Friday, August 01, 2014

The Emerging UU Consensus [Tom Schade]

Unitarian Universalists like to think that we are a fractious lot, each with our own opinion on everything and unable to agree on anything. Whenever that was, that was then and this is now. Oh, we disagree about this and that but a consensus emerging about the work we share together. We are becoming more unified than one would think.

A Short List

1. The "language of reverence" is now our vocabulary. President Sinkford was roundly criticized for suggesting that we needed to break out of the straitjacket of humanist language, but then, we did. We're all about "calls", "faith", "mission", "prayer", "spirit", and "soul". Admittedly, we are probably sloppy in our usage, but everyone kind of gets what each other is talking about, and goes along with it.

2. Evangelism is IN, even "growth for growth's sake." Gone are the days when people like us didn't do anything like that. Now, we are all for spreading the faith, sharing the word, and witnessing our faith in places and at times where people we don't know may actually observe it happening.

3. Congregations are great, but so are not-congregations. Once upon a time, UU's worried about non-congregational organizations of UU's. In fact, in recent memory, a whole bunch of 'independent affiliates' were invited to be just 'independent' and not 'affiliates.' Much weeping and wailing occurred. Now, they could just say that they were 'beyond congregations' and list themselves on Faithify.

4. O yeah, "Faithify". In the childhood of my ministry, I heard some parish ministers of blessed memory complain about the UUA sending letters (paper, stamps, envelopes, return envelops, remember all that?) asking for funds to their congregants. Not PC in CP Association, (Polity Correct in a Congregational Polity Association.) Now, we all get lots of emails begging for money, and it's the norm.

5. We used to worry about Community Ministers out of the same narrow understanding of Congregational Polity: who were they supposed to be accountable to?

6. It's even hard to get a good fight going about whether UU's are Christian or not, which was always a third rail discussion

7.  Most of the time, now, it is hard to gather a mob to head to Beacon Hill, pitchforks in hand to growl at the ecclesiastical bureaucrats holed up in 25 Beacon Street. It's hard to brandish a pitchfork with one Flour Bakery's pastries on one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I think 'l'affaire logo' may have been the tragedy repeated as farce.

8. But most importantly, the consensus is that we are headed for the public square. The dichotomy between "spirituality" and "social justice" has moved from an "either/or" to a "both/and", at least more than it used to be. Or to be more precise, I think that some UU's harbored a suspicion that other UU's had no agenda beyond social activism. I know I had that distrust. And I suspect that there was a mirror like mistrust that some UU's, like me, were navel-gazers, or worse yet, mid-century, mainline Christian nostalgiques. (is that a word? It ought to be.) Or New Age crystal collectors. But that dichotomy now seems so unimportant.

None of these differences and concerns have been entirely resolved. God knows we have still have issues, technical problems and adaptive challenges to share our feelings about. But the fight has gone out of us, at least, the fight with each other.

What happened? I doubt that it is the sweet reason and gentle wisdom dispensed here on the Lively Tradition has had that much good effect. Nor do I think that our leadership is so qualitatively superior that our systemic anxieties have been calmed.

I think that the world changed. 
I think we changed, too.

I think that our participation in the struggle for Marriage Equality brought us into contact with a public, people beyond us who appreciated our support and wanted to work with us. In a crucial way, they were us and we were them.

I think the proclamation that we were going to "Stand on the Side of Love" brought our Seven Principles and Six Sources and all those elevator speeches down to earth.

I think that the awful shootings in Knoxville made us realize that if we were worth hating, we must be worth loving. We were shown that again this week in New Orleans.

I think we realized our skills when we went to Phoenix and it wasn't an embarrassing disaster, as it so easily could have been. And when we saw all of us in that hot night outside of the Tent Jail, bright as suns with yellow t-shirts, we felt that we had some power. And we see our presence, and thus our power now, so often now. In Raleigh NC, and in Washington DC, today.

There are now more examples of that powerful presence than I can list.

What happened; the world changed; and we changed with it. It is now more clear than ever that our country is headed into a period when the public square is going to be figurative battleground. There is a powerful, inflamed, and armed, reactionary movement out there, and it is aggressive. And there is a broad movement for change gathering its strength. Everything we have learned in the decades since Selma has been in preparation for the times to come. All of the arguments that used to pre-occupy us were thought problems to help us sort through what was transient and permanent about this path of faith.

We don't make the times that we live; the times that we live in make us.  And we are finding ourselves here and now and in history.

Dawn Cooley on UU's and Christendom, Part 2

Dawn posted a second part of her post over on her blog.  Go read it there.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Paul Ryan fights Poverty?

Paul Ryan has a new Republican plan to fight poverty. It's getting some positive play because he finally stops advocating less spending on the social safety net in order to balance the budget. It's almost like he actually wants to help poor people.

Key to his plan is what he calls an Opportunity Grant, which ties all the social safety net programs  together and gives a lump sum to the states to spend as they wish. Federal money to be spent on behalf of the poor through programs developed and administered by the states.

Step right this way into the past ! 
A lot of federal programs are administered like by states. Unemployment benefits are administered by the states. Medicaid is administered by the states; each state sets it own eligibility and its own benefits level. As a result, Medicaid varies significantly across the country. Some say this is 'federalism', but it is about the worst idea in the history of public policy in the United States.

There is a large number of states who maintain a low-wage, low-benefit, low-tax and non-union economies. The states of the old Confederacy are foremost among them. These policies are locked in there because poor people were denied political power on account of race, and the political climate polarized against them. Some states in the Southwest, with smaller urban populations, have histories of structuring citizenship such that many of the poor do not have any political power.

There is a direct connection between the political exclusion of poor people, anti-poor, anti-worker social policies and the conservative dominance in state politics.  Federalism serves to perpetuate those conservative state strongholds.

There is a competitive economic advantage that accrues to states with such anti-poor people, anti-worker policies. Those policies both attract business and repel poor people.  Throughout most of the last century, the South has served as an internal colony where lower wages, a more meager safety net and anti-union laws made for a "better business climate." Companies were outsourcing to the South before they were outsourcing abroad.

Another effect of these 'federalist' public policies was to push internal migration from the South to the North, aggravating the economic disruptions of urbanization.

As the GOP becomes more based in the states of the Old Confederacy, its strategy is to keep the economic advantages that the Southern states have derived from the history of slavery and segregation. A plan like Paul Ryan's plan to fight poverty by consolidating federal safety net programs and letting the states administer them is part of that strategy and will the effect of perpetuating the rich state/poor state divide.

Notice that the most successful income support program in the United States is Social Security. It is administered on a national level with national formula for calculating benefit levels. (Still, someone who worked a lifetime in a low-wage state will get less than someone who worked a lifetime in a higher wage state, but that effect is limited by the income cap on social security taxes.) But retired people are more free to move about the country without loss of their benefits.

Paul Ryan likes to talk about "subsidiarity" as an essential social doctrine of the Catholic Church -- that powers should reside at the lowest level possible. That's worth a whole blog post in and of itself. But that is not what is at play here. Ryan is playing the old game of sectional politics in the USA: the struggle of once slave-owning South to preserve the power to maintain its exploitation of the poor as the basis of its wealth.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rev. Dawn Cooley with a new twist on an Old Question

Today I am welcoming the Rev. Dawn Cooley to the Lively Tradition.  Dawn is the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, KY.  
Is Unitarian Universalism a Christian denomination? Some say yes, some say no, but I am guessing most of us aren't really sure what the answer is. I have been tossing this question around quite a bit in my brain lately.

On the one hand, if you use the more orthodox definition of what it means to be a Christian – that is, the inerrancy of the Christian scriptures, and subscription to the Apostles Creed – then we are not. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are in a similar boat – they may not be orthodox Christians, but they are trying very hard to make the argument that they are a Christian denomination.

On the other hand, our roots are in Christianity, our worship style is very Protestant, and I have met many liberal Christians who believe very similarly to what many Humanist UUs believe, but who use the Bible as their primary metaphor for interpreting and understanding the religious questions of life. So it really depends on how you define “Christian” and even Christians can't agree on this one.

It recently occurred to me that perhaps I am looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps the question is not “Are we a Christian denomination?” but instead “Are we a part of Christendom?”

The answer to that, I believe, is yes.

Let me explain. I live in Louisville, KY. In 2003, the city of Louisville merged with Jefferson County, expanding the city's borders and increasing the number of people who reside in Louisville. My spouse works in Okolona (red dot in the map below), not quite as far south as you can go and still be technically in Louisville, but close.  Okolona was its own town prior to 2003, but became a part of Louisville with the merger. If you want to write a letter to someone in Okolona, you can now address 
it either as Louisville, or as Okolona. 

Is Okolona a part of Louisville? Yes. It has all the same city services (schools, police, trash) as what was pre-merger the city of Louisville. Okolona is on the edge, but it is still a part of the city.

If we look at Christendom, the world of Christianity, there is the old orthodox historical center, but the world of Christianity has grown beyond its original borders. Unitarian Universalism may be like Okolona – on the border, but still within that world. We have not disassociated ourselves from Christendom.

Now, the town of Anchorage, KY (pink dot in the map below) decided not to join Louisville in 2003. They have kept their own school, government, etc. They basically disassociated themselves from the expansion of city services.

Unitarian Universalism may or may not be a Christian denomination, depending on who you ask. But we are a part of Christendom, because we have not disassociated ourselves from Christianity. Nor should we – it is an important part of where we come from and who we are today, and, I suspect, an important part of where we are going.

What does this mean pragmatically speaking? Being on the edge means that we get to be “both/and” instead of “either/or” when it comes to aligning ourselves religiously. It means we can speak the languages of secularism and religiosity. It means we get to enter into the conversations happening all around us in the world of Christianity, such as on the future of the Church, as both outsiders and insiders. It means that we have a place at the table, if we are willing to claim it – and I hope that we do claim it. This mystic humanist finds this location very exciting for the present and future of our faith.

(Some biographical data about Rev. Cooley:

  • Minister of First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY since 2009.
  • Blogs at
  • Graduated United Theological Seminary in 2004.
  • Came to UUism as a young adult 20 years ago.
  • Has preached in 40 congregations in 8 states
  • identifies theologically as a mystic humanist
  • won the 2014 Universalist Heritage Sermon Contest
  • Prior to moving to KY, grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, and then lived in Minnesota for 10 years.
  • Enjoys "getting up on the balcony" and looking at things from a system perspective
  • former skater for Derby City Roller Girls )

Religious Terrorism [Cindy Landrum]

Rev. Dr. Cindy Landrum
On July 20, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, became the target of what some have described as "religious terrorism."  It sounds like hyperbole to some, but it is an apt phrase to describe what went on.  The worship service was attended by members of Operation Save America, who proceeded to interrupt the worship service during a time of silent meditation and prayer remembering someone who had recently passed away.  Members of Operation Save America also surrounded the building, banging on windows of the nursery and religious education wing, screaming and holding up graphic images of aborted fetuses.  A letter describing and condemning the actions of Operation Save America has been signed by 40 religious leaders in the New Orleans area, and can be read here.  Operation Save America's account of events, calling this "dynamic witness," can be found on their webpage blog here.  It also says, "After lunch, the saints traveled to two abortionists’ neighborhoods for public awareness campaigns. Awareness campaigns involve disseminating information to notify communities that one of their neighbors murder babies."

Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims."  The FBI definition of domestic terrorism is similar:
  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
This act in Louisiana didn't include violence.  So why is it terrorism?  Because it's done by a terrorist group that has included violence in the past.

Operation Save America's Logo shows
that they reject the secular state.
Operation Save America was formerly known as "Operation Rescue."  It was only five years ago that Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed by someone with connections to Operation Rescue/Operation Save America.  He was shot and killed while attending his Lutheran Church.  Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America called Tiller a murder and said, "We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches."

Operation Save America's presence at the UU church on July 20th wasn't designed to convert or inform.  It wasn't designed to have peaceful dialogue.  It wasn't part of a desire to create a bridge between UUs and OSA and it wasn't done out of respect.  It was, simply, an act designed to intimidate -- to remind us that Dr. Tiller was killed five years ago in a house of worship, and that our sanctuaries are not safe spaces from them.  Similarly, their presence in the neighborhood of abortion providers is an action designed to intimidate and threaten the doctors, who are well aware of the history of extreme violence from anti-abortion groups and individuals.   OSA distances itself from each act of murder, attempted murder, bombing, or arson, but escalates the rhetoric and uses intimidation at every opportunity.  The group calls the doctors "murderers" and distributes wanted posters for them -- for the same doctors who were then, in turn, murdered, by people with connection to the group.  The OSA current leader himself, Flip Benham, has been found guilty of stalking a doctor in North Carolina who provides abortion. 

In Unitarian Universalism, we're well aware that violence against us can happen in our churches.  It was the shooting in the Knoxville UU church, a shooting motivated by hatred for liberals, that led to the formation of our Standing on the Side of Love campaign. 

So, yes, one of our churches was terrorized.  But we know our response, and have responded well: we stand on the side of love.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Co-Existing with Fundamentalist Religion [Tom Schade]

Last Sunday, as most of you know, Operation Save America disrupted the Sunday Service at the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans. It was not the first time that this group attempted to disrupt a UU church.  Here is their report of an 2006 attempt to do the same at the UU Church in Jackson, Mississippi. This time they gained entrance, interrupted the minister who was presiding over a moment of silence. They harangued the crowd, pressing them not only on our UU position on reproductive justice, but also about the content of our religious ideas. What creed did we follow? They accused us as being a "synagogue of Satan."

Why did they do it? Because they are religious fundamentalists, who believe that the world at large must be brought to the correct faith, and that it is their God-given duty to convert or confront all the non-beleivers. They reject the modern paradigm of secular states and pluralist cultures in which differing religions co-exist with each other in peace. 

There are other forms of intolerant religions in the world. There are intolerant branches of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

The challenge of co-existing with intolerant religions is before all adherents of forms of liberal religion and holders of secular philosophies.

While responding with Love to hateful disruptive situations, it is always defensive.

So the question: 

Can the Tolerant and the Intolerant Co-exist? 

Yes, but only if the Tolerant have the power to preserve the structural arrangements which protect them. 

It is a question, ultimately, of power. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop...

My colleague, the Rev. Cynthia Landrum, has written an essay on the water controversy in Detroit. She grew up in the Detroit area and her parents live there, so she is not an outsider. She now serves the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty, MI. I am happy to post her essay here.

Her essay signals a change in the "Lively Tradition." Cynthia is the first of what I hope will be a group of regular contributors to the blog who will bring additional voices to the discussion here. In addition, I hope to bring more one-time only guest bloggers and essayists to the blog. The blog will continue to stand at the intersection of Unitarian Universalist theology and current events and politics. It will also continue to provide an independent, but friendly, point of view on current UU events and controversies.  I promise to try my hardest to make "The Lively Tradition," above all, lively, an online place worth your time to visit regularly.

Water, Water Everywhere and not a Drop to Drink
Cynthia Landrum

The situation in Detroit where the city has been turning off the tap for residents who haven’t paid their water bill has people quickly falling into familiar camps.  On the one hand, there are those who argue for individual responsibility, saying that water isn’t free and people should pay their bills.  On the other hand, you have those arguing for social welfare, saying that water is a basic human right, and this is harming the most vulnerable among us.  

But for liberal religious people, finding our way between these two poles is by no means easy. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reminder: It's Not the Fault of the people of Detroit

The decision of the American auto industry to ignore the demand for fuel-efficient cars was not made on the street corners of Detroit, nor in the offices of the UAW.

The decision of the American auto industry to answer consumer interest in smaller Japanese cars by concentrating more on trucks and SUV's was not made in the poor neighborhoods of Detroit, or by the city government of Detroit.

The decision of the US Automakers to disinvest in Detroit and move auto production to non-union states like Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia was not made by a popular referendum south of 8 Mile Road.

The decision to respond to the economic calamity that was the result of the disinvestment in Detroit with loans to the city, rather than through a state and regional reinvestment and development assistance -- well, that decision was not made by city employees of Detroit.

The people who made the critical decisions that have led to Detroit's plight do not live in Detroit, and they are, for the most part, still wealthy and powerful. And they are still making the decisions that will affect all of our futures. And they are still making them with the same short-sighted, self-interested, myopic and money-grubbing indifference to the lives of ordinary people as they have shown Detroit. (Just for one example, the masters of the universe who control finance capital continue to pour money into the fossil fuel industry while alternative energy investment is judged more risky. Yet, the greatest risk to human civilization is climate change!)

This is the second time that the blame for Detroit's bankruptcy has become focused on a group of Detroit residents. A couple of months ago, it was the terrible greed of Detroit retired city workers and their outrageous pensions, which average $19K per year. Now, it's the people who are behind in their water bills.

The people who live in Detroit, particularly the poor people there, are the surviving victims of an unnecessary, man-made economic disaster: Hurricane Disinvestment. They are not to blame for Detroit's woes, and they should not be treated as deadbeats and parasites.

Like the poor residents of New Orleans, they had the nerve to survive calamities not of their making, for which they are now blamed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mississippi Freedom Summer Project -- Story of Hope and Victory

This map is the bus tour sponsored by the Living Legacy Project and The UU College of Social Justice that have been on. 

The big history of the Mississippi Summer Freedom Project.

The story of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Freedom Project can get lost in terror and tragedy. The brave decision of four Mississippi Civil Rights organizations to bring a thousand college age volunteers from around the country to push their voter registration drive forward was audacious. The state's white power structure mobilized as though the state was being invaded, including the deployment of the Klan, as an armed terrorist organization to intimidate the civil rights worker. No sooner had the volunteer training session in Oxford, Ohio come to an end, were three Civil Rights workers killed: James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. The Summer Project started with death.

The violence continued all summer long. The Klan was active all summer, shooting into houses and offices, following people, driving by houses. The Klan was closely linked to the White Citizens Council, the respectable segregationist organization of bankers and lawyers and merchants and the Mississippi State sovereinity Commission, an official state agency which operated a surveillance network reporting to Movement activity throughout the state.

The volunteers were actually not very successful registering people to vote. The legal obstacles were great and the intimidation powerful.   But they were successful in the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

The MFDP held caucuses and a convention which elected a slate of delegates to send to the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City, in August.  They presented themselves to the Convention as the loyal Democrats of Mississippi chosen in an open and democratic process. They demanded to be seated instead of the regular Democrats, who had been chosen only by white people and refused to sign a pledge to support Johnson in the fall election.

Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer gave graphic and compelling testimony about what she had endured trying to register to vote in Mississippi to the Convention Credentials Committee. Lyndon Johnson pre-empted her testimony with a quickly called press conference of his own, but the networks repeated her testimony throughout prime time. I remember vividly her testimony; Johnson's press conference, not so much.

But it shows that the Mississippi Movement had captured the full attention of Lyndon Johnson, the President of the United States. Johnson was afraid that if the MFDP was seated, the delegates of Mississippi and other Southern states would walk out of the convention and into the Goldwater campaign.

Johnson sent Hubert Humphrey and Walter Reuther to negotiate with the MFDP. They put the full force of argument on the leaders of the MFDP, which rejected the offer of two non-voting, at-large delegates, who would be seated along side the regular Democrats. The negotiations were tough. Mrs. Hamer asked Adam Clayton Powell how many bales of cotton he had ever picked. She told Hubert Humphrey that she prayed for him as he violated what he knew was right to earn a job as Vice-President. In the end, the voting rights activists went home.

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic lost in Atlantic City. The regular Democrats were seated, but the South voted for Barry Goldwater anyway. Johnson won the election handily. In the spring of 1965, John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr. started the Selma campaign for voting rights in Alabama. Unitarian Universalists know that story well. Lyndon Johnson threw his support behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the history of the United States was changed.

I believe that the battle for voting rights was won, however, in Atlantic City the previous summer. It was won by the Mississippi Summer Freedom Project. It was won when the choice was made clear, would the South be represented by a multi-racial democratic coalition, or by a whites-only elite? It was won by incredible courage and clarity of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was repeatedly beaten for trying to register to vote and who frightened the President of United States with her eloquent truth-telling.

We often think of grass-roots community organizing as slow, patient work done in obscurity. On the other hand, we often think of high politics of political parties and national conventions as another  far-away  world. But in 1964, some very brave and skillful people brought those two worlds together in one space, and a great victory was the result.