Saturday, March 03, 2007

CC's most pressing concerns

Another response to LT

I personally would LOVE if church could be an apolitical oasis where we could focus on living our own lives righteously rather than telling the government what to do.

As I've observed throughout my life a rough inverse relationship between the amount of political action a church does and the amount of actual charitable work helping people the church does, I am particularly cynical about the topic. (Yes, I know Kim's church is an exception.)

I honestly think that taking the separation of church and state seriously is the best approach for us.

If nothing else, conservative churches are FAR better mixing church and state. Painting ourselves as taking the constitutional high road seems a much better frame to adopt than the apparent "Well, if you're going to campaign in church, so are we...just...less...effectively" approach seemingly favored by the liberals I know.

As for your implication that I'm saying people don't have the "right to express their opinion," let me say for the record that I do think you have the "right" to say, stand up in church and crow that your party won, harass your fellow congregants to sign your petition at coffee hour and encourage your kids to make the Republican kids in Sunday school so uncomfortable that they feel they must leave.

I just think you're an asshole if you do any of that, and I think we should not be encouraging people to be assholes.

(((There are no neutral corners anymore. I think that is just the reality of this society right now, whether we like it or not. )))

Ummm... Actually, a lot of people I know work for the federal government. Politicking of any sort is illegal there. I worked for the department of commerce and the defense department for awhile and never heard a bit of political discussion because political discussion there can get you fired.

If you choose to let politics seep into every corner of your life, that's your business, but there are plenty of people who can't professionally or who simply choose not to.

(((As more and more things become politically charged in a polarized environment, the "no politics in church position" makes the church irrelevant to the most pressing concerns of the people. ))))

Would you believe, LT, that my most pressing concerns are not political ones? That right now:

- How to live a straightforward life in a complex world,
- What I owe a family that hasn't always treated me well but needs me desperately now,
-How to have a law career with integrity,
-How to help raise my housemates' kid to greet the world with love yet be cautious,
-Whether my socipathic brother has a soul,
-The most appropriate way to right the wrongs I've committed in my life,
-What level of personal comfort is it OK to allow myself in a world where people are suffering,
- and how best to serve the ideals of truth, beauty, holiness and justice

are my most pressing concerns?

I don't think that it is natural to have a congregation that collectively feels political issues are their most pressing concern.

I think if one has one, it's because the church has been so relentlessly political that everyone else has left in frustration.

Personally, I'm happy to join organizations that are willing to work on political issues I care about.

But only church has ever helped me with my real most pressing concerns.

I wish we did more of that and less of political stuff one can find so easily other places. I think as a church we are better suited to deal with concerns like mine than political issues anyway.



Anonymous said...

{What level of personal comfort is it OK to allow myself in a world where people are suffering}

I'm not sure where I fall on the whole politics in church issue, or how to articulate where I fall, so forgive me for sort of glossing over that part and asking if you have made any progress on the question above. Inquiring minds want to know. Also, did you decide to go to Georgetown?

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
"I personally would LOVE if church could be an apolitical oasis where we could focus on living our own lives righteously rather than telling the government what to do."


To borrow from the religious education work of Maria Harris (the author of Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church), I don't think it's possible to avoid giving a message about politics in our churches.

Maria Harris' book mentions the idea of "null curriculum" -- in other words, those subjects that are not presented and not discussed in the church environment.

If we don't talk about social justice issues, then we're making a null curriculum statement about these issues.

Anonymous said...

Politics is the study/use of power. How can we not address the religious issue of power?
Power corrupts. That is of religious concern. Corruption is the opposite of the righteous life you want to know how to live. You consider exploring that righteousness to be religious, so why wouldn't exploring its opposite also be religious?

Chalicechick said...


I don't care if we are null on politics.

We can be that and still not be null on justice.

We can talk about the fundamental ideals of stewardship of the planet without donating church money to groups lobbying to keep a new highway from being built.

We can talk about freedom and liberty without presenting poorly-informed skits about the patriot act written by people who either haven't read the patriot act or don't mind lying about what is in it.

We can talk about our duty to the older generations without bitching from the pulpit about the Republican efforts to privatize social security, again not fundamentally understanding what was going on, which Republicans were advocating what and certainly not having bothered to actually read any proposed legislation.

(You know those are real examples I've actually witnessed, from three different UU churches in three different states.)

We treat the fact that UUs have more advanced degrees per capita than any other faith as a bad thing and a sign of our own elitism, but it does have the side benefit of highlighting that UUs collectively ain't stupid.

Make a general point about a general principle and the people in the pews will grasp the policy applications of that principle. And to my mind they might be more inspired to do something about it as "Look for ways that you can work to share what you have and take care of the poor" is fundamentally a more soul-stirring message than "NO on proposition 14!"


Chalicechick said...

(((You consider exploring that righteousness to be religious, so why wouldn't exploring its opposite also be religious?)))


Though I'm not a fan of collective masochism and knowing the way UUs think invariably what I'm about to suggest would veer in this direction, if, as individuals, we wanted to explore our own power, as parents, at work, in our social relationships and focus on how to us it justly and reasonably without letting it corrupt us, that would a be basically a good thing.*

But to pretend that the amount of bitching about President Bush that goes on at UU coffee hours and sometimes from UU pulpits is an actual study of power and corruption is to give ourselves entirely too much credit.

(And ignore that we felt no need to delve into the corruption of Bill Clinton, or at least we certainly didn't do it with the vigor we have in attacking Bush.)


*Indeed, several of my pressing concerns could be taken as questions about this issue.

As I wrote, my family was pretty damaging to me when I was growing up and gave me wounds I still have. As my parents age and it becomes more and more obvious that neither of my brothers will ever be able to support themselves, I am the one with the power (primarily in the forms of money, mental stability and coping skills, though the law degree I'm going to get won't hurt) now.

Do I remind them of the decades of pain they caused me as I abandon them? (Hint: No.)

Do I silently swallow all of said pain and play the dutiful family member at every turn, happily acting as Supergirl and ATM while they merrily continue to screw up their lives? (Hint: No.)

So where in the middle should I be? What are my responsibilities? To what requests can I answer "no" and still be a good and righteous person and a responsible member of a messy family?

That's fundamentally a power question and to my thinking a far more interesting and spiritually useful one than the "How closely can we mimic 'Move-On' and still keep our tax exemption?" question that seems the fundamental one in all of the political stuff.

(And yes, even the question about my parents has policy implications.)


Comrade Kevin said...

Church, ultimately, ought to be a social gathering of like-minded individuals.

It shouldn't be about making money. It should be about growth, but growth for the sake of impacting peoples' lives in a positive direction--spreading the good news, rather than the "edifice" complex.

The church I was in when I lived in Birmingham fell into that trap. They wanted a new building so badly and they got it, but found themselves utterly unable to pay for its upkeep. They four families who felt like they owned the place set everything up and now are left utterly shipwrecked as to how to fund this enormous endeavor. I was one of three people who voted against moving from the current location.

That said like minded individuals are often times militantly political is unavoidable. Unitarian and activist liberal tend to be synonymous.

As we have mentioned over and over again, Unitarians tend to be intensely private people about their religious views. I'm open about my Unitarianism and articulate it openly. But I am not prideful nor boastful when I do so. There are many challenges to articulating our faith and many people quick to associate reaching out to other people in need of a social network as the worst sort of conversion and brainwashing.

Unitarians are hyper-individuals and free spirits and getting them to agree on anything coherent is a challenge in a half.

As for your own personal challenges: my advice to you is this. You cannot begin to fix your social network until you begin to work on your own personal issues. Having identified them, focus on them, then you will have energy to focus externally.

Steve Caldwell said...


In past youth ministry training workshops I've attended, I've heard two types of terminology used for describing the types of work that UU congregations and other UU groups can do on social issues.

The terminology distinction that I've heard is between "social action" work and "social justice" work.

Social action work is work to meet immediate needs. An example would be feeding and sheltering local homeless families by a congregation.

Social justice work would be addressing the root causes of problems like homelessness and hunger and looking for long-term systemic solutions that we can support.

Ideally, social action and social justice work is not an "either/or" decision. For congregations, it can be a "both/and" decision.

Also, ancedotal examples of poorly done social justice advocacy work within a UU congregation is not an argument against all social justice advocacy work in UU congregations anymore than a lousy sermon is an argument against all sermons or ordained clery engaging in sexual misconduct an argument against ordained clergy.

From my perspective, if a congregation only addresses the immediate effects of injustice without addressing root causes, it's like providing band aids from broken glass when the long-term solution would be to sweep up the broken glass.

I suppose we have to work on both the long-term systemic causes and the immediate needs.

Chalicechick said...

OK, assuming even that one gets one's facts correct, exactly how is preaching about social security or the patriot act to a bunch of liberals "sweeping up the glass?"

And giving money to a group lobbying for one highway not to be built isn't addressing root causes either.

I've heard the "root causes" argument before, and I've never understoood it as it always seems to be applied to things that are, well, not root causes.

The election of Republicans is not a root cause of social problems in this country, I should add.


Anonymous said...

I have been a UU for less than a year. The only UU church I have ever been to is the one I am a member of. From what I have read, it must be an exceptional congregation in that I have witnessed virtually no partisan political grandstanding from the pulpit or even at social hour. On the surface, there is no reason a conservative would be made to feel uncomfortable.

However there seems to be a mostly unspoken assumption that almost all of us are politically liberal. Social issues such as living wage, reproductive rights and marriage equality are addressed from the pulpit regularly. It is my understanding that we have a long history of addressing theses social issues. Liberals pretty will own these issues, if anyone does. The conservative approach to these kind of issues seems to be to do nothing and spin that as better than doing something.

So with all due respect, I just don’t get the conservative UU argument. At a practical level how does it work?

Chalicechick said...

(((So with all due respect, I just don’t get the conservative UU argument. At a practical level how does it work? )))

Well, again, I'm not a conservative, and I don't have a whole ton of time right now, but to give you a general idea, the Conservative UUs I know tend more toward the libertarian angle of conservatism. They are great believers in personal responsibility, and don't mind paying the injured, handicapped, mentally ill, etc, SSI benefits, but want everybody else to have to work to recieve welfare. (Ronald Reagan, after all, was a big supporter of the earned income tax credit.)

I agree with them on some things. They tend to want religions on both sides to stay out of the schools and stip trying to influence what is taught there. They emphasize the personal responsibility component of our faith and tend to have faith that globalization and economic development of foreign countries (that also will make a lot of money for American companies) is ultimately a more lasting way of helping third world countries feed themselves than just giving them handouts year after year.

People should pay for their crimes, we should be relying less on the government, etc, etc, etc,


Steve Caldwell said...

On 5 March 2007, CC wrote:
"OK, assuming even that one gets one's facts correct, exactly how is preaching about social security or the patriot act to a bunch of liberals 'sweeping up the glass?'"


I'm sorry ... that was a metaphor for looking at the root causes of significant social justice concerns. One step in promoting activism that addresses root causes is educating people on the root causes. Most adult religious education in UU congregations happens during worship.

"And giving money to a group lobbying for one highway not to be built isn't addressing root causes either."

It depends on why a group is against building a highway. We had a Roman Catholic nun and peace activist in our community who worked for years to delay building the Shreveport area segment of Interstate I-49. Her concern was it would harm low income neighborhoods by dividing them half with a freeway barrier.

The root cause in this case would be not the freeway construction but it might be one of elected officials not listening to poor people. Or it could be one of economic classism.

"The election of Republicans is not a root cause of social problems in this country, I should add.

For the record, I never said anything that advocated partisan political activism from our pulpits. That would not be legal under our current laws that provide for churches being tax exempt.

However, non-partisan preaching on social justice issues is legal for tax-exempt churches and also part of our religious heritage rooted in Judaism and Christianity.

Steve Caldwell said...

On a related note, our congregation is providing an adult RE study group on Rev. John Buehrens' book Understanding the Bible.

Buehrens discusses the metaphor of the Exodus story and discontent felt by the Israelites during the "wilderness" phase of their journey where they learn that freedom and justice are important for all people and not just their immediate tribe.

I found the following quote from Buehrens about the metaphorical meaning of the wilderness phase of the Exodus story and how it relates to modern-day concerns in our churches:

"Just ask any religious leader who has ever tried to get a group to give up the familiar to live in the challenging adventure of a real Exodus faith. Such a faith, by the way, is always concerned not only with one's own freedom, but also with the liberation of others from oppression. In this tradition, the sense of covenant and mission are intertwined, especially when they are resisted as they are during the murmurings that arise in the Wilderness. So anyone who wants to separate 'religion' and 'politics' entirely should ponder Exodus again."

For me, this observation from Buehrens speaks directly to the concerns over the Welcoming Congregation program in my UU congregation about mixing "religion" and "politics":

"We are here first for religious purposes.

We are going outside our purpose when we approve a special designation for gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transsexuals."

"I don’t want the spotlight that comes with the Welcoming Congregation designation.

"Liberal religion is tough enough to see in this area without giving conservative people yet another issue to pin their dislike on."

Robin Edgar said...

Asshole is a word that you might want to avoid associating with the U*U "religious community"; even if some U*Us can quite justifiably be described as assholes. . . I seem to recall quite justifiably calling Montreal U*U Bob Wright an asshole just yesterday when he acted in a manner that prompted me to use that word. Ever since the Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council, Mary Bennett, not so wisely decided to insert a rather *too* suggestive asterisk aka ass-to-risk between the twin cheeks of UUism in order to symbolize the inclusiveness of U*Us. . .

Chalicechick said...

Again, Robin, I've seen precious few anuses and I've never seen one that looks like that.

If yours does, I'd say you should go to the doctor and have that checked out.


Robin Edgar said...


Anonymous said...

You know CC, you keep giving these examples like the ones you cite in your reply to Steve as if all UU churches do that, but it's not my experience of UUs at all -- not just my church. maybe it's you who inspires this stuff and it follows you around? :-)

Good luck with the family question -- I had to deal with something similar with my sister (who still owes me money, though I think she's forgotten). But my sister is not nearly as bad as your brothers (at least that's my impression).

Chutney said...


We talked about this via email, but the "Give Away the Plate" trend might be a better way of going about all of this. My congregation started doing this this fall, and the response from the congregation has been tremendous. And we're actually helping, not just talking about helping. (And most petitions, in my mind, fall into the realm of just talking.)

Jamie Goodwin said...

I think I understand the answer already but I am going to ask anyways.

Your problem, if I am reading correctly, with political type issues from the pulpit has less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the way we tend to demonize the "other side" correct?

The reason I ask is because I believe that things like Marriage Equality, Gays and Lesbians in the military, ending the suffering in Darfur, AIDS in africa, careing for the poor and wounded in our communities have a strong religious message. UUism to me must address these issues if we intend to be true to our history and faith.

By the way, I am not a liberal at all, I generally describe myself as a liberatarian, and yet I did offer to the congregation last year that if they felt so compelled to vote for the living wage. It was not part of the sermon proper but it was in there.

Several republicans in our congregation even thanked me for the thoughtful way I addressed the issue.

Chalicechick said...

Lots to repsond to here.

First of all, I'd say "libertarian who believes in living wage laws" is pretty much the definition of liberal as living wage laws are the absolute opposite of Libertarian economics.

I don't think suggesting to the congregation that they might want to vote a certain way is proper ever, to be blunt.

While the demonization of the "other side" is a nasty aspect, it is not the whole of my problems with church.

Call it my Calvinist upbringing, but for me church is about fixing ourselves, not complaining about how the government is not responding appropriately to x or y issue.

There are many, many organizations working on what's wrong with the social issues you site. On the whole, I'd rather somebody was working on the values that underlie them.