Monday, September 19, 2005

Yes, I meant it about the religious wing of the Democratic party

Peacebang replied and people got interested again. Sorry this is appearing on the RSS feed over and over. If I knew how to get around that, I would.

CC



The first time I went to a UU church, I was asked to sign a petition against the death penalty.

At the time, I thought it was sort of cute and the little old lady who handed to me seemed delighted at my good liberalness. It would be several years before I would decide I had a policy against signing any petition pushed at me during coffee hour. Took longer than that to decide that I am not voiting for any church committee giving church money to a group lobbying for a political issue.

I’m sure I liked the first political sermon I heard.

Clyde Grubbs makes sure to get in a little dig about how I haven’t been a UU all that terribly long. True enough. It’s only been five years.

But guess what?

Even after five years, I’m just tired of it. The emails from my denomination telling me where to rally against Bush’s court nominees, petition after petition, hearing about the evils of the Republicans in discussion groups, during joys and concerns and from the pulpit.

I like a good sermon about values, the sort of values our politics are based in. But I’m sorry, when I come to church and find that the sermon is a skit about the Patriot Act written by people who either don’t understand it or willfully lie about what exactly it says, I am, to use Peacebang’s phrase, coming for bread and being fed stones.

Maybe it’s because I’ve only been here for five years that I can still tell the difference,

CC

65 comments:

contribUUtor said...

As you noted you were handed a petition the very first time you showed up at a UU service. I think Clyde's point (or one of them at least) was that it is less likely that Unitarian Universalism is changing significantly in direction, and more likely that your tolerance or perception is changing. Like you said, after five years you are tired of it.

It's like in a relationship when a persons quirks are initially thought of as cute, but once you are out of the honeymoon period they become darn annoying. And this isn't meant as a jab, I have only been a UU slightly longer. So my honeymoon period ended not to long ago.

Chalicechick said...

Oh, I don't question that UUism always meandered this direction. I just feel that Sinkford is taking us full-tilt that way and had been doing it more and more.

And did Beuhrens really speak for us politically quite so much? I mean, I got the perception that UUs in general were politically active under Beuhrens, but never had the perception that the man himself needed to speak for the denomination on political issues quite so constantly. (I mean, come on, commenting on specific judicial nominees?)

CC

Jeff Wilson said...

My impression is that Sinkford speaks more frequently and more specifically about political matters than Buehrens did--I've had this impression for some time now. You'd have to do an archival study to determine if this impression is accurate. Perhaps part of it is that there have been changes in the UUA's level of sophistication of use of new communication methods, such as mass email, which has allowed Sinkford to more regularly put his views out there to UUs and the public at large. I.e., it may not simply be that Sinkford wishes to speak up more often, but that he is enabled to do so by opportunities Buehrens didn't have.

I ignore most messages from the UUA. As a UU, I don't consider them to speak for me in all cases. Rather, I expect them to speak when they feel moved to, and I feel invited to add my voice of support for their positions (or opposition, occasionally) if the spirit moves me. Because it seems to me the frequency of UUA statements has increased, my interest level has declined proportionately. When I do read UUA statements, they tend to align with my own thinking on political matters, though hardly universally.

I should say that I have a relatively de-centralized conception of what UUism is. There are UUs who feel that one is only a UU by virtue of belonging to a specific UU church, and that such churches must by definition belong to the UUA. That is not my opinion. I feel that a UU is someone who agrees with basic UU religious values and identifies with the historical UU tradition in some meaningful way. Such people may not necessarily belong to UU churches--after all, there are huge geographic ranges in the USA without nearby UU churches to attend. I don't cease to be a UU if I move to a remote part of Wyoming.

Those with a church affiliation model of UUness tend to see the UUA as our natural leader and UUA statements as partially definitive of our denominational viewpoints, if not actually prescriptive. Those with an individualistic faith/historical perspective such as myself, on the other hand, tend to view the UUA as a bureacracy that handles denominational affairs and acts as one, but hardly as a binding or the only, voice of moral authority for UUs. Thus it is relatively easy for me to ignore statements by the UUA, the UUA Washington Office, etc. Perhaps they don't irk me as much because I such statements as something these groups do, not something that has any power over me. I am not, after all, a member of the UUA--only UU churches are. I am far more concerned when my local church takes a position I disagree with than when the UUA does.

Unitarianism has become more centralized over its approximately 200 history in the USA, but the individualistic model is the historically older one and has remained a strong current within UU thinking.

UUpdater said...

Not sure if it was "quite so much" but I do remember Beuhrens making statements about gay marriage, the Boy Scouts of America, etc. and in general having political statements.

And I would agree that communications are way more effective now. I have no doubt there was stuff Beuhrens said that I never heard about.

I wonder if at this point in history are UUs more or less involved in politics than during the Civil Rights movement? How does Sinkford compare to others going even further back?

UUpdater said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
UUpdater said...

Ok, so it's not a Judicial nominee, but it is a protest over nomination:

http://www.uua.org/news/ashcroft/letter010901.html

Clyde Grubbs said...

I apologize CC. I didn't intend the new UU thing is a dig, rather I intended it to indicate perspective.

I would nominate Schulz as the most outspoken "political" UU president. What Presidents before Buehrens did was speak a lot on issues which we hadn't taken any position, sometimes that is good, sometimes that was divisive. Buehrens and Sinkford have been very careful to speak on questions which the Association has taken a position. They see their role as speaking for the Association, rather than for themselves.

What Sinkford has increased, (and thus becoming more annoying for CC) has been publicity. I think Buehrens and Shultz would have thought they had died and gone to heaven to get the press that Sinkford does. I don't think that is charisma so much as good publicists on staff.

It was the ministers and the congregational leaders who wanted better publicity. We get visitors to our churches because of the greater visibility of the Association (I know because I ask the visitors.)

TheCSO said...

I do not like being spoken for on political matters, especially when I frequently disagree with the positions taken. And that is exactly what the UUA, and especially the Washington Office, does.

This is why, although I consider myself a UU, I will not join any UUA member congregation. I will NOT be spoken for politically.

I would be much closer to OK with this level of political activism if they had a big "This is the opinion of the UUA and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any given UUA congregation, nor the opinions of their members." disclaimer on every one. But they don't. They very clearly imply that UUs in general have their political positions.

A counterexample for me is the ACLU. I'm a member, but I don't feel spoken for when they take a position. They're much more careful to say that THE ACLU takes a given position, not that "Our members believe.."

UUpdater said...

TheCSO - I am sorry to hear that being spoken for would keep you from membership, but I for one am glad the UUA and Washington office do not express their opinions with (what I consider) unnecessary disclaimers. Perhaps this comes naturally to me having grown up Catholic and realizing that I was not in 100% agreement with the Pope (in fact most Catholics don't share 100% opinion with the Pope on all matters). I think announcements with such disclaimers sound like the fodder for Monty Python sketches "we the members of the blah blah, have resolved by a majority vote to confirm and uphold such and such position with notable dissention coming from.....". More importantly I have seen organizations grind to a halt because of lone dissenters. If the UUA, etc. waited for consensus nothing would ever be said.

Personally I would much rather have the UUA give a clear and concise message, even if I disagreed with it. I would also hate to see the UUA or others wait and take an opinion poll before taking stances. Sometimes it is important to get a message out quickly.

Anonymous said...

I, too, would not mind seeing the UUA giving a clear message, even if I disagreed with it... but it is not "The UUA" who makes these pronouncements. It is a few officials speaking Ex Cathedra. The daily letters to our Senators and Congressmen are not the will of the members of the UUA- they are the opinions of a handful who then, without ever consulting even a single congregation, speak on our behalf.

Despite our claimed dedication to the democratic process, there has never been any attempt to see if the attendees of the GAs are actually speaking for their home congregations, or if they are cranks who just happened to have the time and money to attend. Never once has there ever been a referendum of the membership at large to see if we agree with the votes of the GA, let alone the pronouncements to Congress from Boston! Such a thing would be easy enough to do; they have the names and addresses of every member- at least MY copy of UU World arrives alright- and such a vote of confidence would lend tremendous power to those letters. But it has never happened, and I don't expect it ever will.

Joel Monka

Shawn said...

Clyde, you wrote: "Recently I read a relatively new Unitarian Universalist argue that UUA President Bill Sinkford is trying to turn Unitarian Universalism into the religious wing of the Democratic Party."

Clyde I am surprise you said this, given all you and I have been through (read: argued) in our dialogue.

Now, for the sake of the spirit of unity, we all acknowledge that you are a terribly old fart; we all celebrate your old fartness; your old fart-like UU seniority is embraced. Now, could you plllllease embrace our embrace of your old-fart UUism? And spare of "young tarts" the constant reminders?

SC Universalist said...

Hmm, speaking as an UU for over 20 years (gotta get my semi-bonfides out, right?)

my current UU congregation is 50% Republican, 20% Green, and 30% Democrat -- the Republicans and Greens I know for a fact - the Democrats Im not 100% sure of ---

I note again, we are an association - not a denomination, unlike the pope, no one speaks for all of us (( and I chortle at somebody thinking they can --- the committee meeting would last for enternity!)

Clyde Grubbs said...

Shawn,

There are UUs who are chronologically old, and who are still new to Unitarian Universalism. Their age does not give them perspective on UU Presidents.

And there are folks who are still young adults who remember the Presidency of Gene Picket and Bill Schultz. Judging Sinkford's direction requires perspective.

Steve Caldwell said...

Joel wrote:
"Despite our claimed dedication to the democratic process, there has never been any attempt to see if the attendees of the GAs are actually speaking for their home congregations, or if they are cranks who just happened to have the time and money to attend."

Joel ... you're most certainly correct that the decision process behind most congregational GA delegate selections isn't perfect.

Generally, the delegates who are selected are those who are interested and who can afford to travel. Those who are poor have a harder time traveling to GA and participating in the democratic process.

I've only attended GA once (Ft. Worth, 2005) because this was the only time it was within driving distance of my home in recent years.

Our congregation's three delegates were selected by our board - our congregational president and two laypersons who were active in congregational life.

I was selected to be a GA delegate even though I suggested that delegate credentials should go to elected board members and not just a "crank" who is interested in UUA business.

However, our elected board selected me as a delegate because there was a open slot and no one else wanted to be responsible for attending the long hours of plenary sessions at GA.

However, the suggestion that congregations are sending "cranks" who don't represent the views of the their congregations has a easy fix.

Traveling to GA doesn't make someone a GA delegate. They also need congregational president or minister endorsement on the GA credential paperwork.

Perhaps all it takes is congregations being mindful of who they select to speak and vote on their behalf? Just convince congregations to stop giving their credentials to so many "cranks."

Kim said...

I've been a Unitarian for over 50 years.
I like that Sinkford is speaking out.

Clyde Grubbs said...

Steve,

I have been to so many GAs they all blend together in blur. I never met a crank. They must hide from me.

I see dedicated UUs trying to do their best for the Association.

The congregationsI have served (with one exception) have elected their delegates, and paid at least the registration fee and part of the costs. The exception was a Canadian congregation that put its money into the Canadian meeting.

JD said...

Do you really think that the UUs are a church? Or a political debating society that meets in a church?

I suspect the latter.

SC Universalist said...

JD, I certainly cant speak for YOUR UU congregation, but mine is definately a church (well a "congregation" is what we picked instead of church or fellowship).

Steven R

contribUUtor said...

Joel - I think the UUA does what it can in regards to democratic process. They give the voting authority to the member congregations, who in turn determine who gets the vote. These members can either be well informed and attentive to the congregation they represent, or they can be the only one going that just wants to express their personal views. With congregational polity each congregation decides how to handle GA votes. So ultimatly fair and accurate representation is the responsibility of the congregation boards, not the UUA.

Of course if the UUA developed a plan to ensure good representation I don't think anyone would mind. Oh wait, we are UUs, of course some people complain.

Steve Caldwell said...

Clyde Grubbs wrote:
-snip-
"I have been to so many GAs they all blend together in blur. I never met a crank. They must hide from me."

Clyde,

My apologies ... I was using "crank" in quotes in my reply to Joel who had used the word in his reply. I put the words quotes because it was easier than writing "so-called crank" when responding to his concerns about GA delegate selection process.

Personally, I think we should be thankful for the volunteers from our congregations who are willing to sit through hours of plenary sessions at GA, listening and participating in debate, representing their congregations, and deciding our Association's priorities through an imperfect yet open and democratic process.

Joel Monka said...

"Of course if the UUA developed a plan to ensure good representation I don't think anyone would mind. Oh wait, we are UUs, of course some people complain." Very true! :) To the others, I didn't mean that everyone who attends a GA is a crank- but it's also true that in any organization the extremists are the ones with the dedication to spend their time and money on assemblies or conventions- that is why the Republican leadership is to the right of the Republican electorate, and the Democratic leadership to the left of it. That's why they have primary elections, to moderate that tendency. The UUA has no such check or balance.

While this makes no difference in how a specific congregation is run, it does have an effect on those letters constantly being sent out in our name. When Sinkford says "nearly all UUs believe", or "on behalf of the more than 1,000 congregations" without having taken a vote, he is speaking beyond his authority, in my opinion. The fact the WE know this is not the issue- those letters are being sent to political and social leaders who do not know that he does not speak for all of us, unless they are much better informed than most about UUA. When the Washington lobby office sends a letter to my Congresswoman telling her what I believe, without any disclaimers, she believes that she has heard from me- that position has just been given my endorsement behind my back.

This wouldn't matter all that much to me if the church leadership were making these statements on strictly moral and religious issues- but most of the time these are strictly political positions made religious by defining them in terms of the PPs, which weren't supposed to have been a creed in the first place.

PeaceBang said...

CC, I'd love to claim the "bread and stones" thing for myself but it was Mr. Jesus of the Christ family who said it.

My concern here is around HOW and WHAT we worship. How does such a pageant --which might make for an interesting program -- minister to anyone or create a sense of worship?

How does a play about the Patriot Act belong in the sanctuary on the Sabbath Day? In the words of my ancestors, "oy vey."

SC Universalist said...

looking again at the petition against the death penalty: The Universalist Church was officialy against the death penalty starting in 1836 - seeing it as a "failure of faith in God's ability to renew, regenerate, reform even the most reprobate characther." folks like Rush and Winchester were against the death penalty even earlier....but not the Universalist denomination as a denomination.


Ive been to many UU churches - and never had a petition thrust at me -- not doubting that it happens, as I have been to churches where I was given in the bulletin, "focus on the family" material - which basicaly asked me to let my elected representives know my views on the shocking things that they told me were destroying the American family - and its a small step from there, to having a petition thrust at me.

fausto said...

I've said it before elsewhere and I'll say it again here: I think the UUA Washington Office's mission is pointless and foolish. Not only is it fundamentally dishonest to presume to witness to Washington about the "position of the UUA" on myriads of issues where the congregations of the UUA have not, in fact, formally endorsed a collective position; from a pragmatic point of view it is also ineffective because, let's be blunt, nobody else listens to them other than ourselves.

I think the mission of the UUAWO should be turned around. Rather than being maintained as a dishonest and ineffective lobbying office speaking to Washington, it should be redefined as a ministry to the congregations and charged with reporting back to us on those public issues that carry a moral dimension that is not being explored in the mainstream press. Moreover, rather than advocating only one side of any particular proposition, it should explore and explain both sides and give us some guidance as to how to make moral sense of the debate and reach our own personal conclusions.

If we are sincere when we affirm thie inherent worth of each individual, and each member UU's individual, free and responsible search for truth, then the UUAWO should be charged with an institutional role that supports those premises, rather than working against them.

Jeff Wilson said...

I like Fausto's redefinition of the UUAWO's mission much better than its current one. That would provide a truly valuable service to UUs. Do I think it will happen? No.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
"I've said it before elsewhere and I'll say it again here: I think the UUA Washington Office's mission is pointless and foolish. Not only is it fundamentally dishonest to presume to witness to Washington about the "position of the UUA" on myriads of issues where the congregations of the UUA have not, in fact, formally endorsed a collective position ... "

Do you have any specific examples of the UUA Washington Office witnessing an "official UUA position" without the support of a General Assembly vote of support?

I haven't done an exhaustive investigation of this. But it appears that the issues that the Washington Office lobbies on that I'm interested in, they're doing so with a vote of support from congregational representatives from a previous GA. It sounds like whatever we're doing that you don't like is at least procedurally consistent with UUA bylaws and other policies of the UUA.

iBeth said...

I don't mind so much when it is a very local issue (e.g., when our UU church spoke out in favor of controversial "nondiscrimination" city ordinances. We gathered members together to demonstrate by city hall. I was proud to help show that religious people could be pro-gay-rights). But I like it better when the church focuses on actions that solve problems rather than on taking positions about issues.

fausto said...

Steve, I can't remember a specific example off the top of my head. To be honest, I don't pay enough attention to the UUAWO to be able to recall one clearly. That's because, even though I usually concur with the positions they take on specific issues, their voice, their style of anaysis and expression, has usually seemed too strident, condescending, self-righteous and ultimately unpersuasive to me.

To my way of thinking that says more about the UUAWO than it does about me. If they fail to capture even my attention, when by natural inclination I ought to be receptive to their arguments, I don't see how they can realistically expect to command the attention of, much less persuade, others who are on the fence or opposed to their views.

Nevertheless, I do recall checking their website at various times over the last several years, and seeing them strongly support or oppose this or that piece of legislation, and thinking that the legislation involved was so recent that it couldn't have been the subject of a specific resolution at the last GA. It may be an overgeneralization, but I don't think so, to say that when they took these positions they usually seemed to do so on behalf of the entire denomination, but without giving deliberate and respectful consideration to both sides of the issue or the possible range of opinion within the denomination.

Presumably they feel under such circumstances that our collective general affirmation of "justice, equity and compassion" entitles them to reach summary moral conclusions based in those broad principles and proclaim them on behalf of the rest of us. (Although I also don't remember seeing such arguments framed carefully in a way that proceeded clearly from those or other universally recognizable moral principles. If they habitually took greater care to do so, their arguments might be more persuasive to the broader public.) The rebuttal to any appeal for legitimacy based in those principles, though, would be that our own individual inherent worth, and our own individual free and responsible search for truth, are violated rather than affirmed when we are denied both the opportunity to think, evaluate, and speak objectively for ourselves, and the opportunity to frame and/or ratify a collective witness.

I'm exaggerating a bit, but not very much, when I say that the advocacy of the UUAWO bears the same relationship to the legitimate moral consensus of the UUA as a whole, that the activities of the Watergate Plumbers team bore to acts of Congress.

PeaceBang said...

FAUSTO FOR UUA PRESIDENT.

(I volunteer to be campaign manager)

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"Steve, I can't remember a specific example off the top of my head. To be honest, I don't pay enough attention to the UUAWO to be able to recall one clearly. That's because, even though I usually concur with the positions they take on specific issues, their voice, their style of anaysis and expression, has usually seemed too strident, condescending, self-righteous and ultimately unpersuasive to me.

So ... it sounds like your complaint isn't that the UUA and the UUA Washington Office are operating without General Assembly endorsement but rather you don't like the "style" that the UUA Washington Office uses in their social justice work.

Then Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"Nevertheless, I do recall checking their website at various times over the last several years, and seeing them strongly support or oppose this or that piece of legislation, and thinking that the legislation involved was so recent that it couldn't have been the subject of a specific resolution at the last GA."

Not every GA resolution is directly written in response to one specific piece of legislation. Since the merger of the AUA and UCA in 1961, we have a record of resolutions voted on by congregational representatives at GA on various issues such as:

** the death penalty

** BGLT rights

** reproductive choice

** sexuality education

These previous GA resolutions are general enough to provide a framework of support to UU congregations, UU organizations, and UUA staff to respond to current legislative issues and also to respond in court as well (e.g. "friend of the court" briefs filed in discrimination lawsuits, etc).

If a person looking at social justice issues use in UU congregations, it might be useful to have someone who has collected resources for study and activism. These functions are performed by the UUA Washington Office and the Commission on Social Witness.

While these UU social justice resources do not represent everything on a particular social justice topic, they do point out the connections between our UU principles, our denominational history, and our previous GA resolutions on related issues. This provides UU congregations and other UU groups with a framework to connect a particular issue to the shared values of our faith community.

TheCSO said...

In the absence of a creed, I don't see how it is possible for any group to presume to speak on behalf of the members of a religion in general. This is part of what makes me doubt (UUA) UUism's committment to true creedlessness; we just act way too much like the Seven Principles are creeds. When they're used to justify a social justice position - that's using them as a creed. And we should not do that.

fausto said...

I don't have any problem with the UUAWO speaking to us about what goes on in Washington, Steve, especially if what they say is thoughtful and gives due consideration to both sides of an issue, and draws clear connections between the issue and our past resolutions and/or religious principles and/or historical precedent. I wish they'd do a lot more of that, in fact.

What I do have a problem with is when they speak for us, especially if what they say is not objectively thought out or not clearly argued from first principles that outsiders would understand, but instead arises only out of their own (unexplained) suppositions of what constitutes "social justice" or their own (silent) institutional memory of old GA resolutions. If they speak to outsiders without stating not only "our" position on any particular issue (which they typically do, zealously) but also the moral argument that leads us to that position (which they often do not), they lack both clear authority to speak and persuasive force. When that happens, the impression they give to an impartial observer is likely to be not one of compelling moral force, but of fanatical closed-mindedness.

As a result they can make the whole denomination look just as smug and piously out-of-touch as the religious fanatics on the opposite end of the spectrum do. (That is, if anyone other than ourselves pays attention.)

UUpdater said...

TheCSO - the UUAWO speaks on the basis of the democratic process within the UUA. Specifically based on resolutions passed at GAs. This does not represent consensus, but does (in theory anyway) represent majority view. And it acknowledges similarities, but does not imply a creed.

Fausto - Do we really need a specific resolution at a GA for the UUAWO to denounce what happened at Abu Ghraib?

Chalicechick said...

Anybody remember a GA resolution on the filibuster?


>> JOIN US TO SAVE THE FILIBUSTER!
>> MONDAY MAY 23 4:15 PM
>> EMERGENCY RALLY AT ‘SENATE SWAMP’
>> (corner of Constitution & Delaware Aves, near the Russell Senate Bldg)
>>
>> AND
>>
>> TUESDAY MAY 24 7 - 9 AM
>> INTERFAITH SPEAK OUT ON SUPREME COURT STEPS
>>
>> For information on the “nuclear option” and judges, including UUA letters of
>> opposition, Visit www.uua.org.
>>
>> WHY NOW??
>> With a vote expected on the “nuclear option” on Tuesday afternoon, religious
>> people committed to protecting the rights of the minority to speak on issues
>> that effect all Americans, must publicly stand for pluralism and democracy. We
>> are committed to a pluralistic society with respect for the beliefs and rights
>> of all people. Our Unitarian Universalist faith guides us on a path of
>> affirmation of difference and preservation of the democratic process.
>> WE MUST SPEAK OUT!
>> “To claim that minority-party senators and their supporters are acting ‘against
>> people of faith’ because they wish to preserve the Senate filibuster is an
>> affront to millions of devout Americans."
>> — Rev. William Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
>>
>> Greetings Greater Washington Area Congregations,
>> The UUA Washington Office for Advocacy has been involved with the Coalition for
>> a Fair and Independent Judiciary in the past few weeks and we are heading into
>> the HOME STRETCH TO SAVE THE FILIBUSTER. We've been waiting with baited breath
>> for a time and location of the AMERICA SPEAKS EVENT and it's finally here! We
>> wanted to get it out to you as soon as possible! We appreciate your
>> understanding that the details around this event have been fluid and
>> unavoidably last minute. We hope that you and members of your congregation
>> will be able to join us Monday at 4:15pm (or after work!) in the Senate Swamp
>> and that you will forward the following invitation to your congregational
>> listservs. It is CRUCIAL for those of us living and working in the DC area to
>> show our opposition to the abuse of power currently taking place on Capitol
>> Hill. JOIN US!! Questions? Email Megan Joiner at mjoiner@uua.org or call
>> 202-360-7710 (cell).
>> Thank you for your ACTION!
>> Megan
>>
>> Megan Joiner
>> Legislative Assistant for Human and Civil Rights
>> Unitarian Universalist Association
>> Washington Office for Advocacy
>> 1320 18th St NW Suite 300B
>> Washington, DC 20036
>> (202)296-4672 x12
>> Www.uua.org

Chalicechick said...

What especially interests me about what I just posted is that I have NEVER seen the UUA get involved in encouraging third parties in any way.

Was there a rally to convince the FEC to make fairer funding laws for third parties? How about a big get together over the right of third parties to debate?

I didn't get the email on those.

As far as I know, the only time they care about "protecting the rights of the minority to speak" through procedural rules is when "protecting the rights of the minority to speak" means "straight up carrying the water of the Democratic party."

CC
who as one who believes that UUs are supposed to be the religious world's great BS detectors, is really humiliated that the UUA would put out crap that implies that filibustering is about anybody's "right to speak."

fausto said...

ContribUUtor asks: Fausto - Do we really need a specific resolution at a GA for the UUAWO to denounce what happened at Abu Ghraib?

No, probably not. But then again, if the UUAWO refrained from expressing public opposition or condemnation except on issues that rose to the Abu Ghraib level of moral outrage, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. What's more, the UUAWO staff would have lots more time to spend keeping the congregations up to date on what's going on in Washington.

TheCSO said...

I really like the idea of the UUAWO speaking to us rather than for us. To me, that seems much more consistent with what we should be as a religion.

contribUUtor - I do not see how a resolution passed at GA can be taken as a basis to speak for the denomination as a whole. At the most, it can be taken to speak for the UUA *only*. Not for UUs themselves.

When one takes a majority view and imply that it's the party line, that marginalizes alternative views. And I don't think we should be doing that, at least when there are strong alternative views to consider. (Asshole contrarianism aside, to borrow jfield's phrase.)

And when one uses "non-creedal" 'shared principles' like a creed - as support for one side of a hotly debated issue, without acknowledging that they can also support other positions on that same issue equally well, that starts to look an awful lot like a creed after all. Especially when there is a clear party-line interpretation of those principles. If we keep heading in this direction, how much longer until we have UU heretics?

Matthew said...

Wow! What a great conversation. I second the nomination and I love the idea of redefining the Washington office. But what about our contribution to international affairs? Don't forget there is a UN office, too!

I have to say that I am pleased with recent efforts to make the resolution process more representative, although I think we have far to go. One reason this issue is important to me is that it has so much to do with who we make welcome into our congregations. We attract people not so much through theology, but through cultural and political identification. As one UU minister of my acquaintance is fond of saying, "Why would a Republican *want* to be a UU?" Unfortunately, he has a point. When we eschew religious depth for a kind of tribal us-and-them cultural and political identity, we lose the elements of religion that transcend partisan politics.

I have also been the victim of unwanted petitioneering. My policy is not to make a fuss, but to politely decline. Once, when I tried that, the enthusiastic fellow who wanted my signature exclaimed, "What? You won't sign? Matthew, I thought you were one of the good guys?" He didn't mean to give offense (and I didn't take any), but I think it is a good example of how coercive petitioneering can be.

Joel Monka said...

Sometimes my problem is not merely that I object to the concept of politicing in church, or even that I disagree with the stand on the issue... sometimes I just hate being associated with a public lsughing stock. Do you know why Weird Al Yankovic doesn't parody country music? It's because a successful parody is the real thing, just taken over the top- and country music already IS over the top- he could he make it look any sillier than "Achey Breaky Heart" did? Look in the Washington Advocacy Office archives for last April: "From April 8-17, congregations from different faith communities across the country will be taking part in a "Blessing of the Taxes" around tax day, April 15.

The Blessing of the Taxes is a "faith based initiative" to reclaim the positive value of taxes and the vital public services they fund...as a matter of faithful conviction.

In recent decades there has been an organized political movement to demonize taxes, and progressive taxation in particular. The Blessing of the Taxes can help to reframe the national conversation about the role of government in society and its moral and spiritual imperatives.

While we as faithful people are committed to voluntary service, we recognize that our religious charities lack the resources to adequately respond to our country's or the worldís pressing problems. As religious communities, we advocate for a strong public sector funded by taxes to do works of divine compassion.

The Blessing
We ask God's blessing on our taxes due this April 15. We thank God for the ways that our taxes invest our money for the common good. And we pray for strength as citizens to press our state and federal governments to spend our taxes in ways that promote justice and peace.

Suggestions for using the "Blessing of the Taxes"
in your congregation or community:
Laying hands on envelopes containing tax returns or copies of returns in worship, and praying over them or creating an altar for tax returns
Weaving the blessing into sermons or pastoral prayers
Conducting special worship services
Conducting prayer vigils at local Post Offices on April 15 (a great and easy way to get local media attention!)
Distributing the blessing with attached information about how taxes are used and how citizens can contact their legislators

Sample "Blessing"
We ask God's blessing on our taxes due this April 15. We thank God for the ways that our taxes invest our money for the common good. Paying taxes is our sacred duty. And acting as citizens to assure that they are spent wisely is our sacred duty as well.

Our faith traditions affirm that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required. Progressive taxation--the payment of a higher rate of taxation by those who have higher incomes--is just and good. Greater wealth depends greatly on tax-subsidized regulation and protection of the economy. And greater wealth carries with it a higher level of moral responsibility for the well-being of our society.

We pray for strength as citizens to press our state and federal governments to spend our taxes in ways that promote justice and peace. We believe that the budget priorities of our Governor and our President do not reflect our moral values. Human needs at home and abroad are being neglected. Budget allocations for education, health, and social services are being cut. Social Security, a program intended to prevent poverty among the elderly and disabled, is threatened with a privatization scheme. Meanwhile, terrible loss of life and runaway spending continues in the war in Iraq.

We prayerfully ask our Governor and Legislature to preserve health, education, and social supports for the most vulnerable of our citizens, even if it means raising taxes on those with the highest incomes. We prayerfully ask our President and Congress to re-direct our taxes toward human needs at home and more peaceable purposes abroad. We thank God for the freedom we enjoy, and for the common good that our tax payments support.

Candle-Lighting Ceremony and Prayer

This candle is for all the children who learn to read and write in public schools, paid for by our taxes.

This candle is for public health workers who protect us from epidemics and preventable diseases every day, paid for by our taxes.

This candle is for the roads and bridges and sewers and water systems that make civilization possible, paid for by our taxes.

This candle is for the defense of our security and the keeping of peace, at home and abroad, paid for by our taxes.

This candle is for the elderly and low income people who depend on social services and funds and health care, paid for by our taxes.

This candle is the foreign health and development and humanitarian aid, paid for by our taxes to help people in need around the world.

This candle is for economic regulation and support structures, paid for by our taxes, which enable free enterprise to flourish in our country.

This candle is for environmental laws and enforcement, paid for by our taxes, which protect nature and keep our air and water clean.

This candle is for the ways we don't want our taxes to be spent.

This candle is for the ways we would prefer our taxes to be spent..."
and it goes on, and on... If Mad Magazine had wanted to parody UUs, they couldn't have done better. It's not really any sillier in concept than Rev Sinkford calling a single day of no solid food from sunup to sundown a "fast", (who hasn't done that in a hectic workday), and thinking it will bring about world peace, but it reads sillier.

UUpdater said...

TheCSO - Well, I think the basis of where we don't see eye to eye is that I don't believe when someone speaks for a group it is a necessary conclusion that everyone in the group agrees with that opinion. In most groups of reasonable folks I have met there is still disagreement. So let me turn this around. If not the UUA speaking as an authority for UUs, then who? If the statements being made do not have a basis in a democratic process of resolution at GA, then what process? Or do you think UUs as a denomination should have no public voice?

Fausto/CC - I am not trying to say the UUAWO is perfect, I don't get the filibuster thing either. The distinction I would make is that I do question their choices, but not that they have been granted the authority to make those choices.

TheCSO said...

I do not think that a majority implies a consensus, and I do not think that the UUA should take stands on any issue where there is not a consensus.

Since the UUA's governance structure is not consensus-based, this means that in practice I oppose the UUA taking positions on political issues.

UUpdater said...

TheCSO - I hope I never implied that I thought a majority did imply consensus. I think for any group the size of the UUA consensus is not likely practical to achieve, and therefore not desirable to attempt. The democratic majority may be flawed, but I think it's the best thing we have.

Also, although I am not happy about anyone feeling marginalized in their minority opinion (and I hold a few of those myself) I would still prefer to be marginalized on occasion to abandoning the public religious dialogue. I think having no voice would be worse.

indrax said...

I'm uneasy about any political statement the UUA or any congregation makes.
I think it's a legal disaster waiting to happen. They jepordize their status as nonprofit organizations.

Another problem I have is that for every statement the UUA/churches make, there are going to be people who have to decide "Am I going to go with the church on this, or am I going to go agaist that church?"
No one should feel like they're on one side, and their church is on another.

I see a relatively simple solution to the problems listed here. Start a Political Organization with "UU values". It would get no official backing or money from the UUA, idividual UU's would support it.

Other religions have such groups, why shouldn't we? Let churches do what churches do, and lobbyists lobby.

If there is a significant contingent of UU's that disagree with one of it's stands, there can be multiple such organizations. (UU republicans)
This removes any percieved need for the washington office to make political statements. In fact it frees the UUA to make broader 'moral' statements, which I think would be more effective.(and which don't presume to speak on anyone's behalf.) I think alot of people would be UU's if they knew who we are, and I don't think they get to know us, or what we should be, from our majority political views. ('great, a religion of democrats...')

The problem I think is that we've got to get the political wing of Unitarian Universalism to adopt this strategy, and at the same time hammer the UUA and the congregations to stop being political.

People bringing their politics to church is a thornier issue, I'm not sure how to deal with it.

Steve Caldwell said...

Chalicechick wrote:
"I mean, come on, commenting on specific judicial nominees?"

Actually, there's a 2004 General Assembly vote supporting our denominational work in this area. It's the 2004 Statement of Conscience on Civil Liberties. Here's what this Statement of Conscience says about judicial nominations:

"We oppose nominees to the federal appeals courts or the Supreme Court whose records demonstrate insensitivity to the protection of civil liberties.
http://www.uua.org/actions/civil-liberties/04civil-liberties.html

This language was also used to support our involvement in the judicial nominations filibuster debate as well.

Unlike "Actions of Immediate Witness" that are proposed at one specific General Assembly and then debated/voted on at that one GA, a Statement of Conscience is created over a two year study/action timeline where members of local congregations are encouraged and invited to participate in their congregations.

Congregations are encouraged to provide their inputs throughout the two year study/action process. And much of this process happens locally and not just at GA.

Because of this extensive opportunity for congregational involvement throughout the two year study/action cycle, UUA Statements of Conscience are given greater weight than Action of Immediate Witness (considered, debated, and voted upon at just one GA). These Statements of Conscience are considered "official" UUA policy, but there is still an individual conscience escape clause.

Here's the info on this from the UUA Commission on Social Witness web site:

"A UUA Statement of Conscience ... becomes “official” UUA policy, to be supported by the Association and by Unitarian Universalists everywhere according to their individual consciences, priorities and means."
http://www.uua.org/csw/participate%28speakout%29.htmlhttp://www.uua.org/csw/participate%28speakout%29.html

Given the individual conscience escape clause here, I don't see how anyone could consider this a "creedal test."

All this information on the UUA social justice process is freely available on the web. Even I could find it (and if I can find it easily, I'm sure that all of you can find it just as easily).

TheCSO said...

I agree that these positions are not de jure creedal tests. However, they ARE frequently treated as a de facto creed. Just saying "you're allowed to disagree with your church" does not absolve the church of a responsibility to not marginalize alternative views. And making one position on a hotly contested issue the "official position of the UUA" *does* marginalize alternative views.

However, I see an even larger problem with the wording of these resolutions. There is almost no attempt to put these issues in a greater framework. These statements, both RIW and SoC, are simply statements of support for a specific political issue. Moral issues, which are much more the domain of religion, are hardly mentioned if at all. At least when other religions take political positions, they place those positions in a moral context. While I disagree with, say, the Catholic Church's "non-negotiable moral principles", at least they clearly show how their political positions are rooted in those moral ones. If we must take political stands, shouldn't they at least be rooted in moral stands so they can be taken seriously? Right now the UUAWO's positions read like a political party (guess which one) platform - highly specific and without justification or argument. It's just a big list of positions.

Also, I've been reading the Social Witness Process Review Panel's report. It starts off with an acknowledgement that the UUA's social justice processes are *not* representative of majority views. (See Section II, "The Problems We Were Asked To Solve".)

fausto said...

Actually, there's a 2004 General Assembly vote supporting our denominational work in this area. It's the 2004 Statement of Conscience on Civil Liberties. Here's what this Statement of Conscience says about judicial nominations:

Thanks for digging that up, Steve. However, the fact that you had to do so, and then had to come up with your own independent argument as to how that related to the UUAWO's public statements, shows exactly what's wrong with the way UUAWO goes about things. Why can't the UUAWO do that for themselves?

UUpdater said...

Indrax: "I think a lot of people would be UU's if they knew who we are, and I don't think they get to know us, or what we should be, from our majority political views. ('great, a religion of democrats...')"

Any person is certainly more than their political views, so naturally it should follow that a denomination is certainly far more than it's majority political views. Also, I do think you get to know a person better by understanding their political views, than you would by simply staying silent on the subject. Similarly I think people do get a better idea of who UUs truly are if we do have Social Witness.

Along these lines, my spouse was officiating at marriages at a Gay Pride event and people were typically surprised to find out she was in fact representing a church. In those situations I think it is far more powerful for her to be able to say that yes indeed the UUA has stated supported for GLBT equality, than it would be to say "Gee I don't know about all UUs but I can tell you what I think."

TheCSO - "Just saying 'you're allowed to disagree with your church' does not absolve the church of a responsibility to not marginalize alternative views. And making one position on a hotly contested issue the 'official position of the UUA' *does* marginalize alternative views."

It is important for people to be mindful that although an opinion might be a majority opinion that does not mean it is the consensus opinion. It is important to realize that we have all had different life experiences that guide and form our opinions, and we need to respect (not just tolerate) opinions that differ from our own. I agree that there is a responsibility of the denomination to not make people holding minority opinions feel like they are any less of a UU, but I don't see silence on issues as the only means of achieving this.

TheCSO - "Also, I've been reading the Social Witness Process Review Panel's report. It starts off with an acknowledgement that the UUA's social justice processes are *not* representative of majority views. (See Section II, "The Problems We Were Asked To Solve".)"

If I flip a coin to determine what the majority opinion is, then I have a flawed process, but that does not mean that it necessarily gave inaccurate results. I have a 50/50 chance of having been correct.

The way I read the report they say that the majority of UU congregations do not fully participate in the process, not that they have surveyed and determined that past results are indeed inaccurate. Perhaps this seems like a minor distinction but I think it is worth noting. The system might need improvement, but that does not mean mean it is definitely giving inaccurate results. It does undermine the confidence in those results.

If you saw something that specifically states the views are not representative let me know, but what I saw only said that they are not confident in the process.

With that said I would certainly welcome improvements in...

...the accuracy of the methodology used to determine majority opinion

...improvements to the quality of the written positions, including firmer moral grounding.

...perhaps a better review process from the Washington Office to ensure the specific statements are reflective of the majority.

...expanded statements or links to expanded statements from the washington office to explain reasoning for statements.

I would not welcome...

...the end of social witness

...limitation to moral positions, and not taking it the political level. In particular GLBT needs to go to the political level.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
"Thanks for digging that up, Steve. However, the fact that you had to do so, and then had to come up with your own independent argument as to how that related to the UUAWO's public statements, shows exactly what's wrong with the way UUAWO goes about things. Why can't the UUAWO do that for themselves?"

Actually, it didn't require that much digging.

You can get to the link between the GA resolution in two steps

(1) Go to the UUA Washington Office Home Page:

http://www.uua.org/uuawo/

(2) Click on the link labeled "UUAWO Judicial Nominations Webpage":
http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/article.php?list=type&type=104

On this page, you will find the following quote:

"The Unitarian Universalist Association is authorized under the 2004 Statement of Conscience on Civil Liberties to 'oppose nominees to the federal appeals courts or the Supreme Court whose records demonstrate insensitivity to the protection of civil liberties.'"
http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/article.php?list=type&type=104

This statement includes a link embedded in it to the 2004 Statement of Conscience.

It really isn't that hard to do. All it took was a brief cursory exploration of the UUA staff agency that you've been complaining about.

I'm surprised that you overlooked this easy to find bit of information about the UUA Washington Office.

Perhaps your complaint isn't really with "the UUA" but rather with your fellow Unitarian Universalists who have voted to approve Statements of Conscience and other resolutions that you don't approve of?

You see ... the UUA Washington Office is only doing what UUA member congregations have directed it to do after open and democratic decision-making at GA.

indrax said...

http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/article.php?list=type&type=104

Also on that page:
"This is new ground for the UUA and for the staff of the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy."

Which suggests to me that before 2004, this kind of thing was not done. So maybe CC isn't just imagining it.

fausto said...

Actually, it didn't require that much digging.

The point is not how much digging it required; the point is that they left it to their audience to dig it out in the first place.

A persuasive argument leads the listener to the conclusion that there is no other valid position, not to the question, "WTF, what planet do they come from? Maybe I'll give them another chance and crank up my browser and see what's on the Internet before I decide whether to ignore them."

Most people aren't going to bother doing the extra research. They're simply going to assume the position is no stronger than is sounds on first blush, and those who promote it are self-absorbed, self-righteous religious a**holes who are divorced from reality and get their jollies telling everyone else how bad they are. It's not as if there aren't plenty more of those types around.

Perhaps your complaint isn't really with "the UUA" but rather with your fellow Unitarian Universalists who have voted to approve Statements of Conscience and other resolutions that you don't approve of?

No, actually, I approve of the resolution and I support keeping the filibuster. AS I said above, I tend to agree with most of the UUAWO's political positions.

What I oppose is making frequent public moral statements on sensitive and controversial topics without also giving a persuasive moral justification. In this example, it would mean not only citing the GA resolution that relates to the position, but also giving a persuasive moral argument for the GA position, so everyone knows why the issue is morally compelling, and not just the result of some obscure procedural resolution in a forgotten conference somewhere.

The very worst examples are when (a) the position is an unpopular or unfamiliar one, in opposition to the public consensus or status quo, and (b) a compelling moral justification for the position does exist, but the UUAWO fails to articulate it. When that happens it forfeits a real opportunity to help shape and change public opinion. When it's done in the name of us UUs it makes the whole denomination look foolish. In the public mind we're no longer leading the forces of righteousness as we imagine ourselves to be; rather, we're lumped together with all the other strident religionists who have taken leave of their senses and their grounding in the real world to try to impose thir nutty religious absolutes on everyone else. We may think we're fighting the good fight against politico-religious nuts like Pat Roberson, but impartial bystanders think we're two sides of the same coin.

Sorry, but the UUAWO still earns an "F" in prophecy class. Even on this very assignment.

TheCSO said...

Well, part of the problem is that what we're calling a majority opinion may well be a plurality opinion because the process is so flawed.

And I do agree that "It is important for people to be mindful that although an opinion might be a majority opinion that does not mean it is the consensus opinion." That's why I oppose statements that neglect to even seriously mention and consider strong alternative viewpoints within the church - we should NOT be implying to the broader community that UUs are of one mind on these issues, and our current wording implies just that. It's kind of like that "void where prohibited" fine print on advertisements - most people just tune it out. If the UUA is to take official church positions on issues, those position statements need to have diversity of opinion as a central tenet. Burying an "individual conscience escape clause here" in what amounts to fine print doesn't even come close.

My reading of the SWPRP report is that it casts significant doubt on the integrity of the existing process, and thereby also on the results of that process. I don't see how you can doubt the integrity of a process, but not doubt the results.

See page 3: "Understanding that the Study/Action Issues which come to GA
may receive less than majority support (because they are selected from a large group of applicants), a
statement may arrive with only a fraction of our congregations having actively supported it!"

contribUUtor, I would welcome the improvements you list. To be more specific about the distinction between moral and political positions, I would like to see the moral position become primary. In cases where a political issue is intimately intertwined with a moral position on which we have taken a strong stand, it is then appropriate to take a political position rooted strongly and directly in the applicable moral position.

Steve, my complaint *is* with the UUA. If delegates at GA are allowed to instruct the UUA to make statements which run roughshod over minority opinions in the church, and the UUA does so, there's something seriously wrong there. Our governance structure just does not have the checks and balances it needs. Ideally, UUA leadership would serve as a check on the tendency of GA delegates to forget that a significant number of UUs don't have the exact same political platform as the Democratic Party, but under Sinkford that seems unlikely.

[Fausto's most recent post above is excellent and I heartily agree with the points made therein.]

PeaceBang said...

Well, again... who goes to GA? People who can afford to, and people who are actually interested in plenaries and statements of conscience. Are our GA delegates generally acquainted with basic sources of Unitarian Universalist moral theology? Who knows, and apparently, who cares. Do these people actually discuss their GA agenda with their congregations? Let's not be naive. My ministerial signature on a piece of paper is not evidence of anything but, "Good, the Denominational Affairs committee found another lovely congregant who can afford to give up a week and go to this thing."

GA delegates are hardly representative. Steve himself has only been to ONE GA, and he apparently loves it! Parenting and putting bread on the table is actually more important to the majority of our people. Imagine that.

Referring back again and again to the sanctified-holiness GA delegate process to justify the UUWAO default far-left setting on every conceivable social issue just isn't helpful to the problem of how we can encourage a more mature, nuanced dialogue in our churches that won't make every political conservative feel like the Anti-Christ. We need to stop avoiding our Biblical and classical theological heritage and teach HOW liberal political commitments have origins in our actual religious heritage, and not just in liberal humanism.

Fausto's larger question about the utterly predictable, almost knee-jerk pronouncements coming out of the Washington Office hasn't been answered. But I like his idea that the Washington Office could be working for the congregations (novel!) rather than passing on ideas in that charming, enthusiastically coercive way they have.

Steve Caldwell said...

Peacebang wrote:
"Well, again... who goes to GA? People who can afford to, and people who are actually interested in plenaries and statements of conscience."

I agree that both economics and level of interest in denominational business both play a role in who volunteers and is selected to be a GA delegate.

As Peacebang observed, I've only attended 1 GA and I'm not passing myself off as an "expert" ... I'm just speaking from my personal experience from last summer.

The 2005 event was the first time in many years that GA was within affordable driving range for my family. I'm well aware of the "parenting and putting bread on the table" concerns that affect most UU households because they are my concerns as well as the primary wage-earner in my household.

I don't have the advantages of a "professional travel budget" like many ministers and other religious professionals have. If my family attends GA, it's a significant budget decision for us. But many of our called ministers do have professional expenses and delegate credentials at GA. Don't you think if the social justice business process at GA were out of whack, our called leaders would speak up?

For the record, I didn't ask for GA delegate credentialing. I contacted my congregation's board and suggested that our delegates should be chosen from our elected board representatives who are elected by the congregation and (in theory) are speaking on behalf of the congregation. However, if there were any unused delegate credentials, I would be willing to serve. Based on our congregation's size, we are authorized 3 layperson delegates and historically we have only sent 0 to 1 delegates in the past.

Since GA was only 3-4 hours by car from our congregation in 2005, I expected that elected leaders who were more qualified to speak on behalf of our congregation would be selected to be all of our GA delegates. However, that wasn't the case.

Our congregation's delegates were:

** our Congregational President (who should have been there since she's an elected representative of our congregation)

** a conservative UU who thinks the UUA has been taken over by "hippies" in light of our social justice work promoting marriage equality and other issues in the denomination

** myself, a liberal UU who thinks the current denominational social justice workings are generally OK, but thinks that the recommendations in the Commission on Social Witness Review Panel's report that would promote greater congregational involvement in the process and more in-depth exploration of a particular issue are worthwhile

Then Peacebang wrote:
"We need to stop avoiding our Biblical and classical theological heritage and teach HOW liberal political commitments have origins in our actual religious heritage, and not just in liberal humanism."

Gee ... I thought that liberal humanism was a part of our "actual" religious heritage. It's not just a 20th Century UU fad, but an outcome that happened incrementally over many years in North America.

The reason that we've arrived with a present-day Unitarian Universalism that emphasizes freedom of belief and humanism can be found in our roots in the Protestant Reformation with an emphasis on reason and one's own study of scripture.

I think we should look at other theological foundations for our social justice work that are consistent with our historical roots and our UCC cousins may provide some examples to help us. One of the UCC supplements for the Our Whole Lives program talks about meeting the world with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand.

Given the news coverage in UU World, I suspect that most individual Unitarian Universalists who are aware of the current social justice business process are OK with the current social justice process. Occassionally, one sees letters to the editor that are critical. And occassionally, one hears complaints at the congregational level.

One also hears occassional complaints when one discovers that the UUA has taken a stand on an issue and the individual wasn't aware of it. For example, a member of our board thought the anti-death penalty rally at GA was inappropriate given his view social justice work might distract others from hearing our message. However, the UUA has been denominationally officially against the death penalty since 1961. This isn't a new development for us and should have been no surprise.

Generally, I'm in favor of any process improvements that increase congregational involvement in this work beyond the current level. And I'm also in favor of providing resources that speak from multiple theological perspectives on how a particular discussion may be grounded in our theologies to include Jewish and Christian heritage and our other sources as well.

For any conservative UUs who don't like being in a minority when it comes to social justice work, I feel the same thing from a liberal perspective within my congregation so I can offer my sympathies.

It does feel uncomfortable to be in the minority on social justice issues and I've often thought I might be better off attending the more liberal and more humanist Longview UU Fellowship instead of my own congregation.

But I would miss working with the youth in our congregation and I don't relish the thought of driving 70 miles each way to church just to find a better congregational fit.

PeaceBang said...

Since when isn't Humanism classical, Steve? It's hardly a 20th century phenomenon. Ever heard of Erasmus?

fausto said...

I was trying in my own arguments to keep a more narrow focus on the inefficacy of the UUAWO's current mission to serve as an advocate for the political views of the whole denomination, but I do also agree with the CSO and PeaceBang that the entire GA plenary process and the various resolutions and witnesses that issue from it are fundamentally suspect, due to deep flaws in the GA's representative process -- flaws that, IMO, necessarily invalidate our fifth principle as long as they continue to be followed. As a representative body the GA delegates do not possess anything like the legitimacy of, say, the Continental Congress; they're not even anywhere near the Electoral College.

I don't think any resolution of any GA should be considered valid unless and until (1) it has been submitted to the congregations for ratification; (2) it has been approved by a strict majority of all congregations in good standing, in each instance (3) by a formal resolution supported by a strict majority vote (not merely a quorum) of every subscribed congregational member; and (4) the aggregate number of supporting votes across all congregations also constitutes a majority of the aggregate membership of all congregations.

Any compelling collective moral position ought to be able to stir up enough passion to command the support of both a simple majority of the members of each congregation and a simple majority of the members of the UUA as a whole. If it can't, that reveals that the proposition is not in fact as broadly compelling as a self-selected quorum of particularly zealous "GA junkies" might deem it to be. Anything less than true majority affirmation is a canard, and when we settle for anything less we render our profession of the Fifth Principle a hypocritical sham.

fausto said...

Since when isn't Humanism classical, Steve? It's hardly a 20th century phenomenon. Ever heard of Erasmus?

Within my own congregation, I'm on record suggesting that what the front of our sanctuary lacks are twin busts of Socrates and Zeno.

Steve Caldwell said...

Peacebang wrote:
" Since when isn't Humanism classical, Steve? It's hardly a 20th century phenomenon. Ever heard of Erasmus?"

Please re-read what I wrote ... I said that Humanism wasn't a 20th century fad.

In the context of North American Unitarian Universalist history, we can see a move towards statements of faith that don't mention God or Jesus back in the 1800s in the Western Unitarian Conference.

The version of humanism that arose in Unitarian Universalism in the 20th century had its roots in the Western Unitarian Conference's 1886 statement that welcomed all who " ... wish to join [the conference] to help establish truth, righteousness, and love in the world."

At this point in our history, our religious movement grounded in the Protestant tradition had moved to a place where Christianity and theism were no longer mandatory requirements for inclusion.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
" ... the entire GA plenary process and the various resolutions and witnesses that issue from it are fundamentally suspect, due to deep flaws in the GA's representative process -- flaws that, IMO, necessarily invalidate our fifth principle as long as they continue to be followed."

I disagree that the current situation is as dire as you think it is.

The recommendations in the Social Witness Review Panel would be a good place to start:

http://www.uua.org/uuawo/new/downloads/swrp_finalreport.pdf

For sake of our discussion here, let's say that you're right about the current GA business being flawed beyond any hope of reform.

How would you propose reforming GA within the existing UUA bylaws and procedural rules structure that implicitly assume that the current business process isn't flawed and is still a legitimate process?

To correct what you see as a fatally flawed process, you would have to use what you're calling a flawed process to amend the existing bylaws.

And you would have to convince enough of the existing participants (who might have different view on the legitimacy of the existing business process than you do) that the business process needs reforming.

fausto said...

I'll agree with Steve that elements of what later came to be labeled "Religious Humanism" were present in the 19th century, beginning with the Transcendentalists and more significantly with the Free Religion Association and the Western Unitarian Conference.

However, those groups were largely composed of schismatics and dissenters from what was then organized mainstream Unitarianism. They were not at that time a major force within the denomination; rather, they deliberately stood in opposition to it, and they did not reconcile with the main denomination until early in the 20th century.

To say that what we refer to today as "Religious Humanism" existed before the Humanist Manifesto is akin to saying that Unitarianism existed before Channing's Baltimore sermon. In both cases some of the gestational ideas may have been previously present, but in both cases it was the manifesto that brought the movement into full being.

Steve also asks how I would procedurally reform the GA. That's simple; I would use the current procedures to amend the rules and bylaws in order to create a more representative and therefore more legitimate process. I don't call for doing away with the GA; I think it serves a very valuable role for face-to-face discourse and for grappling with issues of concern. I just think it's a more useful and legitimate forum for raising questions of conscience than for ratifying pronouncements of conscience.

Arr, me bully tars, it still be Talk Like a Pirate Day, all day, arr.

Steve Caldwell said...

Fausto wrote:
-snip-
"I'll agree with Steve that elements of what later came to be labeled "Religious Humanism" were present in the 19th century ... "

-snip-
"However, those groups were largely composed of schismatics and dissenters from what was then organized mainstream Unitarianism."

The funny thing here is the "schismatics and dissenters" in one generation are often claimed by the mainstream in later generations.

For example, Theodore Parker was asked to the leave the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers because his views were considered dissident. After 1846, the Unitarian Year Book stopped including Parker's name in the listing of Unitarian clergy due to his theology.

Emerson's views were called "the latest form of infidelity" by Andrews Norton of Harvard Divinity School.

However, dissident voices like Emerson and Parker from the past are claimed by the present-day mainstream of Unitarian Universalism.

Then Fausto wrote:
" ... they deliberately stood in opposition to it, and they did not reconcile with the main denomination until early in the 20th century."

It all depends on point of view.

Rather than suggesting that the "schismatics and dissenters" reconciled themselves with the main body of Unitarianism, it looks like these "schismatics and dissenters" blazed a trail for the main body of Unitarianism to follow.

In other words, I would suggest that the main body of Unitarianism reconciled itself with the "schismatics and dissenters" ... not the other way around.

fausto said...

No, in this case it doesn't "all depend on point of view". It's not a subjective matter of opinion; it's a matter of objective historical fact.

Objectively, factually, they were schismatics and dissenters. Both sides of the controversy agreed on that point.

Objectively, factually, the rift did not heal and the opposing factions did not fully reconcile until the 20th century.

Objectively, factually, the orientation that called itself "Humanism" became organized and foi=und its voice in the 1930's. The first Religious Humanists considered themselves rebels and prophets of a new religious vision, not keepers of a long-established tradition.

Objectively, factually, "Humanism" became a significant influence in Unitarian (and later, Unitarian Universalist) thought only in the twentieth century, not before. Objectively, factually, it is a relatively recent, rather than long-standing and traditional, UU phenomenon. Objectively, factually, its contribution to the UU experience is measured in decades, not centuries.

I'll agree with you that Humanism is "not just a 20th Century UU fad," but objectively, factually, you're the only one here who has spoken of it as just a fad. What PeaceBang actually said in the comment you were responding to was, "We need to stop avoiding our Biblical and classical theological heritage and teach HOW liberal political commitments have origins in our actual religious heritage, and not just in liberal humanism." You yourself said nearly the same thing when you said, "[O]ur UCC cousins may provide some examples to help us. One of the UCC supplements for the Our Whole Lives program talks about meeting the world with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand."

When you incorrectly attribute things to people that they didn't in fact say in order to rebut them, that's a straw man argument.

fausto said...

Steve, you also say:

In other words, I would suggest that the main body of Unitarianism reconciled itself with the "schismatics and dissenters" ... not the other way around.

What I said was that the dissident factions "did not reconcile with the main denomination until early in the 20th century". I didn't mean to imply that either side subordinated its position to the other. There were separate parties with differences between themselves, who suppressed their differences in order to emphasize their common ground, much as the Unitarians and Universalists did more recently.

When you say, "it looks like these 'schismatics and dissenters' blazed a trail for the main body of Unitarianism to follow", I don't think they thought themselves to be doing so at the time. They thought themselves to be standing in contrast to the consensus rather than leading it. I would agree that elements of what was the dissenting position 120 years ago have become dominant more recently, but I agree with PeaceBang that we are poorer if the consequence of that is to treat what has until recently been our primary religious heritage with neglect and even contempt, as if it offers nothing of value to us today. That side of our heritage remains as enriching and available, and can still speak with as much effective moral power, to us today as it did to our predecessors. Once upon a time we used it fully, and when we did we became the head and heart of the nation.

When we don't, what do we become? The UUAWO and some obscure GA resolutions (that even most of our own members aren't aware of, as you correctly point out).

Jeff Wilson said...

I'm one of those people who aren't thrilled with how the Washington Office is operating. But rather than just gripe, here's something I like. I came across the UUSC blog today and was impressed. It's much more even-keeled than some of the Washington stuff, and it takes the time to explain the issues to me as a UU and suggest why they might have an impact on me or need addressing due to our shared moral values. Here's the link: http://www.uusc.org/blog/hotwire.html

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