The lone woman: standing outside the UU liberal consensus

SEVERAL years ago, I attended the “morning forum” at my local UU congregation. It was a current events discussion group that started a half-hour before the first service.

It was the end of the year, and by then a standard topic was a year-end review for President Obama. There were about twenty people in the room. Most of them were Kennedy-era liberals, with some of the older participants having grown up worshipping FDR.

The facilitator had developed a detailed handout, covering each aspect of the presidency. At the end of the session, each person gave a letter grade to the President- they were tallied on an easel.

Almost everyone gave Obama either an A or B on every segment- mostly A’s. Only one woman, along with myself, gave the President a failing grade in anything. We agreed that it was absurd to view the ever-lengthening Afghanistan conflict, or his deportation-heavy immigration policy as anything other than serious, systemic issues. Income inequality was getting worse, and the ‘recovery’ in effect at the time didn’t benefit people outside the top tax bracket.

Afterwards, it felt pretty awkward. Clearly I had intruded on people’s long-held worldviews. And as outspoken as I can be, I never dissent just to be shocking. The woman who joined my mini-protest came over. She was older than me, but a bit younger than the Kennedy-era liberals. Apparently she was often the lone critical voice in the forum, and she thanked me for keeping her company. It was clear that she was uncomfortable with the situation. But a forum is supposed to be a free discussion, and her contributions were both eloquent and well-grounded.

Two things Unitarian Universalism stands for are freedom of expression and against ignorance. But I felt a narrow political consensus gripping the forum that Sunday morning. This part of the congregation was so used to defending the president from conservative attack that they were uncomfortable with a progressive critique. Yet if the critique wasn’t there, the forum would have been fine living in a world where the President could do no wrong.

I never felt this way in a religious context. Atheist, agnostic, polytheistic, Eastern, ancient, contemporary. Congregants were always open to new religious concepts, and had often moved significantly from their previous beliefs. But there wasn’t much dynamism in politics. In many places, UUs come from well-off liberal families, and have held the same basic ideology since they were children. Like I said, the older members of the forum came from Roosevelt families, and still spoke of him in godlike terms.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion. But it wears its politics on its sleeve. I’ve written that UU politics and UU ideals do not link up. The ideals call for liberation. The politics call for institutions of injustice to behave themselves.

IN 2014, a couple of years after the forum, I gave a guest sermon at the same congregation (“And in Society at Large”, the text of which you can read here). My politics here were different, and my point of critique was systemic rather than focused on one man. But the same tension emerged. After the second service, a woman stood up during announcements. She applauded me for my sermon, but then tied it into her work she was doing- opening up the local Democratic Party office ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. At no point did I mention party politics as the solution- nor do they fit in a call for economic democracy. I felt being co-opted right in front of my eyes, in front of a group of people. I personally felt humiliated that my weeks of preparation had been twisted so quickly.

Afterwards, most people gave me pretty brief, nondescript feedback- good sermon, thought-provoking, the normal. A woman came up later, around my age, and thanked me for bringing up so many things- like cooperatives, corporate greed, and the need for workers to control their lives. She also noticed the lack of tact shown by the person advertising the Democratic Party (in a house of worship, additionally).

The woman at the forum, and the woman after the sermon were different. But they had a similarity: they were the only one. The liberal bubble was large, but there were UUs who wanted better political discourse within the church. How many people stopped attending services because of the narrow politics? How many people shut up when their fellow UUs praised an administration that had been at odds with communities of color on many occasions?

If diversity is an issue, and at every congregation I’ve been to oh god it is, politics is a real, tangible issue. I often see a politics that works and makes sense, assuming you’re white and financially stable. The Black Lives Matter resolution passed at General Assembly in Portland was fraught with conflict, essentially because the act called for prison abolition. Abolition is a step too far for mainstream liberals, but for people of color living in an age of mass incarceration, it is a cause for survival. It is great to have radical ministers and congregants offering a different way forward, but I’ve seen what happens if a church doesn’t have those people.

Or if they only have one. Always standing alone.

 

Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another

I’ve watched most of the debates in the three post-9/11 presidential races. As I’ve grown and met more people, read a wider range of news sources, and taken college-level social science courses, the foreign policy talk of the candidates has become more jarring and disturbing.

Aggressive, interventionist foreign policy is not just wrong in a theoretical way, or a moral way. Its history is one of corpses, strewn from Vietnam to Iran, from El Salvador to Iraq and Afghanistan. Not just soldiers, but women and children of every race, faith, and creed. The United States has undermined democracies in favor of despots who promise open markets for goods, and to be an ‘ally’ in the region. Our war with the Taliban is not just against hardline Islamic fundamentalists- many fighters are poor farmers making a few hundred dollars as a hired gun.

My issue is not that American politicians have used these methods in the past, but rather at every opportunity they champion them as a sort of ideal foreign policy.

Continue reading “Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another”

What world event(s) have shaped your life?

I started talking with my father about this in the context of ‘generations’ but since generations are an increasingly eroded concept, we just switched to our lives.

My father was born in 1952, and considered the most important events in his life to be from 1968-1974. More or less it went from the violence of the summer of ’68 to the resignation of Nixon in ’74. What he pointed out is that had he been a year older, he would have been in college when Kent State (for the non-Americans, this was a shooting of student protesters, four died) happened, and he noticed that those older than him were much more militantly political.

Personally, I was born in 1990. It is not September 11th that is reflected in my worldview, but rather that America has not known peace for over half my life, and almost all of what I remember well. For me and those of my age, war is not only in our minds, it is background noise.

I have for days forgot that the country of my birth has spent trillions in a war with no clear enemy. I am not alone for those people who are not, through family and friends, close to the soldiers that fight. If anything it is the chief difference between my father and I- I have lived through wars without a draft, and thus without serious, endemic opposition to the war.