We are a people always on the verge. For many years, it was at the forefront of religious liberalism, that jargon-filled term which we so often use to say we are theologically diverse, and are comfortable being theologically diverse. And for many years, we have prided ourselves on being at the front of many social movements on the political left. For many Unitarian Universalists, there is a tacit agreement that political liberality and religious liberality go hand in hand. After all, if everyone is free to have their innermost religious beliefs, why won't they think just like us?
It is an easy trap to fall into. There is an ever-present vocal minority in our congregations that reminds us of our hypocrisy, constantly chiding us for being overtly political, and being so consistently political one-sided. Remember, we set out to embrace a diversity of beliefs. Politics is filled with division. Why is it that, for so many of us, church has become the place where we are comfortable politically?
A good political scientist would tell you that the last 50 years, and especially the last 25, have seen a rise in the use of religious language in politics, and the explicit use of religious sentiment for political gain. I am not going to say that. Well, I'm not going to say that any more than I already have. We do not need such a cynical perspective for why religion has been involved in politics.
What I will say is this: people care about politics in a religious way. We say that we have faith in our candidates. When we vote, we say we vote our values, and religion does nothing if not help us reaffirm our values. And when our candidates' lose an election, we become apocalyptic. Politics can shape our external world in ways that often seems remote and all-powerful. And this effects us, as religious people.
When we see a piece of discriminatory legislation get passed, that hits us. We take it as a challenge to the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and that is as much a political position as it is a theological one. We feel for it religiously. Environmental legislation affects us because we care so deeply for the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part. And for many UUs, it is hard to see how military action can possible help us be part of a world community with peace and justice for all. These things are not just politically upsetting, they are spiritually disturbing. We are a political people precisely because we are a religious people.
We are not excused for being so one-sided politically. My vision of inherent worth and dignity may include universal healthcare, but another vision may just as easily see the first principle only meaning the equal right to choose to buy insurance. The principles leave a lot unsaid, and that is for the best. For me, and I suspect for at least a few of you, they form a core around which we have built our own beliefs, and while we may share the same core, we are not in any way obliged to share the same body.
That doesn't mean some political action won't shake us all to the core. And it doesn't mean we cannot share in our profound distress just because our bodies of belief are so different. What it means, for me at least, is that rather than replacing religion with politics, we are more honest than most in how closely the two are fused.
Coming in part II: Why our Universalist heritage in particular lends theological weight to a closer religious relationship to politics.
Bonus thought-provoking statement I wish I could write more about: How does the political/religious relationship in Black Liberation Theology serve as a counterpoint to the desire of many for UUism to be apolitical?