Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Good Old Barry Lynn

It looks like Americans United for Separation of Church and State is headin' on down to North Carolina with their hound dogs, hoping to catch a certain Baptist pastor and his church supporters up a tree with their pants down.

You heard about it: Pastor Chan Channing Chanster... what was his name? Pastor Chan Chandler threw nine of his members off the church rolls for supporting Kerry in the last election. The AUSCS is thinking this kind of thing won't sit well with the IRS, and perhaps that church ought to be paying some taxes, since it's obviously functioning as a partisan organization.

My friend Chalice Chick thinks we UUs might not want to be dancing around just now, because we might be next.

I think not. On both counts.

First of all, there's no call to dance around when a church is in pain and a pastor's behaving like a dingbat. Nothing fun or funny about that, just like when that winter-addled Lutheran fellow up in Maine poisoned some of his co-parishioners at the coffee hour. That wasn't funny, either. It was just... kind of funny, in that way that makes you hold your hand over your mouth and feel really guilty for having the urge to crack a grin. The grin isn't a laughing at; it's a laughing with. Believe me. It's the "There but for the grace of God go I" grin. Ouch.

Second, church folks are certainly free to comment -- either as a community or from the pulpit -- on their ethical differences with the government of this fine nation, or to give elected leaders the thumbs up if they want to do that. 'Twas always so and ever shall be. Too many Americans (and plenty of them in our own congregations) misunderstand the whole concept of separation of church and state anyway, mistaking it to mean that faith communities should have no truck with issues of the state. That's simplistic and inaccurate. Maybe Barry Lynn can explain it to you; I've got a pinched nerve in my back and I don't have time.

In UU churches, so often at a "default left" setting, the problem isn't that we engage with the various moral indignities of this or that policy or this or that legislator. No, that's not it. Our problem is that we mistake the votes taken by a group of casually-chosen delegates to our General Assembly for the will of the whole "denomination" of us, and henceforth preach and march and organize to support that cause du jour without engaging in the more difficult, real and important work of congregational discernment around social issues.

Our problem isn't that we're too political, it's that we're unbelievably conformist and we can't admit it. We are perishing of a sloppy, weak, pandering interpretation of our own first principle. Everyone's so inherently worthy and so inherently dignified, you've got to appease the opinion of every last crank in every last folding chairs before you can go out and do anything at all.

(This is not at all the case at PeaceBang's own congregation, thank Buddha).


Also, since so many of the loudest Unitarian Universalists have an allergy to theological language, only those with the greatest talent for finding entirely fresh, entirely humanistic language to speak to the urgent moral crises of our time are able to mobilize considerable numbers of us to do anything. We only seem to be too political, because our religious leaders so often totally fail to frame their concerns in moral and theological terms, you can't differentiate their message from the one you get from Harper's magazine. They/We do this partly from fear and partly from forgetfulness and partly because we don't call them (ourselves) on it.

Look at President Bill Sinkford: he spends half of his time making the news and the other half of his time responding to hostile UUs who think he owes them a personal response when they're uncomfortable with the way he frames issues. How exhausting. Can't we just let him speak from his own "language of reverence" and use our own when we evangelize in our own way? How much blood, sweat and tears were shed when so many of our fellow Unitarian Universalists laid themselves down and had a loud hissy fit when Rev. Sinkford called for a language of reverence??

What in sam hill is inappropriate about a religious movement speaking from a place of reverence???

I'm a mystical theist type who digs the Jeez big time, but if the religion-suspicious atheist Emma Goldman was alive today, active in our congregations and wanted to run for president of the UUA, I would so vote for her. I would dig her up and run her if I thought she'd want to work at 25 Beacon Street. Because I don't give a halupke what her Sources of of her conviction are, or if she believes in God or not -- to my eyes she is divinely inspired. I love her vision and her love of the world and her anger, and I'd march off a bridge to follow her (okay, that's going a bit far, but you know what I mean). She made outrageous mistakes and she rejected the God I believe in, and I could care less. We are on the same team; we share the same moral outrage. My conscience, my God/s, the Great Spirit, the ancestor spirits and my free and individual search for truth and meaning confirm this for me. Why would I waste her time, and mine, expecting her to conform to my worldview or trying to engage her in a critique of hers? Bow to the Mystery, pick up the banner, and MARCH, for God's sake!

Do we really think the hungry and naked and bombed of the world care that those who work for their safety and comfort share the same theology, and use the same language to express it??


Maybe we could have a fourth track of ministerial specialization called "Ministry of Translation." These ministers can work 1/8 time for 8 different congregations and travel between them, helping assuage various, common anxieties arising from our theological pluralism, and assuring everyone that we're really all talking about basically the same thing.

I'm not worried that we're going to lose our tax-exempt status. I'm worried that our internal ridiculousness is going to keep rendering us so irrelevant that, in a very short time, no one will give a fig what the Unitarian Universalists have to say about any issue, political or otherwise.

We are fiddling while Rome is burning.

5 Comments:

Blogger Chalicechick said...

We agree on a lot of the basic principles here.

(I did not hissyfit per se about the language of reverence bit, but I didn't really like Sinkford's tone, either. I often don't.) In my own personal case, Fausto has been a lot more convincing on the religious language point than Sinkford ever was, but Fausto's tone is consistently "I'm a smart guy talking to other smart people." This is a good tone for getting through to CC, who tends to shut down if you talk down to her.

Seriously, though, we WAY overdo it with the language of politics in our churches. And we marginalize ourselves in such a way that I'm not entirely sure that other churches would come rushing to our defense.

CC
who never actually sent Sinkford a dictionary, so she never got a personal response where Sinkford defended the way he frames issues. But now that Peacebang mentions it, CC sort of wants one. It would look good framed in the guest room next to my certificate in the Laphroaig drinkers club.

07:12  
Anonymous Oversoul said...

As I have said a bazillion times before, UUism will die (or at least stagnate) if it doesn’t decide, however loosely, what it is and what it has to offer in the marketplace of religion.

I recently attended a Religious Science church in which the minister mentioned several times that the congregation, not unlike most UU congregations, was full of folks who don’t want to be told what they must think. But he also said that doesn’t mean he can’t offer them something to ponder from Religious Science. They also had readings that would hit most UUs as “creedal” but again, if you don’t agree with what the little blurb says, don’t say it.

And this is where I think UUism gets it wrong-the religion as a whole can stand for something, can have a set of basic beliefs or some core religious/theological message. The key is that you the gal or guy in the pew can take or leave whatever you like without fear of expulsion.

09:04  
Blogger fausto said...

In UU churches, so often at a "default left" setting, the problem isn't that we engage with the various moral indignities of this or that policy or this or that legislator. No, that's not it. Our problem is that we mistake the votes taken by a group of casually-chosen delegates to our General Assembly for the will of the whole "denomination" of us, and henceforth preach and march and organize to support that cause du jour without engaging in the more difficult, real and important work of congregational discernment around social issues....

I'm not worried that we're going to lose our tax-exempt status. I'm worried that our internal ridiculousness is going to keep rendering us so irrelevant that, in a very short time, no one will give a good goddamn what the Unitarian Universalists have to say about any issue, political or otherwise.


This choir member gives you a Sevenfold Amen with full organ stops, Sister PB. Keep preachin' it. Yer on fire.

(To Fausto's cynical eyes, the entire GA process is fundamentally invalid. Only congregations in good standing within the Association should be allowed to send delegates to GA sessions. Delegates should be credentialled by their congregations with specific instructions on how to vote on specific proposals. Only properly credentialled delegates with complete and specific voting instructions on should be allowed to vote on any given question. Only supermajority votes by a valid quorum of all congregations in good standing should be deemed binding. Anything lacking that strict accountability to and of the congregations amounts to nothing more than a "thinking out loud" session, and while there may be value in such sessions for the purpose of raising issues and generating ideas, any resolutions concerning such issues ought to be considered proposals or recommendations only, and referrred back to the congregations for further debate and/or ratification. Again, nothing should be binding without ratification by a supermajority of congregations in good standing.)

08:30  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

20:00  
Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Wow Peacebang even "memory holed" my post about World Day of Conscience. Now that was very naughty of her indeed. . . where is Peacebang's conscience?

19:03  

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