Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Many Ways We Can Bear Witness

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.

1 comment:

  1. ((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.)))

    I do agree with this.

    A couple of years ago when immigration was the en vogue thing to discuss in UU circles, I really did feel a collective cry of "If you don't agree with the UUA's position on immigration, you're a racist who just doesn't want people from other countries in America."

    My theory was at the time, and remains, that immigrants are not appearing out of thin air, they are coming from countries that are very poor, very corrupt or both. Most people who come to America from central America to work do not want to be Americans so much as they want their kids back home to not starve, so the entire UUA position, which is entirely focused on American laws governing immigrants, is well-meaning but more or less a cry for bandaids in the face of a gaping wound. I favor stuff like tax breaks for companies that build infrastructure in central America and globalize our neighbors to the south because sustainable economic development will mean that folks who would rather have a job in Mexico would be able to find one. This will ease the flood of people wanting to come to America to work, which will solve most of the immigration problems stateside on its own. Plus, it will develop Mexico as a market for American stuff, thus paying the taxpayers back for the tax breaks and then some. If leaning on corrupt governments is necessary to implement stuff, well, the CIA is pretty good at that.

    Now, you may not like my position or agree with it, that's your right and goodness knows I've been wrong before. But the point is it's a pretty carefully considered and nuanced position and I don't think a reasonable argument could be made that it is based on racism. But I heard people who disagreed with the policies I consider band-aids referred to as racist pretty regularly for awhile*, and my impression is that the reasons for their disagreement mattered to no one,

    Some regard it as silly to suggest we ask ourselves who we might be hurting when we toss around the idea that there's something wrong with you if you don't support liberal position x or liberal position y, even though you might well support the goals of the position and have another route for getting there. It seems like a logical question to me.

    Either we're a faith that shuns dogmas and encourages free inquiry or we're not...


    *Sinkford himself gave a speech where he referred to those who agreed with him as "people of conscience" who are "called to acknowledge that racism has blinded most Americans." Not much room for middle ground there.