Thursday, January 19, 2006

Religion & Politics

I'm a bit of an oddity. I'm a politically conservative Unitarian Universalist. No one really knows how many of us exist, but we're surely on the endangered UU species list.

Our Board of Directors recently passed a resolution that stated that our Church has taken a formal stand against a proposed amendment to Virginia's Constitution that bans same-sex marriage or any legal approximation thereof. It's a poorly written amendment and, I believe it is bad law: it limits private contracts. The Board resolution, however, had several debatable findings of fact (like equating same-sex marriage to the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s).

I don't want to write about same-sex marriage... I doubt I can come up with any position or argument that hasn't already been made. Rather, I want to discuss the wisdom of individual Churches and Denominations taking 'official' stands on divisive issues.

This topic was bantered back and forth yesterday on my Church's discussion board and I have a few choice quotes to share.

It all started when one member simply asked, "How many individuals at church actually voted to oppose HJR 585?" Seems like a valid question since the Board resolution states that 'the Church' opposed the amendment.

Next, there were some clarifications that the Board unanimously voted for the resolution, and that the Church had voted overwhelmingly to become a welcoming congregation. I made the observation that I didn't like when our Church or Denomination makes 'Single Voice' pronouncements about divisive issues and, if we do, we should offer opponents the chance to offer their dissenting opinion. Well... that opened-up the flood gates of comments from other members:

What is a legitimate 'dissenting view' on this issue?

...true forces of darkness, having lost the ability to persecute people on the basis of religion (for the most part) or skin color still feel safe in persecuting homosexuals.

But do we offer a justification of racism -- to prove our intellectual diversity -- or justification of economic exploitation and coercion of the poor when speaking on other social justice issues? I hope not. Similarly, I don't see the need to offer the "other" view on homosexual marriage.

And what does it say about our ability to be a moral force in a world in which right-wing fundamentalists (whether Christian or Muslim or Jewish versions) feel no limitations on their action in the public arena and are actively working to take over governments and kill off the opposition?

Wow! I think I touched a nerve. I offered the following:
I have no problem, what so ever, with a group of concerned UUs aggressively lobbying for social change. I struggle with those people using the Church (the church that I consider a second home for me and my family) as their communication vehicle. I think the family analogy is a good one. How you you feel if you disagreed with 90+% of your family on a given issue and your family made a public statement that said, "Our family believes x". Would you feel welcome in your own family? This family estrangement is what many UUs feel when the Association or individual Churches make sweeping pronouncements concerning divisive issues whether it be political or theological (remember when Sinkford made his god comments a while back? How did that make humanists and atheists feel?).

If you don't want dissenters in the family, do what other religions do and proclaim that you have discovered the One Truth. If you want dissenters in the family, encourage members to organize in the larger community to fight for what they feel is important - always knowing that they can come home and be with their family.

Then, my friend offers:

You are faced with the a common dilemma, one that most everyone faces at one time or another ... if they are involved in a pluralistic organization or society. You disagree with a position, or policy, or a statement made by that group. Everyone in this situation must then ask themselves if this problem is significant enough to require that they no longer be associated with the group. If it is, they leave, but if they can live with it, they either choose to accept things and let go and/or they fight to change the group.

Great point. This is what I have been doing for the last four years when I'm in the minority at Church. I, however, came up with, in my un-humble opinion, a convincing counter argument:

The group also has a decision to make. Which is more important: making a statement as the group on an issue that does not have unanimous support and risk alienating some members of the group -- or -- refrain from making 'group' comments and encourage sub-group and/or individual comments.

In a business or political party setting, I would certainly choose the former due to the need for a single, strong voice.

In a family, religious or social situation, I would choose the latter - family and friends (for me, at least) trump economic, political and policy issues every time.

Let me know your thoughts on the matter.

PS - I'm 90% recovered from my illness and the regular posting schedule has resumed.


At 11:05 AM, Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

I have a hard time understanding being politically (socially?) conservative and part of a liberal religious tradition.

Bt nature much of what we hold dear will go against your personal idealogies correct?

While i do not feel individidual churches or the UUA should be supporting or denouncing specific canidates, making statements which exactly coorespond with our principles and purposes, as well nearly every church mission I have ever read hardly seems a stretch.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Early Riser said...

Our 7 principals can easily be construed to support many of my conservative political beliefs (economic freedom, smaller government, support for Israel, etc.) and, as a humanist, there is no other religion that welcomes me.

I agree that statements that EXACTLY match our principals are OK. However, who gets to decide the interpretation of the principals? You may think that the principals justify massive income redistribution, while I believe they mean each person should be free to pursue unfettered capitalism. Who's right?

We both are and that's OK with me.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger UUpdater said...

I do hold opinions which differ from some of the "majority opinions" stated by the UUA. When I have discussed those issues with specific individuals the result has usually been a respectful "ah, I see where you are coming from, but I still disagree". For me this is what being part of a pluralistic group is about. Acknowledging and understanding that we can respectfully disagree and affirm one another. Consesnsus is not required.

So, I guess my response to your argument would be that I think it is more important to make sure people with dissenting opinion feel affirmed and welcomed, even if their opinion differs from majority opinion. And this would be true even if the church does not decide to actually make the proclamation. The folks who stood in the "con" and "pro" isle need to feel welcomed, no matter how the vote goes.

Who's right? We both are and that's OK with me.

I think you hit the nail on the head. Sometimes I will agree with the majority, sometimes I won't. But I would rather have majority opinions than one at all. Even if it means I am not being spoken for on occasion.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Bruce said...

As I was saying in another post, I think your use of the term "conservative" unneccesarily adds noise to the debate. It dumbs it down into yet another liberal vs. conservative go-nowhere discussion. Basically, I think it derails your excellent post.

This discussion is very needed, and very difficult. Personally, I completely agree with your counter-argument. The UU church has managed to do the almost unthinkable, which is to make an inclusive, welcoming environment for many religious beliefs. It should make that the focus, and instead leave politically divisive issues strictly alone. To take a stand on these issues weakens the church, as it marginalizes those on the other side.

In AA, there is a strong committment to "take no stand on politics or religion". Why? Because it takes focus away from the point of the organization, which is to help alcoholics. Because of that focus, AA is thriving and succeeding in its purpose. I think this is the same sort of thing, to take a political side is to weaken any church by focusing on something which is not its primary reason for existing. In the UU world, I think this is doubly true, since UU is all about being inclusive, and political sides are always exclusive.


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