An Easy Fifth Principle Application
The fifth Principle that our UU congregations covenant to affirm says this:
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
That would include, I believe, two things: a return to majority rule in procedures of the US Senate and making it possible for legislation supported by a majority of US House members to get a vote on the floor. After all, "democratic process" includes majority rule. Right now, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which managed to get a 60 vote supermajority to get through the Senate, cannot get a vote in the House even though a majority would be vote for it. It is only one of many pieces of legislation supported by a majority in both houses which has not only been 'slowed down for deeper consideration', but stopped outright by a minority.
Ed Kilgore, at the Political Animal blog at the Washington Monthly website, makes the point yesterday that the 'partisan gridlock' in Washington is the result of undemocratic procedures in both Houses of Congress. Minorities have the power to stop the process, and then make demands for concessions, which thwarts the will of the majority. Both of these obstacles (the filibuster and the so-called Hastert rule, which derives from House Rules which now give the Speaker the sole power to determine what gets a vote) are not in the Constitution.
This raises a point about UU public theology and preaching, and the way that we understand the implications of our theological commitments for the events of the day.
I suspect that many a UU minister has preached a sermon over the last few years which decried the political polarization in Washington and in the general political order. And I suspect that most of those sermons identified the cause of that polarization in a set of personal shortcomings in the population at large: we need to listen more to each other; we need to have more compassion for each other's experience that lead to our political positioning; we need to learn better conflict resolution skills; we need to stop to listening to advocacy news sources; we need to see how we are all implicated in this behavior. Oh, for the days of bi-partisanship and sensible centrism.
I suspect that most of those sermons were considered acceptable UU sermons; after all, they would offend no one in the pews.
But I doubt that many sermons straightforwardly called for majority rule and democratic processes in our national legislature, a position which is the clear implication of the phrase "in the society at large" of the fifth principle. But such a sermon would coincide with the political interests of the Democrats in Washington right now, and that would make it offensive to politically conservative minority in our congregations.
As I inquire into the state of UU public theology, I become aware that different congregations have different standards, and those standards are different than for the resolutions that GA passes. In some congregations, straight forward advocacy on political issues is acceptable, and even expected. A GA resolution can advocate explicitly, as well. In our larger congregations however, I suspect that more caution reigns.
Either we take our agreements to affirm certain principles seriously, or we don't. I think we need a serious debate among UU's on the state of democratic governance in the United States today, and what role liberal religion, and the Unitarian Universalist movement, should play in its defense and revival.