Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quick Post from Florida

I am at a UU ministers' continuing education conference here in sunny Florida.  I love this sort of thing because I really love my colleagues and because I have a pathological strain of extroversion in my personality.

But on the way down here on the plane, I jotted down four kinds of issues where our present understanding of public ministries make it hard for us to "go there."  The core of the problem for us in all of these is the way that the partisan alignments in the US have become so closely matched to the class systems.

1.  The social unionism movement:  On Black Friday last, Walmart workers around the country were joined by community groups in picketing Walmart and other demonstrating for union rights.  Recently, fast food workers in New York City conducted a similar one-day campaign drawing attention to the poor working conditions for fast food workers.

2. The Occupy movements.

3. In Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, the GOP dominated state-legislature passed laws restricting the powers of organized labor.  To some degree, these moves are partisan warfare, designed to cripple powerful institutions that back the Democratic party.  Educational reform and "Tort Reform" are also public policy initiatives that have a partisan purpose.

4. The GOP continues down a path of institutionalizing anti-democratic practices in key chokepoints of governance:  gerrymandering (redistricting whenever they get the power to do it.), the filibuster, the Hastert rule, racialmandering, and now their scheme to create a path to winning the Presidency even while losing the popular vote by a significant margin.

What is going on in the United States politics is a dramatically politicized class conflict. The GOP is the party of the economically powerful and they want to use the government to protect and advance their interests.  Insurgent forces find themselves fighting back in the workplaces, in the streets, in the state legislatures and county boards, and at the ballot box.

For most Unitarian Universalist ministers, the obstacles are two.  One is that our churches and congregations are not sure which side they are on, in struggles like this.  That's OK, most middle class people have not yet made the discernment that this 1% vs 99% thing is real, and how small 1% really is.  Our individual and collective class position is one the ways that we are all interconnected and UU theology is more clear that we are connected to the ocean, stars and whales than we are to the fast food workers and the firefighters in our communities.

But we could get a lot more clear on those connections, but the class and partisan alignment makes it really hard to talk concretely about class issues in a "non-partisan" or "B-partisan" way.

By the way, the same constraints exist around climate change issues.  To talk about the real decisions made today about climate change (the Keystone pipeline etc.) is enter into discussions that have a partisan character.  Even to talk about the premise of climate change is sending a partisan signal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Barack Obama: Liberal Theologian? (3)

Diana Butler Bass discerns a contemporary liberal theology in Obama's second Inaugural address.  I am less impressed by her argument that he spoke from a less explicitly Christian perspective than his predecessors and that is what made him liberal.  Pluralist expression is only part of Liberalism in theology.

She points out that Obama's central metaphor was 'the journey'.

What binds together the variety of American faiths? President Obama insisted that our unity is found in a powerful theme, borrowed from the twin theological sources of his own African-American Christianity and Protestant liberalism: Life is a journey. In both of these theological traditions, one is never fully satisfied with the way things are. We are on perpetual pilgrimage, never arriving to a settled place. We seek deeper justice, greater knowledge of ourselves in and through God, elusive wisdom, and wise action as we sojourn in and through the world. At the outset of the speech, President Obama stated, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words [of our founding texts] with the realities of our time.” We are political sojourners.
 Life as a journey is a common metaphor among Unitarian Universalists.  I think it is weak and imprecise.  A journey is moving through space, it's process defined as travel.  Our spiritual process, though, is more a process of evolution and self-definition.  We grow into ourselves.  My "journey" is only superficially Lexington, to Providence, to Youngstown, to Washington, to Minneapolis, to Chicago, to Dallas, to Worcester, to Ann Arbor.  But all along, I tried on different understandings of myself and my role, and have become more clear about who I am.  It has been more a process of sedimentation that travel.  Like a glass of muddy water, the gunk is slowly settling to the bottom.

The journey metaphor also avoids the conflict in development. Our country is being defined by the often bloody conflict between those who saw this North American continent as the place where a new elite could amass great wealth and those who saw in this North American continent a place where ordinary people could live in peace and freedom. The nation develops through a process of moving toward or rejecting those conceptions as the contend.  And it is often violent and bloody.  What we don't often realize is that our individual spiritual development is tied more closely to that historical unfolding than we think, especially if we are more privileged.

Friday, January 25, 2013

More info on the GOP's plans to avoid another bad year like 2012

After  a defeat of the magnitude of 2012, the Republican Party searches for a way forward.  This is more information about what their soul-searching has come to.  It shouldn't matter that five million more people voted for the Democrat than us; our guy should still win.  Those votes count less because those people live closer to each other.

This is not idle speculation.  The chairman of the RNC endorses it.  Such a plan is clearing hurdles in Virginia.  Maine and Nebraska have cast their electoral college vote in the way for several elections.  It is legal. It is being introduced in Pennsylvania and, I believe, Michigan.

One would think that such a move would be so far outside the norms of our political tradition that it could not happen.  But look at what has occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan already.  Michigan, the home of the auto industry, Walter Reuther and the UAW is now a "right to work" state.

Were it to be enacted, it would be a legal hijacking of the democratic process -- not in some obscure procedure, but at the place where more Americans participate than any other.  It is naked and transparent and justified by no other principle other than the GOP's desire to win.

It will either succeed, or it will fail, because of massive levels of resistance, greater than what we have seen in Madison and Lansing and Ohio.  Will UU churches, congregations and ministers be a part of that resistance?

Or will Unitarian Universalism, which went to Selma for the right of African Americans to vote in the South, retain its political neutrality when the power of everyone's vote is diluted by one of the two parties?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Saying What We Mean....

The other day, the UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales and the President / CEO of the UU Women's Federation, the Rev. Marti Keller  released a statement on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.  Go read it; there is not a single word in this statement I disagree with.

However, I wonder to whom it is written.  It reads as though it is written to be read by Unitarian Universalists who are checking up on the UUA to make sure that it is properly focused on this issue.  It reads as though it is written to be read by people who are our coalition partners who want to understand the fullness of our position as they work with us.

What I would like to see us say is something like this:

To all people, especially young people, especially young women: 
You have the right to have the children you want to have, and to not to have children you don't want to have, You have the right to raise your children in safe and healthy environments, and you have the right to express your sexuality without oppression.  
These rights are the cornerstones of reproductive justice, and every person, including you, should have them. They are human rights. They are bigger than just the right to choose an abortion if you are pregnant; you have a right to get appropriate health care, to receive complete and accurate information about sexuality, to express yourself sexually without coercion, violence and exploitation. 
Unitarian Universalists have been fighting for your right to reproductive justice for all people for decades.  Today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that upheld your right to choose an abortion.  We celebrate that victory.  We were fighting for reproductive justice before then, and have been ever since, and will continue to √•as long as it needed. 

If we are going to make a statement, we should make it to the people we are working for, and we should make it so it can be understood.

Is Non-partisan Anti-Racism possible?

GOP leaders have begun to advocate for a change in how electoral college votes are allocated.  In swing states where they control the governorship and the state legislatures, they are considering allocating EV's by Congressional District.  Those states are Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.  In PA, WI, and VA, legislation has already been introduced.

The scheme, especially if applied only in some states, would dramatically increase Republican chances of winning the Presidency, even if their candidate lost the popular vote.  Even if applied in all states, their chances are improved.  After all, the GOP holds a significant majority in the House despite receiving fewer votes in total than the Democrats.  It is estimated that the current apportionment of House seats gives the GOP a 7% advantage.  In order to win a House Majority, Democrats would need to win the combined popular House vote by 7%.  A landslide to break even.

The cause for this inequity is usually described as "gerrymandering".  "Gerrymandering" is a colorful term, with a long history in American politics; it means the drawing of legislative districts for partisan advantage.  That should be a signal to us to be alert.

There is a whole historical treasure box of colorful political lore, filled with stories of bosses, bribery, machines, corruption, and political chicanery.  Political reporters and historians trot out these stories because they are fun facts and funnier stories.  But the overall effect is to convey the message that corruption and anti-democratic practices are the historic norm, both parties do it, and it all equals out in the end.

The present system of Congressional Representation is not the result of cute and colorful partisan hijinks.  It is a complicated process driven almost entirely by a serious struggle over the amount of political power that African Americans and Hispanics will exercise.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, as it has been applied across the country, mandated the creation of majority-minority districts as a way to ensure that African Americans and Hispanics had a reasonable chance of electing members of the House.

Republican legislators at the state level saw the opportunity for their party in this mandate:  by consolidating minority voters into as few districts as possible, they could create other districts that were more white, and thus more likely to be won by the GOP.   In a state like Pennsylvania, it works like this.  Obama won by 5% statewide, but only carried six Congressional districts, losing 11.

The GOP plan to apportion some states' electoral votes by Congressional district is not simply a plan to leverage their gerrymandered advantage in the House into the election of the President.  It works because it is a based on a successful effort to minimize the political power of African Americans and Hispanics.  It is racist in intention, and in effect.

Does this all stem from the mandate to create majority-minority districts?  Majority-minority districts were the strategy to block the previous strategy to minimize minority political power: diluting minority voters by spreading them as thinly as possible across districts.

There are about 58 majority-minority districts in the US, not an unreasonable number in a body of 435 members.  More importantly, the House is a large body and should recreate the diversity of the country.  Everyone should be represented there.  Electing the President is a different matter.  There every person's vote should count equally.

I believe in the national popular election of the President.  But that is not my point today.

Liberal theology, as understood by the Unitarian Universalist Association, has come to believe that our response to systems of oppression, like the systematic oppression of African Americans, is a theological matter.  It is not simply a political problem (colorful hijinks in the game of politics).  Liberal religion has always stood for naming and witnessing to the truth of the world -- whether it is about whether the earth revolves around the sun, or the origin of the species or the nature of the society in which we live.  And the truth of the current situation is that the Republican party and the conservative movement is actively basing its strategy on minimizing the political power of non-white people.

Yet, we are supposed to be non-partisan.  How is that supposed to work?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guns and Insurrection Part 2

Someone in a Facebook comment stream asked me (paraphrase coming): what would you do if Sarah Palin was elected President, closed Congress, declared martial law and started arresting people?  Wouldn't you really be glad there was an armed citizenry?

What I hope I would do is to non-violently occupy the National Mall with a million people and not budge until democracy was restored.  Our non-violence would be absolutely necessary in order to win. This has been the lesson of history ever since the People Power revolution in the Philippines.  It is certainly the lesson of Egypt and elsewhere around the world.

Armed insurrection in the USA would have two possible results:  one would be the imposition of martial law and ruthless suppression of the insurrectionists by the armed forces of the United States.  Jim Croce identified the strategic problem long ago in this immortal maxim, worthy of Sun Tzu, "You don't tug on Superman's Cape."

The other, less likely scenario, is Somalia.  We would all end up being under the control of some armed gang, a warlord, or a local militia.  It would be a lot more like "the Wire" than "Red Dawn".  

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Humanism, Boundaries and Accommodation

Commentator KJR writes in response to a previous post...

I think a worldview that doesn't have any muscular boundaries can't effectively work for justice -- nor is it really a theology. There is a faddishness that comes from having no true core. Ironically, I find that even as the culture moves in our direction it does us little good if we are not really standing up for something at our core. I think our problem may not lie so much in the recent period of conservatism as in the period before that when the Fellowship Movement and increasingly secular Humanism stripped much of our movement of any theological grounding, followed by the "do whatever" aspect of the 60's culture that made boundaries of any kind suspect.
KJR presents a view that I have often among UU ministers.   Our lack of "theological grounding" is why our social justice work is faddish.  And "theological grounding," is authority given  explicitly to our lineage within liberal Protestantism.  And so, the diagnosis of our ills go back to the 20th century turn toward Humanism among us, and then the "anything goes" of the 1960's.

I have been deeply sympathetic to this analysis and spoken up for it myself often.  But, now, I want to think about it some more.

I am less upset about the 20th century turn to Humanism as I used to be.  I think it was a sincere, well-reasoned, and in some sense, inevitable, turn toward theological realism.  I think, in fact, that Humanism is the final product of Christian philosophy which said that it was describing the actual, factual reality of the Universe.  Really it's hard to argue against atheism, if you're going to argue on the basis of concrete, provable facts.

Theism and Christianity, of course, go on, by making another sort of claim to ultimate truths.

The Fellowship movement was a evangelical strategy of "church" planting, by forming lay-led, autonomous worshipping communities.  It was wildly successful.  Most of what was planted, however, was never going to change beyond what they started out as, and would thus, have a natural lifespan. Because of the time they were formed, they would be inevitably humanist.

The Fellowships often had tight theological boundaries: they actively resisted any deviation from Humanist theology, especially if it came cloaked in ministerial robing.  And the Fellowships were not politically quiescent.

I don't have the history of the Fellowship movement at hand, but I would be interested in knowing how many were formed between WW2 and 1954, and how many between 1954 and 1968.

My sense, and I would be interested in hearing from other witnesses on this, is that Humanist vs. Theists debates were the theological content of UUism during the earliest period of UU history -- the period of cultural liberal ascendency from 1961 to 1968.   UU's, both humanist and theists, were moving in synch with a much larger movement in the society as a whole.

The "anything goes" and the weakening of our boundaries seems to me, to be coming from that period of 1969 to 1980 -- the 70's.  I think of those cartoon characters who run off the cliff and keep going even though the ground beneath them is gone. This is a very complex period for us, when in some ways we were moving defiantly out of the cultural mainstream (feminism, glbt rights, sexuality education, youth empowerment, open marriages, spouse-swapping, unconventional ways of knowing etc.)  Of course, we were not alone in this -- the entire cultural left was in the same place.  Some of it was prophetic; some of it pathetic.

And all this led, in the nation, to a cultural backlash, an intensifying struggle between liberals and conservative worldviews and the eventual triumph of conservatism, of which Reagan's election was the sign.

I think some of concern about the boundaries of UUism comes as a internalization of the conservative critiques of liberalism's excesses.  It's liberal self-hatred, and it is one of the strategies that grew up in response to the conservative hegemony of the times.  They got in our heads more than we acknowledge.

Most of UU history is the story of the tensions between strategies of defiance and strategies of accommodation to the cultural hegemony of the Right in US culture.


The 4 AM question for Unitarian Universalists

In 1961, at the time of the merger, we thought we were going to be the religion of the future.  Our future was bright and we were going to grow like crazy.  We had no idea that Evangelical Protestantism, which was represented then most visibly by the Billy Graham crusades, was really the next big thing in US religion, and not us.

And we have not grown much, if at all...

So, at 4 AM, at the bleakest hours, the question comes to us..... "What is wrong with us?"

If you read UU's about UUism, that question is lurking in the background of almost everything written or said.   Even in our most positive statements about us, there is a brittle assertiveness and overcompensation that betrays this question.....

Monday, January 21, 2013

How we Got Here...

UU's are uncomfortable these days with UU public theology and practice.  All the why's and whereas's are some of my interests, so come along and think about them with me.

I think that the number one thing that we have to remember is that the whole nation is emerging from a 40 year period in which all forms of liberalism were on the defensive and all forms of conservatism were ascendent, almost hegemonic.  I date this period by the highly visible markers of Presidential elections, but they only reflect what was going on below the surface in the culture as a whole.  So I start liberalism's 40 years in the desert as beginning in 1968 and ending in 2008.  So for 40 out of the 50 years there has been a UUA, it has been swimming against the tide, or even wandering in the wilderness.

To me, the era was symbolized by one story I have heard repeated so often:  UU parents remarking that their children were being disturbed and unsettled by the comments of their schoolmates that they were going to Hell.  Our children did not feel safe on the playgrounds of their school.

As fish knows not of water, UU's are barely conscious of how much the atmosphere of general hostility to liberalism has affected us.   We should talk about that for hours, connecting the dots.

If UUism was a privatized religion, consisting mostly of personal spiritual practice and withdrawal from the material world, the conservative turn in the general culture would have not been difficult for us.  But UUism is a socially engaged religion.  So it was at the point of intersection between our religion and the political/social reality that surrounded us that become the most contested point in UUism.

I would argue that almost all of the internal developments within UUism, both in local congregations and as a larger institution are the expression of differing strategies for surviving the political and cultural wilderness.

Strategic responses to the wilderness moved along a polarity between accommodation and defiance.

On the one hand, we continued to uphold the main thrusts of cultural and political liberalism throughout this period, most notably making a strong commitment to GLBT equality, feminism, anti-racism, environmental activism, interfaith solidarity etc.  There are many committed UU's whose overall critique is that UU's have not been radical enough, or consistent enough and who damn us for our faint-heartedness.

On the other hand, there are the strategies of accommodation: all those impulses to respectability and inoffensiveness.  I think that our commitment to "political diversity" was a strategy of accommodation to the aggressive conservatism of the general culture.

The cost of the commitment to political diversity as a defining feature of our congregations has been to define religion, politics and culture as separate spheres of life and thought.  It has been a necessary article of faith that one can be liberal in religion, conservative in politics, elitist in culture etc.  Mix and match to your heart's content.

We, who believe that as a matter of faith, that all things are interconnected, also believe that politics and religion as so loosely connected that any combination can work.

At this point, I will not push the argument further except to ask:  how has that been working for us?

Right now, it seems that UUism is both castigated for "talking the talk, but not walking the walk."  In other words, we are inconsistent, and dilettantish in the public expression of our faith.  On the other hand, others are incensed that we seem to be "chaplains to the Democratic Party" and "tolerant of everyone but Republicans."

I am writing this on the day of Barack Obama's second Inauguration.   His election confirms my suspicion that 2008 marked the end of the cultural hegemony of conservatism in the politics and culture of the US.  Our wilderness days may be coming to an end.

It is time to consider new possibilities.

Barack Obama: Liberal Theologian

"while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth."   -- Barack Obama, 2013 Inaugural Address

Please discuss !

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How Deep the Roots?

Contemporary Unitarian Universalist social theology is now pithily summarized as "Standing on the Side of Love." A criticism of it, and of the UUA, is that our public theology is shallow and rooted in secular movements.  I think that critique is wrong (someday soon, I will explain why I think that we are prone to such self-beating-up), but that our public theology has a long history with roots in the earliest Christian movement.  To stand on the side of love is to stand in a long line of Christian thinking about justice. 

The Christian conception of Justice arises out of core themes of the New Testament, themes which are summed up in some cases from some pithy verses, and in other cases from certain extended themes.

One is the story in Matthew 25, in which Jesus is tells of how the Son of Man will someday return as King, and judge the world.  We will be judged on how we treated Him: did we feed Him when He was hungry, clothe Him when He was naked etc.  When we will have done this?  When we had done these things for “the least of these” answers Jesus, for the poor, for the insignificant ones, for it is in these that we encounter God. The first theme in the Christian conception of justice is the holiness of every person, especially the least of these.

The second theme comes from Galatians 3:28, a famous statement in which Paul says that there is no Jew, no Greek, no slave, no freeman, no male, no female; for we are all one person in Christ.  The second theme of the Christian conception of Justice is that all of the social divisions that mean so much in our world, mean nothing to God.  The radical equality of all souls before God. 

Paul’s writings and many of parables, carry a third theme: our liberation from legalistic moral commandments.  One of the accidents of history is that Christianity started out as a subset of Judaism, but soon was filled with Gentiles.  And the early Christian movement went through a very difficult split with Judaism, and one of the issues over which that split was argued was over the obligation of gentile Christians to observe Jewish law. Eventually Christians concluded that they did not.  While there have been many negative effects of the conflict with Judaism in early Christian history, there are also two positive results:  
  1. Christianity has always carried a powerful antinomian spirit.  Laws and rules promoted by human beings in the name of God are to be suspected and critiqued.  They are never to be to be understood as the path to salvation, since we come into the presence of God through God’s amazing grace through Jesus Christ.  No human being ever holds the key to another’s salvation.   This is the theological foundation for the final authority of the individual.  In the end, spiritual salvation, whatever that would mean, would be a matter between each individual human soul and God. 
  2. Because of the arguments over including the Gentiles, Christianity carries within its DNA a preference for forgiveness and inclusion.  For example, the story of the prodigal son.  The story of the Good Samaritan.  The story of the woman caught in adultery. 

These are the main themes of the Christian conception of Justice, which is radical (meaning unqualified), universal (meaning pertaining to every single person in the world no matter what), and egalitarian (meaning that there is “no least of these” nor “most of these” in God’s eyes) individual liberation. 

As it developed, justice-seeking Christians turned away from utopianism:  a society in which there is universal peace, happiness, equality, and social order.  Instead,  they have focused more on creating a  society that works justly: Procedural justice. The primary test of justice is whether society protects the sacred freedom of each human soul.  

For millennia, Christianity on the whole has been unconcerned with economic inequality, but more concerned about people restricted by human social limitations.  The equality of women, the equality of all ethnic groups, the abolition of slavery, the concept of human rights, political democracy, government by the consent of the governed, religious diversity, the rights of gays and lesbians, the right to own property, the right to join in organizations such as labor unions, all of these are the fruits of the Christian conceptions of the radical universal equality of each individual soul.

Certainly, I am not making any claim that these principles are unique to Christianity. All I am saying is that the concept of justice has the history that I have described in the Christian West. 

And further, I am talking about the Christian conception of Justice and how it developed, and not talking about the actual  Christian practice.  I will say that the anti-institutional bias, toward critiquing institutions from the point of view of how it affects the individual soul, has made Christianity an extraordinarily self-critical regime.

The self-critical tendencies of Christian social theology has often generated revolutionary and radical movements in the West that have aimed at actually creating a perfected society, one in which there is not simply procedural justice, but the substance of justice – economic equality most of all.  

The Christian conception of Justice leads directly to what I see as the social program of liberal religion: Pluralist and diverse cultures, secular states, free religious institutions, freedom of conscience, human rights, the equality of women, political democracy, and now, we realize, in that process of continuous uncovering of new dimensions of justice, the full embrace of gays, lesbians and transgender people as equal members of the human community. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The argument in Brief

Present day conservative politics and libertarian economics are systems of institutionalized indifference. Their common feature across the board is that they ask us to not think about the consequences of our policies on certain people, usually the poor, the unsuccessful, the inept, the disabled, the elderly, the sick, the unemployed, the marginalized.

Indifference is the opposite of Love, and Unitarian Univeralists try to Stand on the Side of Love.

"Standing on the Side of Love" is a slogan that distills for this time the social theology summarized in the UUA' s Seven Principles statement, especially the commitment to the worth and dignity of each person, the right to free search for meaning, the promotion of the democratic process, justice, equity, compassion.

Those Seven Principles do not arise out of thin air.  They are the late 20th century interpretations of our 19th century and 20th century theological propositions:  the rights of a free conscience, universal salvation, humanist pragmatism.

And those particular Unitarian and Universalist theological suppositions are derived directly from the distinctive beliefs of Enlightenment liberal Christianity, especially the human likeness to God and the human capacity for good.  All of which are rooted in the doctrines and disputes that go back to the earliest days of the Christian church, emerging as it did out of the Jewish religious and ethical disputes surrounding the Jewish rebellion of the first century.

And of course, the commitment to love as the opposite of indifference can also be traced through many other religious and philosophical traditions.

None of this is whimsical, or faddish, or novel.  Just because we don't often think about the history of our ideas, doesn't mean they are original to us, or that they have no history.

How does indifference become institutionalized?

I have said that conservative politics and libertarian economics are systems of "institutionalized indifference."

I have said that these systems of institutionalized indifference are antithetical to the religious commitments of Unitarian Universalism.

How does indifference get institutionalized?  The present debate on guns is a perfect example.

The actual effects on people, on children, of having 300 million guns in private hands are purposefully obscured under abstract arguments about the meaning of the second amendment to the Constitution, and whether the Constitutional authors wanted to preserve a right to insurrection in the Constitution.

In other words, our attention is directed away from real people, real children, real violence, real death and destruction, real preventable suicides and accidental deaths and toward hypothetical scenarios and abstract rights.

We are to be indifferent to the people who suffer the consequences of our present policy because it more important to preserve an interpretation of an abstract principle that constrains us from doing something to prevent that suffering.

The question that a religious liberal must ask in every situation:  who is it that I am not supposed to be thinking about here?  Whose suffering is being obscured by these abstractions.

Each child victim in Newtown was shot 3 to 11 times. Twenty children, aged 6 and 7.  Start there.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chaplain to the Democrats?

In a now vanished comment, a commentator accuses me of "want[ing] the UUA to be known as the Democratic Party's Chaplain Office."

No.  I want UU religious institutions to the be conscience of Unitarian Universalists, even in, and especially in, their thinking as citizens.

Religion and Democracy: What is a Religious Issue?

A reader (Tim Bartik) posts in a comment: 
But what are examples of political issues that you think UU values do not dicate positions. For example, one of the burning issues of our time is whether overall federal spending as a share of GDP should be significantly reduced or increased, or should be stabilized. This is closely related to issues such as what the federal government policy should be about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and health care more generally. Do you think UU principles lead to specific political positions on these issues, or do you think that UUs might be able to take varied liberal vs. conservative positions on these issues, as long as they are guided by the principles of respecting individual worth and dignity, etc. ?
"Overall federal spending as a share of GDP" is a re-framing of important issues of religious value in terms which obscures what is really at stake.  

A question of religious values is "are we taking care of the needs of the people in our society?"  Or have we drawn a line somewhere and said to ourselves that we are not going to be concerned with what happens to people beyond this line?  A religious value question is whether we consign the elderly poor and the poor and disabled to lives teetering on the very edge of survival?  (Isn't the average monthly benefit under SS something like $1200 per month?)  There is a looming crisis ahead because our retirements systems (pensions, savings, Social Security) will not provide a decent life for many poor and working class elders in the future.  We made a decision that we would cover elders' health care spending -- will we keep that commitment or have we reached a point that we say that we are indifferent to some people's needs.  And the nation has always been grudging in our support for the health care of the poor.  We allow the state of Mississippi to design the policies by which they deliver health care to the black and poor in their state.  Everyone knows that the result is going to be very poor health outcomes; we are institutionally indifferent to the human beings.  

A proposal to "block grant Medicaid spending to the states" and limit its growth at such a rate to hit some agreed upon target number of federal spending vs. GDP is a further institutionalization of that indifference.  

The care of the elderly, the disabled, the poor are religious issues.  Even, "Inherent worth and dignity"is too abstract a phrase to describe what is at stake. 

Our religious values should goad us, as a matter of conscience, to pierce the veil of such abstractions.

Reader Tim seems to imagine "worth and dignity" as constraints on a free choice of liberal and conservative policy positions.  You can decide what percentage makes sense to you, as long as you still respect "worth and dignity".  In contrast, I think "worth and dignity" ought to drive policy.  How much will it cost to preserve the practical worth and dignity of each and all?

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Final Blessings" -- My last sermon in Worcester

Sunday was the last time I preached at the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, after some 13 years of parish ministry with them.  Below is my last sermon with them.  They had a great party afterwards, with Rockabilly Music and Barbecue sandwiches.  I was especially touched by the fact that one of the now young adults, someone who was but a child when I started ministry there, pored over many of my old sermons to find a fitting inscription for the celebratory sheet cake.  She chose these words: "We stand before Uncertainty.  Let us cultivate Hope, Generosity and Faith."  Good choice for the occasion, I thought.

Anyway, here is the sermon:

First Reading:
Hebrews 10:31-11:1

35 Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.
36 For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
37 For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous ones will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back."
39 But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.
11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Second Reading:
From "Faith", an essay in A Room called Remember by Frederick Buechner.

By faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth.  Madness and lostness are the results of terrible blindness and tragic willfulness which whole nation are involved in no less than you and I are involved in them. Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things -- by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see--that the world is God's creation even so.  It is God who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of God's peace to live in peace, out of God's light to dwell in light, out of God's love to be above all things loved and loving.  That is the last truth about the world.
Can it be true?  No, of course, it cannot.  On the face of it, if you take the face seriously and face up to it, how can it possible by true?  Yet how can it not be true when our own hearts bear such powerful witness to it, when blessed moments out of our own lives speak of it so eloquently?  And that no-man's-land between the Yes and the No, that everyman's land, is where faith stands and has always stood.

Those of you who have extraordinarily long memories will remember that our two readings this morning are the very same ones I used on the Sunday of my ordination here in the fall of 1999.  So long ago.  Bill Clinton was President.  The church was untouched by fire.  Two gleaming square towers stood near the southern tip of Manhattan.  A cross hung behind me while I preached.  Barbara was in something like her 16th year of ministry here.  Diane Mirick was the RE Director, and we called her the RE Director.  Will Sherwood was in the choir loft: one constant in the story. 

To prepare for this sermon, I went back and read that one.  I think I was much smarter then -- I could read my impatience in the sermon -- I wanted to tell you everything I thought I knew -- everything I had learned in seminary.  

I think I still believe everything I said then.  But there are subtle differences. 

I think then I was mostly concerned with the question: what is our faith really faith in?  I think I was seized by the line in Buechner:  “Faith the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things -- by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see--that the world is God's creation even so.”

The author of the letter to the Hebrews said the same thing, so long ago, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen..”

In 1999, I felt I had the need to testify to the truth of my faith.  Even though it was hard to see, after all, we are modern people, are we not? there was still some hidden way that this was God’s world, after all, that the Universe was laid somehow on a moral foundation, and living a life of reverence and morality was worth it.  And I thought, I think now looking back, that was our message, and that it would be spread by my testimony.

Twelve and half years of ministry here have shifted my understanding of my purpose.  Not that I have become a hard-bitten cynic who believes that everything just comes down to bio-chemistry and protoplasmic irritability.  

Then, I think I needed to make the equation that the ancient religious word “faith” was what so many people feel: that sense that comes and goes that life has purpose, that morality matters, that there is some deep connection between one and all.  That perception is what Paul called “faith”, and once a person cracked that code, then this world of religion makes sense -- and that a whole host of resources become available -- people have written and studies and taught about faith for centuries. 

Over time, I became less interested in cracking the code of religion for people who had little experience with its language and customs.  I still did a lot of that -- explaining every year what happened on Holy Week, trying to drag Advent out Christmas shopping into something more hopeful, indeed, just trying to explain what worship is, what prayer is.  

But over time, I became more interested in speaking directly to that state of hope, of moral purpose, that state of mind that could be defined as “faith.”  What does that state of mind ask of us?  How should we conduct ourselves to be consistent with that state of mind?  Indeed how should be live to promote and invoke and make habitual that state of mind?  There are times when it seems that the universe is singing through me -- how can I keep that song going? 

How do we make what is unseen visible? And so I turned my attention to the church, to the congregation and to the common practice we have of worshipping together.  How do we make this institution, this place into a visible, concrete, living center of that life suggested by the moments when the universe is singing through us, those blessed moments of faith.  This is the place where you meet others who share that feeling, who want to be mutually inspired to live lives of reverence and open-mindedness and moral purpose.  

My ministry, over time, became more and more devoted to trying to be an institutional leader and an inspiring preacher.  You will have lots of time to evaluate how well I did either task, but now I am moving on, and so are you. 

I have started going to, been there twice now, to the weekly celebrations of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor.  They have a wonderful pair of ministers: Rev. Gail Geisenhaner who is the senior minister and Rev. Mark Evans is the associate.  It’s a good sized congregation, 575 members, 2 worship services every week.  They do some things very well.  The congregation sings loudly and well, the preaching seems fine.  They are hard working and decisive.  The city told them that they had six months or so to stop using temporary buildings as classrooms, so they raised the money and built a new RE wing in a record amount of time.  They worry about money, a lot. 

They have some of the characteristics that I know are typical of Midwestern Unitarian Universalism -- when they sing their children out, they sing “May the Spirit of Love surround you..”  They sing the same doxology as we do, but they call it a Our Song of Affirmation, and instead of singing “Let songs of hope and faith arise” they want “songs of hope and trust to arise.”  Apparently there is an important difference between faith and trust.  Our one faux pas as visitors was at the end of the doxology/song of affirmation.  Sue and I started to sing “amen”, but everyone else was already sitting down.  Ooops. 

But the minister makes a prayer, and offers it to God, and there is that essential moment when you can feel the room enter a still and silent place, and congregation goes deep and we are worshipping together.

Our Common Work. 

The good people at the Ann Arbor church are doing the same work that you and I have done here for the last 12 and half years.  Indeed, they are doing the same work that the people of this church have been doing for the last 225 years.  In the ways appropriate to the times, of course, but the same work.  

There are about 1/3 to 1/2 of the people of this nation who share our general approach to religion.  

They believe that people, not deities, make religions, and so they are part of our many human cultures.  And people make religions as answers to the very basic human questions, about life and death, and what is fair and what is not.  Why are we here and what is the meaning of life. 

And because religions are different because human cultures are different, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the people of this country (maybe more) don’t believe that any one religion is more true than any others, or no religion at all.  No religion has a special claim upon the truth.

And they believe that what matters about a religion is whether it leads you to live a good life, or not.  “By their fruits, ye shall know them.”

These summarize a liberal approach to religion, and about 1/2 to 1/3 of the people in the United States share these beliefs.  Maybe not on a conscious level, but if you dig deep, that is what they actually believe.

Some are Christians; some are Jews; some are Muslims; some are Buddhists; some tiny few are UU’s and lots and lots don’t belong to any religious institution, at all.

At heart, for these religious liberals, their religion is life itself.  Oh, they might wrap that religion in the story, songs and tradition of one (or more) of the great religious traditions of humanity (which are, as I have said so many times, the greatest collective creative and artistic productions of humanity)  but they are looking beyond that, through that, to basic questions of life itself: how to live, how to live in harmony and balance with this mysterious universe, how to give and get love, how to be happy, how to be just.  The largest thing they know is this thing called “Life” -- there is nothing that is not part of Life.  Even death is a part of life.

And so these de facto religious liberals, this 1/3 to 1/2 of the people, especially the more spiritually sensitive ones among them, are trying to live a good life.  And they understand that to do so means living with some basic values and virtues.  

They are trying to be honest, to live in the real world, and they know that they cannot be more special than they are -- they have to be humble.  They are trying live life with a sense of reverence and they try to develop their sense of gratitude; they count their blessings.  They remain open to the possibility that something wonderful and unseen is at work in their life.  And they struggle to be, and to teach their children to be open-minded and curious about everything that comes their way.  And they want to be, indeed, they cannot help themselves but to be sensitive to injustice and unfairness and cruelty.  Indeed, sometimes it feels overwhelming to them that there is so much injustice in the world, while it seems that there is so little that any one person or small group can do about it.  

They want to live in a loving supportive community.  They yearn for community, and yet they are afraid of community.  They are afraid that they will be overwhelmed; that they will be taken over; that they will lose control of themselves to others and so they hang back. They feel too fragile and too weak.  Church people often say that the unchurched are too individualistic to join in a church community, even though they are hungry for that kind of meaning-making.  I say that they are not individualistic enough.  Loyalty to church life goes up as people get older -- why? Because the older you are, the more comfortable you are with who you are, and you are more confident that you will not taken over by others. 

As I reflect on my life, these were the aspirations that came into my life during the late 1980;s.  I wanted to live in the world as it really was; I wanted to have a human-sized life; there were times when everything sang to me (it still does at times) and I wanted a different life, which would be exactly like my life, but glowing like it was illuminated by the late afternoon sun, even on rainy days, and in the dead of night.  Like Bilbo Baggins, I wanted a great adventure, and I wanted to stay home, safe in my armchair.  I wanted to lose myself, and I wanted to preserve myself. 

Fortunately for me, I could find my way to a Unitarian Universalist church.  Oh, I know that there could be any number of places to go, but I knew the way to a UU church. 

Unitarian Universalists, you and me and the good people in Ann Arbor, are a tiny handful of the 1/3 to 1/2 people in this country whose basic assumptions about religion are liberal.  Unitarian Universalism is a church tradition, what with all these hymnals and steeples and pulpits, but we have learned to hold that more lightly.  We have evolved to be a church movement that understands that the spiritually hungry want a religion of life, itself.  A religion that comes from and inspired by life; a religion about life itself; a religion that is for the purpose of creating better lives.

The good people in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor are doing the same work as we are here.  

Which is to enact faith, which is, to use the words from Hebrews in this morning’s text, to make visible that which is unseen, to convince people that what they hope for is not only possible, but present.

Our work is to feed the spiritual hunger of religious liberals, many of whom now feed themselves with inspirational quotes, posters, facebook postings and emails they circulate among their friends. 

The work that we are doing is to make visible what they hope for.  What they hope for a way to change their lives, to form a community, and to somehow through that change the world.  

And we do it with worship, with prayer, with music, with faith development at every stage of life, and by working together in the community, and learning how to stand up for what we believe in the noisy marketplace that is our democratic society.

The good people of the Ann Arbor UU congregation are doing the same work as you are doing.  I have met the UU ministers of Southeast Michigan, and we knew each other instantly because we are doing the same work.

 We will always be together in the work that we do.

These times of parting can be emotionally difficult.  I know.  I will miss you terribly.  

But we will always be together in the work that we are doing. 

Worshipping; praying; caring for one another; building communities; witnessing to the truth of what we know.  We will be always be together in the work that we are doing.

How am I so sure?  Because Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. 

You and I may not see each other again, but I will know that you are here doing the work that holds us together. 

How do I know?  Because faith is the conviction of things unseen.  

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.

And so I end, not far from where I began....

Thank You so much for these wonderful years, they have been, so far, the best of my life.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Guns and Insurrection

The reason we need guns, we are told, is because, someday we might have to engage in armed struggle with the United States government.

The reason why we might engage in armed struggle with the United State government, we are told, is because, someday, it might try to take away our guns.

The nation is in a more dangerous place than I think we know.

The far-right is locked into a logical loop that will inevitably end in violence.

The number of people who would be moved to defend their arms caches with violence is very small.  However, they would be counting on a larger network of support: the NRA, the Tea Party, the GOP itself.

Everyone will have to take a stand on the question: are restrictions on the right to own unlimited weapons justification for armed rebellion against the government established by the Constitution?

Clarity about this question is needed to break the logical loop of the gun-extremists.  Or at least contain the damage.

Religion and Democracy

One of the UU Principles is that we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society, at large.

Is this the commitment to democracy a religious value, something ultimate, or is it a temporal secular preference?

The Bible mentions nothing about democracy or human rights.  If you adopt a 'biblical' standard for what is religious and what is not religious, democracy is not a religious value.  And indeed, people have been good Christians, exemplary Christians without ever voting, or participating in any process of self-government for thousands of years.  Some of the people who have most responded to God's call in life in the Bible were kings and queens and patriarchs and owned slaves.

Democracy, voting, human rights, equality before the law are all post-biblical concepts.  They are not mentioned in the Bible because they did not exist at the time the Bible was written and gathered.

Does that mean that they are not religious values?

Of course not.  We instinctively know that these are, in some ways, ultimate values.  If they are worth dying for, and people have died for them, and not in vain, then how could they not be ultimate values?

Religious Liberalism has long argued that religion is much bigger than the box traditionalists have put it in.  Accordingly, we see that democracy, voting, human rights are the very stuff of religion.  Our understanding of human nature and of the universal love of God logically result in concepts of democracy and self-government.

Indeed, if you look at the history of both Unitarianism and Universalism, both spring up in the early 19th century as the Republican ideology of the Revolution percolates throughout the intellectual life of the country.  Unitarianism introduces into religion concepts of liberty and conscience that the Revolution depended on.  Universalism is a Christian interpretation of the Republican ideal of the equality of citizens.  Just as there was no pre-ordained aristocracy, there will be no body of the saved, chosen by pre-ordination.  You might say that we are descended from "small-r" republican Christians.  I would say that commitments to democracy, human rights and self-government are part of the revelation of the ultimate truths that we have witnessed.  (When James Luther Adams said that "revelation is not sealed", he was arguing that certain truths continued to be revealed to particular groups of people through their encounter with their historical moment.)

Religious liberals have been following out the logic of these theological concepts throughout our history -- yes, inconsistently, but we build on the times that we understood them in the issues contemporary to the times.

So, I would argue that the principle about democracy is religious commitment, that flows from our theological history, and so, it makes demands on our present thinking.

Right now, we have a political party, the Republican Party, which is quite openly seeking to restrict the democratic process in the society at large.

  1. They enact Voter Id laws in states where they can which they know will restrict access to the ballot for people.  Republican Secretaries of State and State Legislatures have sought to restrict early voting, absentee voting with the aim of reducing voting participation. 
  2. They have gerrymandered the House districts such that they have a 7% structural advantage in House elections.  Right now, for the first time in decades, one party has a decisive majority in the House after losing the majority of votes cast for House members across the country. With the present districts, it appears that Democrats would have carry the national House votes by 7% to get a majority in Congress.
  3. They are now proposing in states where they control the legislature to award electoral college votes according to House districts, rather than on a state-wide basis, which would leverage their gerrymandered districts into Presidential elections.
  4. They have used the filibuster process to make the Senate operate on a 60 vote super majority to get anything done.
The question is not whether these tactics are illegal, or impermissible under the Constitution.  The Constitution contains biases against democracy, but the present GOP is seeking to maximize minority power through out the system. It appears that they are within the letter of the law.  

But, legality and constitutionality aside, there is no question that their purpose is to thwart the democratic process in the society at large, to which Unitarian Universalist congregations covenant to affirm and promote, on the basis of long-standing theological commitments.

I would now say that supporting the GOP in their anti-democratic efforts is inconsistent with religious liberalism.  So what if they are constitutional, or technically legal?  It doesn't really matter if one suspects that the Democrats have done, or would do, the same at other times.  In the present historical moment, the GOP is seeking to thwart and stifle democracy.  If you are a religious liberal and a Republican, what should you do about that? 

I don't think you should stop being a UU.  This is not the time to rethink your religion; it's the time to rethink your political loyalties.  

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Religion and Political Identity

I have argued (scroll down on this blog for the series of posts) that there is an inconsistency with Liberal Religion and contemporary political conservativism in the USA. People have read that as saying that I think political conservatives have no place in UU congregations.

I don't believe that and have said so, but let's look at the premise of framing the problem that way.  The premise is that one's political commitments are primary and religious commitments are secondary.  If your church does not accommodate your political views, there is something wrong with your church.

The discomfort that political conservatives feel in UU circles is evidence, therefore, of a shortcoming in Unitarian Universalism.

Politically conservative UU's could be raising hell within the Tea Party groups about their racism, their anti-gay prejudice and their active contempt for most of the poor, but they don't appear to be.  I will lend them my yellow t-shirt if they are ready to challenge hate and indifference from within.  Instead, they are voicing their discomfort at the UU church, that they feel marginalized at church.

What a small and inconsequential religion they want Unitarian Universalism to be!  To them, being a UU is less important than any other aspect of one's life.  If it is in conflict with their politics, then it must reassure them that it's OK.  Political identity comes first; it is the highest loyalty.

Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Religion is about Ultimacy, the values and commitments that are above and beyond the workaday and pragmatic.  Ultimate concerns should be the place from which we evaluate lesser concerns.

UU political diversity has not led to greater political wisdom, or better work.  Everybody does their own thing.  Liberal UU's are often hyperactive, glib, and presumptuous of the opinions of others.  They don't have to show their work.  Conservative UU's are resentful and passive aggressive.  The argument goes on and on about the place of politics in church, but never about the political implications of UU theology.

I think that our public theology has become flabby and lazy, even though it has become more vigorous and better branded.

What does it mean to "stand on the side of love"? What is "love" as a concept in public theology?

Does our faith tradition really call for us to be "above the fray", the religious expression of Sunday Morning Talk Show bi-partisanship?

As the class situation in the USA becomes 1% vs 99%,  who are we?

Why do we read the seven principles as bland and irenic platitudes, when, in fact, they are actively contested in the political sphere everyday?  What if we decided they were principles worth 'fighting' for?  What kind of conversation would that require?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Religious Liberalism and the Role of Government

Jake Morrill commented, in response to my call that politically conservative UU's "show their work:

..... I [know] good number of folks whose libertarianism connects to ultra-Protestantism through "right of conscience" AND through caring relationships sustained through personal commitments (and expressly NOT through what they see as government "coercion"). Collective action through a voluntary association is seen as the positive alternative to government intervention in curing social ills. Except for gun laws, these folks tend to be social progressives. I believe they share the same vision of the Beloved Community, but differ from my more-traditionally-liberal view of government's role in achieving that dream.
Jake says that  political conservatives argue that they are not less indifferent to the conditions of others.  They are just prefer private voluntary actions and personal charity to government programs, which are based on the coercive powers of the state.  They have the same levels of compassion, but just prefer other methods.

I think that I have stated their position accurately.  I am sure someone will help me out if I have not.

"The role of government" is not a pragmatic question: what is the best way to address the problems of people.  The dispute over the "role of government" has been the "presenting problem" of US history since the founding of the Republic.  However, religious liberals have theological commitments about the underlying systemic issues.

Without going into a long historical recap, I would say that the "role of government" question has been, since the time of the 1789 Constitution, a cover for the question of the role of African Americans in our system.  Our present constitutional regime was created by wealthy people who wanted a stronger and more stable government, but one whose powers were limited in one crucial way.  The new government would not have the power to restrict or interfere with slavery.  How to create a strong national government that was institutionally incapable of regulating slavery.  In other words, how to institutionalize governmental indifference to the conditions of the slaves.

One side saw the new government as a potentially coercive body with the power to overturn private property arrangements (slavery); the other saw it as instrument of self-government.  And the understanding of self-government has been a dynamic process, pushed forward from below, often led by African Americans and other people of color.  And at every step, the popular demand to use the instrument of self-government, the state, to meet the needs of the people have been resisted primarily by the argument over the "role of government."

Those who say that they would prefer non-governmental compassion have always had the opportunity to build those systems.  "Small government" conservatives hold overwhelming political power in many parts of the country.  You would expect those areas to be havens for the poor where collective action through voluntary association would have had little competition from the overbearing state.  If the politically conservative ideology were accurate, there would be no poverty anymore in Mississippi because a vigorous system of private charity would have ended it long ago.

No, I think that, however it works in individual lives, opposing private charity to government programs is a pretense that obscures a policy preference for indifference for those in need.

Liberal Religion has long been committed to democratic self-government as a theological good.  It's an immediate consequence of our understandings of human nature, soteriology and providence.  Human beings have innate capacity for the good, are equal in moral worth, and are creating the conditions for human life together in a world which is not pre-ordained, but responds to our efforts.

Yes, democratic self-government creates a state, and states, by definition, have coercive powers.  While there may be some strains of anarchist thought in religious liberalism, our tradition has not been in the main, anti-state.  Our beliefs have always seen coercive powers can be balanced and tempered by covenantal relationships.  On an intellectual level, it is simply inconsistent with the mainstream of liberal religious thought to give a higher priority to not working through the state over and above the improvement of the lives of people.

Further, 21st century Unitarian Universalism has committed itself to anti-racism, which ought to include   uncovering the racial history of the ideas we hold.  That is the work that we have done with the Doctrine of Discovery.  While it may be that many Unitarian Universalists are loyal to ideas of libertarianism, we should be aware that the intellectual origins of many of those 'libertarian' ideas are the justifications put forward throughout US history for oppressive social relations.

And again, because apparently this disclaimer cannot be made often enough: to criticize a political and/or theological position is not to want to exclude people who hold that position.  It is an invitation to think more deeply.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Inclusivity is Not the Issue

RaisingFaith1 tweets a link to a UU World article from GA 2012.  The article was from a well-attended workshop "focusing on the viewpoints of politically conservative and moderate UU's."

As is the usual case, the reporter (Sonja L. Cohen) posed the problem as one of inclusion vs exclusion.  Politically conservative UU's see themselves as "isolated and rejected their overwhelmingly liberal" faith community.

One of the features of political conservativism these days is its sense of victimization, which extends from its sense that there is a "war on Christmas" to the stockpiling of military grade weapons for an anticipated armed resistance to the tyranny of the United States government.  Everywhere, liberals oppress conservatives.

None of this is true, in actual fact.  What political conservatives view as oppression is the presence of liberals who fail to acknowledge conservativism's hegemony.

Most UU congregations are composed of political liberals.  There is a reason for this: the theological, anthropoligical, and philosophical viewpoints that make up religious liberalism lead to political liberalism when applied to this culture and society.   For example, our universalist understanding of humanity, which is expressed in the first principle (the inherent worth and dignity of every person), has led to a forthright stand in favor the rights of GLBTQ people.  As marriage equality crystallized as the national issue, political liberals have supported it.  Political conservatives, and their party, exploit anti-gay fear and bigotry for partisan advantage.

Everybody knows this, but it makes political conservative UU's feel isolated and rejected if somebody at church says it out loud.

What was missing from the Cohen article in the UU World are politically conservative UU's making the argument that the content of religious liberalism expresses itself with integrity as political conservativism, with all of its causes and loyalties, in the United States of today.

I am asking that conservative UU's "show their work."  How did they get from liberal religion to political conservativism?  

I'll be blunt.  I don't think that they can.  I think that there are two separate compartments in their minds -- the religious and the political.  They don't leak into each other.  It's easy to be loyal to both.  But there is this discomfort.  I am saying that that discomfort will not go away easily.  It's a spiritual dilemma for them.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Why It Matters?

Why does it matter if political conservativism fits with religious liberalism at this point in time?

Why can't religious liberalism, and Unitarian Universalism, continue to aspire to great political diversity?

Why am I playing with fire?

Because religious liberalism has a content; it is not just a method.

Because religious liberalism is not just the least demanding mainline Protestant church -- the one you go to if you don't want to have to recite the Nicene Creed in worship.

Religious liberals share certain assumptions about the nature of reality (naturalism), human nature (universalism), human purpose (humanism) and the social good (individualism in community, human development.)

Today's political conservatives, to me, do not share those values.  And I think that political conservatives who consider themselves to be religious liberals are on the horns of a spiritual dilemma.  I hope that this is a time for deep reflection in their lives, and I hope that UU churches are the place where they can do that work.

Every person will, at points in their life, face dilemmas when their loyalties and commitments reveal themselves to be in conflict, and 'A free and responsible search for truth and meaning' is called for.

The fastest growing category of religious affiliation today is "Nones" -- people without religious affiliation at all.  Many of those people make the same assumptions about the nature of religion and reality as religious liberals.  Yet, they do not find the institutions of religious liberalism to be useful to them.

Why should those institutions matter if they themselves say that religion has no social, political or economic implications?  If Liberal Religion is neutral about the increasing income inequality, what does it care about?  If Liberal Religion can be held by those who think climate change is a hoax, and those who think it a grave danger, what does that say about its grasp on reality?  If your church is irrelevant to how you vote, then what is it relevant to?

People have suggested that I am trying to promote a monolithic political view within Unitarian Universalism.  Far from it.  We are at the other end of the extreme.  While it is true that many more UU's are politically liberal, very little theological reflection about social, political and economic issues actually goes on.  What is unsaid is unexamined.  If people think that UU thinking about social issues is shallow, then the solution is more thinking, and more critical thinking, not less.

"Tough Love as Social Policy"

Christine Robinson comments on a previous post:

... conservatives believe that it is better for people to leave them free to manage themselves and that if they realize they have to, they will rise to the challenge. They would call this tough love. 

The first question that I have is whether the social and economic policies of today's political conservatives can be accurately called "tough love."  In what way are they motivated by affection, concern, desire to nurture, anything of the attributes we associate with love?  I think that there is a whole lot more "toughness" than "love." The language of love is a thin candy coating on policies that are indifferent to their results.

Love, whether "Tough" or not, includes a longterm commitment to the well-being of the person who is loved.  Where is that shown in present political conservatism?  If welfare reform was "tough love" for the poor, wouldn't political conservatives be the most interested in the conditions of those who couldn't find a job after being tossed off public assistance?

"Tough Love" advocates like to compare themselves to the parents who push their kids into the deep end of the pool.  Yes, some kids find that they can swim.  But no loving parent walks away and lets the others actually drown.

Political conservatives can justify their indifference with all the talk of "tough love" they want.  Whatever lets them sleep at night.

My question is this: How is that thinking even remotely consistent with the values of religious liberalism?

At the core, "tough love" conservativism is based on a theory of human nature that assumes that some other portion of humanity is significantly different than we are.  They are lazy, indolent and flawed.  While we respond to encouragement, nurture and assistance by growing, they respond to the same conditions by stagnating and resting.

The belief that humanity is divided into two different kinds of people with two opposing types of human nature is at odds with the religiously liberal spirit.

The belief that people respond better to threats and deprivations rather than encouragement and nurture is also at odds with the religiously liberal spirit.

People who are loyal to the politically conservative ideology and consider themselves religious liberals need to think this through carefully, because something doesn't add up here.