Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Standing on the Side of Keeping Religion out of Schools

Sinkford's latest article in UU World really pissed me off.

So why is it that we are totally in favor of keeping religion out of schools when evolution is the question, but when the subject is sex ed, our church is supposed to behave as a political force to get what we want taught in the schools?

Are we correct? Of course we're correct. Of course I believe in comprehensive sex ed. If a bunch of individuals (UU or otherwise) want to fight for that or give money to organizations that will, they have my blessing. That's not the point. The point is that the UUA is not a lobbying group and has better things to do.

I, for one, am standing on the side of spending our energies growing the damn denomination rather than wasting what little credibility we have campaigning for things we will have no effect on one way or another.

In his letter Sinkford writes "Our leadership in the fight for marriage equality has been sustained and effective," which is a bizarre sentiment coming from a man who lives in a country where gay marriage is illegal everyplace but Massacusetts and 20 states have laws explicitly banning gay marriage and in many cases anything that even SOUNDS LIKE gay marriage.

Sinkford writes "As I told the General Assembly in June, the UUA now has the capacity to advance multiple issues at the same time."

Can we make growing the Unitarian Universalism an issue then? It's not sexy like lobbying, but if we do it right, someday, maybe a politician will actually care about what the Unitarian Universalists think about an issue.

Until then, while there are on 217,000 of us in a contry with 300 million voters, I promise you, nobody does.



Lizard Eater said...

Amen, my sister!

Bill Baar said...

Part of the problem is Sinkford doesn't say what he means.

We fought for marriage equality. I think he means we favor allowing same-sex marriage.

We do discriminate against radical Mormonism's polygamy.

At least I think UUA does. I believe its a form of marriage that inevitably involves the subjegation of women.

If I'm wrong here and Sinkford means something else with marriage equality I need to know.

Otherwise my thought is wouldn't it just be easier and clearer to the rest of the world if we just said we favor same-sex marriage? Wouldn't that just make our ethics on sexuality and marriage clear to all?

The deeper question though, and the one that gets to your buiding UUism, is why a faith that welcomes same-sex marriage has so little appeal --it seems to me-- to Gays?

I lived in Oak Park Illinois with the largest per capita population of Gays in Illinois yet I always felt the conservative and Catholic Churches had far larger Gay memberships. I'd ask Gay friends why and it was because Christian faith that appealed to them.

Our's didn't. Something was missing.

I thought it a curious failure.

I'm not Christian UUism as the solution, but mabye a good first step is just getting a leadership that writes clear statments and avoids confusing marriage equality with same-sex marriage.

Robin Edgar said...

But the UUA *is* a lobbying group CC. . . Surely you have figured that out by now. . .

Chalicechick said...

One aspect of the UUA is a lobbying group and it is an aspect that seems to have more control than I would like.

But the UUA is a pretty multifacted organizaiton.

powderblue said...

One of the attractions of Unitarian Universalism for me is an emphasis (not the only one) on advocacy for justice, both locally and nationally. Maybe we are too small nationally to have an effect worth the effort, although I doubt it. Our congregation is small in my community compared to many other churches here, but we have had a disproportionately high amount of visibility and involvement on several social justice initiatives, some successful.

We look at growth to be a local matter: publicizing our identity and programs, inviting friends and acquaintances to service and other activities, paying attention to visitors during and after their time with us. I wish we always did it well. That said, I don’t see how the UUA could help us much more than they already are with pamphlets for visitors and reference materials for increasing growth. To my knowledge, the churches around the country have grown successfully have focused their efforts primarily, if not entirely, at the local level.

Robin Edgar said...

You're splitting hairs CC. . . Sure the UUA does other things but my point that, amongst other things, it *is* effectively a political lobbying group is perfectly valid.

Anonymous said...

the UUA is working on growth. There are several projects going on. We're just not very good at it.
Here in the SF Bay area we are gearing up to do one of those big media blitzes in January. Other areas are doing the same.
But we have a pretty intellectual approach to religion and the whole concept of being intellectual is just disappearing from American culture -- who would we appeal to?

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
"So why is it that we are totally in favor of keeping religion out of schools when evolution is the question, but when the subject is sex ed, our church is supposed to behave as a political force to get what we want taught in the schools?"


I would suggest that many Unitarian Universalists are in favor of teaching evolution and not teaching "intelligent design" in public schools has less to do with religious belief and more to do with the fact that modern evolutionary biology theory has a better grounding in reality.

Many Unitarian Universalist who are in favor of teaching comprehensive sexuality education and not teaching abstinence-only sexuality education for a similar reason. It also has a better grounding in reality.

It's worth examining the differences in outcomes between the United States (which offers very little comprehensive lifespan sexuality education) with the Western European democracies (which offer age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education throughout the lifespan). Check out this fact sheet from Advocates for Youth:


I would suggest that our US teen pregnancy rates, teen abortion rates, and STD rates are higher than our European counterparts because we don't offer effective education as a national priority.

What we do offer as a "national priority" (federal subsidy of abstinence-only education) makes the problem worse because it (like "intelligent design") isn't grounded in reality.

I suppose the problem with reality was pointed out to us by Stephen Colbert recently -- reality has a well-documented liberal bias.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
"I, for one, am standing on the side of spending our energies growing the damn denomination rather than wasting what little credibility we have campaigning for things we will have no effect on one way or another."


You may want to screen the documentary "Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque" for an adult RE discussion in your congregation.

It shows what effect that one committed UU parent can have on the quality of sexuality education in her community and her state.

This documentary is available for very low cost from the filmmaker (just shipping and handling) or you can get it from the UUA Washington Office.

Steve Caldwell said...

Bill Baar wrote:
"Part of the problem is Sinkford doesn't say what he means.

We fought for marriage equality. I think he means we favor allowing same-sex marriage.

We do discriminate against radical Mormonism's polygamy."


I think that everyone who is familar with popular culture knows that we're in favor of same-sex marriage (e.g. the Unitarian reference in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back").

I suspect that we're using "marriage equality" as a way of framing the issue (using Lakeoff's idea of "framing). By framing the issue as an "equality" issue, folks who are against same sex marriage have to explain why they're not in favor of fairness and equality. This framing puts those in favor of marriage equality at an advantage.

That's a legitimate political tactic and it's OK for us to use it in our issue advocacy work.

Our opposition uses similar tactics. They're calling their work against marriage equality a "defense of marriage." This framing puts those in favor of marriage equality at a disadvantage.

We do have past General Assembly votes from congregational delegates supporting marriage equality (aka same sex marriage) and comprehensive sexuality education.

Regarding the polygamy question ... We do not have any GA votes in favor or against multiple partner marriages in general.

As multiple partner marriages are currently practiced by the Fundamentalist LDS groups, we do have past GA votes that would condemn certain aspects of these multiple partner marriages (e.g. abuse of minors).

Keep in mind that Bill Sinkford's decision to speak or not speak on an issue have to stay within the guidance that congregations have provided through open and democratic process at previous General Assemblies (admittedly not a perfect process but it's all that we have at this time).

That's why Sinkford is speaking on same-sex marriage and comprehensive sexuality education.

That's why Sinkford isn't speaking on multiple partner marriage.

Steve Caldwell said...

One final comment about the "keeping religion out of schools" concern that CC brought up.

The Our Whole Lives curriculum (which secular sexuality and health educators consider to be one of the best curricula available) isn't a religious curriculum.

While it may not be politically feasible for many school districts to offer Our Whole Lives in public schools, there is no First Amendment separation of church and state problems with using OWL in public schools. OWL isn't explicitly religious and could be taught in every public school in our nation without raising any church/state issues.

However, OWL does become a religious education curriculum when combined with the UU or UCC supplements (Sexuality and Our Faith). This is how OWL is used in our congregations.

The UUA and UCC (through their publishing partnership) have provided the wider community with one of the best available sexuality education resources. While OWL does implicitly reflect UU and UCC theology through its program values, it makes no explicit religious references and can be used in non-religious secular settings.

This is just one example of how our impact on the world is larger than one would expect based on our membership numbers.

Bill Baar said...

Then Sinkford is not unclear at all, but a politician; framing the issues.

To my way of thinking, we need leadership that guides us towards a sexual ethic. A comprehensive ethics which can speak to both same-sex marriage and polygamy among other things.

That's the only way expand beyond our American frame to places where polygamy practiced.

We don't need politicians, and especially not politicians who define an opposition for us; for we have much to offer.

And we certainly don't need bad politicians offering a binary frame of the nurturing parent or authoritative parent when most people universally desire and deserve to be treated as adults. Even my kids ask for that.

So we find ourselves with a leadership which won't speak to the ethics of polygamy, and instead offer what seems to me a losing, and almost insulting, political-frame.

That's not good.

Anonymous said...

Bill Baar -- the description of politics as "Nurturant Parent" or "Strict Father" is not prescriptive, it is descriptive. It is not what someone wants, it is what already is. It is an unconscious position far below our conscious thoughts.

Bill Baar said...

Darn right Kim!

We practice politics as Pyschiatry.

Read E.J.Dionnes review of David S. Brown's "Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography".

The late Christopher Lasch, one of Hofstadter's students and an admiring critic, noted that by conducting "political criticism in psychiatric categories," Hofstadter and his intellectual allies excused themselves "from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation."

Lasch added archly: "Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds."

This was, I believe, a wrong turn for liberalism. It was a mistake to tear liberalism from its populist roots and to emphasize the irrational element of popular movements almost to the exclusion of their own self-understanding.

We practice politics as Pyschiatry and avoid the difficult work of judgment and argumentation.

Anonymous said...

Focusing on growth and focusing on advocacy are not mutually exclusive. As powderblue pointed out, UU congregations' advocacy efforts advance the profile of our denomination and attract congregants. I would say the inverse is also true. Without UU social justice initiatives, many congregants would drift away, and the denomination would lose much of its vitality.

Also, the push for UU's to stand together in favor of comprehensive sexuality education is not entirely a top-down phenomenon. There is significant enthusiasm at the grassroots level for promoting healthy approaches to sexuality.

I work for Promise the Children, a Unitarian Universalist organization that advocates for and with children and youth. We actively promote comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive rights for youth. Regular updates can be found at our blog www.promisethechildrenuu.org/act/blog )

LaReinaCobre said...

I would agree about the comprehensive sexual education being a grassroots thing. It is something I have seen many, many, many youth and young adults be engaged in, not to mention individual congregations.

Chalicechick said...

I do not deny that many UU individuals like this issue and want to support it.

My concern is that congregations and our national association shouldn't be doing so if we want any credibility at all when we talk about keeping religion out of the schools in evolution discussions.

There are many organizations already committed to this issue. The facts are on our side. What can UUism add to the issue that isn't already being said by someone else and why can't people support other groups working on this issue instead of having a religion-specific organization?

My full response is here.


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).

LaReinaCobre said...

You say"What can UUism add to the issue that isn't already being said by someone else and why can't people support other groups working on this issue instead of having a religion-specific organization?"

But Steve addressed the issue of the OWL curriculum. This is an example in which UUs demonstrate leadership not just within their own congregations but in the national community at large, in providing a service that can be utilized by others.

Are you saying that this was a mistake? I'm not sure where you are drawing the line.

Chalicechick said...

Creating the OWL curriculem and making it available to churches/school districts/individuals who want to use it is great.

But trying to impose OWL or OWL-like education on all school districts? Perhaps a laudable goal, but not something a church should be doing, IMHO.