Living Our Faith

Guy calls the doctor, says the wife’s contractions are five minutes apart.
Doctor says, "Is this her first child?"
Guy says, "No, it’s her husband."
Sometimes the meaning of a question can take a surprising turn. But let us remember who we are. We don't have to interpret every question as being about ourselves -- but we do need to be grounded in self-awareness.

So who are we? For one thing, we are inheritors of a wonderful, vital prophetic tradition. The prophets of old bequeath to us a tradition of critique of entrenched power – of calling out for fairness and attending to the least advantaged. This is our blessed inheritance.

In recent centuries, the abolition movement to end slavery, and the suffrage movement for women’s votes were supported and coached by liberal religious thought. For Unitarians and Universalists in the 19th century, living their faith meant engaging with structures of power on behalf of justice, equity and compassion.

And that’s what it meant for Unitarian Universalists in the the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s. Religious liberals were among the leading voices of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. Some of my earliest memories as a Unitarian Universalist youth were participating in marches and rallies protesting the Vietnam war. That’s just what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist.

There is a definite place for the religious voice in public discourse. As the Supreme Court recognized in Walz v. Tax Commission, back in 1970:
“Adherents of particular faiths and individual churches frequently take strong positions on public issues including vigorous advocacy of legal or constitutional positions. Of course, churches as much as secular bodies and private citizens have that right.”
What the congregation can’t do – what I won’t do, in a public and official ministerial capacity – is advocate for or against any specific candidate for elective office, or any political party. But churches, temples, synagogues, mosques – congregations of any faith – may certainly engage on issues of public policy.

This is what we were doing on Sun Sep 21 when 24 members of this congregation joined 1,500 identified Unitarian Universalists joining about 350,000 marchers to call for climate action. I arrived at the location for faith contingents to gather – there were Muslims and Quakers and Jews and Pagans and Hindus and Buddhists and Zoroastrians, and many others. I stood there for about three and half hours then walked the route of the march for about another three hours. It was great. The whole thing, in fact, felt like a wonderful worship service with hundreds of thousands of people collectively affirming shared value commitments.

Since our heyday in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, religious liberalism has rather retreated from the public square. I would like to see religious liberals reclaim prophetic witness – speak publicly on public issues and, when we do so, speak from our religious understanding.

Paul Rasor would like to see that, too. He’s the author of Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square. That book has been selected by the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Common Read for the 2014-15 year. It’s the one book that all Unitarian Universalists are being encouraged to read this year. I have now read it, and I want you to read it too. Order it from the UUA Bookstore. You can get through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but it’s cheaper through the UUA bookstore: it’s $15. (CLICK HERE). It’s short: about 100 pages not counting the notes. Granted, if you’re not used to scholarly humanities writing, some of those pages will be slow going, but it’s well-reasoned. And we need that. We need to think these questions through in that careful way. Community Unitarian Church will be engaging this fall in a process to formulate a social justice agenda for ourselves, and a plan for pursuing that agenda. This year’s UUA Common Read fits perfectly into our process.

What Rasor (in his book) and I (in this blog series) argue for is that religious liberals be in the public sphere, that we make strong cases for our position, and that we ground them in our religious principles.

Next: The first question: What makes a politically relevant principle a religious principle?

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Reclaiming Prophetic Witness"
See also:
Part 2: Principles and Religious Principles
Part 3: Connect Your Politics to Your Faith
Part 4: Our Distinctive Voice

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