Our Distinctive Voice

The previous post raised the question, "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?"

Photo by Peter Bowden
Here’s why articulating our grounding in our liberal religious values and principles increases the relevance and effectiveness of our voice.

Political discourse isn’t about coming up with some knock-down argument that produces instant conversion in your listeners. It’s much more about creating some sense of connection that opens an invitation to consider. People can connect across huge differences – and we actually make it easier for that to happen if we’re clear up front about what the differences are. It’s always helpful to give other people a better sense of where you’re coming from – to situate ourselves in our own experience and context of commitments.

Have you ever had the experience of listening to someone talking, and they’re worked up about something, but you can’t get a handle on where they’re coming from, or why that issue matters to them? It’s hard to connect with what they’re saying. By providing listeners with a sense of what our grounding is we become – subtly, and perhaps strangely, yet palpably – more comprehensible. And that’s true even if our listeners have very different religious convictions. They might not agree, but expressing our religious grounding can help them understand -- and that's step one.

Any time someone is saying something that doesn’t agree with what we already believe, we are naturally going to have some wondering about their motive. “Why would they say such a wrongheaded thing?” we have to wonder. There are, for instance, apparently, people who, not wanting to believe in climate change, say that those climate scientists are just saying what they say because that’s how they get funding. “They’re making stuff up because that’s how they keep their jobs.” We are inclined to suspect the motives of people who say things we disagree with – that’s a very common way human brains deal with that dissonance. So if we go ahead and say that we’re coming out of a grounding in the experiences and teachings and principles and values of a specifiable religious community, that can help clear up unspoken doubts about our motives.

Also: If we give only secular reasons, we aren’t adding a distinctive voice to the public discourse. There are always plenty of folks making all the secular arguments. Those congressional staffers listening to William Sinkford didn’t need to hear one more recounting of the usual arguments. They needed to hear the distinctive voice that comes from anchoring the position in our community’s experience and intentional commitments. That’s what they got, and it worked so much better.

Finally, “given the public dominance of conservative religious voices today, if religious liberals don’t speak up, no one else will know that there is another religious perspective” (Rasor).

I mentioned the new Unitarian Universalist study/action issue on income inequality that our delegates selected and General Assembly 2014. Two years previously, at General Assembly 2012, our delegates selected reproductive freedom as the study/action issue. So we’re now in the final two years of that one. I was there in Phoenix in 2012 for the floor debate, and it was clear that the argument that carried the day for selecting reproductive freedom over any of the other pressing and important issues proposed was that this issue especially requires a liberal religious voice. The public discourse on that subject draws so heavily from religious groundings – and almost all of it is from the right, opposed to reproductive freedom. We need to be out there showing it isn’t just the irreligious who advocate for reproductive freedom. We have deep religiously grounded reasons for standing up for access to birth control and education and abortion rights.

We have a voice. We need to use it – not to make other people be just like us but so that we can be just like us. So that we can become who we are. So that we can join the fray in which both sides -- all sides -- learn and grow.

We have a voice. And our world so desperately needs to hear it.

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

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