Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Votes, Volunteers, or Vision?

A friend recently told me (by commenting in this blog, no less) about an email that she read on one of her church email lists concerning the religious background of one of the current presidential candidates. The email was apparently a smear about whether that particular candidate was really a Christian.

The last time we had a non-Christian candidate it was Joe Lieberman. I did not hear that particular line trotted out about that particular Jewish Senator. But I digress…

If they are talking about Senator Obama, then I challenge whoever wrote the email to read it aloud on Sunday morning at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago, where the Obama family are members… but again I digress.

What it got me to thinking about was the role of the liberal church in politics. We Unitarian Universalists have sometimes, to our lessening, been seen as the religious arm of the Democratic Party. The church I was a member, student minister, and administrator of in Galveston TX was sometimes referred to as the “Liberal Political and Social Club on the eastern half of the Island”. No campaign rally’s were ever held there, but plenty of organizing meetings, plenty of documentary films with political connotations, and the church was actively involved in what could only be described as lobbying of local elected officials.

When I first joined the church, we were each asked to say something in the ingathering service. I thanked the members for welcoming me so warmly even though I was not a Democrat. There were a few gasps, and then one of the older members said aloud, “Don’t worry David, we’ll fix that!”

Our involvement in the political issues of our communities is right, it is just, and it is part of who and what we are called to be as congregations. Our close ties to the political organizations that seem to share some of our views is inevitable, if to me regrettable. It is regrettable because I think it distracts us as a Liberal faith from the role we could be playing in our Nation’s politics.

Last year, I was invited by First Unitarian Church of Chicago to preach the Earth Day sermon. The piece (What Will Be) was a call for us to step back from the fear-mongering of much of the environmentalist movement, and to make it the focus of our faith to craft the vision of what the world will be like when we do all the things we should do to care for the environment… That the role of our faith is not to cajole, or shame, or embarrass others into that care, but to craft the dream, the vision of a world that will inspire.

Beyond providing volunteers for some political campaign, beyond keeping political issues of interest to our membership in the eyes of the local community, beyond showing documentaries and having panel discussions about what the government is doing wrong (or right), I believe our churches and our Liberal faith have a deeper and broader calling in this world.

That calling is to create an inspiring vision of what our world will be like, what our nation will be like, what our communities will be like, when we have truly created the Just and Sustainable world of the future.

We need to vision what the world will be like when people all across this planet can come together in economic, political, religious, and cultural equality.

We need to vision what the world will be like when the use of military force is only for the promotion of peace.

We need to vision what the world will be like when the needs of humanity are once again in balance with the needs of the Earth.

We need to vision what the world will be like when we have learned to accept and honor each other as people, as individuals, no matter or gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, class, or ability.

We need to vision what the world will be like when we have learned to think beyond the short term interests of profitability to the long term interest of sustainability.

We need to vision what such a world will be like, and then we of liberal faith need to present that inspiring vision to the world around us… but also listen openly to the visions of others.

I asked another friend how he was going to decide who to vote for in this upcoming election, and he said he was looking for someone with “vision”. Though I did not say it, I thought that if he was looking for a politician with vision, he would be waiting a long time….

It is not from politics that the visions which change our world come, but from faith. Politics can be a useful tool in fulfilling a vision, but the vision, the dream of the future does not come from the land of useful compromises and back door deals… it comes from faith. To have faith is to have a sacred trust in the present, in the past, and in the future. It is from that trust that we can see what can, what will, what must be.

This is our calling as a faith, as a church, as Unitarian Universalists and other Religious Liberals. We must do it together. We must share our dreams with each other. For, as James Luther Adams once said… We are the Prophethood of all Believers.

Yours in Faith,


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