Monday, December 18, 2006

A post that started out as a response at Ms. Kitty's

Linguist Friend responded as follows to a post at Ms. Kitty's about Global Warming. I started to write a response to his response and realized it was going very far afield from her original point. So I brought the discussion here.

Here's what LF wrote:
At the 2006 GA, I was pleased to run into a friend from LA, a distinguished chemist who was very concerned about this issue, and active in the efforts to find UU
organizational support in this direction. Once I noticed that the only other person I had known well who had won a certain engineering award, like this LA friend, was Charles Stark Draper, the MIT engineer who headed the group which designed the guidance system for the first (1969) American manned moon spacecraft and lunar module. Some people feel that it is inappropriate for religious organizations to advocate in such issues, and there are important policies in terms of which that is a particular issue for the UUA. With people of that caliber available and concerned about this issue, I am more inclined to think that their opinions should be sought, and also ways to make them effective.


Wouldn't those people be more effective donating their time to an organization devoted specifically to environmental issues than starting an underfunded UU version of those same organizations from scratch?

I would say that there are two sides to advocacy for these issues, for lack of less cheesy terms, the Brain side and the Soul side. UUs naturally want to go grab the Brain side's work and do that. We want to write policies that force people to do things a certain way because that's the smart thing to do.

I've mentioned before having attended in the past a sermon on evolution where the general point was that evolution and creationism can coexist, but where the delivery of this point was preceded by recitation of the scientific facts pointing to the correctness of evolution that ran a solid fifteen minutes.

Despite our members' natural affinity for the brain side, and perhaps discomfort with the soul side, we're not very good at the brain side, because lobbying governments isn't really something religion is designed to do. We really don't have much legislative success at all to our names and working to heavily on the brain side means that people who disagree feel left out and like they have no religious home. I'll be honest, it hurt like hell when UUA President Bill Sinkford put out a statement on immigration that basically said that anybody who disagreed was a racist*. Ok, ok, you don't want me here. Well, I'm staying anyway. But will the other people who read the statement and disagree stay, too?

But I think we've done a lot of good. I just think we do it on the soul side. I've never signed a petition in coffee hour that made me more dedicated to an issue. I have, over and over, heard sermons that made me think over my values and write that check to Doctors Without Borders, pack up canned goods for my homeless shelter, and think again how public interest law might ultimately be the career field for me.

I know I'm not alone.

I respect the work people are doing on gay marriage. It is one of the few "political issues" that I find acceptable as a religious issue. That gay marriage is such an interfaith movement among religious liberals speaks to this and makes our voices stronger than they are on most other issues where we're one tiny organization of amateurs among huge organizations of professionals.

We're doing a better job on the brain side of that one, perhaps because we really belong there.

But I still don't think that's the most powerful thing we do on the issue.

I'd say the most powerful thing a UU minister can do on the issue is, well, perform those marriages. Don't tell people undecided on the issues what to do. Show them happy people starting lives together, weddings that look just like heterosexual ones full of happy familes and hope. I think the initial TV coverage of the gay weddings in San Francisco did more good than all of the petitions in the world. When gay marriage does become a legal reality, those happy couples on tv will have been the first step.

We do have to win over people's brains, but we also need to win over their souls, and that calls for a kind of reaching out that we are far less comfortable with. Because souls don't want the verifiable stuff. They don't want to hear "vote for proposition 19" or "force public schools to teach what WE want in sex ed."

Souls want to hear about truth, about beauty, about justice, about fairness, about faith.

That's a lot harder, to do, though.


I think again and again of the filibuster debate, when every liberal organization in the world was sending me screetchy emails and letters about the evil that Republicans wanted to do and how I needed to sign petitions, grab a protest sign, lie to people and tell them that freedom of speech was the issue. People talked of the filbuster's history, it's usefulness for miniority causes. We were the white hats! Republicans were the black hats!

The UUA Washington Office suggested ministers preach about judicial selection. ACtually, if you google "filibuster debate" the UUA's statement about helping the Democrats win comes in second.

Even if you’ve already called or written your senators, even if you are SICK of the debate and our action alerts on the issue, it is crucial that YOU (and your friends and family and neighbors) contact your senators ASAP to let them know that you oppose the “nuclear option” and urge them to protect the rights of the minority party by protecting the filibuster.

It was a great big Circus for the brain.

But how was that issue resolved? It was resolved when fourteen moderate senators from both sides got together and started talking. People like us were yelling at them to take extremist positions, but they started talking to each other instead.

And they worked out a compromise. The Republican party could have had the votes. They could have, and would have, taken the filibuster. But some of them knew it was wrong. The democrats who compromised caught a lot of hell for it from their own party. But it was the reasonable thing to do and they did it anyway.

Someone, at some point, had talked to their souls.

I wish it had been us.

Maybe it will be next time?

CC



*I do disagree, not because I don't feel for people who are here illegally, but because I think that letting people in indiscriminately is a band-aid approach. Foriegn aid that helps the countries people are leaving develop economically.
America is not so great, it's just that we have money. People in poorer countries do not leave their families and come here because they are dying to become Americans, but because living in a poor country sucks. Make it suck less, they will stay home, people here who want inexpensive labor will have to pay more for poor people who are legally here and everybody's happy.

This is taking that argument a little farther, perhaps much farther than my readers will be willing to follow me on it, but I actually like Globalization and think it is a good think for American companies to be up to. We complain that Nike is exploiting workers when it moves into a community and gives small farmers the chance to make sneakers instead of farming. But the fact remains that if you're a sneaker assembly guy, you may still be poor, but your children don't starve when the crops fail.

Many bad foreign aid assumptions are made when people romanticize subsistence-level farming.

29 comments:

LinguistFriend said...

I think that the issue of global warming is on a different level from issues of liberal politics and social justice. The thing is that if the global warming issue is not handled, then the scramble to deal with the results may in the long run preclude any other activity on the globe, much less in the UUA. CC's point that other organizations would deal with it better is well stated. However, at the present time, religious organization in fact do play a role in alerting and activating people to important issues in the world. Once they are alerted, they can move their efforts to more focal organizations pointed at global warming. For instance, I have been glad to see that some of the evangelicals and conservative Christians are becoming actively concerned at thet organizationsl level about global warming as an issue, because as groups they can be effective.
LinguistFriend

Chalicechick said...

I don't think that there's anybody in mainstream America who is unaware that there is a thing called Global Warming and that some scientists are concerned about it.
Though those who have been paying attention to the weather this year know that some of the more dire predictions in that movie have not come true.

The point now is where do we go from here. Additional scare tactics using the most dire predictions might work. But you've read them yourself, LF, and as a well-read man who gets the facts, you probably know that one of the biggest sources of global warming is factory farming. Have you stopped eating beef yourself?

Or is it easier to just nod seriously as you discuss at church how the Republicans should do something about Global Warming, then go home and have a steak, satisfied that by talking about it you've done your job?

Personally, I'd rather have someone stir my soul with talk about our stewardship of the planet. Which might inspire people to do more about it than talk.

Brains are so good with rationalizations about how the people in power should behave differently. Souls know that change is in all our hands.

CC

LinguistFriend said...

My goodness, I subsist mainly on turkey. From the point of view of
personality, it is hard to mourn the demise of most of the large birds (turkeys, geese, chickens, Gingriches). Beef is a rare change. The only person I can remember to have cooked a steak at the house I live in was a visitor from DC.
LinguistFriend

kim said...

CC -- I'm so glad to know that my refusal to eat beef is helping!
so far, I haven't talked the cook into being a vegetarian again, but we don't eat beef.

Save the Earth, the only planet with chocolate!

kim said...

oh, and it's interesting to see that you agree with me and Joyce on the immigrant issue.

ms. kitty said...

Well, guess I'd better weigh in on the issue. Actually, all I said was that "An Inconvenient Truth" was an informative and powerful movie and that I thought it portrayed a scenario that is almost inescapable, so we should take it seriously.

But I do think taking care of the earth is an important religious issue. Everything humankind has ever learned or understood, we have learned and understood from our relationship with the earth. It is our first and most important sacred text, from which all the words of the sages have flowed and without which all the words would be meaningless.

And because we humans are meaning-makers, we must look carefully at our sources of meaning and preserve those that are essential to our lives.

Chalicechick said...

((But I do think taking care of the earth is an important religious issue. Everything humankind has ever learned or understood, we have learned and understood from our relationship with the earth. It is our first and most important sacred text, from which all the words of the sages have flowed and without which all the words would be meaningless.)))

Shout that from the rooftops.

CC
who cooks LF steak crepes once a year or so, but only when he asks for them.

And feels LF is not addressing her point.

Barbara Preuninger said...

What a great post! I find it ironic that in UU, there is so much feeling that people who disagree with a certain set of politics are misinformed or just bad people. I hear that attitude constantly. I don't think we should stop talking about politics, but it does matter how we talk about them. For example, it's perfectly valid to say something like "as a UU, I believe the best policy is... " or "I think our principles would lead us to... conclusion on this issue". What is not fair is to say "A UU should support..." or "No UUs should vote for..."

I agree that there are many ways of possibly understanding the immigration issue. We should be talking about the importance of helping those in need (and not letting UUs comfortably forget!), and pointing out possible solutions, but letting individuals come to their own conclusions about the final answers.

All Points said...

Are you arguing that UUs have been ineffictive in dealing with political issues are that all religious bodies ahve been ineffective? Becase there is ample evidence that social change movements have come from religious bodies, throughout the history of this country. When the Cathoic Bishops speak on social issues, it *does* have an effect.

UUs may have been ineffective because there are only 200,000 of them, nad because they ahve gone about the task in an ineffective manner.

powderblue said...

Turkeys but not cows?

It’s odd that we humans can be so emotionally bonded to some birds – we grieve for the babies and mate of the mother cardinal who flies to her death into our picture window – and so ruthless to others. How have we convinced ourselves that a cardinal is a being of worth and dignity, capable of both joy and suffering, but a turkey is not?

Please take a moment to read these links. The first describes humanity’s treatment of humanely raised turkeys. The second one covers the rest.

See yourself in others, then whom can you hurt? -- Buddha

Maybe the Soul side and the Brain side working together is best for the planet and all of its earthlings.

http://www.satyamag.com/nov06/sikora.html


http://www.goveg.com/feat/butterball/butterball.asp

Chalicechick said...

Allpoints, do you really think the Catholic bishops approach politics the way we do?

I've always admired the way Catholics do politics. They make statements on policy VERY rarely, and when they do they are very quick to point out how their statement is rooted in their fath tradition.

I've been to a couple of Catholic services, and never heard anybody talking about how the people in the pews should be lobbying for this thing or that.

If we were going about things the Catholic way, I might be OK with that. Except that polity means we can't.

CC


CC

PG said...

Given that I tend to disagree with how most Catholics put their faith into politics (refuse people communion for being pro-choice, but not for being pro-war or pro-death penalty?), I'm not going to put them forth as an example others should follow. However, I will say that during the abolitionist and civil rights movements, liberal white churches also played a role in making change happen. It probably was uncomfortable to be pro-slavery or anti-civil rights in those churches when they were advocating that their members break the law by housing runaway slaves or sitting with black people in segregated public accommodations. Fortunately there were plenty of churches that would find rationale for slavery or segregation in the Bible (I don't know which I love more, the story of Ham or the idea that because God put us on different continents, He meant us to stay apart) in which those folks could find a home.

Obviously having a different solution to the problem of poverty in developing countries is very different from being in favor of slavery or segregation, but I don't think the fact that some churchmembers feel uncomfortable with political advocacy makes it inherently wrong. As you say, it should be rooted in the church's beliefs, but I don't see how global warming is necessarily an issue that can't be rooted in one's beliefs. In fact, I have difficulty thinking of any policy issue that can't relate to one's religious beliefs -- how do you think the "Religious Right" managed to become a force in politics?

That said, I totally agree with you that churches shouldn't get involved in *politics* in the sense of procedural junk like filibusters or even judicial nominations. Whether Alito should be on the Supreme Court has precious little to do with religion, but whether we should engage in war has a good deal more.

fausto said...

Back in the day, when Unitarians framed their religiously-grounded social witness in the same religious language that the rest of the country also spoke, they often led the moral and religious conversation on behalf of the entire nation, and the nation was pleased to let them, despite their small numbers.

Today, it seems, we prefer to speak primarily to ourselves, and primarily in our own religious dialect that often seems incomprehensible to outsiders.

Is it really any surprise that we have become such a small community with such an ineffective voice?

Donald O'Bloggin said...

CC, I don't think polity means we CAN'T, it's more that polity means the UUA takes its political instructions the other way round, and that our systems must be arranged in such a fashion as to reduce the temptation to let the Mob run rampant.

In some ways I think the changes made to the Statement of Conscience process from this previous GA will reduce the number of political statements the UUA makes (it at least does that to the GA).

Abolition of the Actions of Immediate Witness, or relegating them to devices used more closely with the congregations than the GA, would further such a path of more limited, but impactful statements from the UUA.

UUpdater said...

I find it odd that someone who has been concerned with UUs losing their non profit status would actually admire the Catholics. When a priest stands in the pulpit and effectively says "Now, I won't tell you who to vote for, but anyone voting pro-life has the blood of a million innocent unborn children on their hands and God is watching" that is pushing the envelope for acceptable non profit behavior IMHO. Perhaps it didn't happen in the "couple" of masses you have attended, but it happens. Or are you more referring to announcements from a Catholic Advocacy office?

joseph said...

I don't find it accurate, at least from my experience, that Catholics "rarely" make policy statements. Where does this observation or fact come from?

Indeed I feel that many communities are literally held hostage by Catholic political policy opinions, particularly around sexuality education, women's right to choose, pluralism/interfaith, etc.

Ellis said...

You know, in the three years I've been attending my local UU congregation, I don't think I've heard any policy statements from the pulpit. From the social justice committee, yes; not from the pastor. The social justice committee mostly offers opportunities to get involved in very local issues: police abuse of our local homeless youth, local fair housing ordinances. They did put out a call for attendees at our local activist coalition's rally, and they did it during a service.

Our pastor did offer sharp criticism of the government's Katrina response and of racism in general. She also called for real, concrete action and compassion.

As for the Catholic church's advocacy, I have also been attending local Catholic churches for three years. They seem to do a lot of charity, but not very much advocacy. I have noticed exactly one political statement from their priests: when the immigration issue exploded this summer, the priests got together and made a response, and shared it in worship. I have never heard of someone actually being denied Communion for being pro-choice, or for any other political or moral stance. They don't even require individual confession for Communion.

This is the main thing I've noticed about the Catholic churches I attend: they are diverse and complex. Their parishioners are also diverse, and so is their theology. But I can go to both my girlfriend's Catholic service and my UU one and hear pretty much the same sermon.

PG said...

ellis,
I doubt that the priests at the Catholic Church you attend think that the abortion views of their parishioners are significant enough that the cost-benefit analysis works out in favor of denying anyone Communion. Average Schmoe who's denied Communion will just get huffy and go to another church, or become an Episcopalian and get his wine and cracker there. Refuse Communion to a high-profile politician, on the other hand -- someone whose view on abortion is public, whereas I doubt the priest at your church even knows what all the attendees think about apbrtion -- and it becomes a big deal.

Chance said...

For a broader view of Catholicism and social issues, check out this Wikipedia article. There's a lot of overlap with Unitarians.

The Emerson Avenger said...

:I'll be honest, it hurt like hell when UUA President Bill Sinkford put out a statement on immigration that basically said that anybody who disagreed was a racist*.

Well if it will make you feel better I just lit a candle under President Bill Sinkford's hypocritical U*U. . .

Chalicechick said...

No, Robin, I wouldn't.

I think vengeance is pointless

CC

Chalicechick said...

Will respond to the quite-worthy-of-response Catholicism in politics discussion soon, possibly tomorrow.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

The current state of denominational social justice work that some disapprove of within the Unitarian Universalist Association didn't happen overnight. It was a result of an imperfect but open democratic process.

However, the same imperfect democratic process is attempting to address the concerns raised on CC's blog and Ms. Kitty's blog. The changes to the study action process can be found online here:

http://www.uua.org/csw/proposersguide06.htm

I do wonder why Robin thinks that Bill Sinkford's on immigration reform somehow say that "anybody who disagreed was a racist." That's a very unusual reinterpretation of his words. Here's what Bill Sinkford wrote:

"We are also called to acknowledge that racism has blinded most Americans to what takes place in our own kitchens, workshops, and fields. For our nation to be whole, we must acknowledge that our lives of privilege are supported in thousands of ways by people whose labor is invisible and whose suffering is hidden."
http://www.uua.org/president/060413_immigration.html

To suggest that a mention of racism as a cultural force can be equated with calling other folks racist is puzzling.

Not all racism is personal and not all racism is the work of "racists" in the sense that this word is commonly understood.

Sometimes racism is embedded in social structures, institutions, and our culture where it's often undetected. Some examples of this can be found online here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institutional_racism

The Emerson Avenger said...

Steve Caldwell said - I do wonder why Robin thinks that Bill Sinkford's on immigration reform somehow say that "anybody who disagreed was a racist."

CC said that Steve, not me, I just quoted her.

The Emerson Avenger said...

Hi CC,

The fire that I lit under UUA President Bill Sinkford's U*U is hardly "vengeance". It is entirely justified criticism of his outrageous hypocrisy that is intended to get him off his proverbial U*U and start actually practicing what he so insincerely and even outright fraudlently preaches. Over the years I have reasonably politely given President Sinkford many opportunities to practice the peacemaking that he is currently preaching in his outrageoulsy hypocritical Holiday Message but he has abjectly failed, and even obstinately refused, to make the slightest effort to do the things that he is calling upon people to do in his Holiday message. Part of the very clearly stated mission statement of The Emerson Avenger is to expose and denounce U*U hypocrisy. That is exactly what I did with this candle that I lit under Rev.
Bill Sinkford's hypocritical ass.

Chalicechick said...

I wasn't alone, Steve

Steve Caldwell said...

Robin -- sorry for the mis-attribution of CC's quote.

CC -- I'm not surprised that when you say that you are not alone on this opinion. I read and posted on Joel's blog on this issue. I'm also aware that a member of my congregation ran for the House of Representatives as a single-issue anti-immigration candidate. His campaign announcement video can be found online here:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=ATz6rtXOSSM

In a four-way race, he came fourth in conservative NW Louisiana (behind the Republican incumbent and two Democratic challengers in an open primary).

Here's what I posted on Joel's blog about the Sinkford immigration issue:

(1) Yes, there is corruption in the Mexican government and severe poverty in the Mexican economy. Addressing these issues would reduce the pressure to immigrate to the US.

(2) However, the problem isn't just the economic conditions in Mexico. There's a great demand within our economy for cheap labor and the products of cheap labor. Eric Schlosser's book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market talks about how our economy uses cheap labor using strawberry production as an example here. I think that Sinkford's letter was addressing that aspect of the problem.

(3) The current borders that exist were not created by God but rather result from 19th century manifest destiny. Folks from Mexico have always lived in what is now the Southwestern US. If they're crossing a border, remember it's a border that we created.

(4) Finally, saying that one is influenced by racism as a cultural or economic pressure isn't the same as saying that one is a "racist" in a personal sense. I think you're reading too much into Rev. Sinkford's letter.

The Emerson Avenger said...

No problem about the misattribution Steve. There was really no need to apologize for a simple mistake but it sure is nice to hear a U*U say sorry for something. It's been a long time. . . ;-)

Joel Monka said...

Steve, as you have responded both here and in my blog, I shall do likewise.

Steve, you said “(2) However, the problem isn't just the economic conditions in Mexico. There's a great demand within our economy for cheap labor and the products of cheap labor. Eric Schlosser's book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market talks about how our economy uses cheap labor using strawberry production as an example here. I think that Sinkford's letter was addressing that aspect of the problem.” What utter nonsense. Only in America can someone say something as obvious as “people want cheap products”, and therefore be a published author and quoted expert. Here’s some more startling news: everybody in every country in all of history since the invention of money wants cheaper products. There is very little public demand that we pay more for the things we buy. Never once in my life have I demanded to see the manager of my local store and said “I refuse to pay so little for this product- I demand that you charge more!” The fact that people don’t want to pay any more than they have to for their products is *NOT* an “aspect of the problem.”; it’s the perfectly natural response of a rational person. If Mexicans were offered cheaper products, they’d take them.

The problem *IS* the economic conditions in Mexico. Are you stating for the record that even if there were jobs in Mexico, 46% of it’s citizens would still rather come here?

“(3) The current borders that exist were not created by God but rather result from 19th century manifest destiny. Folks from Mexico have always lived in what is now the Southwestern US. If they're crossing a border, remember it's a border that we created.” More utter nonsense. Exactly *WHICH* “Folks from Mexico” are you referring to? The French? The Spanish? I suspect you mean “The Native Americans”- which still makes it utter nonsense. Exactly *WHICH* “Native Americans” are you referring to, white man? There were over five hundred different Indian nations, many of whom had empires and fought bitter border wars- and in the Southwest more than average! Native American nations did NOT wander as they listeth. Here in Indiana, for example, the Kickapoo were driven out by the Iroquois, (primarily the Seneca), although the Delaware received permission from the Miami (my folk) and Piankashaw about 1770 to occupy that part of Indiana between the Ohio and White Rivers, where at one period they had six villages... but they would have joined forces with the Chippewa, Erie, and Illinois to drive out the thousands of Mexicans currently flooding into the area. Were all those borders “created by God”?

P.S. You might want to try that line about the borders with the Mexican government- they defend their southern borders from still poorer illegal immigrants with helicopters and machine guns.

“(4) Finally, saying that one is influenced by racism as a cultural or economic pressure isn't the same as saying that one is a "racist" in a personal sense. I think you're reading too much into Rev. Sinkford's letter.” Tell me, how is it possible for me to be blinded by racism in any but a personal sense? When I am told that to be whole, I must acknowledge that my life of privilege is supported by people who suffer, just how am I supposed to take that? When he likens it to the days of slavery- even though the current “oppressed” fight to get here and stay here- how am I supposed to take it? Did he just mention slavery in passing just as a lark, and not intend to raise images of the auction block and the whip?