12-08-2016  6:04 am      •     

The title of Michael Lerner's latest book, The Left Hand of God, could mislead one into thinking that Lerner is merely attempting to make the case for the political left to co-opt God in order to successfully carry out its political agenda.
But as the old adage goes, one should not judge a book by its cover.


Lerner says, "The liberal and progressive forces have no vision. Because they have no vision, they are unable to provide an alternative to the Republican Party."


For Lerner, it is not enough to point out the failures of the administration. The public conversation has moved past whether or not the administration was wrong about weapons of mass destruction, their stewardship, or lack thereof, regarding the budget or their mismanagement of Katrina. The burden, however, is to answer the tough question: Now what?


Thus, Lerner puts forward The Left Hand of God as something tangible that can address the "now what?" question that has been absent from both parties, but particularly the political left.


Lerner would concede that the administration, along with the religious right, speaks to the spiritual needs of the people. One could make the argument that in speaking to the spiritual needs of the people; the political right has successfully carried out its vision, creating an inverted populism that includes the wealthy and large corporations. But its success depends on working-class voters to remain in power.


Assuming the Democrats are successful this year in regaining the Senate or the House, and reclaim the White House in 2008, Lerner would argue it does not address the fundamental problem.


The current debate operates out of a pseudo-conservative agenda that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Should the Democrats gain a majority after the mid-term elections the existing paradigm remains unchanged.


In this context, the Clinton presidency could be seen as an aberration on what would otherwise be a total domination of conservative ideology since 1980. A quarter-century of conservative supremacy has also forced the Democratic Party to move further to the right, and as Lerner argues, in the process lose its soul.


In spite of his own liberal viewpoint, Lerner argues that Christian fundamentalism is correct to acknowledge that spiritual and religious hungers are equally as important as material hungers.


"Fundamentalists have a very cogent and correct critique of the values that dominate American society, which are greed and selfishness," Lerner says. "They are wrong about where that materialism and selfishness come from."


For Lerner, if the left is to make inroads in the red states, which are increasingly more difficult to win with each passing election, it must be willing to discuss their values. He argues that liberal candidates, willing to link their progressive economic agenda with a spiritual critique of societal values, can indeed find a willing ear among those that yearn for an authentic populous message.


The Left Hand of God is one of the few books published since the 2004 election that offers a different path. Its focus is a fundamental shift in the direction of the public conversation.


Lerner puts forth a stinging but honest challenge to the left to look inward. Not to have an agenda that speaks only to the head, but one that also encompasses the heart and soul.

The Rev. Byron Williams is pastor of Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, Calif.

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