By Sharon Gittleman
YPSILANTI – Rabbi Michael Lerner would like to transform American culture.
“The movement I am talking about, if it is successful, will speak to the spiritual crisis in American society – the crisis of materialism and selfishness in people’s lives,” he said.
Lerner, 62, will discuss his ideas at the Together in Faith Conference, Aug. 5-7, on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. The conference will feature lectures and workshops about faith and politics. It’s organized by the Faith Action Network, a project of the American Friends Service Committee Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Program.
Lerner, who said he studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York from 1960-64 but didn’t graduate, said he was ordained by an institution of the “Jewish Renewal” movement in 1995.
State control should move out of the bedroom and into the boardroom, said Lerner, a resident of Berkley, California.
“Our central goal is a new bottom line in American society,” he said. “The old bottom line is that institutions or social practices or corporations are judged efficient, rational or productive to the extent they maximize money and power.”
Lerner called for a social responsibility constitutional amendment, requiring corporations with incomes above $50 million a year to get a new corporate charter every decade.
“That will only be granted to corporations that can prove a satisfactory history of social responsibility and maximizing the new bottom line, as judged by a jury of ordinary citizens,” he said.
That new standard mandates “love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, generosity and kindness,” Lerner said. It also requires the enhancement of “our capacities to respond to the universe with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur of creation.”
How would IBM establish their devotion to the grandeur of creation?
“I’m not going to define that,” said Lerner.
While the business world should get stricter scrutiny, private lives are none of the government’s business, Lerner said.
“I’m in favor of taking marriage away from the state entirely,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why the state should be regulating sexuality at any level.”
Lerner said he’s conducted about 20 marriages for same-sex couples, but hesitated when asked if he supported gay marriage.
“There’s a lot of debate going on in that community about whether it’s a good idea to emphasize the struggle for gay marriage,” he said.
Lerner said he thought one of the central issues in the United States today is what he described as the assault on gays and lesbians.
“I believe the religious right is attempting to revive homophobia,” he said.
There was a big drop in homophobia in the 1980s and 1990s, he said.
“I’m not claiming it went totally away. But there was a significant enough decline that television series could feature gay characters,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened any time in the 50s or in the past 10,000 years.”
Lerner attributes that decline in anti-gay feelings to the 1960s movements for social change and its resurrection to the “religious right.”
“The religious right are those who for religious reasons support the Republican Party and its desire to reverse Roe vs. Wade, try to use religious arguments for militarism and the war in Iraq, and use religious arguments for decreasing taxes on rich people and services for poor people, reducing civil liberties and believing in the primacy of restoring a respect for authority and a male dominated and authoritarian patriarchal family structure,” he said.