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Showing posts from January, 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 r…

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 st…

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 democra…

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 w…

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 usu…

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, …

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 Prot…

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.....

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 t…

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 !

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 t…

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 salv…

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 impor…

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 pe…

"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 liv…

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 th…

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 chall…

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 th…

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 l…

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…

"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…