Liberal Religion Sermon 11/2/13

Video of this sermon can be seen (here)

Call to Worship (here)


Are your hearts open?  What about your minds?  Are your arms open wide to welcome and embrace diversity and change?

This, dear ones, is what liberal religion is all about.  Liberal religion is not, however, exactly the same as liberal politics.  One of our newer attendees asked me that question the other day, and this seems a good time to address that issue.  It is a question that is, like most of the answers to questions we ask here, complicated.

If you want simple answers to every question, you might be in the wrong church.  You are still welcome here; however, don’t get me wrong on that.

It is November and election time.  Part of my religious practice is to study candidates and issues and to vote in every election.   Our fifth principle calls for us to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

This means we get to make up our own minds as individuals.  No one is expected to vote in a particular way simply because they are members of this church.

This is a liberal religion, but we are not all political liberals here.

Definitions of liberal include the following:

Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes.

“We have always done it that way,” is not a good answer in one of our churches.  It might be an explanation, but it doesn’t close off the consideration of other options.  Similarly, we do our work democratically.  People get to vote on what affects them.

To be liberal is also to be open to new ideas, to be broad minded and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others. It is to be generous in spirit.  We try to build bridges across our divisions.

You have probably heard me say before that Unitarian Universalism is deeply rooted in American values.  There is a reason most people agree with our seven principles the first time they hear them. Liberty and justice are words contained in the pledge of allegiance after all.

There have been 5 past US presidents who either attended Unitarian churches or professed Unitarian beliefs: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and William Taft. While he did not specifically identify with any organized religion, Abraham Lincoln had Universalist leanings.  Some of you may also know that our current president, Barack Obama, attended a Unitarian Universalist church as a child.  It was the faith of his maternal grandparents.

But let’s talk about William Taft for a minute.  He was president between 1909 and 1913, and he was also a Republican. He later became the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the only US president to hold that position.

His great-grandson, John Taft wrote an article in the New York Times recently where he said he was a genetic Republican, claiming that 5 generations of Tafts have served our nation as unwaveringly stalwart Republicans.


In his article he also says this:

“Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility.”

He went on to say:

“There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican Party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.”

The Republican values he speaks of are quite consistent with Unitarian Universalism.

But here is where it gets a bit more complicated.  Clearly, there have been, and are, a lot of politically liberal Unitarian Universalists.  If we did a survey, I suspect most of our members vote for democrats most of the time.  I also suspect that the number of Democrats among us is increasing over time and the number of Republicans is declining.

I don’t think it is anything that we are doing, however.  Instead, I think the right wing of Republican Party has been systematically driving religiously liberal people away.  Marriage Equality should not be a partisan issue, but it has become so.  A plan for compassionate immigration reform should have nothing to do with whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat. How to deal with global climate change is a scientific problem.  Science is not a left wing conspiracy.  The right of a woman to control her own body should have nothing to do with whether or not you are a fiscal conservative.

It started years ago, when economic conservatives began wooing religious conservatives.  They became the “family values party,” but they were very restrictive in how they defined a family.  When you have agreed to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people, it becomes difficult to demonize others, no matter who they are.  Immigrants, gays, poor people have all been demonized by the tea party wing of the Republican Party.

But listen to me now, because the left has done some of the same things.  They cast all conservatives as racist bigots.

It is hard not to hate your political opponents.  It is hard not to hate those you are afraid of.  I do think fear is at the root of much of the political discord these days.

America as we know it will end if the other party gains control of the presidency and gets to appoint justices to the Supreme Court.   Both sides are saying that.  Some people really hate Obama; others hate Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.  In some ways, it is like being afraid of the devil.  It is sort of a fantasy.  Very few people are really completely evil; they just have very different views of the world.

This is where liberal religion can ride to the rescue and perhaps begin a dialogue.  Open hearted, open minded, curious as to what the other thinks and feels.  It doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.  Listen for the middle ground, listen for where you might agree, or at least have something to learn.

It is how we do theology here.  We listen to each other.  Christians, pagans, and atheists can get along, and form an awesome religious community together.  So why can’t Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians get along in the political sphere?

In this church we need radical visionaries, but we also need fiscally conservative financial stewards.  Our families and groups of friends also need diversity of opinions.  Even if the kids like it, we shouldn’t eat out only at McDonald’s.  Try a little sushi,Mexican or Thai food.  We need a little spice in our lives.  We need to be more liberal.  Our country needs a lot more liberals, whatever their party affiliation.

Politicians in particular need to be open minded, tolerant of differences, and generous of spirit.  I suspect President Taft tried to function that way.  I believe that President Obama has also tried.

I am a values voter.  I try to vote for the candidates that reflect the religious values I care about.

I have opinions about methods and policies, but bottom-line, it is values I care about.  Does a policy promote the inherent worth and dignity of all?  Is it designed to bring about more liberty and justice for all? Is there an element of compassion contained in the plan? Is there some respect for diversity as well as the realization that we are all connected?

This year is an off year in the election cycle.  All we get to vote on is a few candidates for city council, and that is pretty much it, at least here in Ogden.  I have already voted, and I want to encourage you to vote as well if you have not done so already.  One vote has a much larger impact on the local level than it does in national or even statewide elections.

I think we should always take the time to vote, even when we have every reason to believe that our vote won’t make a difference.  And it may not in partisan elections.  We are pretty much a one party state; you know that.  But even though it may not affect the eventual outcome, it does something for you.  You are engaged.

Voting is an act of faith.  Your actions can reflect your values.  What we do, and what we don’t do, does matter.

The word of Mark Belletini, which were read earlier, can bear repeating:

“For religion to be significant, it has to provide more than the comforts of community. It also had to provide opportunities for deepening, for what I call spiritual growth, and for the casting down of false images of stereotypes, which hurts us all. A good religion has to open us to the real diversity of our modern world. For our work as liberal religious people is not to be competitive with others, and to find ways to supersede others, but rather to find ways to supersede ourselves, to grow beyond our limitations and our constrictive boundaries, each and every one of us. Diversity, you see, must not end up being some sort of feel good slogan, a word we keep in our back pocket to make us feel like we’re broad minded. Diversity is a gift. But it cannot be a gift… unless it is received. It is only received when there are hands and hearts open enough to receive it. And the opening of fists into welcoming hands and welcoming hearts is our spiritual work….”

How can you grow?  What will you do with the gift of diversity?  “Don’t be afraid of some change.” We sang that line in our opening hymn.  I am not sure that it is possible to not be afraid of change.  Rather, I would hope we grow courage in spite of our fears.  I hope we can have the courage to engage, to be open-minded and open hearted and to be true religious liberals in word and in deed.


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