacy and Action.

Father John Dear, S.J. is a Jesuit priest and author of Jesus the Rebel and A Persistent Peace

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Chair, The Shalom Center and author, Seasons of Our Joy and These Holy Sparks

Imam Zaid Shakir, Zaytuna Institute, California

Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, National President, Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice of The United Church of Christ




Rev. Brian Adams Mt. Rainier Christian Church

Rev. Lynn Baird

Rev. Dr. Brian Baker Episcopal Priest

Rev. David Bartlett Columbia Theological Seminary

Rev. Ronald Bell Prebyterian Church (USA)

Father Richard Berg Macdonald Center

Minister of Visitation Edward Bloomfield First Congregational Church of Long Beach

Rev. Carrin Bowes Lansing

Harold C. Bradley Society of Jesuits.  Asst. to the Vice President for Federal Relations, Marquette University

Episcopal priest Mary Bredlau

Rev. Richard Brendan

Monsignor Paul Byrnes Retired clergy from the Baltimore Roman Catholic Archdiocese

Rev. Dr. Jane Carlsson-Bull First Parish Unitarian Universalist – Cohasset, MA

Rev. Karen Carter Church of the Brethren

Rev. Nancy Chalfant-Walker Rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Rev. and Professer Emeritus John Cobb Claremont School of Theology

Rev. Ernest Cockrell Diocese of El Camino Real

Retired Clergy Charles F. Cooley The United Methodist Church

Roman Catholic Priest Jeffrey Cooper Holy Cross Center

Rabbi Meryl M. Crean Elkins Park, PA

Fr. Bob Cushing St. Theresa Catholic Church

Rev. Richard Davis Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, Oregon

Rev. Canon Dr. Peter Davison

Rev. Charlene Dean

Rev. Yvonne Delk New Maceonia UCC, Norfolk, Virginia

Rev. Douglas Dirks Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church

Rev. Christine Doucet Boston

Rev. John Dourley

Rev. Mary Drake Boston

Robert J. Egan Society of Jesuits.  Religious Studies Department, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA.

Rev. Mary Elizabeth Pratt-Horsley St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church

Senior Minister Susan EngPoole Unity of Louisville

Deacon Warren Eustace St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Minister Joan Evans Center of Light, Seattle

Rabbi Ted Falcon Bet Alef Synagogue, Seattle

Sister Jacinta Fernandes Emmanuel Monastery

Priest Francesca Foerunato Parish Community of St. John

Rev. Robert Forsberg High St Presbyterian Church

Rabbi Jeff Foust Spiritual Life Center, Bentley College

Rev. Beth Freeman United Methodist Church of Green Trails

President Dave Frenchak Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education

Al Fritsch Society of Jesuits. Public Interest, co-founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Rev. Dr. John Gardiner Plymouth Congregational Church of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Rev. Rudolf Gelsey Unitarian Universalist Minister

Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church

Rabbi Gordon Gladstone

Rev. Mar Anne Glover St. James Christian Church (Disciples of christ), Wilson, North Carolina

Rev. Sala Nolan Gonzalez Minnister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, UCC

Rev. Sandra Gourdet Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ

TR Haney Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg

Rev. Ernest Harrelson St. Michael’s Episcopal Church

Rev. Kieran Healy Saint Alberts Priory

Fr. Raymond Helmick S.J Department of Theology, Boston College

Rev. Rich Hendricks Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities

Retired Pastor Martin Hessell

Senior Pastor Luther Holland Congregational Church of Park Manor, Chicago

Rabbi Linda Holtzman Mishkan Shalom

Rev. Anne Homes Ptomoac Association, Little Revier UCC, Virginia

Rev. Margaret Howland South Presbyterian Church of Yonkers, NY

Rev. Douglas Hunt Network for Environmental & Economic Responsibility

Rev. C. Nozomi Ikuta Denison Ave. United Church of Christ, Cleveland

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Irelan

Rev. Dr. Bruce Irwin Emmanuel United Church of Christ

Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson Beech Memorial UCC, New Orleans

Rev. Dian Jackson President, Southern Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. Harold Jacobson Grace Luther Church

Rev. and President Bill Jamieson Micah Institute

Rev. Sally Juarez

Rev. Dr. Sandra Kay Neal McCleary United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Patricia Keel Unity of Berkeley

Rev. Margaret Klapperich Milwaukee

Rev. and Director Johanna Knight New Haven, Connecticut Center of Light

Senior Minister Douglas C. B. Kraft Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, CA

Rev. George Kuhn

Rev. Dn. Mark LaGory St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

Rev Joachim Lally

Cantor Shoshana Lash

Rev. Simone Locke , Charlotte, NC.

Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe Jr. Episcopal Church

Retired Pastor James Lundeen Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr. and Interfaith Minister Cynthia Lynch

Dr. and Interfaith Minister Thomas Lynch

Rev. Lilton J. Marks Fellowship UCC, Chesapeake, Virginia

Rev. Thomas R. Mason Retired Minister of the United Church of Christ

Rev. David McClean The Interfaith Union for Progressive Religion

Rev. Melissa McClellan The Progressive Christian Alliance

Rev. Roger McClellan The Progressive Christian Alliance

Rev. Will McGarvey Community Presbyterian Church

Rev. and Dr. Dan Meyer Federation of Christian Ministries

Chaplain David Miller Union College

Rev. Lloyd Miller United Methodist Pastor

Rev. Martin Miller-Hessel

Rev. Donna Moderator, United Church of Chirsit General Synod 27

Rev. Paul Murray Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion & Catholic Chaplain, Bard College

Rev. Ned Nerdin

Rev. Frederick L. Nixon Community of Faith, UCC, Houston, Texas

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski St. Camillus Church

Rev. Jeffery Ott Order of Preachers; Chaplain, Xavier University of LA

Rev. Elizabeth Pankey-Warren

Pastor Stephen Penner First Mennonite Church in Reedley, California

Rev. Sharyl Peterson First Congregational United Church of Christ, CO

Father William Pickard

Rev. Vertie Powers Southern Conference, United Church of Christ

Rev. William Rader United Church of Christ.

Rev. David Randle

Deacon Christa Rathe

Rev. James Rauner Catholic Deacon, Watervliet, Michigan

Swami Salokyananda Walter Reece

Rev. G.T. Regan Marterra Foundation

Minister Deacon Myra Reichart Center of Light Boston

Rev. Bruce Robbins Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church

Rev. W. Hunter Roberts Swedenborgian Church (National Council of Churches)

Retired Pastor Renate Rose UCC

Rev. Dr. Hugh Sanborn

Field Outreach Minister Jill Sanders Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Retired Minister Leland Scott United Methodist

Rev. Rpse Wright Scott Victory UCC, North Carolina

Rev. Paul Seeback Knox Presbyterian Church

Rev. Ron Serino The First Congregational Church of St. Louis

Rev. Cynthia Shepherd Atlanta

Episcopal Priest Jane Shipp

Rabbi and Past President David Shneyer Ohalah Rabbinic Association

Minister Deacon Samuel Shykofsky Chicago

Rev. Linda Silas

Rev. Dr. David Spence FESTAVIVA

Rabbi David Spitz Rabbis for Obama

Rev. Donald Steelberg Mennonite Church USA

Marcia Sterling

George Traub Society of Jesuits. Xavier University

Deacon Minister Linette Treehause

Rev. Paul Treehause

Rev. Mitchell Trigger First Presbyterian Church

Rev. Mack and Muriel Tully Jerusalem UCC

Dr. Jane Vie Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community

Rev. Sara Vurek Fairfax Community Church, United Church of Christ

Rev. William Weiksnar St. Anthony of Padua Church

Rev. Edgar Welty United Church of Christ.

Rev. Meg Whitakergreen

Rev. Nancy Wiens

Rev. Douglas Wilson UU Rowe Camp and Conference Center

Rev. Otha Wimbush, Jr. Jerusalem UCC, Palmer Springs, Virginia