Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pho Reflects in Church -- Annotated.

Note: Today I served as Worship Associate as our minister led a service about our congregation's involvement in We Believe Ohio and the challenges posed by the Religious Right. I've posted a copy of my five minute Reflection, with a few notes. Some of this will sound familiar if you read my earlier posts on the subject.

Due to some life circumstances, I find myself spending more time around political campaigns than ever before. If you spend any time at all in a campaign headquarters you notice how young everyone is. So I find myself pondering why I didn’t do that back when I was that young. I’ve always been a politics junkie, but mainly as a spectator and only occasionally as a participant.

An easy answer is that getting involved in campaigns in my day would have included working for Michael Dukakis. While that explains a lot, in fact the reason goes deeper than that. While I was not a Unitarian Universalist at the time, UU principles and my principles are a bad match with party politics. Contra our fourth principle, a political campaign is not “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” So I’ve always been an issue guy more than a candidate guy.

The topic Nancy presented for this reflection is “how I have brought my Unitarian Universalist beliefs into my work in the political arena.”

The short answer is that becoming a UU has made my commitment to my political beliefs far more personal and my approach to politics a little more flexible.

The best example of my political beliefs becoming more personal is in the area of religious liberty. Time was, I cared about religious freedoms, but cared in the abstract. During the period that I knocked around life as an agnostic [1], freedom of religion mattered, but it mattered because it was supposed to matter. Now I feel far more sharply that religious rights are my rights. As a Unitarian Universalist I am well aware of being in a religious minority. One measure – if you have ever typed about this church on a computer, you may have noticed that the word “Universalist” shows up as a misspelling – it does not exist in Microsoft Word’s spell check dictionary.

Since becoming a Unitarian Universalist government advocacy of a particular religion troubles me personally as it didn’t before I found this faith. And let’s name the thing – government advocacy for religion in this country at this time means government advocacy for Christianity.

Because we are UU’s we shy away from using words like holy and sacred and ordained and God.[2] But for me, the belief in one God and many paths to know God is holy. The parable of six blind men and an elephant is sacred. And this faith community in which people with different beliefs come together to worship is ordained[3] by God.

So Christian triumphalism offends my beliefs as much as my beliefs apparently offend those of conservative Christians. Government endorsement of the idea that the only path to God is through belief in Christ as savior would cut me to the core and undermine my effort to raise my children in this faith. So I fight vigorously for a separation of church and state, not because I believe the state must be protected from the church, but because my religion would be threatened by a Chistianized state.

Beyond that, the rhetoric of the Religious Right feels threatening. It’s tempting to look at an issue like the Religious Right’s constant assault on the rights of gays and paraphrase Pastor Martin Neimoeller’s “First they came for the Jews.”[4] I shared with Nancy as we were preparing this service that it is difficult to know what to think about the Religious Right because they are rather slippery about their end goals. I can’t honestly tell you if they are coming for anyone in the Pastor Niemoeller sense. But being a Unitarian Universalist means knowing that if they come for anyone, they are coming for me. And that gives a sense of urgency to drawing a line and saying this far, but no more.

As I said, religious freedom is the best example of an issue that has become more personal to me, but not the only one. In fact, much of what made the American middle class seems to be under attack. Where social justice work was once a matter of conscience, increasingly it feels like self-defense. As a result, I’ve made peace with politics. More than that, I’ve embrace the political process as a tool[5] – or increasingly a shield – in a time such as this.

It’s not easy. Politicians and political campaigns continue to disappoint me with their least-common-denominator approximations of truth.[6] But being a little more flexible about politics enables me to put my faith into action. If all this sounds like pragmatism and compromise rather than adherence to values and principles, so be it. It feels like truth to me.

[1] Until I was 22, by the way, though I didn't join the UU church until about eight years after that.

[2] This section is here in part to advocate my take on this ongoing discussion started at PeaceBang and which I read about first at Trivium.

[3] If I had it to do over again, I'd say "consecrated" instead of "ordained."

[4] Yes, I know the poem actually starts "First they came for the Communists." But this is the best shorthand to let the audience know what I'm talking about.

[5] At this point I should give a hat tip to Tim Russo who's postings of his book inspired this bit. I thought about quoting his answer to The Question, but couldn't find a BFD post on that.

[6] Tempted to say "truthiness," but by and large this isn't Colbert's demographic.

Rev. Arnold's sermon should be posted on the church website soon at which time I'll drop a link to it. We brought down the house. Seriously. In our church people applaud occasionally -- usually in appreciation of a particularly fine piece of music. Generally ours is not a Stand-up-and-say-AMEN! congregation and Rev. Arnold is not a I got a Stand-up-and-say-AMEN! preacher. But she was on fire today and the congregation was with her. I got a standing ovation for my bit and Rev. Arnold got one for her sermon.

All of which tells me that religious liberals are hungry for a call to arms. After years of being cuffed around and treated like the homely stepchildren of God, we are ready to stand up and witness for social justice and religious pluralism. If we can organize and channel the energy I felt in that room, we can turn this thing around.


Anonymous said...

the call to arms, yes. That's a part of what I was trying to get at in the Green interview, but didn't have time to delve fully into it.

oh, but yes, we are ready.