That old misconception

The last question posed to UUA Moderator candidates (Tamara Payne-Alex and Jim Key) was a familiar one.  In essence, "what can you do to make sure that those of us who are right of center still feel welcome in UU congregatios?"  (A paraphrase from memory.)

And the candidates answered in the old familiar way: "Yes, maintaining the political diversity of our congregations is very, very important."  I think Jim Key even went so far as to say that religion and politics are separate things.

They are not; they never were.

If the things that we religious liberals care about most deeply were held equally by both political parties, we could continue to act as though belonging to either party was just a personal preference that didn't much matter. But that is not true, and we know it.

What religious liberals value and what contemporary political conservatism values are so in conflict that it is hard to be both.

After all, these are the views of political conservatives these days:

  • US Muslims are a potential national security threat
  • People of color have been given too much and are now privileged over whites
  • public safety will be enhanced if everybody is armed with a concealed weapon
  • income and wealth inequality is not a problem
  • voting is too easy
  • too many people have too much health insurance
  • climate change is hoax
  • drill, baby, drill should be our energy policy
  • women want abortions to escape the consequences of their sexual misconduct
  • social security is too generous
  • the minimum wage is too high
  • the wealthy don't have enough money; the poor have too much.
People with these views will be, I predict, uncomfortable in most Unitarian Universalist congregations.   They will find that their views are not affirmed, or given equal time in the sermon.  They will hear jokes dismissing these views in informal circumstances.  And they will find congregational commitments to interfaith cooperation, anti-racism, economic justice, democracy, and to resist climate change as turning the church into a "Sunday morning meeting of the Democrat Party."  It will not make them feel comfortable. 

The only way that the church can make them comfortable is to not talk about these issues at all.  Or talk to them in such an even-handed, neutral, middle of the road, PBS NewsHour manner that people who actually care about those issues will see it as lukewarm dishwater.  We will look like, because we will be, people whose commitment is inauthentic, out of fear of offending someone.

So the work of the church would become exploring privatized spirituality or feel good small group community building, making this small group perfectly comfortable with each other.  

As in every period of history, the living tradition of liberal religion finds itself in a political situation that it did not create or choose. None of this is our doing.  The political parties in the US have become ideological, representing two opposing understandings of the world.  We didn't do that.  More and more issues are becoming partisan issues, because the parties see them as part of the ideological differences between them.  The liberal church did not make that happen.  Extreme conservatives took over the Republican Party.  Not our work.  The liberal Republicans which used to be common in our congregations are being pushed out of the GOP.  That's the way it is.  Is it our mission to make Liberal Republicans feel welcome in our churches when they don't feel safe in the Republican Party? 

I don't know how this will all turn out.  Please don't reduce what I am saying to "Tom thinks we should kick out Republicans"  Think with me about this.  The old familiar platitudes about non-partisanship, and "Spiritual, But Not Political" are out of touch with current reality.  We are not going to be able to make everyone of all political views comfortable in our congregations.  

And it is depressing to see the candidates for UUA Moderator not address this.


  1. Thanks Tom. Well said. It's gotten more and more difficult for people who actually know and adhere to UU principles and covenants to also embrace those of authoritarian and socially irresponsible politics. And it's not that "we've" changed so much, but that conservatism has been so abruptly realigned and radicalized.

  2. This is a powerful argument for keeping straw men out of our churches, and a great formula for hardening hearts by demonizing anyone you disagree with, but to me it's a violation of our democratic principles... you want to cut off all debate by saying that any position you don't like is against our principles and create caricatures to prove it. I'm glad the candidates for UUA Moderator have chosen not to participate in this.

  3. A reader self-named UUClicker posted the following comment. (I mistakenly deleted it rather than posting it.)

    I would hope Unitarian Universalism is a religion not a rally for liberals. Should the Unitarians of 100 years ago who saw the human rights violations of the eugenics policies of the day have been excluded from their churches? Politics masquerading as religion is incredibly self righteous and dangerous.

  4. Anonymous7:54 PM

    I am a moderate and my beliefs do not mirror your list. I think you are mischaracterizing the Republican party. The tent is broader than that.

  5. Rev. Scott Gerard Prinster1:11 PM

    I think that we would do well to move beyond party labels and discuss the actual content of people's political views. Is there room in liberal religion for social or fiscal conservatives? Sometimes, probably more than we typically think. If UUism intends to speak meaningfully to the nation's experience of growing political polarization, though, we need to be able to speak about it within our own ranks.

  6. I believe that nearly all folks who consider themselves conservative or "on the right" believe at least one of the things on your list, but most do not believe all, or even most of them. Those who seek out our congregations deserve for us to engage with them and seek our places of agreement rather than immediately pointing out why they do not "fit". It is by engaging in that hard conversation that we all grow and learn!


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