Is there a way out of this?

I’m feeling yicky, like I’ve done something wrong.  And, I guess I have. I walked into the middle of our adult forum at church, where the discussion was about the mixing of politics and religion at a UU church.  Hmmmmmm.  Where have I heard (read) that discussion lately?

The discussion was prompted, so I’m told, by the eventually anti-war sermon given the week before by a guest minister (not UU, decidedly Christian, but I am unable to divulge any more identifiers about him for fear of him losing his job by preahcing to the infidels, which, of course, is what Jesus did, or so I’m told, but that’s a post for another day). He wanted to talk about the Jewish holiday of Purim, and so he did. And in his sermon he touched on some decidedly political issues. And yet…he never said to us that we should do this, or we should do that. He simply put before us an ancient story, gave it some context, and then related it to our current-day lives. And yes, he made a dig at the current administration, and I believe he did so thinking it would be safe, there, in a house of liberal religion where he admitted he had stretched his own ideas of how he could give a sermon that danced a very thin line between addressing political topics and being political.

But, apparently some people thought he stepped over that line (one which, I will admit I don’t think this particular guest had any idea was there–I think he thought what many of us who live in an extremely conservative area think when we walk into a UU church: these are my people, I am safe here).

And he was safe. It is those of us who invited him who are not.

As I said, I walked into the discussion right smack in the middle, so perhaps I had no real right to speak. But, as a member of the worship committee who had requested the services of this particular minister (who had preached in our sanctuary on many occasions before, including that Sunday in September 2001 when our entire country was still shaking and quaking in sorrow and in shock), I felt I needed to at least ask: what about that sermon did you find political?

And an answer came, and then I ranted in response to it. Or maybe I vented. Or maybe I just went on for way too long. It’s hard to say from this vantage point of hours later. But there’s more to the story: our own minister had stood in the pulpit only a few weeks before, talking about the war and our need to end it.  So, it was like a double whammy, and some people didn’t think a sermon advertised as being about a Jewish holiday could be an anti-war sermon.  Go figure.  (Note to self: offer World Religions as Adult Religious Education forum once again.)

So what am I feeling bad about: I’m not sure. Probably because I was loud and strident in making my case, but mostly because I did so with very little knowledge of the discussion that had been had before. I could have stepped more carefully, asked some people how the discussion started before I launched into my diatribe.

I cannot think of a greater religious statement to make though: war is wrong; this strategy isn’t working, let’s find another.  As one woman said, with more angst than even I could muster: “If you are planning to offer time for a pro-war sermon to balance the scales, please, let me know because I will most certainly NOT attend.”

Is that the answer? To offer equal time? I don’t think we UUs can afford to do that right now, offer up an opportunity to say that this war, right now, is and was the right strategy all along. And I just don’t understand, don’t know that I ever will understand, how someone can stand up and recite the Affirmation of Faith and then walk out on a sermon because it offended their desire to compartmentalize what happens in that room from what happens outside it.

And that’s my trouble: I can’t keep segments of my self from spilling into the others. I can’t keep my religion from informing my politics and even vice versa. Doesn’t mean I always act the right way. Doesn’t even mean that the other people are wrong (though I think they are), but I can’t–nor do I want to–divide my religious sense of what is right and wrong in the world from dictating a need to respond to the rights and wrongs in the world.  And I expect, nay, I DEMAND that the person in the pulpit challenge me to not only think difficult thoughts, but to act upon them–even when we disagree thematically and contextually.

Perhaps that’s the difference here, not so much religious or political idealogies, but that some people can segment their lives and live happily in that balance, while others mesh it all together, happily and unhappily. I don’t know. I know I just don’t want to belong to a religious body that can stand up for this particular war as it has played out. And I’m content that I do not.  Do I need to make room at the table for people who feel differently?  I suppose I do. But do I need to make room in the pulpit?


About TinaLBPorter

I write poetry and blog at And I'm thrilled to be writing with you.
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2 Responses to Is there a way out of this?

  1. mskitty says:

    Wow, that sounds like a hard one. Politics and religion are not easy bedfellows, though my religious beliefs certainly inform my politics. As a minister, I preach to people who represent a wide spectrum of political belief. We serve a population that includes military folks and want all to be able to stay in the conversation.

    So I tend to look at the underlying issues and ask questions without taking a political stance. What are the moral issues about war? Bill Sinkford’s recent pastoral letter describes them without politicizing them, IMHO.

    I’ll be interested in the next steps you take. I hope you blog further about your dilemma.


  2. Chalicechick says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t have pilloried you for this and I’m sorry if other people did.

    I might have blogged about it, though. I have to say that I honestly can’t think of a sermon *less* difficult and challenging than one that correctly assumes everyone in the room conforms to the speaker’s view of the world. Giving a sermon like this to UUs is the very definition of “preaching to the choir.”

    I am constantly amazed at the number of people who seem to think there’s some prophetic truth in preaching something that the entire church pretty much believed when they walked in the door. (And I promise you the few people who actually do disagree suffer enough every other moment they have to listen to their fellow congregants bellyache about politics and how evil non-liberals are. You don’t have to bitch at them from the pulpit, too.)

    If you have to preach about the war and you want to be challenging, why not ask about the good the war has done? Because, yeah, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve also freed a lot of people. In wishing for American soldiers’ lives back, do we also wish Iraq back under the control of a guy who killed and oppressed so many?

    How do we reconcile these facts? Can we look a woman from Afghanistan in the eye and say “I know you have a chance to get an education now, but I wish I could take it back. I wish we’d taken a diplomatic route that might have made your life slightly better slowly over the course of decades”?

    If you honestly feel that this war has cost this country its soul, you might be saying that. And I can respect that.

    Because it is an answer that recognizes that life is about tradeoffs and that just becase we dislike war on principle doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the human cost of slower responses.

    OK, you don’t have to preach exactly that, but you see my point. You don’t have to be “pro-war,” but I think to be intellectually honest you have to be willing to look at the shades of gray, something I’ve pretty much never heard a political sermon do.



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