Recently it was announced that the Unitarian Universalist Association will undergo considerable restructuring, including several layoffs, in part because of a shortfall of funds. One of the casualties of this change is the UUA's Washington Office for Advocacy, and this has led to much debate among UUs online. Some are upset that we have lost what they see as a vital voice; others have responded by raising the question of how much and what kind of political activism and advocacy is appropriate for a religious body, how such advocacy might alienate some of our members, and so forth.
Below are my own thoughts on the subject, posted on one of the UUA's discussion lists:
I don't think the issue is whether we have unanimity, or live up to the perceived example of our forebears. The issue IMHO is whether the positions we take are consistent with our shared values and principles.
Supporting marriage equality, for example, is indeed consistent with our values of equality, fairness, love, and the encouragement of spiritual growth. As such, we can voice our approval of proposed legislation which furthers this goal, and the opposite to those proposals which would hinder it.
The more specific we get, however, the more problematic having the UUA as a whole voice support or opposition. What happens when a proposed piece of legislation would advance one goal, but at the expense of another? For example, we may think that restricting the politcal influence of corporations through campaign finance reform is beneficial to democracy, but what if the same legislation also restricts free speech for various non-profit advocacy groups?
At the end of the day, however, I believe the real question is what we mean by "advocacy." Is it just lobbying for Federal legislation, or are there other ways we can bend the moral arc of the universe? In my own congregation, I've been priviledged to know many such advocates -- those who tend to our city's hungry and lonely souls through our Friday Night Supper Program; the doctor who spent a week doing intensive care medicine in Haiti; the Partner Church Committee helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans; the man who has devoted his life to lift up the lives of children in Guatemala. Not only do these stories give me hope, but inspiration in my own work on sexuality issues.
We may disagree about the specific means of acheiving the ends we seek, but if we are to acheive them, then we need to acknowledge and make room for diverse ways of doing so. And, in doing so, we affirm yet another of our cherished values.