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Monday, September 3, 2007

Responses to 'Liberal religion and the working class.'

Ever since the Fall UU World went online and started arriving in mailboxes, UU bloggers have been mulling over Doug Muder's cover story, "Not My Father's Religion: Unitarian Universalism and the Working Class. (You can submit letters to the editor to share your responses with the magazine's readers. Include your name, congregational affiliation, address, and phone number; your address and phone number are for verification only.) Among the rich and stimulating blog responses:

Earthbound Spirit speaks up for Unitarian Universalists who grew up working class and are not part of the professional class, but feel instead that they are "passing for middle class." (Back in 2005, Matthew Gatheringwater had described a subset of Unitarian Universalists as "governess class" — high-education but low-wealth people working among the professional class, including many ministers.)

Terri Dennehy Pahucki (at UU Intersections) says Doug's experience does not match hers as a mailman's daughter, although she and her husband have opted out of the upper-middle-class life by choice. She writes:

Where do those who have chosen a path of voluntary simplicity fall? My husband and I make so little money that we qualified for medicaid this past year, yet we both have master's degrees. We sustain ourselves by working — for little money (teaching, real estate) or none (motherhood, writing, volunteering) — at our vocations and buying nothing. We wear second-hand clothing, grow our own food, borrow books from the library, and enjoy nature and friends for recreation. Right now we are sharing a hand-me-down car. The working class, according to Muder, "sells their time for money". But I think what we are trying to do — and Lord, it is DAMN hard — is to give away our money for time.

In a two-part response, Jamie Goodwin (at Trivium) says that much of Doug's essay rang true to his experience as a child of the working class. "Where I differ from Doug," he writes, "is in his assertion that because Unitarian Universalism is the kind of faith that does not speak in absolute rights and wrongs that this will somehow be unwelcoming to people who are not professionally educated. Nothing in my experience marks this as true." Instead, UUs make such a fuss about higher education that those who haven't picked up a degree or two feel excluded. Jamie also writes that many working-class people experience satisfaction and comraderie, rather than alienation, in their work.

Joel Monka says Doug's essay is "an excellent read," but he thinks four key parts of the essay are off the mark. Not surprisingly, he offers a brief libertarian critique of mainstream UU political theology in response.

See also responses by Don Berg, Ms. Kitty, David Soliday, and this discussion at the social news site Newsvine.

(You can see even more blog responses to "Not My Father's Religion" via Technorati, or by subscribing to this Technorati feed.)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 3 September 2007 at 9:06 PM

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September 4, 2007 07:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Be sure to read Patrick Murfin's Labor Day sermon, "Where Are They? Unitarian Universalism and the Working Class." Patrick describes himself as a lifelong member of the "rent-me-by-the-hour working class." Although Doug's essay is fine as far as it goes, he says, his essay "intellectualized the problem and bemoaned the separation, but could not come to grips with the emotional reality of it." (Patrick also argues that the magazine's cover image is condescending; he would have preferred something in the socialist-realist style of the old I.W.W. posters.)

Patrick says he sees an opportunity Doug didn't see:

But if our lives and outlooks are as different as Muder points out in his article, how can we ever truly welcome and integrate working people into our congregations?

The answer is in recognizing one value of working class life that Muder completely missed in his analysis. If workers cannot live up to the lofty demands of individualism and self-realization demanded by our culture, they have found ways of coping with the limited choices and opportunities with which they are face. Workers soon learn than any one voice is rapidly slapped down. They recognized their power was in cooperation and solidarity. From the beginning workers in this country have bound together to for fraternal mutual aid societies, unions, political parties, and community organizations in which their united voices may be amplified and their power multiplied.

That spirit of solidarity and mutuality reflects the basic principles of the UUA including the respect for the dignity of every individual; the search for justice equity and compassion; and even the web of existence of which we are a part. We have the language. Now we need to find ways to incorporate it in our congregational life.

I also forgot to point to a blog entry by Dan Harper's alter-ego Mr Crankypants, who complains that UUs have set up so many barriers for working-class people that the last thing to worry about is an impediment posed by our theology.


September 4, 2007 07:21 PM | Permalink for this comment

For 3 years I served as pastor to a UU church in rural Ohio, which had a membership that was about 60% outside the "professional class". We had factory workers, a police officer, a waitress, guys who worked in the construction trades, and persons who worked in agriculture. What impressed me was how this church was such an enigma to the rest of the District. The indigenously defined Universalism at this rural church was a bit more populist than leftist in its "liberal social vision", and was more concerned with local service needs than with national causes. Also, while seldom adopting the label Christian, they were mystified by the Christophobia of the wider UUA. When I asked new members why they came to this church, the top answers often were (1) so I can think for myself, (2) because I want a church that is positive and not focused on damnation, (3) virtually every woman answered "because at the Universalist church women are allowed to be good leaders", and (4) because the pastor shares the preaching with the people (even those people who do not agree with her/him).

I saw much overlap between this congregation's identity and some parts of UU identity at the national level. And yet a profound disconect when the wider UUA would visit and find a theologically liberal church that wasn't really liberal in its politics; that was motivated by free-thinking while not being very scholarly/academic; and clearly post-Christian while not being anti-Christian. On a good Sunday what they wanted was a place of community, with individual freedom of religious thought, plain spoken sermons about the joys and struggles of human existence, and a chance to share with each other the answers they've found to life's big questions. This was Liberal Religion as this community defined it for themselves.

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