Connect Your Politics to Your Faith

We have certain commitments as Unitarian Universalists. We are committed to the values expressed in our seven principles and six sources and in, for instance, the words of our hymns and the readings in back of our hymnal. We don't always claim them as religious principles when we speak on public issues.

Rev. William Sinkford, UUA President, 2001 - 09.
Photo by H. F. Garcia from uua.org
Sometimes we have drafted resolutions at General Assembly that in no way indicate that the principles at issue are principles that we have made a part of our religious identity.

Other times, we do a better job.

Here’s an example of doing it well, cited by Paul Rasor, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness:
“The 2006 statement by Rev. William Sinkford, then president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, to a group of congressional staffers offers an excellent example of effective liberal public prophetic witness grounded in clearly expressed religious convictions. Sinkford was speaking in opposition to a proposed Federal Marriage Amendment that would have prohitibted same-sex marriage. He began by grounding his position in Unitarian Universalist theological principles and collective liberal religious experience:
‘Within Unitarian Universalism, we know from our own experience the many blessings that gay and lesbian people bring to our congregations and communities. We know from our lived experience in religious community that differences of faith, of race, and of sexual orientation need not divide us, that diversity within the human family can be a blessing and not a curse. Unitarian Universalists affirm that it is the presence of love and commitment that we value. For Unitarian Universalists, it is homophobia that is the sin, not homosexuality. Unitarian Universalists stand on the side of love.’
Sinkford then linked this deep religious conviction to public policy arguments about discrimination and personal freedom, noting the historical parallels between the proposed marriage amendment and earlier laws prohibiting interracial marriage.”
In the case of income inequality, or any policies that favored the rich or neglected the poor, we might offer our own grounding, different from Coffin’s but also not secular like Rawls. We might say:
“As a religious liberal, I believe that justice requires us to be concerned primarily for those who have least.”
Consider some other examples.

Instead of:
“Voter ID laws are an attempt to squelch the voting of certain populations, and that’s a violation of democratic process.”
We could say:
“As a Unitarian Universalist, ‘the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large’ is one of our seven principles, and Voter ID laws that attempt to squelch the voting of certain populations violate democratic process.”
We could say:
“The way we’ve been treating immigrants ignores their inherent worth and dignity.”
Or we could, instead, say:
“As a Unitarian Universalist, the inherent worth and dignity of every person is a central principle – so I call for treatment of immigrants that recognizes their inherent worth and dignity.”
We could say – as some of us at the People's Climate March on Sep 21 probably were saying:
“Our carbon emissions have reached the point that climate change threatens the interdependent web of life.”
Or we could, instead, say:
“Respect for the interdependent web of existence is a tenant of my Unitarian Universalist faith. It would be unfaithful of me to disrespect the interdependent web of existence by not doing all I can to encourage reduction of carbon emissions.”
These examples all reference our seven principles, but those aren’t the only principles we have. Our six sources also indicate possible points of grounding, as do James Luther Adams’ five smooth stones of liberalism, and the "Four Noble truths of Unitarian Universalism":
"It’s a blessing you were born. It matters what you do. Your experience of the divine is true. And you don’t have to go it alone." (adapted from lyrics by Laila Ibrahim for a "Chalice Camp" song)
What difference does it make if we do this -- if we take the extra step of connecting what we’re saying to the religious community we’re in? It might seem counterintuitive. If we say we’re coming out of religious liberal experience and principles, and our listeners aren’t religious liberals, have we rendered our argument irrelevant to them? No, actually. I'll explain why not in the next post, part 4.

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


  1. Nicely said.
    But I am concerned that if we are to be PEACE BUILDERS we need not just the words of justice but also the words of mercy. Last week was the Jewish Day of At-one-ment.including forgiveness and being forgiven. I look forward to your words about how we can be reconciled with not only those who are not-religious liberals, but those who seem to be our enemy.

  2. As it happens, next month's (November's) theme of the month is "forgiveness." So, do stay tuned!