Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Is it just me?

Kim asked me a really good question this morning, and one that I have pondered for some time myself--why is it that I keep running across churches where people are obnoxiously political?

Kim said and other people whom I trust have said in the past that THEIR churches would never do anything like that and none of their friends' churches would never do anything like that. (That sentence has grammatical problems, but be nice to me, I'm really sick. And I think the meaning is clear.)

At the same time, as recently as yesterday, I got the "How can a UU be a political conservative" question. If we're even asking this, then that speaks to my experiences not being SO unusual.

As best I can determine, the answer to why this stuff keeps happening where I can see it is twofold:

1. I tend to live in red states, and the problem is worse in Conservative areas. At the church I attended in South Carolina, there was a lady who would literally give a politcal speech for a lay service. She did this every six months or so. I learned to not attend her services. Thing is, she was a teacher in the public schools and she really couldn't speak about her political views anyplace else without fearing repercussions.

That sucks for her, but the political speeches as lay services were still obnoxious. In general, in conservative areas where the few liberals feel the UU church is the only place they can "Be themselves" the politicking is going to be more blatant. Probably the most blantant I've ever heard about was a minister in a service where Joel Monka was who said "Republicans are evil" and expanded upon that point at some length. I assume that was in a church in Indiana, so the pattern still applies.

2. Most people aren't as sensitive to these issues as I am. For example, the time I was in a YRUU class where a guest speaker passed out bumper stickers that said "W is for War" the same speaker had done that already for one group of our YRUUs. At least three or four adults had witnessed this and hadn't thought to say anything. When I made the point, other people were like "Oh, yeah, you're right" but I think that evangelizing for liberal politics is so woven into the way UUs behave that a lot of UUs don't particularly see it. When I wrote on the blog about the incident, at least one person still didn't see why handing out such a thing was a problem.



Joel Monka said...

I believe you are right in this- the Heartland District is chock full of congregations where this is a problem, while tolerance for conservatives can be found on both coasts. This is counterintuitive, but I think your explanation has it pegged.

I haven't commented on your posts on this because I've been too busy to give more than a cursory glance until this morning, and you've already made most of my points. I am, however, going to post on the "How can a UU be a political conservative" question on my own blog.

PG said...

Agreed with Joel that geography probably is much of the explanation. I see something similar now in NYC, except in reverse, where conservatives tend to feel defensive and will try to form groups where they can be conservative "safely." (The high school-esque social pressures of law school probably also have something to do with that.) This means that as the liberal member of such a group, I find myself fighting to keep it true to its stated mission -- being a site for debate -- rather than just turning into conservative social club. I think they sometimes overestimate the hostility to conservatism; frankly, NYC is so solidly blue that the Republicans can say whatever they want and it ain't changing anything anyway. They're simply oddities, like people in brightly colored clothing are on 5th Avenue.

Anonymous said...

Thought I posted this earlier, but it seems to have disappeared. . .

On reading this whole series of posts and discussion what jumps out at me is the disconnect between defining politics as telling the government what to do on specific issues (vote No on Prop. X, etc) and defining politics as the examination and influence on power structures. The latter, I would argue, is pretty darned important to discuss and explore in church.

More in the post that my first comment turned into.

Chalicechick said...

I have no idea why your comment disappeared, Jess. I didn't delete it.

FWIW, I find the most useful political sermons to be the ones that look at power in a personal setting that invites me to draw general public policy conclusions if I want to, but doesn't insult my intelligence by spoonfeeding them.

A sermon on what we should do about the homeless man down the street who doesn't want to be helped would be very interesting to me, much more so that one more sermon on poverty in general or poverty in a far off place, or poverty as a result of poor public policy decisions made by politicians we don't like.

To me, simply pointing out power disparities isn't very interesting and doesn't tell me much that I don't already know. I am never a fan of black hats vs. white hats dynamics. I generally proceed from the assumption that everyone is stumbling along trying to do what's best, though some people have what look like to me screwy ways of going about it. I like sermons that proceed from this assumption.

My strong preference is to be presented with the underlying ethics and principles of a situation and left to draw my own policy/advocacy conclusions.

OK, I'm rambling.

Again, I'm sick.

Joel, I'm glad you will address the conservatism question. I always feel like an imposter doing so.


Anonymous said...

Blogger gremlin, no doubt.

Exactly my point, with the caveat that sometimes it is useful to put that homeless man down the street in a larger perspective in addition.

Sermons are a different animal than the political actions in church by laypersons, too - the minister can't always have control of a situation where someone thought it would be a good idea to bring a large anti-Bush banner and a bullhorn into Coffee Hour (been there. . .), but can lead by example, one would hope.

But either way, I still think it's impossible to take politics out of the church in the broad sense, nor do I think we should spend a whole lot of energy trying to do so. I think it's more important to reframe political discourse to something that will consider thoughtfully all points of view brought to the table, to evaluate ideas on their merits rather than partisan affiliations, and to generally learn how to listen to each other more effectively and compassionately.

But I've always been an optimist. ;-)

TheCSO said...

Jess - That may have been me - I apologize. I noticed that a Blogger hiccup had double-posted this entry, and deleted the version that (at the time) had no comments on it. You were probably responding to that copy.. thanks for reposting.

Anonymous said...

Hi CC,

I am the anonymous poster who asked the dreaded "How can a UU be a political conservative" question. I do live in a red state and work in a pretty conservative environment so yes, my UU congregation is a welcome refuge from conservatism. However, the partisanship you are pointing out seems to be mostly absent in my congregation. From my experience both in my congregation and on UU blogs, much is made of being sensitive to the UU conservative. From the point of view of UU principals and from my own ideals, I totally understand and appreciate this. But the other side of the coin is that it is the responsibility of UU conservatives to articulate how they would address the many practical moral issues of our time because I see a huge disconnect there. I look forward to Joel’s post.

Comrade Kevin said...

One of the reasons I left the church in Birmingham is because every Sunday, a former minister turned activist-in-his-own-mind transformed the circle of light/personal milestones/joys and concerns into his own personal soapbox.

And he wasn't the only one.

So the interim minister made the point of limiting the circle of lights to one sentence and having us all who mentioned joys and concern stand next to each other in a row. This made sure people did not monopolize what should at best take five minutes, but what in reality took close to fifteen sometimes.

Blue-state Unitarianism I find to be far more Christian. It was quite a shock to me when I visited a church in Boston (forget which one) and found the ten commandments on the wall.

The red-state churches tend to be more humanistic--they tend to be comprised of converts more than born UUs. Thus, their memembership often has this conception that anything that mentions Jesus must mean Calvinism, heaven, hell, and eternal damnation.

I am still not sure how you eliminate liberal religions like Unitarian Universalism, Quakers, and members of the United Church of Christ from not making overt political statements.

The only churches I know who have refrained from making overt political statements down here are liberal Methodist churches. And I was raised liberal Methodist, so it wasn't until I converted to UUism that I was greeted with liberal activist politics in service.

And of course, the conservative mega-Baptist six flags over Jesus churches made political statements, but they're in the majority down here.

It's not just you, Chalice Chick, we're all confused.

The Jotter said...

Not just you, Chalice Chick. But I think the societal problems politics supposedly addresses are the same realm as the church. I'm with the rest of you that there is a place for discussion of issues of concern (toxic waste, war, treatment of children, ugly cars)but feel we need to stress how church is different.

We talk about these issues in a different way. At least we are called to. There should be a careful consideration and a gentle approach to others because that's where our religion leads us. To not discuss them though, is inauthentic.

As for the bullhorn political name-calling mentioned in another comment, hey! Did we go to the same church?

That nonsense has GOT TO GO!!!

Anonymous said...

Though my church does a lot of "good works" that are non-political, and our sermons are never overtly political, I was noticing today that there is some more blatently political stuff on the bulletin board. It doesn't mention parties or candidates, but it does have adverts for peace rallies. Where exactly should one draw the line?
I don't think there's any problem for me about talking politics at coffee hour -- that's just personal talk. If you can talk about your kids, you can talk politics. Nothing is more partisan than talking about your kids. :-)

PeaceBang said...

Great thread, CC, and thanks for plugging away even through being sick.
It's worth noting that UU congregations on the East Coast were mostly gathered in the 16th or 17th century and morphed over time and theological controversy into being Unitarian, so there's a much stronger worship tradition (less easily highjacked by politico ministers and more easy to draw into line when grandstanding gets out of hand).
Congregations that began as fellowships, on the other hand, may have actually had the original intent to be a discussion club for political ideas. That's not interesting or relevant for the vast majority of spiritual seekers nowadays -- they can do that elsewhere, thank you -- but the vestiges remain in many of our congregations.

To gently correct Comrade Kevin, the traditional exterior of a congregation, and the presence of a more traditional Protestant liturgy, doesn't necessarily make a UU congregation "more Christian;" it just looks that way. Having the Ten Commandments on the wall or serving Communion once a year or even reciting the Lord's Prayer doesn't really make a UU congregation Christian in any meaningful way, but many knee-jerk Christianphobes see it that way (not to imply that Comrade K is one of those folks, just making a point!). Of course when we collectively jettisoned Christianity, we discarded a huge, powerful social justice tradition at the same time, and are now flapping around in many cases acting as though we invented passionate activism. To behave in this way is untethered from the truth, untethered from history, and isolationist to an incredibly ignorant extent.
Part of what offends us, I think, about grandstanding in worship is that it IS so disconnected from theological and moral imperative, so it just sounds like self-righteous hot air. And so it is.

That said, many of our UU congregations were formed within a context of refuge from traditional religion -- as distinctly OTHER than "those religious people," which means that their worship traditions are far less defined, their expectations for spiritual growth less clear, and their mission more centered around angry protest to the abuses of religion than a positive alternative to conservative religion.

Simply put, when congregations and ministers have an unclear sense of how to plan and lead the kind of worship service that brings people to a communal transformative experience that ISn't just based on "Let's be better than those damned fundamentalists," you see the kind of thing CC complains of.

Sorry this is so long!

Comrade Kevin said...

Peace Bang,

I took no offense to what you said to my post. :-)

The problem with lots of churches away from the northeast is, as you pointed out, they did not churches and develop over hundreds of years.

The Church I attended in Birmingham grew up as a fellowship. Most churches in red-state America grew up as a result of Monroe Husbands' fellowship movement.

The Church in Atlanta, too, has this outsider mentality. It's always going to be a challenge for a blue-state Unitarian to understand a red-state Unitarian.

Blue-state Unitarians, I find, are born that way. Red-state Unitarians, I find, are converts.

I want Peace Bang to know that I'm not a Christianophobe and as a matter of fact consider myself a Christian. The problem with the Atlanta church is that many aging hippies with negative Southern Baptist experiences do associate anything anything Christian with Calvinism and not reform Christianity. Thus, it has always been a challenge below the Mason-Dixon to not draw that sort of cross-cringe response.

And I for one, have yet to find a single instance of a Unitarian church in red-state America that does not inevitably fall into this pattern: trying so hard NOT to be something that it ends up being nothing at all.

Nothing other than a social organization full of lost souls searching for meaning and feeling like lepers from the rest of general society

Comrade Kevin said...

first sentence should say, did not grow up "as Churches"