Too Political and Not Spiritual Enough

Clyde comments on the last post:
When we [were] new to the ministry some said we were too political and not "spiritual enough."
I am not sure each of the "we"s were that Clyde is talking to, but I read the first one as Clyde himself, and maybe me, (although I came in later than Clyde) and the second one as all of us in the UU movement.

But I am sure that he would be correct in including me, Tom, in the "some said".  

I was one of those who was convinced that the UU's were terribly weakened by too much political activism. Not enough spirituality. Too much anger. Too much blaming "the other" for everything that was wrong with the world. All because we had no theology of evil that recognized that it existed in us, as well as others. All because we had no faith, except faith in our own works. 

I also thought all the indignation and earnestness so tiring, and embarrassing, and hopeless. and kind of pathetic. I had been that person and I didn't want to do that anymore.

Obviously, I am not in the same place, anymore.

What happened is that I woke up to the social history of my own life. I made the connection between what was happening in my life and larger social and political movements.

I thought that my lack of interest in political/social causes grew out of my own experiences and my growing theological sophistication. I did not name it, though, as part of a general neutralization of progressives in the United States. The demobilization of reform forces is the historical context in which we have to look at UU history since 1961.

It is a huge and complicated story, as multi-faceted as all of historical reality.  One aspect of it was that within liberal religion, "spirituality" was separated from "public theology" over the last 40 years.  Both have been trivialized as a result.  The "spirituality" that was left had no soteriology, nor eschatology, as one of my twitter followers pointed out. Soteriology and eschatology is how theology deals with history and hope.

Re-connecting spirituality with public theology is the work before us.


  1. Clyde Grubbs11:35 AM

    "We Unitarian Universalist were too political."

    It was opinioned in the last decade of the twentieth century, when I was still new to ministry. I think that estimate saw the something but misread what was being seen.

    Gandhi pointed out "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is." In the 1990s many of us still believed in the myth of secularity, that religion and politics could be, and ought to be separate. But today more and more UUs are accepting the ideas of those say secularism was a construction, that "religious ideation" permeates politics, shapes the political conversation, and informs the values of the political debate.

    To articulate a public theology we must look at who we are as a faith community. Were we "too political?" I think not. But I think you (Tom) are on the right track. We did not have a theology of public engagement, our "politics" of two decades ago was more expressive than effective, more do goodism than engaged. And we have not fully turned around with those expressions of middle strata moralism.
    Gandhi would have us have a better religion so that we might have a better politics, and a better politics so that we might have a better religion.

  2. Clyde Grubbs12:24 PM

    At some point in the development of a post secualar yet engaged theology of pubic engagment, we need to look at evil in the world. But we also need to look at sin, sinning and being sinners.

    Can we think about evil without thinking about responsibility, about sins of commission. But for us, we someday we need to work on sins of omission as well.

    And for that we need sustaining community, sustaining vision and sustaining love.

  3. Here's an alternative theory for both of you, which comes from my own research and experience in the UUA since 1969: part of the flight came from an intersection of ticked-off rationalists and ticked-off Christian UUs. How well I remember my father complaining incessantly about the political passions replacing the rational sort of social analysis that had united Christians and humanists from the Social Gospel until the Civil Rights movement took wing. What he described, of course, was the era of UUs who would choose discussions about heaven over a chance to actually go there.

    I often blame an emphasis on politics for the weakness of the UUA, but we seem to be in a new era of that process. I hate Standing on the Side of Love for demonizing certain political actors and positions, rather than working to rebuild local structures for dialogue among neighbors of differing views. In that sense, I would say that the ideological apartheid which is taking over our country is part of the problem. I might wind up on the same side of an issue as my minister or my congregation, but how will I be treated if I wish to open a more nuanced dialogue that values the variety of perspectives and arguments above the visible, legislated outcome.


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