Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Imagine all the Statements of Conscience...
Chalicechick offers some trenchant comments on the one and only proposed "study/action issue" before this year's UUA General Assembly (pdf; see page 8/4): "Should the Unitarian Universalist Association reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war to resolve disputes between peoples and nations and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means?"
This appears to be the year former UUA President John Buehrens predicted not long after 9/11:
Coming of age during the Vietnam War, I tried to be a Quaker. But I could not in good conscience say that I objected to all war and all use of force. My father and uncles had served in World War II. Like theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, I reasoned that the creation of greater justice and peace in an unjust and dangerous world often requires us to choose between greater and lesser evils. . . .
We all felt victimized by the tragedy of September 11. A new sense of spiritual unity, transcending ideologies, arose from that shared experience. As time goes on, however, and as our responses to "the war against terrorism" become more pained at what is being done in our names, divisions will re-emerge.
Progressive communities, including Unitarian Universalist congregations, are prone to painful rifts between pacifists and pragmatists. During World War I, pacifists felt ostracized among Unitarians. Former U.S. President William Howard Taft, as moderator of the American Unitarian Association from 1917 to 1918, persuaded the General Assembly that all ministers and churches receiving aid from the AUA be required to support the "crusade for democracy." Pacifist ministers lost their posts in some places, and the distinguished New York Unitarian minister Dr. John Haynes Holmes actually left the AUA with his church.
During the Vietnam era, virtually the reverse occurred in some congregations. Pragmatists sometimes felt morally condemned by pacifist UUs. The current response to terrorism must not be allowed to have that effect. Let those UUs who would witness for consistent nonviolence do so as a matter of conscience. But let us also recognize that pragmatic reasoning about reducing the threat of terrorism can be conscientious as well.
("Pacifists and pragmatists," John Buehrens, UU World 1.1.02)
I don't have a vote at the General Assembly. I can only hope that delegates who do — and ministers inclined to watch the plenary as a kind of spectator sport — will see that this is an unusual and divisive proposal. Unlike many resolutions, which at least try to root a response to a particular historical situation in principles that have already achieved broad consensus among religious liberals, this study/action issue attempts to discern a new principle in the midst of widespread outrage about the war in Iraq. It introduces a doctrine, something we haven't attempted in quite a while. A proposal like this requires serious discernment. Please don't punt on it.
I hate war, too. But it will be a strange day when those of us Unitarian Universalists who accept Max Weber's classic definition of state sovereignty — "a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" — and who see that international law still depends on states as the ultimate enforcers of law become de facto conscientious objectors within our own denomination. There must be more effective ways for congregations to express their dismay at President Bush's disastrous policies.
(Please note: This is a rare instance when I feel compelled, as an individual religious liberal, to comment directly on business before the General Assembly. My comments represent my own opinions only, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or any institution.)
Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 11 April 2006 at 7:50 AM