So, Mr. Bush Won. Now What?
“So, Mr. Bush won. Now what?”
As one of the ministers to this congregation I am called to minister to the whole community and to hold as primary the integrity of the whole community. What that means is that I am not to forget that, while we are one in faith and community, we are not necessarily one in political or social viewpoint.
The quick rebukes and expressions of hurt still echo from those moments of my younger, naive ministry when I referred from my pulpit to “we democrats” and even, excluding the Universalists, “we Unitarians.” In my youthful fervor, I forgot to honor the diversity that is a primary value and should be a primary commitment in our Unitarian Universalist communities. As Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association said in his pastoral letter to our congregations, “We are a liberal religion, not a liberal politics.” And, over one hundred and fifty years ago, Hosea Ballou, a leader of the Universalist wing of our tradition wrote, “If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury, but if we do not, no other agreement can do us any good. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.”
That said – and sincerely offered – we must all recognize, political liberals and conservatives alike, that while we honor our diversity the great majority of those sharing the liberal faith are in the liberal political and social camp. Our political allegiances and social views are hardly a well-kept secret. And so, following the presidential election, while some among us may be relieved, even elated, most of us are sad: that may be too little to say. Many of us are mourning the loss of the elections almost as deeply as we have mourned the loss of loved ones. Many are clearly suffering all the classical signs of grief.
Many among us are angry. Many among us are afraid, fearful of what may become of us or of what may become of friends and loved ones in the years ahead.
The political and social divisions among our Unitarian Universalist religious communities are not so great as they are in others or as seemingly devastating in these early days as they appear to be nationally. But we believe – we know – that the positions that divide our nation will now be more entrenched. All sides will be more self-righteous, all sides more than ever convinced of the rightness of their causes. Some will go to extremes and fan the flames of discord. A few of the commentators almost immediately verged on derangement in their reaction to victory or defeat.
Thomas Sowell – given his academic credentials – never fails to stun me with his rightist extremism. On Friday, Sowell spouted that we should all feel deep relief that we now need not fear the appointment of liberal judges who will set thousands of rapists and murderers free on the streets.
On the liberal side, there have been panic-stricken outcries that we are now ruled by single party power that will unleash nothing short of fascism upon us and reduce the Constitution to shreds. Such extremism in either victory or defeat will not serve this nation well. We might well all fear, more than anything else, the deep divisions which now separate citizen from citizen and even family from family to an extent not experienced in this country since the years prior to the civil war.
Georgia voted three to one to support a Constitutional Amendment banning same sex marriage. A gay man, writing to the editor in yesterday’s Journal Constitution said that he will now no longer view those around him with respect but will view three out of four of those around him as people who hate him and deprive him of his rights. That is unreasonable, of course. It is sad. It is also frightening. What divides us beyond reason will be fed by fear, by anger, suspicion, and deadly convictions of rightness and righteousness. It is in this sense that Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Rev. Thomas Camp, the Director of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Athens, Georgia, writes, “Polarizations do not just go away. They tend to intensify unless there is a reconciling event or a sacrificial symbol that allows the resolution of hurt and fear and the development of common goals and understanding.”
In the mid-nineteenth century that event and that sacrificial symbol was a civil war – a war between the blue and gray. Let us beware the power of symbols to separate and inflame. How quickly we can fall from a nation of Americans to a nation of blues and grays – or blues and reds.
I have two fond hopes for this, our own religious community: more than hopes, let me call them pastoral charges.
I charge us all to keep the principles of our faith and tradition foremost each time we gather in this circle and in any other time or place. This means that we gather in love, in respect for the right of every person for thought and belief; that we gather in peace, in reverence, and compassion. The late humanist scholar and Unitarian Universalist minister Kenneth Patton and I lowered our lances at each other in print a couple of times, but I gladly quote him here. Patton wrote, “To criticize is not to reject. This point must be emphasized, for it is the dividing line between the free mind and fanaticism. It is the doorway to a universal religion that rigorously seeks the truth, and yet is also inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Let no person of this community feel unsafe, unwelcome, or silenced any more due to his or her political or social views than for her or his religious views. Let those among the winners savor their victory. But let them understand also that theirs is political victory, a strategical victory, not a moral victory. God is on the side of what is right, not necessarily on the side of whomever – conservative or liberal – has the skill to win. I promise you this, that had my sermon title happened to be worded differently, I would have spoken the same words.
And second, when we who mourn have dried our tears, bruised our chests with breast-beating, and cracked the enamel with the gnashing of teeth, may we take a deep breath of fresh fall air, stand up and have a good shake, and focus on what’s next. And let us not take too long about it.
For though I say this in love, I say it clearly and emphatically, we do disagree.
It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And though I am called to minister first to the whole community, I am also called to be clear in my understanding of where the long and ancient arc of the universe touches as it bends towards justice in the events of our time; and I am called to declare how the words and works of the prophets of our free faith fall upon the social, political, and moral issues of our time.
So I say this,
If you believe that there is only one acceptable, God-given way of expressing the human will for love and commitment, and that therefore only men and women may enjoy the rights and protections marriage, we disagree.
Lest there be any doubt, I affirm it with these words from a recent newspaper article: Tess Fields writes,
I am the daughter of Sadie Fields, president of the Christian Coalition of Georgia. If we lose this battle on Nov. 2, I want to let my gay and straight friends in Georgia know that we will not lose the war. Celebrate and be proud of who you are and the strong families that you have created. Spit in the eye of your oppressor with the ultimate revenge; be happy, be successful and live your life fully and completely, as God intended.
If you believe that you can be certain about such matters as when life begins, when life is too evil to continue, when life is so precious that it must be lived in pain, so that women’s bodies are not their own, so that the probably, or maybe, or even most likely guilty are put to death, and so that our loved ones cannot choose their passage – we disagree.
It is said that, as much as anything else, “moral values” determined the outcome of the election. Most people of liberal faith communities do not share those moral values. It needs to be clear to us liberals that we may well have surrendered the very idea of “moral values” to those with whom we disagree. And so we have allowed the nation to assume that the only values, the only morality, the only faith-based lives, are those articulated by religious conservatives and the religious right.
When we have done with mourning, when we have put away our anger, and when we have enjoyed a couple of voting conspiracy theories, then we need to get to work putting new flesh on what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “dry bones” of liberal faith. Liberal religion has toyed with frivolous ponderings long enough. Liberal religion needs Teachers, Prophets, Theologians, Philosophers, Pastors, Preachers, and Evangelists. Liberal religion needs people, schools, and communities who will help us, not just walk the walk, but talk the talk that will answer in new ways the people’s questions of what is good, true, and moral.
By God this could be – this must become – an exciting time to be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you believe that it is America’s destiny to determine who and what threatens the peace of the world and to proudly throw our weapons and our sons and daughters into the maw of the declared enemy’s wrath – we disagree. I am not a pacifist. There are those who do interpret the Divine Impulse as being the path of non-resistance no matter what. In deep respect for them – for Jesus, the Buddha, Gandhi, and King – there are those times in human history when right called for might against oppression, slavery, bigotry leading to unbridled butchery.
There are such times in human history.
This is not one of them.
Not since Vietnam have we squandered our youth in such blunderings, thrown our weight into a moral void with such arrogance, or stuck to our guns and soldiered on in such a web of deceit and popular fantasy. This is not even the war that might bring resolution to our divisions and polarization.
If this war is a response to the fallen towers, it is not only the wrong war in the wrong place, it is the wrong response to the wrong question. The question that arose from the smoke and the dust was “Who, now, shall we be to the world? Shall we be a strong Fatherland with back-of-the-hand to those who do not share our faith or politic? Or shall we be a strong Motherland to those who are sick, weak from centuries of oppression, dying from malnutrition and rampant plagues? We didn’t hear the question. So we gave the wrong answer: The back of our hand to the closest cheek.
We have a challenge before us – and an opportunity. To some extent, I cannot help but wish I was near the beginning of my ministry instead of near the end. The fact is that liberal religion has been at its best and its strongest in times of national peril and crises. The Vietnam era and the Civil rights era were painful and divisive times. But they were times when many gathered, not to contemplate the mystery of the universe, but act on their faith in humankind and to pull and pull and pull on the arc of the universe in its bend toward justice.
As I say, we were not all in agreement in those times. There were those people of liberal faith who sincerely believed that communism had to be stopped in Vietnam. And there were those who sincerely believed that people of color were demanding too much too soon. Congregations divided. People actually walking out of their churches in groups. Most of the congregations that could not disagree in love could not and did not survive.
This, then, is the challenge:
That there be no reds or blues among us. That before we speak, we think – think in compassion and in respect. We must understand that one’s choice of a political party, of a candidate, of a position on a social spectrum, is the result of personal history and experience, hopes, fears, values, and understanding that often lead to a deeply felt and powerfully believed position. To be able to freely discuss what we believe is to be able to share who we are and by that become who we can be.
If there was ever a place to experience the miracle that comes of listening, being heard, being understood, being respected let it be here. And if there was ever a place to determine for ourselves what the moral values are that set us free for transformation and to bring those values to light and to work in the world, let it be here.