Friday, September 22, 2006

More on keeping (even my) religion out of the schools

A followup to this post.

A very nice lady from a UU-run organization called "Promise the Children" wrote a response to my post about Sinkford's new political stand for us. I think this is a discussion worth having where people can see it, so I'm making my response a new post. You can read her response to me here.

(((UU congregations' advocacy efforts advance the profile of our denomination and attract congregants.)))

This is a really common opinion among people who want politics to be a huge part of who we are. But I've never understood it. Why would people who come to UUism for the politics rather than coming for the religion make good congregants?

If they had to choose between funding worship activites and funding political activities, which would they pick?

If Bob joins the church because the church believes in gay marriage and is bugging their local legislative body to allow it, and the legislative body votes and settles the issue one way or another, why would Bob stay in the church? The reason he came is gone. If he's looking for politics rather than religion, won't he just move on?

I'm glad that some individuals at the grassroots level want to fight for comprehensive sexuality education. They should do that. As individuals or as members of the numerous non-religiously affiliated groups that exist for the purpose. As a church, we should be staying out of political issues. Don't you think the evangelicals who want creationism taught also view what they are doing as "reality-based" and "social justice work?" They might have different terms for it, but it's the same idea. My philosophy is that if we want religion out of the schools, we need to keep OUR religion out of the schools.

Honestly, the impression I get from the comments on my last post is that people think "Religions shouldn't have sway over what is taught in schools, except for when UUs want something, because UUs are correct. It's all those OTHER religions that have crazy ideas that should be kept out."

Y'all don't think the evangelicals and mormons are saying the same thing?

As for growth and politics not being mutually exclusive, the UUA has made headlines about politics for at least four decades at this point. My old church on the edge of New Orleans was formed when the downtown church was so overrun with hippies that the group of people who supported the Vietnam war felt they had to leave.

So how big has decades of activism made our church? (Answer:217,000 people in a country with circa 300 million people.) Is it the size we want it to be?

And if it isn't, why are we advocating doing the same thing we've been doing and saying that "this time" it will be effective?

And when was the last time Sinkford sent out a letter about growing the church rather than a letter about what we should be writing to our congressmen about?

(((Without UU social justice initiatives, many congregants would drift away, and the denomination would lose much of its vitality.)))

Wow. So you think social justice programs are propping up UUism because the religion isn't enough? Without politics, we would all "drift away?"

Sunday morning must not mean much to anyone for whom that is true.

People see me as a curmudgeon sometimes, but that is a far more cynical sentiment than anything I've ever said about UUism.



Anonymous said...

I'd stop being active in UUism at this point in my life if we stopped doing social justice work and I imagine a lot of Young Adults would too. As a college student, I don't feel like waking up on Sunday mornings to walk down to a church full of older adults. I have no connections there. I do have connections in my campus ministry group, so I'd rather attend that. And if my campus ministry group refused to do social justice work, I'd stop going to that too.
Social Justice and volunteer work is one of the many ties that us together. I'll use a simple example that happened at my old congregation. Once in the spring, summer, and fall most of the congregation got together and help clean the grounds and did other gardening around the church. This is volunteer work, and it brought the congregation together in an intergenerational way.
Some of our churches have a lot of issues doing intergenerational work, and social justice work usually becomes intergenerational. Atleast more so than your average Sunday service. So if we didn't do social justice work, we wouldn't be serving our congregants. Or maybe we would, the ones that only come for the sermon on Sunday...but how many of those are there?

Chalicechick said...

FWIW, I'm in my twenties and a young adult, too.

A few clarifications:

When "social justice work" means essenntially "charity work," I don't mind that at all. In fact, I think it's great.

My concern is when "social justice work" means "political lobbying."

Building a house for habitat for humanity? Good thing.

Preaching about whether congress should confirm a Supreme Court justice from the pulpit? Bad thing.

FWIW, as your college career continues, you might find that being completely surrounded by people your own age gets a little boring after awhile. When I was in college, I found out after awhile that older sdults had read more interesting books, done more cool things and been more cool places than my friends my age. Some of them were pretty good to talk to as well.

Cleaning the grounds is just fine as an intergenerational activity.

Again, my concern is when we do the very things we don't want conservative christians doing.

Like forming political groups to get school boards to teach things the way our religion says they should be taught.


LaReinaCobre said...

Churches - and other religious institutions - should be relevant to their congregants lives.

I would be interested to see a list of interests that are political and not spiritual.

For example, when I was Muslim and attended mosques, we would do clothing drives for recently arrived refugee families. Is that political? Is that spiritual at all?

We would also raise money for folks that were suffering from wars in places like Afghanistan, Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir. Is that political?

The organization I volunteered for many years for was engaged in providing outreach and education to both the Muslim community and the wider community. It was actually doing a lot more on that end than the mosques, which were far too insular and lacking tenacious leadership that knew how to connect with the wider community. Basically, this organization was a sort of mosque.

None of its work drove Muslims away. If anything, it formed a cohesive constant. There were problems, but they had do to with personalities, not with structure or aims.

I'm not sure that being "too political" is what the "problem" is with UUism.

For some of us at least, who view our whole lives as political (being Muslim, for example, was both a spiritual and political identity for my parents) because we are so subject to politics (look at the so-called Black Church, for example), there need not be any contradiction. Indeed, for Christians and Muslims (possibly others, I do not know), religion is a way of life, not a private secret or something-on-the-side.

In my church, we have grown hugely in the last 12 or so years, since gaining our current senior minister. One of the major events of our church is that she took a stand against an anti-gay/lesbian ballot measure. We put a big ribbon around our church that addressed the issue. Our taking a stand on this issue attracted many, many gays and lesbians to our church, and our church has many gay and lesbian members. One of the board members spoke in the last year about how seeing that ribbon around this building with what a sign reading something about equality or that stupid measure, is what specifically brought her to it. Of course, the ribbon and sign were not enough to keep her there. Other things had to keep her there. She did stay, obviously. We are in the top 3 of largest UU congregantions in the US/world, even though Portland is a very liberal town, and there are five or six other congregations in the vicinity.

Why is that? Surely there has been a study done to look at the largest churches and examine their success. And also, to look at the smaller, thriving congregations and examine their success. To my mind, it's mostly about leadership. You can have great rallies and you can have great worships, but if you've got directionless leadership that isn't willing to do or say anything about anything, you're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Dear CC,

Thank you for being so attentive to my comment and taking the time to respond in-depth.

One of your main arguments is that as long as we maintain that it is ok for congregations to take stands on political issues, then we have no moral standing to criticize conservative religious groups for also being active in politics.

However, I believe it is acceptable (even necessary) for religious bodies to take stands on public policy. When we challenge conservative religious groups that are politically active, it should be on the substance of their arguments.

To use a slightly different example than previously: Christian congregations promoting abstinence-only education should be criticized not because they are mixing religion and politics, but because they want inaccurate and incomplete information taught in public schools. UU’s can engage on the merits of the issue; we want accurate and complete information taught in schools.

I also think that, from a tactical point of view, liberal religious groups will make a greater positive impact in the world by engaging in politics than by focusing inward. To the extent provided by the law, liberal congregations should use their lobbying power. If we have a peaceful mechanism for making society more just, who are we not to use it?

You also raised the question: “So you think social justice programs are propping up UUism because the religion isn't enough? Without politics, we would all ‘drift away?’”

Our social justice work and vision for society are intrinsically connected to our values and beliefs. The commitment of our congregations to promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person has social and political implications. “Bob” (to use your earlier example) is drawn to a UU congregation because he sees that people there not only believe in marriage equality, but are willing to put time and energy into supporting it. “Religion” is not beliefs or ideas alone, but also actions. Bob stays in the congregation after the legislative issue is decided because he knows this community is one that cares enough about justice to take political action.

If UU leaders were to suddenly say, ‘ok, we still believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, but we’re no longer encouraging our congregations to advocate for afterschool programs, or increase the minimum wage, or promote marriage equality,’ many UU congregants would see this as theologically illogical (and perhaps hypocritical).

Yes, we have been working on social justice issues for decades and yes, our denomination has not grown. However, it is not clear to me that the reason our denomination has not grown is because it has been working on social justice issues. (I have heard a number of other reasons suggested by UU’s for why many congregations have not grown, and there are lots of proposals for increasing growth that do not require cutting political engagement).

Wow! This has been a very thought-provoking and it has been exciting to read your more recent posts as well as those by other commenters.

(Disclaimer: I should add that while I heartily recommend folks check out Promise the Children’s blog , I only speak as one staff member of the organization, and do not claim to represent the opinions of the staff, board members, or the organization as a whole).

LinguistFriend said...

Sinkford does not make a lot of noise about what he has done towards growing the church, because his efforts in that direction have been misdirected and very expensive. The mega-church effort in Texas was a failure, to be followed by efforts elsewhere on the same model, which probably is inappropriate to UU churches.