Sunday, April 02, 2006

Defending Republicans is getting pretty freaking old, BTW



I sometimes feel like I'm a big crackpot on this politics-in-church issue. Lots of people give me a pat on the head and tell me that the things I describe certainly don't go on their churches or their friends' churches. Even I start to wonder if I've been unlucky and had more than my share of irritating experiences. Maybe the problem really isn't that bad.

Well, above is a bumper sticker that today's YRUU speaker passed out to the group.

The problem really is that bad.

The lady was there on the invitation of our staff youth person to talk about military recruitment in the schools. (Item: We went around the room and only one youth really saw military recruitment as a problem in his school.) I (as one of three youth leaders) was the only one who asked questions that challenged her assertions at all.

((e.g. "So if you're saying that the military is economically drafting people because the military is the best way for poor people to build a better life, by telling poor people not to enlist, aren't you discouraging them taking the best step they can for building a better life?" (Tautological, I realize, but the point seemed to need to be made explicitly. Anti-recruitment lady replied that if we cut military spending them that would help the poor have better lives. That would be a pretty hard position for her to defend if I really asked for details or evidence, but I let it go at this point.))

Toward the end she went in to great detail on how to start declaring yourself a conscientious objector. The other leaders chimed in with more advice. Finally, I said,

"Not to be the conservative again, but we are a creedless faith. Nothing in Unitarian Universalism says that you must be against war or be a conscientious objector. If you don't want to be one, there's nothing wrong with that and the people here will respect your choice."

And one guy said he didn't think he could be a conscientious objector.

I was impressed. It must have taken serious balls to say that with a room full of his peers smiling and nodding at the anti-recruitment lady.

After church, there was a Youth Ministry Committee Meeting where I waited two hours, ahem, until the new business portion of the meeting to bring out the bumpersticker and talk about my concerns.

I was assured that the class for the earlier service had gone quite differently, been very religious and very clear on how the recruitment issue was complicated and there were reasonable people on both sides.

But I'd still say that the recruitment lady's talk had no place as a Sunday Morning activity.

YRUU has so often been the really political girl scouts (with boys) that I am starting to wonder if I am suited to be a leader. A real committment to free thought is a difficult sell to high school kids who are God's own manichaees.

But at the same time, if I'm not there to keep the discussion inclusive, what will the kid who doesn't feel comfortable going along with the group do?

Seems to me it shouldn't just be my job, though...

CC

17 comments:

Philocrites said...

You'll undoubtedly be interested in the only proposed "study/action issue" on this year's General Assembly agenda. It asks: "Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?" [PDF; see page 4]

Jeff Wilson said...

You were right to be concerned, and right to raise your concerns. And you were right to try to bring them up with a wider church audience later on. And you're especially right that you need to stay on to make sure that kids with dissenting viewpoints have some sort of support.

I want to be really blunt about this: that bumpersticker should not have been part of the church activities and this activity is very troubling. We cannot fret about being an inclusive religious tradition (in regards to women, racial and sexual minorities, and various spiritual practices) and then turn around and pull something like this. How would a kid whose parents (perhaps members of that church) voted for Bush feel when presented with that sticker in an official church activity? In what possible way does this further inclusion or help us as a community to understand our neighbors? Or even ourselves? This is nothing less than the active creation of an unfriendly, cliquish church culture.

This reminds me of an incident from my childhood. When I was the president of my church's youth group (back in the early 1990s), I recall the surprise that rippled through the youth room when one of our members said that she was pro-life. There were about 25 of us high-schoolers present, and the adult advisor didn't happen to be in the room. This revelation was made just after several other people during an exercise had asserted that they were strongly pro-choice. I knew that it took guts for Suzanne to go against the group, and that fostering the sort of community where young people felt they could speak their own opinions and still feel included in the group was one of my chief goals as the group's leader. So into that stunned hesitation I told Suzanne that we didn't hear that viewpoint very often, and asked if she would be willing to share a little more about why she holds that view. She did so, many people nodded that it was reasonable, and I thanked her for sharing. Then I moved us on to other subjects. Crisis averted.

To me this was UUism at work, in a way that the activity you are describing was not. We confronted differing viewpoints respectfully and accepted the person who held them; we made her feel welcome even within a group that on the whole held a different political orientation. We did the same thing other times for people with all sorts of religious ideas (various shades of Neo-Paganism were particularly prominent in my youth group), and political ones as well for that matter--after all, Gulf War One took place during during my time in the youth group.

Anyway, from this incident I learned some things that have always stuck with me. First, I learned that there are indeed UUs who hold political views that I don't usually associate with UUism, and that it is unwise for me to assume I know what anyone believes before they've actually told me. Ever since then I have refrained from painting UUism as a monolithically pro-choice, anti-war, politically liberal, or other such movement. We are religious liberals--beyond that, all bets are off, even if on the whole who have a clear set of tendencies. Second, there is a place for all voices in UUism and it is possible to create caring communities that support one another even if they do not agree on everything. This can even be done with UU youth, who are often a volatile mix of self-righteousness, enthusiam, posturing, and utter lack of experience (I know I certainly was at times). Third, it takes active work to create these communities and we have a responsibility to help those who are in the minority to feel comfortable in mixed company. Fourth, we need not agree with the views of the minority (I was pro-choice) in order to respect them and work to include them. Our communities are not threatened by dissenting voices, about war or any other issue. Our beloved communities are threatened by the squelching of dissent and the assumption of monoculture.

So, anyway, as someone who thinks Bush is a war-monger, thank you for trying to bring the other side into the discussion or at least making sure there was room for the other side. The irony is that you were the one working to prevent a certain sort of violence in that situation.

chutney said...

phil,

So we're thinking of becoming a peace church??

Wow. that's a big step.

Fr. Damocles said...

I've often wondered how a UU would claim being a conscientious objector, given that UUism is creedless. I guess the proposed peace principle answers my question.

Kim said...

Jeff said: "How would a kid whose parents (perhaps members of that church) voted for Bush feel when presented with that sticker in an official church activity?"

The bumper sticker said "W is for War."

W IS for war. It is the simple truth -- both the letter w and the man we call W. He is in favor of the war. He doesn't dispute that. Perhaps a parent who voted for Bush would look at that bumper sticker and say, "So? W is for war. Me too." Isn't that the reason he's back for a second term? That the country didn't want to change horses in mid-war? Your complaint about the bumpersticker assumes that all UUs are against war.
What about the problem that trying to make room for everyone and all opinions makes us unable to have an identity? How do you balance that?

PeaceBang said...

CC, I don't think that your protest of what happened in your youth group amounts to defending Republicans, as you imply in your title. It amounts to standing against UU conformity, which we succumb to all too often in regard to political issues. We would never stand for this kind of implied conformity around theological identity but yet we don't hesitate to schedule a totally one-sided political presentation.

All of which begs the point: what in the world is youth programming FOR? So we can bring in ideologues of any kind whose agenda is to fire up the kids around the default far-left position their parents are fired up around? YAWN.

It is in such moments that we most flagrantly display our true hypocrisy.

Jeff Wilson said...

Kim, for me, the issue isn't whether or not Bush is for war. I think if we talked to him, he would say that he is for some wars and against other ones.

The issue for me is that a UU culture was actively being created that would make young UUs who don't fit into the knee-jerk liberal position very uncomfortable. This wasn't just an assertion that Bush is for war, it was a very clear message that Bush is wrong and that people who agree with Bush in some fashion are undesirable. Furthermore, it was an attempt to demonize the military by pushing a specific agenda. To me, this is all flat out unacceptable in youth programming, and I'm not sure it's acceptable anywhere in UUism. We need to make the UU young person from a conservative family feel as at home in church as the one from a liberal family, not subject her to intense peer pressure to conform to particular political agendas.

I do not believe that making room for non-liberal viewpoints prevents us from having an identity. I believe that it is what defines our best, truest identity: as an inclusive, free-thinking religious community that does not stifle dissent or push party lines on our members, who are beholden to no creed.

Joel Monka said...

I know you must be getting tired of defending Republicans by now CC- but we/they do apreciate it. And I know exactly what you mean about the pat on the head and the assurance that all those incidents are isolated excesses, and these things really don't happen as a rule... reminds me of a commedian who would ask the audience how many of them voted for Reagan, and then say "Yeah, right, the man only wins 49 states and nobody ever voted for him..." It's only bad luck that every UU church I've ever attended is like that, the majority are not.

UUpdater said...

So, have you contacted the folks over at Unitarian Universalists in the Military to see if anyone is available to talk to the youth group about what Military duty is like, and how it fits in with our Principles?

Kim said...

We would never stand for this kind of implied conformity around theological identity but yet we don't hesitate to schedule a totally one-sided political presentation.

When I was in LRY, we scheduled an evening wherein the speaker was from the John Birch Society. Wasn't that "one-sided"?
Many UU teens showed up that evening, and we listened very politely to the speaker, and politely asked questions. We didn't agree with him, but we listened.
If we can have an evening of right-wing politics, why not an evening of left-wing politics?
I think the politeness is important, and modeling that it is ok to disagree and that we can disagree and still respect each other as people is good, and necessary, and maybe even what our deeper purpose would be in an LRY or YRUU. But, youth group isn't a worship service (except when it is), so discussing topics of interest should be ok, even if they are politics. If a speaker offers bumpersstickers, is that necessarily the church endorsing what the speaker was saying? Don't the teens have a right to refuse the stickers if they disagree? Don't a lot of speakers offer pamphlets, books, etc.?
Yes, it's true that teens are VERY susceptable to peer pressure, but that's always true, not just in YRUU. Shouldn't we be helping them to have their own thoughts even if it doesn't agree with their peers?
I agree with Jeff that we should be teaching that dissenting opinions should be ok.
I didn't recall the original post saying that the talk focused on making Bush wrong (though he is wrong), so I must have missed that part.
Why can't we be against war? War is not healthy for people and other living things.

Chalicechick said...

I can't IMAGINE anyone at my church being OK with a John Birch Society speaker.

The military guy isn't a bad idea. I will check on it.

CC

SC Universalist said...

back in the John Birch Society heyday of the early 1960s- they and Unitarians were not strangers (at least not in certain areas)....

CC, your church has no military members (or ex-military)?? If that doesnt say a lot about something....

... of course I know of a family of UUs with 3 generations as career military - so it's certainly possible to be both UU and military
(so which is stranger, UUs in the military, or three generations of UUs? this family is actually at least 5)

Kim said...

(so which is stranger, UUs in the military, or three generations of UUs? this family is actually at least 5)

I once had a boyfriend who was 5th generation Unitarian, and a Republican. We dated for several years.

Jamie Goodwin said...

At 10:54 PM, April 02, 2006, UUpdater said...
So, have you contacted the folks over at Unitarian Universalists in the Military to see if anyone is available to talk to the youth group about what Military duty is like, and how it fits in with our Principles

Actually, one of the missions with those of us over at UUs in the Military have in mind is creating an affiliate group, of which, an honest and open discussion of military duty and recruitment is one of our goals.

Thanks!

Denise said...

I'm glad you relinked this in the post about the "minutes". One of our youth leaders is actually military positive and that's troubling to my daughter, 16 years old. She's a military dependent (her father just retired after more than 20 years in the USAF) and she is incredibly anti-military and anti-war.

She was approached by the youth leader after service and after "Sunday School" to take a flyer about military recruitment - in the sanctuary no less - and she was not amused. To put it mildly.

It's incredibly difficult to keep politics out of the UU church and the UU organization. I found myself smiling at the "audacity" of the youth leader to offer less than popular information. I'd prefer NO political information or "side" be presented, particularly without the opposite view or "side" just as visible but that's a pipe dream - and probably why we only attend our Fellowship occasionally rather than regularly.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused on why you are even planning your youth groups meetings. Or that you would take such a patronizing role in explain that there are many sides to an issue and such. Youth aren't stupid. We can read between the lines.
P.S. WE ARE NOT KIDS! Whoa dogs...calling youth kids. WE HAVE OUR OWN MINDS AND CAN MAKE OUR OWN DECISIONS, thank you very much...

Chalicechick said...

I do think you can make your own minds and your own decisions.

That's why you need as much information as possible about all sides of the issue.

It's the people who only give you information about one side who believe you can't make your own decisions.

CC