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The AUC and Politics

David R. Burton


The United States is a democratic and pluralistic society in which everyone is free to participate in the political process and where there are many tens of thousands of political, trade association, labor, and other organizations engaged in the business of influencing the political process. There is no need to create another political organization.  Religious organizations should focus primarily on religion where they presumably have something special to offer and where they bring special competencies to bear.

Moreover, when religious organizations become inextricably intertwined in the political life of the day, they become central players in attacking the liberal principle of separation of church and state.  One need not look far to find examples of the suffering caused by failure to adhere to that principle.  When God is invoked in political debate, compromise becomes difficult .  Yet compromise is an absolutely necessary part of a liberal democratic republic.  War and violence are, as often as not, the endgame of religion becoming too central to a nation's political life.

Religious organizations are failing to achieve their purpose when,  as is the case with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the political dominates and the religious is almost an afterthought.  Within the UUA, political action (also known as 'social witness')has almost replaced the religion.  The AUC is dedicated to the proposition that there is much more to Unitarianism than that.

There are a myriad of outlets for individual or congregational impulses to become engaged in politics.  There are very few people or organizations promoting the Unitarian religious tradition.  Thus, the AUC will do the work that others are not doing.  Mem
bers of the AUC obviously can, and do, get involved in politics.  But the AUC corporately speaking will not do so (except in narrow circumstances where religious practice is directly affected).

In the context of a totalitarian state, and the carnage that they wreck (whether in Germany, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba, Taliban Afghanistan or elsewhere), there is no doubt (at least in my mind) that religious people and religious institutions in those countries should be involved in the resistance.  The wrongs being committed are simply too great a violation of any reasonable religious principles.  How to best resist is a more difficult and nuanced question.  Naturally, reasonable people may differ over the most effective means of resistance.

But the bottom line is that we live in the United States, a country blessed by the rule of law and unsurpassed freedom.  The gap between our two main politic parties is small when placed in either an international or historical context. A commitment to preserve our basic freedoms is shared by the vast majority of Americans.

The Unitarian religion simply does not dictate whether one should be a Republican or a Democrat, a political conservative or a political liberal.  American Unitarianism should not be in the business of trying to argue otherwise.  To argue otherwise is to confuse political convictions with religious convictions and to unnecessarily limit the appeal of Unitarianism, the religion, to the broader public.

The central problem with Unitarian Universalism today is precisely the lack of unifying
religious convictions within the UUA and many of its congregations.  A "religion" that attempts to serve the religious needs of atheist humanists and theists (and pagan polytheists for that matter) can not succeed in adequately serving the spiritual needs of any of these groups.  They simply do not share religious convictions.  Atheists and theists are, quite obviously, in diametrically opposed religious camps.

Not having religious convictions as a unifying force, the UUA is thus forced to find something to unify its people and that something has, in practice, been left-wing political action.  In the final analysis however, neither God-believing people nor atheist humanists will feed their spirit in an environment that necessarily suppresses their religious or ethical voice in an attempt to avoid divisive religious questions.

The UUA has, in effect, jettisoned its mission as the steward of the Unitarian tradition.  It has done so by choosing not to uphold the core of that religious tradition very nearly since its inception in 1961.  Now, a vast proportion, perhaps even a majority, of people in UUA churches are avowedly hostile to the idea of God and virulently hostile toward Christianity, even Unitarian Christianity.

The AUC will avoid this trap because our religious principles, while broad and inclusive, are sufficiently substantive to serve as a
religious basis around which to unify.  For that reason, the AUC can remain a religious organization.  We can find unity and fellowship in our religious faith. We will not be compelled to avoid religion as divisive and to seek solace someplace other than religion.

Most mature, broad-based religious organizations accommodate Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, without implying that a particular political party or political position (in the American context) is a predicate to being a member in good
standing of the religion.  The Methodists have President G.W. Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton. The Catholics have Mayor Rudy Guliani and Senator Pat Moynihan.  The Baptists have former President Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. 

Although Unitarian Universalism is largely unable to do so, American Unitarianism is able to accommodate Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals. 

2002 American Unitarian Conference