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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Survey: 0.3 percent of adults are Unitarian Universalists.

There's some intriguing news for Unitarian Universalism-watchers in the Pew Forum's fascinating new U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. (Yup, it's time for some religion statistics!) The survey of 35,000 American adults was broad enough to pick up statistically significant samples of even small religious groups, like UUs. And the good news is that Unitarian Universalism seems to be a religious brand that has traction well beyond the formal membership of UUA-affiliated churches.

The survey says 0.3 percent of adults identify as UUs, or three in a thousand. By my clumsy math, that seems to be somewhere around 677,000 adults. (The U.S. Census estimated that there were 225.6 million adults over 18 in 2006; see tables here.) The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, which had also asked individuals how they identified themselves religiously, also identified approximately 0.3 percent of the population as Unitarian Universalists, or 629,000 adults in 2001. So, as a religious brand, Unitarian Universalism is holding steady at 0.3 percent as the overall population grows.

However, according to the 2006-2007 congregational certification figures collected by the UUA, there are 157,515 adult members of Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States. (Another 1,787 adults are members of UUA congregations outside the U.S. The certification table doesn't offer totals, so I copied the whole chart into Excel and let it count.) Jeff W. is also working his calculator over at Transient and Permanent; like me, he concludes that 24 percent of the adults who identify as UUs are also members of UUA congregations.

The big news out of the Pew Forum survey generally is the "churn" in U.S. religious affiliation: 28 percent of Americans have left the religion in which they were raised for another religion (like I have) or no religion. If you add in Protestants who have switched Protestant denominations (like my wife), that number grows to 44 percent. The Boston Globe puts this story on the front page this morning, perhaps because U.S.-born Roman Catholics are fleeing the church in droves; here's the New York Times coverage.

But it strikes me that if the 76 percent of Unitarian Universalists who aren't members of UUA congregations are still identifying as UUs — rather than as "atheists" (1.6 percent), "agnostic" (2.4 percent), "nothing in particular" (12.1 percent), or fractional options like "spiritual but not religious" and "eclectic" — then there's something about Unitarian Universalism that makes it a compelling and distinctive identity.

Something worth noting about the UUA's data this year: Congregations have started submitting average attendance figures, which gives us a snapshot of the size of the worshiping congregation (members, friends, and visitors) rather than making us rely on formal membership figures. Not being a statistician, I'm not sure that it's fair to simply add up the averages, but that figure is 96,807 for U.S. congregations for 2006-2007. Is attendance actually lower than reported membership? If so, Steve's suggestion that congregations deliberately underreport their membership to keep their Annual Program Fund payments down can't possibly account for very many of the 400,000+ UUs who aren't members. Most of these people are not affiliated in any meaningful (or at least measurable) way with our churches.

Posted by Philocrites, February 26, 2008, at 08:09 AM | 32 comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

This week at UU prayer; YRUU's future.

Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz reflect on how Unitarian Universalist worship leaders can pray with integrity, grace, power, and purpose. "The purpose of prayer in transformative worship," they write in an excerpt from their new book, "is to allow enough silent time in the worship for transformation to occur.

In the news, Don Skinner reports on the controversy that erupted two weeks ago over the future of YRUU, the continental youth organization. The article also provides links to lots of related resources and background materials. Update: This morning the UUA posted a FAQ about the status of YRUU and youth ministry.

At's blogs, Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media and Shelby Meyerhoff monitors the UU blogosphere (aka the interdependent web).

Posted by Philocrites, February 25, 2008, at 08:11 AM | 7 comments

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Baptism is more than signing a membership book.

The conversation about the limits of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism is one of the richest I've ever hosted in five years on this site. Thanks to every one of you who has contributed so far, including illuminating responses over on Celestial Lands and Making Chutney.

In my original post, I alluded to something I want to follow up on. I said that our narrowly congregational definition of "membership" is to "due to the peculiarities of our understanding of congregational polity and our non-ecclesiological understanding of membership." For me, the basic issue is not whether "congregations come first" or whether "conference spirituality" (or "circle worship") is more religiously satisfying than congregational worship (especially since it never has been for me) or whether extracongregational organizations deserve formal recognition from the UUA. The basic issue is what we mean by belonging.

Unitarian Universalists tend to view membership along the lines of active, legal membership in a voluntary society ("pledging members," for example), even though our congregations also include and depend on the active participation of non-member friends, the children of members, and many other people for whom the congregation is a vital part of their life. These folks may very well identify strongly with the congregation and with the religion it practices, but they aren't regarded as members.

Membership has its privileges — but for us these are 501c3 privileges, not ecclesiastical privileges: Members can vote in congregational meetings and can serve on governing boards; non-members cannot. But non-members can participate completely in our worship life, volunteer in the Sunday school, and engage fully in all other parts of our congregational life. We don't have a way to expand "membership" to encompass them. Are they Unitarian Universalists? They identify with, participate in, contribute to, and affiliate with UU communities. They are unmistakably part of our religious communities, but they are not legally members of our religious societies. And this is a place where our thinned-out doctrine of the church fails us.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 23, 2008, at 02:32 PM | 13 comments

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obamania, or a civic religion revival?

Kate Zernike's Week in Review essay about the place of charisma in American politics was quite interesting, especially this section discussing the way charismatic presidents revive America's "civil religion":

By any definition, the charismatic leader emerges at a time of crisis or national yearning, and perhaps a vacuum in that nation's institutions. Mr. Schlesinger wrote in 1960 of a "new mood in politics," with people feeling "that the mood which has dominated the nation for a decade is beginning to seem thin and irrelevant." There was, he wrote, "a mounting dissatisfaction with the official priorities, a deepening concern with our character and objectives as a nation."

That might well describe the climate Obama supporters feel now.

Alan Wolfe, the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Political Life at Boston College, says Mr. Obama is simply — understandably — making an emotional appeal to those yearnings. "Politics is about policy, but it's also about giving people some kind of sense of participating in a common venture with their fellow citizens," Mr. Wolfe said.

Philosophers call it "civil religion," using the language of religion and elevation to talk about your country. A classic example is Ronald Reagan's summoning of the "city on a hill." That, Professor Wolfe said, was the parallel Mr. Obama was hinting at when he talked about Reagan as a transformative leader.

"A soft civil religion is something our country desperately needs at a time of deep partisanship," Mr. Wolfe said. "He wants to go back to the Reagan years as a Democrat, with Democratic policies."

Here's an example: A 21-year-old reader wrote to Andrew Sullivan last week about the surprising emotion he or she felt at an Obama rally:

I read more than I should about politics and US history and am always confused as to how Americans can love their president so. Intellectually I understand why Americans love(d) Lincoln and the Roosevelts but I never felt why they did.

Andrew, people my age are too young to remember Bill Clinton. All we have is George W. Bush. The office of the President to us is a mockery. We don't link President Bush to concepts such as leader, we link it to ignorance and idiocy. Most people my age have never felt proud of our President. We grew up on the Daily Show, we only know how to make fun of him and mock him.

I attended an Obama rally a few days ago and was amazed at how filled up with emotion I was. Halfway through his speech, other 21 year olds just like that filled the Hall were screaming their heads off, waving banners, and grinning. Everyone was giddy, hell even I was giddy. I was smiling and chanting along to "Yes We Can." I didn't know what that feeling was because I had never felt it. But then I realized it. It was pride. I was proud of Obama.

("The charisma mandate," Kate Zernike, New York Times 2.17.08; here's my Obama endorsement; here's Slate's amusing Encyclopedia Baracktannica, in case you just want to wallow in Obamania.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 19, 2008, at 08:03 AM | 6 comments

Monday, February 18, 2008

Overlooked Unitarian U.S. presidents in the media.

Ah, poor Millard Fillmore! Of the five Unitarians who were elected president of the United States, Fillmore has the least remarkable reputation. But today is his day: He's now the butt of a Presidents Day TV advertisement from Kia. The ad campaign features (we are not making this up) a Millard Fillmore soap-on-a-rope.

The ad apparently didn't go over well at Kia: Two executives left the company when the off-beat humor of the ad didn't amuse the company's CEO.

Posted by Philocrites, February 18, 2008, at 08:44 PM | 5 comments

Spring issue of UU World now available.

UU World cover, Spring 2008The Spring 2008 issue of UU World is in the mail, but you don't need to wait for the post office: You can browse the issue's contents online.

Members of congregations affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States receive a subscription to UU World as a benefit of membership, but others can subscribe for only $14 a year.

My "From the Editor" column introduces a new feature of, the magazine's website: The Interdependent Web, a weekly roundup of blog posts and other user-generated content about Unitarian Universalism. If the thought of trying to keep up with the ever-expanding UU blogosphere on your own is just too daunting — as it is for me! — The Interdependent Web will keep up with it for you, highlighting provocative, inspiring, and buzzworthy posts every week. The blog is written by Shelby Meyerhoff, known to the UU blogosphere as the host of Looking for Faith, who is also now writing the print magazine's quarterly "On the Web" column. (The blog itself is still in a bit of a beta test as we tweak the template.)

Posted by Philocrites, February 18, 2008, at 12:02 PM | 0 comments

This week at C*UUYAN's funding cut.

James Loewen, the sociologist and author of Sundown Towns, describes how you can research your town's history to see if your community used to exclude African Americans intentionally. Such research can be a first step toward racial reconciliation — and a good way to respond to the 2007 General Assembly resolution, "Truth, Repair, and Reconciliation." From the archives: David Whitford reported on a Cincinnati church's reconciliation with the family of a black Unitarian minister they had refused to help in the early decades of the 20th century. Paula Cole Jones describes reconciliation as a spiritual discipline. Historian Dan Carter reviews Loewen's Sundown Towns.

In the news, Jane Greer and I report that the UUA will stop funding C*UUYAN (the Continental UU Young Adult Network) at the end of June. The young adult network, which was founded in 1986, had already cancelled its two summer conferences for 2008 and is planning its own revisioning meeting just prior to the General Assembly in June. We report that plans are underway to combine the UUA's two staff groups serving youth and young adults into a single office beginning sometime after July. UU World will report on the controversy surrounding the future of YRUU, the continental youth organization, in the near future.

Sonja Cohen tracks the week's Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, February 18, 2008, at 11:43 AM | 1 comments

Sinkford: Continental YRUU will be replaced.

In a letter to the YRUU Steering Committee (and copied to the Board of Trustees), UUA President Bill Sinkford acknowledged Saturday that "Continental YRUU, as we have known it, will be replaced at some point by a new structure that will serve us better." He said, however, that some of the information in a letter from the Steering Committee last week announcing the imminent end of YRUU was incorrect and attributed it to miscommunication by UUA staff. The key paragraphs in the letter follow:

The findings of the Consultation demonstrate that there is a broad consensus that the current structure for continental youth ministry is not serving our faith well. It is true that Continental YRUU, as we have known it, will be replaced at some point by a new structure that will serve us better. It is the task of the Youth Ministry Working Group to recommend that new structure. The decision to hold the Working Group meetings at the same time as your meetings this year in February and April was intended to maximize the opportunity for Steering Committee input in the development of the new structure.

Unfortunately, as a result of failures in communication within the UUA staff, some incorrect information was shared with you at your recently completed meeting. You were told that the Continental YRUU structure would end in June of this year and that there was no funding in the UUA's budget for Youth Council next summer. The reality is that the UUA's budget for next year will not be presented to the UUA Board for approval until its April meeting. No firm decisions have been made about ending support for the Continental YRUU structure. And because of YRUU's status as a Sponsored Organization, the UUA Board will have to approve any decision to end support for the organization. I apologize for the distress that incorrect information has caused.

He added that the Youth Ministry staff will be preparing a Frequently Asked Questions document this week about the process of revisioning UU ministry that began with the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth.

For background, see "YRUU, C*UUYAN funding decisions not entirely clear" and "Sinkford asks for patience on youth, young adult changes" (Philocrites 2.14.08).

Posted by Philocrites, February 18, 2008, at 11:19 AM | 57 comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

Limits of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism.

I remarked, back in this post, that I "have my own lingering doubts about the adequacy of a strictly congregational understanding of Unitarian Universalism." Dudley asked me to explain, and since Rev Elz has offered an unusually good response, I'm going to move my initial reply and Elz's reply into their own post here.

Some people identify "Unitarian Universalism" with liberal religious congregationalism. By this view, one can't "be" a UU without being a member of a UU congregation, at least not fully. This view seems to have especially strong support right now on the Board of Trustees and in some other leadership circles, where the Association's congregationalism — its "congregational polity" and the Association's accountability to its member congregations — is emphasized to the exclusion of support for extracongregational forms of UU life. (An interesting question is whether the General Assembly could assert that the Association is, in fact, dedicated not just to congregational life and congregational partnerships but also to other forms of Unitarian Universalist affiliation.)

The limitation of Unitarian Universalist congregationalism is that "Unitarian Universalism" exists beyond the limits of congregational affiliation, and beyond the formal boundaries of the UUA. Most of our congregations don't regard children (or teens under 16) as "members" of the congregation, due to the peculiarities of our understanding of congregational polity and our non-ecclesiological understanding of membership, yet our churches do encourage the kids to think of themselves as UUs. And these children grow up to be youth and young adults who quite naturally — and truthfully — do see themselves as Unitarian Universalists even if they have never formally joined a congregation. They may still maintain many other connections to UU life, through social networks, camps, online communities, etc. The religion, in other words, can be practiced and claimed by people who do not participate in our congregational polity.

There are different aspects of religious affiliation. Congregational membership is important — and, in congregational traditions like ours, it is especially important — but it is not quite the same thing as doctrinal agreement, cultural affinity, or sociological identification. I think a lot of people confuse "Unitarian Universalism" (a religion) with "Unitarian Universalist congregationalism" (an organized denominational expression of the religion).

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 15, 2008, at 08:29 AM | 36 comments

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sinkford asks for patience on youth, young adult changes.

UUA President Bill Sinkford issued a brief letter Thursday afternoon urging patience with changes in the way the UUA supports youth and young adult ministry. "Let me assure you that the new course has not yet been defined and decided," he writes. "Both the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Administration and Board remain committed to the creation of vital and effective youth and young adult ministries. Our task is to determine, together, what structures can move us toward that mission."

He adds: "Within a week I will distribute widely the emerging direction and try to address as many of the good questions that have been raised as possible."

The letter has been cross-posted to the YRUU UUlogy blog, where it is drawing impatient reviews.

By the way, I'm bookmarking relevant links as I find them, and you're welcome to browse them. Please do recommend others in the comments below. Here are YRUU links and C*UUYAN links.

("Letter from William G. Sinkford Concerning Youth/Young Adult Ministry Transition," 2.14.08)

Posted by Philocrites, February 14, 2008, at 10:45 PM | 6 comments

YRUU, C*UUYAN funding decisions not entirely clear.

Anxiety and anger are sweeping through networks of Unitarian Universalist young people following the release of two letters this week, one each from the governing boards of the UUA's two "sponsored organizations" serving young UUs. The steering committee of the Continental UU Young Adult Network (C*UUYAN), an organization of 18- to 35-year-olds founded in 1986, announced Tuesday that the UUA was discontinuing funding and staff support for C*UUYAN. Coincidentally, another letter came out Monday evening from the steering committee of YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists), an organization of UU youth founded in 1982, saying that the UUA was ending financial support for YRUU at the continental level. The YRUU steering committee has set up two blogs in response, one called YRUU UUlogy ("to distribute information about the end of YRUU continental leadership structure") and the other, YRUU Institutional Memory Project, to host comments and reflections of current and former YRUU members. Lots of other blogs are discussing the news, too, and a Facebook group has sprung up to call for a new, independent course for these groups.

In the midst of all the discussion, it seems important to note how much information isn't yet in circulation about these decisions. Neither of the staff groups involved has issued an announcement or statement about the decisions. (The C*UUYAN steering committee's letter, however, includes explanatory material from Tracey Robinson-Harris, the acting director of the UUA's young adult and campus ministry staff group, so at least some aspects of the staff's perspective is explicitly reflected in that document.) This is important because some people seem to be interpreting the end of funding and staff support for C*UUYAN and continental YRUU as the end of all funding for youth and young adult programs across the board. I am quite sure that we'll see that this is not the case, but we are still waiting to hear about the big picture.

By way of disclosure, this is one of those UU topics that I find hard to blog about. As editor of UU World, I'm trying to understand what is happening so I can help the magazine's reporters provide accurate, fair coverage. My primary goal is to get the story right. Furthermore, I'm not a spokesperson for the UUA. I don't have the answers, and I'm not in a position to field questions, especially speculative ones, about the motives or objectives of my colleagues.

Final bit of disclosure: I became a UU in college. I was a congregational young adult group leader from 1991 to 1996, when I also served as a middle-school youth group advisor and AYS instructor. I was elected C*UUYAN facilitator at Opus in 1995 and participated in the consultation on young adult ministry at the 1997 General Assembly that paved the way for C*UUYAN's "sponsored organization" status. And, from 1997 through 2000, when I was a seminarian, I was the advisor to the youth group at the First Parish in Concord, Mass., a large congregation with an active youth community that wasn't especially connected to district or continental YRUU. My roots are in congregational ministry with young people — and although I've been involved at the denominational level and have my own lingering doubts about the adequacy of a strictly congregational understanding of Unitarian Universalism, "con culture" and the politics of the continental youth and young adult organizations have not been significant parts of my own UU life. For what it's worth.

Posted by Philocrites, February 14, 2008, at 08:26 AM | 7 comments

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This week at Love, Kenya, Appalachia.

Columnist Meg Barnhouse is wondering why it's hard to let oneself feel loved. She resolves (on alternating days) to stop beating up on herself and on the world.

In the news, Don Skinner reports that a UUSC-UUA delegation to Kenya "visited a camp for thousands of displaced persons, a burned-out water utility headquarters, a burned church where 30 people died, and other scenes of violence." The delegation has returned to the United States and given testimony about what they saw to Congress. (UUSC President Charlie Clements wrote a series of blog posts from Kenya; here's his Congressional testimony [pdf].)

Jane Greer reports that a Kentucky church's youth group raised $6,000 with a benefit concert to call attention to mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Writer Wendell Berry spoke at the February 2 event.

Sonja Cohen, meanwhile, rounds up another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, February 12, 2008, at 08:28 AM | 1 comments

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cast your vote in the UU Blog Awards.

Spend some time this week browsing through the blogs and posts nominated for the 2007 UU Blog Awards and then, by midnight Friday, cast your vote. I'm very grateful to readers who nominated this site in six categories:

What I enjoy most about the blog awards is the chance to get acquainted with blogs I don't know well and to revisit great posts from my favorites. Enjoy!

Posted by Philocrites, February 11, 2008, at 08:18 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, February 10, 2008

'Rise Up Singing,' UU-style, in the New York Times.

Today's New York Times dedicates lots of space to Pete Seeger, the Rise Up Singing folk music songbook, and "community sings" — often hosted by Unitarian Universalist churches. Music journalist Ben Ratliff, who is currently traveling around the country writing about "pop music outside the commercial mainstream," visits the community sing at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, Mich. (Oddly, the Times copyeditors call it a "Universalist Unitarian" church, of which there are some, just not in East Lansing.) Here's a bit from the story featuring Seeger:

If there is a natural opposite to gold-plated pop irony and faceless file sharing — music as the American majority knows it in 2008 — this is it. These meetings are earnest, participant directed and person to person: a slow-going, folkish appreciation of American vernacular culture.

Much of this impulse descends from Pete Seeger, who has championed the cause of group-singing for more than 60 years. "No one can prove a damn thing," Mr. Seeger said in a recent interview, "but I think that singing together gives people some kind of a holy feeling. And it can happen whether they're atheists, or whoever. You feel like, 'Gee, we're all together.'"

Although I think I'm just too young to have developed a taste for these events myself, every UU church I've been part of has hosted a community sing, a folk-music coffeehouse, or both. (My tastes in singing run off in the classical/sacred music direction.) But I share the passion of these fine crunchy folks for singing in a group.

So, dear Philocritics, are you a hymn singer, a choir member, a folkie, a campfire singer, or a dedicated community sing-goer? What are your favorite songs for singing in a group?

("Shared song, communal memory," Ben Ratliff, New York Times 2.10.08)

Posted by Philocrites, February 10, 2008, at 06:03 PM | 8 comments

Thursday, February 7, 2008

African Unitarians meet with international UU leaders.

A very interesting and unprecedented gathering is taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, for the next five days. African Unitarians — who have essentially founded their own churches in Kenya, Nigeria, and several other countries with only limited contact with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists in the U.S., Europe, or South Africa — have gathered in Nairobi to meet with a delegation from the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists for a leadership training conference. ICUU secretary Jaume de Marcos is posting updates from ICUU president Brian Kiely, who is in Kenya, at UU Without Borders.

Posted by Philocrites, February 7, 2008, at 08:04 AM | 1 comments

UUA trustee from New York boycotts General Assembly.

Rosemary Bray McNatt, the UUA trustee from the Metro New York District, announced that she will not attend the General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale. The site of the June convention has generated some alarm because it's located inside the port of Fort Lauderdale, which requires photo ID as a security precaution. Rosemary contends: "This means that, for better or for worse, it will be the United States government that decides who can or cannot be with us — in worship, in community, and in our plenary sessions, as we attempt to exercise the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process. This situation exemplifies our Fifth Principle writ large, and I am consumed by the idea that we have given the US government the capacity to dictate to our General Assembly who might and might not join us."

(She writes about her decision from Kenya, where she is meeting with African Unitarians on a trip sponsored by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. She also visited Kenya last month as a UUA representative on a fact-finding trip with the UU Service Committee.)

For more on the General Assembly controversy, about which I can't work up a lather, read "UUA leaders respond to General Assembly security concerns" ( 12.14.07), "Frequently asked questions about security in Fort Lauderdale" ( 12.07), and "UUA board reaffirms Florida General Assembly" ( 2.1.08). I express my skepticism about clerical indignation here: "Next year's General Assembly brouhaha today!" (Philocrites 12.6.07).

Posted by Philocrites, February 7, 2008, at 07:52 AM | 9 comments

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

This week at UU theology of peace.

Unitarian Universalist theologian Paul Rasor explores the history of Unitarian and Universalist responses to war and draws on both just war theory and pacifism to introduce "prophetic nonviolence," a distinctively UU response to war. His essay also takes up the General Assembly's four-year congregational study/action issue on peacemaking. If your congregation has not yet given input to the process, the deadline for the draft Statement of Conscience is March 1, 2008; here's how you can get involved. (Rasor's essay appears in the upcoming Spring issue.)

[Update 5.8.08: Paul Rasor's longer essay, "Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Toward a Unitarian Universalist Theology of Prophetic Nonviolence," from which his UU World essay was adapted, has now been published in the Journal of Liberal Religion. An incompletely formatted web version, without footnotes and bibliography, is also available. There's also a ton of material related to the congregational study/action issue on peacemaking at UUWiki.]

From the archives, Neil Shister probed the ambiguities of UU thinking about war and John Buehrens cautioned against repeating our history of dividing into righteous camps in times of war.

In the news this week, Jane Greer reports on the UUA Board of Trustees meeting in January, where the board reaffirmed its commitment to hold the General Assembly in Florida, despite a controversial photo ID requirement. The board also approved new rules for the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, accepted a sixth independent affiliate organization, and talked about the possibility of providing a stipend for the moderator.

And Sonja Cohen tracks Unitarian Universalists in the media.

Posted by Philocrites, February 6, 2008, at 07:57 AM | 8 comments

Monday, February 4, 2008

Barack Obama, poetry set to music.

I think I recognize one person in this music video, which sets parts of Barack Obama's New Hampshire "Yes We Can" speech to music. Despite my apparent lack of pop knowledge, I found it beautiful and moving. If you're in a state that votes tomorrow, vote.

Posted by Philocrites, February 4, 2008, at 06:15 PM | 8 comments

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On Super Tuesday, I'm voting for Barack Obama.

Barack Obama 2008For the first time, I've been watching the presidential primaries with the sense that I have to make up my mind not just as a dedicated political observer, but as a voter in a genuinely contested election. (My primary votes in Utah in 1992 and in Massachusetts in 2000 and 2004 came after the Democratic nominations were effectively decided; I was moving from Utah to Massachusetts in 1996 and didn't vote in the irrelevant primaries that year.) After a lot of reading and conversation, I've concluded that Barack Obama would be the best Democratic nominee — and that he's the best choice for president. I'm excited to cast my vote for him on Tuesday. Here's why:

Obama changes the national political dynamic. He presents liberalism in a way that Americans who wouldn't call themselves liberals find compelling. He expands the Democratic coalition. He attracts independents — and even conservatives. He unmistakably represents America's diversity. And, perhaps most importantly, his vision is aspirational but deeply rooted in his own story and in the hopes and experiences of millions of others; it's not just talk.

As much as I admire Bill and Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton would govern a polarized nation. Hillary Clinton simply can't overcome the deep divisions sown by Bush's Rovean politics, even if she can stitch together an electoral victory. Although Democrats adore the Clintons, other Americans are much more ambivalent about them — and the Clintons' enemies (who make up the entire conservative establishment) are eager for a no-holds-barred war against them. It certainly doesn't help Clinton that political reporters tend to find her calculating and manipulative, but like John McCain. And even though Clinton and a Democratic Congress could begin to repair some of the damage of the Bush years, she'd have to do it in a highly polarized political climate. And it wouldn't only be conservatives' fault: As George Packer writes in his not especially flattering profile in the New Yorker, Clinton has a with-me-or-against-me disposition. (Also worrying: perpetual newsmaker Bill Clinton. Do we really want two for the price of one? Or is Clinton fatigue catching?)

Obama, however, appeals to people who aren't already part of the Democratic base. Both Obama and McCain show real strengths in drawing moderate and independent voters; Clinton does not, especially against McCain. What really strikes me is that Obama has more endorsements from Democratic senators and governors in Republican-dominated states (Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia). This suggests that red-state Democrats believe they'll fare better if Obama is the head of the ticket. He can expand the Democratic Party; she can only rally its base.

Republicans know it, too. They're quite sure they know how to defeat Clinton; they're not so sure about Obama.

Obama premises his campaign on the belief that Americans want to come together, and that they can. He radiates conviction on this point. He doesn't just reframe liberal ideals; he embodies them. (With help from pop star, he even makes liberalism sing.) Clinton, a master of policy and strategy, may be a brilliant technocrat, but she does not offer a compelling story about America's meaning or an overarching vision for the country. "Experience" is not a vision. Her supporters might shoot back that hope is not a plan. In Obama's case, however, hope is most definitely a tactic — a way to build a movement that can demand real change.

Watch Obama's January 9 speech in New Hampshire and his January 26 speech in South Carolina.

Click to continue . . .

Posted by Philocrites, February 3, 2008, at 02:49 PM | 19 comments

Philocrites in the pulpit Feb. 10, Jamaica Plain.

I'm the guest preacher next Sunday at the First Church in Jamaica Plain. The service is at 11:00.

Posted by Philocrites, February 3, 2008, at 11:54 AM | 0 comments

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