Saturday, September 23, 2006

More on the role of politics in UUism.

Hafida asked:

For example, are Muslims in a mosque acting spiritually or politically when they attempt to respond collectively to a piece of legislation that disproportionately negatively impacts them? Were black folks mixing church and state when they organized in churches to march against Jim Crow laws?

Maybe it is that it's 7:30am, but I'm having trouble applying the first situation to UUism. As for the second situation, the crucial difference to me was that often the black church was usually the only place people who wanted to work on Jim Crow laws COULD get together.

I will admit a certain degree of leniance when reasonable people feel that the church is the ONLY place they can express their political views. When I went to church in South Carolina, there was a lady who worked in the public school system who every year did a political speech for a lay sermon. When she said the church was the ONLY place she could discuss gay rights without facing potential retribution, I felt that she had to be cut a bit of slack.

That said, after the first time I never again went to church on the Sunday of her lay service. Hearing Bush criticized doesn't feed my soul.

So yes, I'm willing to look past some organizing in places where liberals pretty much can't get together anywhere else. Especially if they can keep it mostly out of Sunday morning, though in my experience, they pretty much never can. My experience, over and over, has been that the people who talk politics at church and the people who tal about religion are rarely the same people.

But, this woman's service aside, in South Carolina I never felt like the political element was treated as the most important reason to go to church. I do feel like some people here and in UUism's leadership treat it that way.

I like moderation too, but not of things that are destructive. I don't want a moderate number of termites in my house, I don't want my church cited by the Federal Election Commission a moderate number of times.

Responses to Shelby:

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.

Well, I am certain that many Christian congregations regard such sentiments as "masturbation is ok" and "homosexuality is normal" inaccurate and incomplete. When we argue with such statements on secular grounds (e.g. Scientists say homosexuality shows up all the time in the animal kingdom and is probably biological to some degree,) we don't really have to deal with this issue.

Once we're saying "Scientists agree with us AND our view is morally right" by arguing on religious grounds, we make their arguments more powerful by letting them bring in their moral issues.

"Let's keep religion out of it and teach the facts" is a far more defensible position and far more consistent position with our usual pleas to keep religion out of school.

(((If we have a peaceful mechanism for making society more just, who are we not to use it?)))

1. Because we are too small to be particularly effective at it, especially on a national level.

2. Because there are other groups already working on such issues and usually more effectively so. We can use it more effectively by joining these groups as individuals. Reinventing the wheel just so we can have a UU group is silly.

3. Because we're not MoveOn. We're a church. There are many ways of improving the world. Perhaps preaching about goodness and mercy is a more subtle way, but that doesn't make it less powerful.

4. Because it's obnoxious when other churches do it, yet for some reason we can't smell our own stink on the issue.

5. Because as a creedless religion, we don't have a mechanism for making sure what we're doing is something that people agree with. Republicans usually leave very political congregations because they get sick of the money they donate going to fight for things they don't believe in. When we make our church only for people who agree with us politically, we decrease our diversity and we contribute to a polarized society. William Ellery Channing was a social conservative. Wouldn't you want him to feel comfortable in your church?

6. Because the Federal Election Commission is getting really sick of the "Two days before the presidential election, we're going to preach about how Jesus wouldn't have liked George Bush. But it's a religious thing, not a political one. We totally swear" stuff. If the FEC decides to start pulling the tax-exempt status of churches, the churhc without a creed will be the first to go.

7. Because in many churches, political activity takes the place of charitable activity just about entirely. Political activity lets us feel like we are helping people without requiring us to really do all that much. Why clean up a stream when you can hand around a petition without breaking your nails?

8. Because we were discussing this issue at my church retreat and a bunch of people were asking questions like "How can a Christian believe in the death penalty?" and I said "Why don't you find a conservative you know and ask that person? The reasonableness of the answer might surprise you."

And a lady haughtily looked at me and said, "All of my friends are liberals, I work with only liberals and a conservative wouldn't make it very long in our church. I don't KNOW any conservatives!"

I think more than one more voice for liberalism, we need to have a place that brings people together on neutral ground where they can talk and start to understand each other.

"You're technically welcome in our church, but we're going to say nasty things about politicians you might like whenever we feel like it and we're going to give some of the money you give to the church away to a group that's fighting for something you don't want and pay the salary of some full-time lobbyist in Washington DC who will lie to you and try to get congress to do things you don't believe are right" is not welcoming.

"We disagree on the politics, but we agree that we all want the highest and best. Let's talk about it while we make sandwiches for the homeless, because that sermon on poverty really inspired me to go out and help somebody" sounds better to me.



Jamie Goodwin said...

Every year at my church, usually during the summer, a woman in my church. An african-american republican woman does a service.

She unapologetically puts her ideas into this service. This past year she talked a lot about "no child left behind". Now we have a lot of teachers in my congregation and it is fair to say not a few of them where squirming.

After the service I looked over to the woman sitting next to me, a recently retired teacher herself, and said to her "It looked like some of that service didn't sit well with you" and she said. "I felt leaving, but I would never do that to [Her]."

We accept that we disagree with her, and love her, and want her in our congregation. We ask her every year, multiple times a year, to speak from our pupit. Not because we want a black face or a republican, but simply because we love her, and respect her, and want her in our congregation.

We disagree but we respond in love.

To have a religious community that one our strongest ideas is that we believe we can make a difference, regardless of our size, regardless of our diversity of thought, regardless of who can do it better. We believe WE can make a difference.

Sure sometimes we screw up, we unconciously alienate people, and say insensitive things. But I don't want to talking to end, I don't want in my church for anyone to be afrain to stand up and say what they believe because of fear of upsetting someone.

Sometimes a little squirming is a good thing. We can't get there if we do not start moving.

That's how I feel about it. Show up, listen, respond in love. Even when you disagee.

Bill Baar said...

Is their a political test for being a UU? Sort of a revese of the religous test secular society once imposed.

Can a UU support confirmation of Judge Alito and still be a UU?

PeaceBang said...

CC, given your recent call to disband the Washington office, how do you feel about the fact that most mainstream religious groups in America have an equivalent office?

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about it while we make sandwiches for the homeless, because that sermon on poverty really inspired me to go out and help somebody" sounds better to me.

Two things:
1)because making sandwiches is putting out fires while not trying to find the arsonist.
2)because the religious right is making politics a religious issue and we need to defend our liberal values from a vicious unprincipled onslaught.

Anonymous said...


The religious right loves UUs because they see us as proof that liberals don't really believe in separation of church and state.

For example, a while back a broad coalition of mainline church leaders criticized an anti-abortion event called "Justice Sunday" as mixing church and state. Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins issued a press release claiming that his group had gotten the idea and name for "Justice Sunday" from the UUs.

Perkins wrote supportively, " In fact, as far as we can determine, the Unitarian Church was the first to apply the term Justice Sunday to a public policy initiative discussed from pulpits on a designated day. No one involved in our Justice Sunday II objects to these efforts of liberal religious bodies, in principle."

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