First Response to "Normalized a Vision of a Nation at War."

The premise of the Ian White Maher's essay is our internal focus. When I say, "internal focus" what I mean is the assumption that what matters to Unitarian Universalism is how each of us responds to each other: how each of us experience our work together.

The hook of the essay is Ian's response to the 2014 Service of the Living Tradition. The tension in the piece is between the strength of his antiwar commentary and the honor and dignity of the UU ministers who serve as military chaplains.

As I read it, I held my breath, fearing that somewhere Ian would go over some undefined line and devalue our colleagues' ministries and work. And you can see his earnest effort to avoid that, as well.

Is that what is most important now?

Part of why we are happy to honor our military chaplains is because having them shows that we are recovering from an earlier period of class-based moralistic judgment. It seemed that for many years, we thought, "People like us don't do things like that." We are pleased that we seem to be becoming people who do.

And then along comes Rev. Maher. The question raise make us ask, "Are we managing this transition well?" and  "Is he just being resistant to change?"

That's how all of this looks inside the "internal" frame.

But look instead at the whole subject with an external lens.

Yes, we have military chaplains, who do their work.

What's going on though, out there, independent of the Unitarian Universalist Association, is that the US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan appears to have stalled, because of the perceived threat of ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State. The US is sending more troops back in, rather than pulling them out.

What do we think? What do you think?

People, both within and beyond our congregations, look to us (of course, among others) for a signal as to what is important about question like this. It is not clear-cut.

We bring our history and tradition to it. We have been mostly anti-war since Vietnam; we have lineage of more conscious pacifists as well, as well as pro-military folks. Now, there is a more highly developed anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism worldview that some bring to bear. It is the latter that Ian represents.

So what guidance can we offer? Out of our mixed and contested history, what wisdom do we have to share? How is our tradition alive now?

An external focus makes us think about what message we are sending to the people out there.


  1. I think that Ian's response to Rebakah Montgomery missed the point. My sense is that the congregation's positive response to Rev. Montgomery's sermon reflected the fact that most in attendance had not recently been to Iraq/Afghanistan nor had immediate relatives who had been, and were respectful of someone who'd faced those dangers. And, the story she shared about being described as a "mullah", had a certain cross-cultural humor to it.

    Regarding the roles of Unitarians in combat, I think that we, as a denomination, miss the point when we obsess over fine moral distinctions over the purview of UU chaplains. In my mind the proper role of Unitarians is to be a in place where they can be of influence on future policy or provides support to those impacted by existing policy. That role likely includes being on the battlefield. None of the soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan or Iraq had a decisive say in the policies that put them there. But having a chaplain among them who questions current policy may have impact among those soldiers, some of whom would be in a position to have a say in making policy 20 years hence.


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