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?
*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.