Is anyone else stressed out about the election? I know I am. The changing poll numbers and the “October Surprises” have made it hard for me to stay centered and hopeful.
As a minister, I am pretty much a professional optimist. Sometimes that is one of the hardest parts of the job.
Democracy is just stressful at its core. I have been nervous before every election I can remember. Who knows how the votes will turn out in the end? And the issues are much more significant than flavors of ice cream. What if our country elects a president that would be as life threatening to some people as peanuts are those who are allergic? Peanut butter looks kind of orange, so don’t laugh, it could happen.
As scary as elections can be, part of my religious practice is to carefully study candidates and issues and then to vote my values in every single election.
I have opinions about methods and policies, about what might work better than something else, but bottom-line, it is values I care about. Does a policy or a candidate promote the inherent worth and dignity of all? What about liberty and justice for all or world community? 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? How do our religious values relate to the death penalty? To the plastic bag ban? To support for schools and libraries?
Those are the questions I asked myself before I voted.
You might consider asking yourself some similar questions.
Please note that I am not telling any of you how to vote because I really do believe in our fifth principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” People should have a voice, a say, in what affects them. You all need to make up your own minds about how to vote.
Mark Twain said that, “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from others.”
Mark Twain was not a member of a Unitarian Church, but he did have a lot of Unitarian friends. He clearly thought that people should examine their beliefs and convictions for themselves, and not take them on second hand authority. It is what our faith asks us to do. Our principles call us to examine our beliefs, to test them against our reason, our experience and our hearts. This is true in matters of politics as well as religion.
We are a liberal religion, by definition, because we promote that first hand authority of the individual conscience, because we don’t expect everyone to agree about everything, particularly when it comes to theology. There should be room in this congregation for atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and followers of just about any other religious tradition.
To be comfortable here, however, most folks find that it is important to at least be open to the idea that spiritual traditions and practices other than their own just might be very valid for other people.
Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion, but that doesn’t mean we are all liberal Democrats. There are many thoughtful and faithful Republicans in our churches.
A little history: Unitarian Universalism is deeply rooted in American cultural 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 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.
But let’s talk about William Taft for a minute. He was president between 1909 and 1913, and he was a Republican.
His great-grandson, John Taft wrote an article a few years ago 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.”
He went on to say:
“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, Muslims, women, people with disabilities, have all been demonized or mocked. This is in clear conflict with our values.
But listen to me now, many on the left have cast all Trump supporters as racist sexist bigots, – it isn’t a moral equivalent as angry white men aren’t an oppressed group, but it still isn’t OK.
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 Clinton; others hate Trump. Very few people are really completely evil; they just have very different views of the world and sometimes serve different interests.
This is where liberal religion can help 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. Speak with bravest fire, but hold love at the center of it all.
It is how we try to do theology here. We listen to each other. Christians, pagans, and atheists really can get along, and form an awesome religious community together. So why can’t Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Libertarians get along in the political sphere?
In this congregation we need radical visionaries willing to take some risks, but we also need fiscally conservative financial stewards. Our country needs more people willing to listen to others, whatever their party affiliation.
I believe there is an important role for religion in politics. Gandhi said that “those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
Gandhi was a Hindu, but the Judeo-Christian tradition is also full of calls for the faithful to be engaged in social and political issues. To love all of creation, but in particular to be concerned for those who have the least power in the wider culture.
Virtually all of the Biblical prophets spoke out for justice for the weak, for the poor, and for the oppressed.
From the prophet Amos who said let justice roll down like waters, to Isaiah who said that the spirit of God sent him to bring good news to the oppressed, to the prophet Jesus who told us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and to, in modern times, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who led a faith based movement against racial discrimination, the religious voice has been a powerful and important one.
That is the prophetic tradition, and one that I think Unitarian Universalism identifies with very strongly. We have always spoken out against unjust laws and argued for just ones. From opposing the fugitive slave act to working with Black Lives Matter, we have been a tradition that championed the rights of the oppressed. Respect for the inherent dignity of all is our first principle. The key here is that this prophetic tradition is about religion and religious people working to protect the weak, to enhance life, to care for all of creation. This type of religious activism serves democracy well because it is fundamentally about caring, respect, and love. It is not about restriction and punishment.
There is another Biblical tradition, however, one that most of the prophets I listed above were in direct opposition to. There is also a priestly tradition that focused on religious laws. The scribes and Pharisees that took Jesus to task for violating the law were a part of that tradition. Leviticus, with its long list of rules, many of which are a little weird to our modern sensibilities, is another example.
This priestly tradition is very dangerous to democracy, I think, especially when it argues that religious laws should be enforced by the state.
Some Muslim countries follow Sharia law, and most Americans find that appalling, but Leviticus is the primary reason that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people still do not have full civil rights in this country.
It is one thing to follow your religious values by asking for help for the vulnerable, and it is quite another to ask the state to promote your religious values over those of others and to create legislation to ensure that it is your rules that are followed.
So what do we do? How to we hold on to hope?
I love the following poem by ee cummings.
It is called “dive for dreams,”
Dive for dreams
Or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at this wedding)
Dive deep for your dreams, trust your heart. Live by love though the stars walk backward. No matter what happens on Tuesday, there will be work for us to do. Love can guide us on our way. Amen and Blessed Be.
The curtain is up
On the stage of the world
The actor takes aim
Against all I believe
Is he speaking his truth
Or playing a game?
Lives are at stake
There have to be rules.
I’ve read my history
I’ve lived it too long
Lessons hard learned
We can’t feed this beast.
Hatred is catching
And fear no relief
There has to be love
Compassion at least
Bring down the curtain
Let’s change the game
Greatness is worthless
When bartered for souls
Joe Biden got it exactly right last night during his speech (Click) at the DNC when he said Trump is most famous for telling people they are fired and looking like he is enjoying it.
That comment really spoke to me.
I have fired people. I don’t remember exactly how many, not a lot, maybe 5 or 6 when I was a manager in the federal service, and a couple of times as a minister. It is never easy and it certainly isn’t fun. Sometimes it has to be done, however. With only two exceptions, the people I fired had problems getting to work on time on a reasonably consistent basis. After repeated warnings, it became clear that the very basic job requirement of showing up, was not going to be met. The mission was suffering because their job was not being done. So I fired them, but I also felt bad for them. I hoped they would learn a lesson from the experience and do better in their next job. The other two were individuals that just weren’t suited for the jobs they were in. They weren’t able to meet the minimum job requirements at a satisfactory level. I could only hope they went on to find something else they could do well.
Each and every time, however, firing someone has been hard and has made me sad. Those individuals had inherent worth and dignity and being fired was a very painful experience for them. I felt of them, but needed to temper my sadness for them with my concern for the health of the organization to which I was responsible. Poorly performing employees can bring the whole team down. If the work is important, then it needs to be done well. Sometimes people need to be fired.
But sometimes, it is possible to fire someone up instead of firing them. I have done that too and it is highly satisfying to help turn someone’s poor performance around with clear expectations and encouragement when they make an effort to improve.
Someone who enjoys firing people is just not suited to leading our nation. Empathy, compassion, encouragement, inspiration are what I want to see in a leader. I don’t want to follow someone who will exclude large groups of people from the process, in essence firing everyone who might disagree. Instead, I want to follow someone who will fire us all up and inspire us to do our best. That is the message I am getting from the Democrats this week, one that resonates with me as a person of faith. I do wish the other party had fired their candidate, who is just not suited for the job.
Spring comes in despite our fears
Flowers bloom in the dank soil of despair
The bloody streets and schoolyards,
Washed by a mother’s tears,
Reflect the sun on a dawning day.
We hear the voices of hate
The politics of greed
Anger pounding away at love
While children live in fear.
Don’t build the walls
Let the refugees in
Let our hearts open like the bud
So spring can come
To this troubled world.
Sometimes you get to say just what you think….
Partisan politics was something I stayed far away from when I was serving a parish. Aside from the need to retain the congregation’s tax exempt status, it also just felt wrong to be telling people that looked up to me as their pastor how to vote. Ministers’s voices and opinions can carry a lot of weight with their congregants. I may be on the heavy side, but I don’t like throwing my weight around that way.
I am not serving a congregation currently, however.
If I serve as a parish minister again, I will again stay away from obviously partisan positions while still advocating for compassion and justice. Being anti-racist, for instance, should be something we all are working on; it is something our faith demands of us. Caring for the poor, the homeless, providing a healthy environment for our children and ourselves (which includes clean water and air) , welcoming the refugee, providing jobs that pay a living wage, should not be considered controversial among people of faith. Individuals and groups can disagree about methods and strategies, but the goal of all political parties should be to insure a decent, peaceful, free, and prosperous life for all of our citizens and ultimately, for all the people in the world.
I have said most of the above from the pulpit and will do so again when I get opportunities to preach.
Now, however, not having parish ties, I can say publicly that I think Hilary Clinton is the candidate that is most likely to move us forward at this particular time in history.
I like Clinton for some of the same reasons that other people heap criticisms on her head.
- She has changed her mind over time about a lot of things. All politicians do this. All people do this, at least they do if they aren’t fossilized. Changing opinions and positions doesn’t mean Clinton is dishonest, quite the opposite is true in fact. It means she is capable of listening and learning.
- She has strong convictions, but doesn’t seem to particularly self-righteous about them. Contrast this with Bernie Sanders or (shudder) Ted Cruz. Cruz is clearly a zealot, a true believer, and he is even scarier than Trump for that reason. I am not as sure that Sanders is a true zealot, but he sounds like one when he talks. Clinton doesn’t. There is some humility in evidence. Obama has some humility too, which has been refreshing and real. Only Clinton of the current candidates exhibits any humility at all. No one knows everything. It would be best to have a leader that understands that.
- She’s practical and willing to make some compromises. I think that is a good thing. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. Obama compromised on health care and we have something much better than we would have had otherwise – which was nothing. It is not perfect, single payer, medicare for all, would have been better, but it just wasn’t possible. Sanders now wants to throw it out and just start over. That is exactly what the Republicans want too. We could easily end up with nothing.
- She has the experience. She is in fact more qualified to be president than any other candidate in my memory. She has been part of the system and knows it well. I think that is a huge advantage and not an indictment as some seem to believe.
- She supports Obama and pledges to continue his policies. I love having Obama as our president. I love all that he has been able to accomplish despite the huge and racist opposition he has faced. I also love what Clinton has been able to accomplish despite the huge and sexist opposition she has faced. I think she will do even more as president.
- Obama, as our first African American president, just by being who he is, has done so much to enlarge the vision of what is possible for our young people, especially our young people of color. I’d like to see what a female president, just by being who she is, can do to enlarge the vision of what is possible for our young women, including our young women of color.
One last comment: the recent debates between Sanders and Clinton were what helped push me more firmly toward Clinton. Sanders repeatedly used his white male privilege during those debates, reacting grumpily every time Clinton interrupted him while arrogantly speaking over her many times. I do not remember any of that going on when Clinton debated Obama, perhaps because both were aware of and sensitive to the racial and gender dynamics of the situation. Sanders seems simply clueless of any such dynamic at all. We don’t need any more clueless leaders. We have plenty of Republicans to provide that perspective. The two photos above and below demonstrate what I am talking about. Clinton mainly uses open-handed gestures directed to the audience. Sanders mainly points and he directs many of his gestures toward Clinton. Body language speaks volumes. Someone should tell Sanders to clean up his act. Maybe he can learn and grow.