Religious Left disappointed with Obama


From the Pew Forum. WASHINGTON (RNS) More than 400 religious and secular progressives will meet here in the nation's capitol this weekend (June 11-14) to urge President Obama to be the man "they thought they elected in 2008."

The Network of Spiritual Progressives wants Obama to make good on campaign promises to protect the environment, fight for the poor, rein in big business, and work for global peace.

"I'm not interested in those who want to be either for or against Obama," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, Pa. "I want Obama to join us in the protection of the earth, protection of human beings."

Waskow and about 34 other rabbis, pastors, priests, professors and congressmen are expected to speak at the four day conference, which will rally progressives around causes like a new "global Marshall plan" and a social responsibility amendment to the Constitution.

The progressive religious movement has been eclipsed recently by the conservative Tea Party, but this weekend's conference will hopefully swing the momentum leftward, said Gary Dorrien, a prominent social-justice ethicist at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary who is speaking at the conference.

"The effort here is to rekindle progressive energy. Make some demands. Make some new friends. Try to hold up the vision of a society that is more just," Dorrien said.

While it's too early to say the religious left has abandoned Obama, many progressives have sharply disagreed with his decisions to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, omit a public option from the health care bill, and keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On top of those concerns, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has raised new fears about widespread environmental devastation.

"The structure of the society that's been set up for us by the power of big oil and big coal is ruining us," Dorrien said. "It's killing us as much as cigarettes did."

Paul Wapner, director of the Global Environmental Politics program at American University, shares a similar perspective on America's dependence on oil.

"I think many people are convinced that we can transition to a post-fossil fuel economy," Wapner said. "The technologies are there but what's missing is the political will. And this is about political will ... trying to give Obama the kind of support to push him farther."

Some progressives say it would be too much to call their conference "anti-Obama" -- but they want to challenge the president on his "constant compromising with the interests of Wall Street, huge corporations and the rich ..."

Sister Joan Chittister, co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, said, "I don't see such a theme as negative. I see it as a most positive, most helpful and most supportive voice for a president elected on those themes."

On Sunday, a rally and memorial service will be held in Lafayette Park -- across the street from the White House -- for the 9 aid workers who died in the Gaza flotilla raid on May 31.

"If the people who elected Obama want what he said he was going to do," Chittister said, "they are going to have to help him do it by getting up in the morning and showing up."

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