Some Ideas that Are Past their Expiration Date
Political Practice and Spirituality are two separate spheres.
The liberal critique of orthodoxy was that it valued creeds over deeds. We countered with "deeds, not creeds." Somehow, that turned into a creed itself: a belief that liberal religion had no particular political or social implications. Nice thought, but untrue. Our spirituality is expressed in what we do, how we act, who we see as friends and allies, and who we see as adversaries. Our spirituality is embodied; we are people living in bodies, in a particular time and place, among other people. Our spirituality is how we deal with those people, just as much as how we relate to flowers, plants, stars, the invisible and the infinite.
The imbalance in Unitarian Universalism is that we are too political.
Not quite true. The imbalance is that our political thought is not spiritual enough. We have not thought through the political implications of the basic tenets of liberal religion, so our commitment to political causes often seems to be shaped by party loyalties, or by the attractiveness of social movements. We are in a self-perpetuating cycle in which our ministers and theologians are inhibited from thinking and speaking deeply about social issues. Our public theology often takes the Seven Principles as the authoritative and normative texts; but they are only summary statements of a much longer and richer liberal theological tradition. We need more theological reflection on the social situation and our social practices, not less political engagement.
The political polarization in America is a problem that Unitarian Universalism is called to try to bridge, or overcome, or ameliorate.
The present political polarization is the result of long-standing conflicts coming to the surface, sharpening and intensifying. The reason why political conflict is so heated now is because these issues are approaching a resolution. The majority of the population want a society governed by principles that reflect the basic assumptions of liberal religion. There is tremendous resistance to this by a coalition of forces that do not respect the worth and dignity of all people, who do not favor equity and justice, who are empowered by undemocratic practices, who are willfully blind to the effects of our economy on the planet. The political polarization of the country is uncomfortable, but it is a good thing, because basic issues, our issues, are on the table. This is the moment when we need to be bold and brave and engaged.
The separation of church and state, and our tax-exempt status, prevent us from political engagement.
The separation of church and state protects us from the government; it should not inhibit our political and social activity. And we should recognize that our tax-exempt status is a financial bribe to keep religiously-motivated people from acting together in the public square. We may have to abide by it, tactically, but we should not internalize it as a moral value. Isn't it telling that a corporation has the right to instruct its employees how to vote and to donate corporate money to candidates, but a church cannot endorse a candidate as being expressive of its mission?
UU churches should be a space of civil dialogue where people who disagree about political issues find common ground.
Who are our dialogue partners? If we choose to engage the largely middle-class, white, political conservatives in dialogue, we will shape the results. We should remember our experience with the Welcoming Congregation programs: gay and lesbian people should not be expected to engage in continuous debates about their right to exist with people who do not respect them. The terms of such discussion had the impact of excluding them, even though the invitation may say otherwise. Apply that lesson to current issues: who would be excluded, in practice, from a discussion in which we seek the common ground with those who believe that there ought to be no minimum wage and that unemployment is caused by laziness? The very terms of the discussion are so disrespectful of the working poor that none would want to be in that dialogue. Better to have dialogue with the working poor over the conditions of their lives, than to prioritize making peace with a handful of Libertarian ideologues.
UU Republicans are uncomfortable in our congregations because UU's are intolerant of opinions with which they don't agree.
Yes, UU Republicans are often uncomfortable in our congregations. They are a minority and the majority is not reticent about expressing their views. Yes, there are some rude people among us, just like in society in general. Almost everybody has had the experience of being on the receiving end of someone's insensitivity or insulting assumptions in a UU coffee hour. But the discomfort that arises from grasping that most of your co-religionists have a different view of a political or social issue is a moment that Dr. King called a "creative tension." If some UU's find a contradiction between their political loyalties and the demands of their religion (particularly as their covenant partners have understood it), it is their problem to work out. May they grow spiritually from it.