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Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The plight of the Unitarian Republican.

Two things to ponder today: The statue honoring Thomas Starr King, the dynamic pre-Civil War minister of the Unitarian church in San Francisco, has been booted from the U.S. Capitol's National Hall of Statuary to make room for a statue of Ronald Reagan. Starr King was a devout Republican in his day, but my, my, how times have changed. Californians who aren't students in the GTU no longer know who he was — and Unitarian Universalists don't have the clout to defend him.

Meanwhile, the only UU Republican currently serving in Congress — 12-term Rep. Nancy Johnson from the 5th Congressional District in Connecticut — is fighting to keep her seat in the midst of her state's ferocious Lieberman-Lamont war. I'd love to hear from Connecticut UUs about Johnson. Does it matter to how you vote that a fellow UU is on the ballot? Are you a moderate Republican? A moderate independent? A political conservative in a liberal church? A Lieberman supporter? An antiwar anti-Republican? A lifelong Democrat tired of "moderate" Republicans siding with the Right?

(The only other UU in the House of Representatives, by the way, is Pete Stark, D-Calif. Kent Conrad, a moderate Democrat from North Dakota, is the only Unitarian Universalist in the Senate.)

And for the rest of us: Would a candidate's Unitarian Universalist affiliation have any impact on your likelihood to vote for them? What if their party affiliation differed from your own? I'll confess that, although I can't recall ever voting in an election where a Unitarian Universalist was on the ballot, I don't think a candidate's Unitarian Universalism would make much difference to me. But if Johnson loses, I do feel that a very old chapter in Unitarian Universalist culture will finally close: The old Yankee Republicanism, which used to dominate New England Unitarian Universalism, and which Thomas Starr King championed when he moved to California in the 1850s, will have run out of steam.

(Reagan wins another vote, to a place in Congress, Jesse McKinley, New York Times 9.5.06, reg req'd; Lieberman's run shadows House campaigns in Connecticut, Jennifer Medina, New York Times 8.27.06, reg req'd; Election Guide: District 5 in Connecticut, New York Times)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 6 September 2006 at 7:59 AM

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September 6, 2006 02:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

See also Fred Wooden's commentary on Thomas Starr King's demotion. I should add that this story came to my attention courtesty of Fausto.

Scott McNeill:

September 6, 2006 02:51 PM | Permalink for this comment

Two years ago, Patsy Keever, a UU, ran against Charles Taylor in a highly competitive race in the 11th district of NC (Asheville and other mountainous areas). She was the democratic nominee and generally I supported her until there was an issue around gay marriage. Charles Taylor hit her hard on "the sanctity of marriage" and she came out with ads saying that she supported the idea of marriage being limited to a man and a woman. It made it really hard for me on a couple of levels. I ended up voting for her because I agreed with her on the majority of issues and disagreed with her opponent on almost all issues - but I still felt let down (mostly because she claimed to be a liberal but also because I had hoped that some of that "Standing on the side of love" had gotten through to her). Her faith wasn't why I stuck with her, although I think it did make it harder for me to vote for her because I expected more of her.


September 6, 2006 04:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

The old Yankee Republicanism, which used to dominate New England Unitarian Universalism, and which Thomas Starr King championed when he moved to California in the 1850s, will have run out of steam.

"Will have?" It ran out of steam a long time ago. Yankee Republicans are about as influential with the national GOP these days as states' rights segregationists are with the national Democrats.

That doesn't mean there aren't still quite a few Yankee Republicans around. They're still with us, including even a few in my own originally-Puritan congregation (and, no surprise, they are disproportionately represented among our Trustees of Parish Funds). A lot of the ones from historically UU families in the current generation seem to have become Episcopalian or Congregationalist (or completely unchurched), though. I guess contemporary UUism isn't quite stodgy enough for them anymore.

Have any of our congregations ever considered dressing their Welcoming Committee in bow ties and green wide-wale corduroy trousers with contrasting whales embroidered on them as a way to bring some of our stray sheep back to the fold?

Nah. Didn't think so.


September 6, 2006 07:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Unitarians have always been strong individualists. We have been ambivalent about the use of government power to improve society and furiously opposed to the use of government power to promote oppression such as slavery or segregation.

In the early 1800s many Unitarians believed that the Federal government was protecting slavery, so opposition to Federal power made them natural Whigs. The party of Lincoln, opposing slavery and promoting economic freedom, was a natural fit. The New Deal changed not Unitarians, but US politics. Individualism and social justice came to be seen as competitors. Unitarians could go either way. In the 1950s, when most prominent Unitarian politicians were still Republicans, my parents' church in Wichita Kansas was a bastion of the local Democratic party.

I guess 1964 was decisive. UU Republican Senators Leverett Saltonstall and the very conservative Roman Hruska voted for the Civil Rights bill, but the Republican party nominated one of the few Republicans to oppose it and hasn't looked back since.

But these things cycle around. While few in my church have any use for President Bush, Govenor Schwarzenegger is much less unpopular. Libertarian-leaning Republican Rudy Giuliani is leading in national polls. Maybe the Republicans will change, although I am not holding my breath.

More than the decline in Republican UUs, I wonder about the decline in UU politicians generally. Both Congresspeople are over 70. No new UU has been elected since 1986. Has UU culture changed to exclude people with serious political ambitions? Or has politics changed to make it less attractive to UUs? Or have the American people decided they don't like us anymore?


September 6, 2006 08:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

Or have UUs become so impressed with their powers of personal truth-telling that they no longer feel the need to appeal or even seem relevant to broader cross-sections of the larger society?

Bill Baar:

September 7, 2006 11:50 PM | Permalink for this comment

I fear fausto's hit the nail-on-the-head here.

Dudley Jones:

September 12, 2006 12:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

In all these years I have never met a actual UU Republican. It appears that UUs are pretty homogeneous, politics-wise.

Would someone please explain the bit about "bow ties and green wide-wale corduroy trousers with contrasting whales embroidered on them "?


September 13, 2006 02:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

You must not live near Boston, Dudley. It's the way everybody dresses whose great-great-great-great-grandpa made the family fortune in the China clipper trade.

"Free Soil, Free Speech and Fremont!"


September 13, 2006 02:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

If you want your own pair, you can buy them here, direct from Nantucket:

If whales aren't your thing, there are also lobsters, lighthouses, ducks and dogs to choose from. (The true connoisseurs of the style aren't even aware it's retro.)

Patrick McLaughlin:

September 17, 2006 05:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Nor in So Cal, Dudley... without having actually surveyed--and without any intention to suggest that UUs are currently mostly Democrats, Greens and independents--I can think of a half-dozen UUpublicans in my little fellowship.


September 20, 2006 02:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Nancy Johnson is running a despicable fear mongering re-election campaign, and I for one, hope that we have 1 LESS UU representative. She is a horrible example of a UU, and I am disgusted at her campaign literature and commercials, seen thru Daily Kos.

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