John Raley of San Francisco was one of more than a dozen readers who criticized Rebecca Parker's September/October commentary on the war against terrorism. "Where in her narrative are the great many Americans who support the war on rational, secular, and even liberal grounds?" he asked. "They are made to disappear, never even acknowledged, let alone engaged."
A clear theme emerged in the fifty-eight letters we received about the September/October issue: Many Unitarian Universalists detect a political bias in the magazine and the UUA that to them is at odds with the movement's theological diversity. Gene Niland of Newark, Delaware, wrote that he sees a "drive for U.S. government bashing" in the magazine; many articles about "social justice" topics show "how we can try to do everything and accomplish nothing." He adds: "I love my religion. I just don't hear much about it lately." It isn't just the magazine, though. Paul and Valerie Luther of Bernardston, Massachusetts, resigned from their congregation: "An almost steady diet of politics or social justice was not soul-nourishing for us," they wrote.
Our cover story, "Liberal Evangelists on Campus," "stirred up some unpleasant memories" of unsupported young adult ministry for Elizabeth Thompson of Brevard, North Carolina, who tried two congregations in her twenties. Now that she is 36, she vows "to step in the middle of that revolving door and be the one who extends a welcome that lasts!"
For once, the "Looking Back" column generated a flurry of response. The subject, circus promoter and devoted Universalist P.T. Barnum (1810-1891), has few fans among animal rights advocates. Rolf Ernst of Frisco, Texas, called him "one of the more significant perpetrators of animal cruelty of the last century, by some labeled more of a monster than a man," and asks, "Have you somehow missed his blatant violation of our Seventh Principle? What faith exactly is it that Barnum 'vigorously promoted'?" Apparently even a sinner found solace in Universalism.
Christopher L. Walton
As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, I was very interested in Neil Shister's cover story, "Liberal Evangelists on Campus" (September/October). When I was a student on two different campuses, I can tell you one distinct reason why young UUs leave the fold: I was discouraged from attending the local congregations, although sometimes in very subtle ways.
I was never particularly interested in the student organizations. I have always preferred the ceremony and fellowship of the congregations. But my experience is that many congregations are uninterested in having college-age members. We push away the life blood of our religion, and then are surprised when many marry into other religions and never return to the church.
We need to make overtures to our youth, welcome them in, respect their position in life, and make it clear that they are welcome in our congregations. We need to support both the campus organizations and welcome those UUs who would prefer to attend the congregations in their area. We need to create a membership class that allows for and indeed encourages students to sign the membership book with a minimal pledge. We need to encourage students and young people to be involved in the congregation in their area if they so choose, instead of pushing them back.
Erika Noll Webb
Let Them Go
I wonder if efforts bald and too zealous to keep our young ones in the UU fold might not border on proselytizing the innocent. We preach and teach in our religious education programs that each person should learn about many faiths and religions in order to wisely make up one's own mind. Perhaps this is just what most of them are doing.
Robert P. Martin
Fort Collins, Colorado
The Prison Gap
The "Mind the Gap" campaign seems aimed solely at young adults, already UU members, who are graduating high school and heading to college. This target group is about 2,000 students each year, according to Neil Shister ("Liberal Evangelists on Campus," September/October), and most, if not all, are from middle- to upper-income families. I applaud the UUA's efforts, yet am dismayed the vision is narrow and limited.
Are those 2,000 students more in need than others in that age group?
There are roughly 30,000 people from that age "gap" currently in Florida's correctional system. There is definitely no Unitarian Universalist presence here. At 44, I come from a good family and found my faith in prison. I am quite lucky. Most others in here with me, especially those 18 to 35, are not so lucky.
I wish "Mind the Gap" success. Maybe these words will help motivate congregations to give generously. The youth and young adults you seek are fortunate to have an organization like yours to support them. Make them aware just how fortunate they are.
In the meantime, how about an encouraging UU voice in our prison systems. The Bible says not to forget those in prison. Have you?
Rebecca Parker's commentary "Against Vengeance" (September/October) is addressed to the wrong people. She refers repeatedly to a "religious war." Who is fighting this "religious war," this war of "vengeance"? The U.S. has bent over backwards to make it clear that we are fighting not against Islam, but against religious fanatics who would, in their own words, "destroy the infidel," the people who don't buy into their version of God.
Let's be better than the fanatics. Let's keep religion out of it. We're not bombing them to destroy their religion, unless their religion requires that they kill us. We're bombing them to prevent them from killing us.
Parker asks why information about the Afghan civilian casualty toll is so hard to find, as if it is some dirty government secret. It took me less than five minutes to find that information on-line. An overwhelming majority of Afghan civilians welcomed U.S. forces into their country as their liberators from the Taliban. Was Parker so concerned about the atrocities the Taliban committed on the Afghan citizenry for years before 9/11, or is she only concerned about what casualties the U.S. has caused as a consequence of ridding that country of the Taliban and al Qaeda?
She asks who will benefit economically and politically from the war on terror. It would actually benefit us more in the very short term not to wage war in the Middle East, because we get cheap oil from there. Possibly the best long-term way to stop terrorism is to dry up their financing. Two ways to do that are to import more oil from Russia for the time being, and develop non-petroleum sources of energy for the long-term. It would surely help the cause (and our air quality) to junk gas-guzzling SUVs and buy high-gas-mileage cars.
But while we're working on those problems, we need to do what is needed to stop any future attacks, not for any perceived religious reasons, but for self-preservation. That requires continued military action on our part.
North Hollywood, California
Vengeance has become the watchword of those who prefer slogans to serious discussions of the war on terrorism. Rebecca Parker continues this in her commentary "Against Vengeance" (September/October). To her, most Americans share a medieval "theology of war" with the terrorists who attacked us. Between (unnamed) opinion polls and selected Time magazine headlines, can any doubt of this sweeping generalization remain?
Where in her narrative are the great many Americans who support the war on rational, secular, and even liberal grounds? They are made to disappear, never even acknowledged, let alone engaged. Some of them might even be lurking in your local congregation, uncomfortable expressing their views openly around other UUs.
San Francisco, California
Apparently, instead of military force, Rebecca Parker would bring "wise" love to bear on al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which would by some unknown alchemy heal "the anguishing aftermath of human violence" while simultaneously creating more security ("Against Vengeance," September/October). Well, perhaps. But for our money, wise love is too poorly defined to be a realistic tenet of our national foreign policy.
We can have both love and compassion for innocent casualties as well as for our foes. But love and compassion should not deter our nation from its mission. We must model our lives on our principles. We must take a long view.
Is that portion of the Muslim world that defines the West as infidel ready to receive Parker's wise love? We doubt it. We doubt that this Muslim world, feudal and inflamed, would tolerate Unitarian Universalist religious pluralism. We should, however, undertake a nonsectarian mission to work with liberal-minded Muslims to transform Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the failed societies of the Middle East into modern, democratic societies. As UUs, we should be working to foster progress.
As a nation, we are not fighting from motives of vengeance. Our military is not committing acts of mindless violence, but is engaging in war a state of open, armed conflict of one party against another. September 11 was a premeditated first strike. So far as can be expected in an imperfect world, it has resulted in a measured and appropriate military response.
In spite of the problems facing us in the Middle East, we have reason to hope. We have reason to believe that war, if it is renewed, shall be prosecuted for sensible cause. We have reason to trust that justice will achieve supremacy over outrage. Finally, we have ample evidence to confirm that so long as we are watchful, dissent from every quarter will persevere.
Cathleen Herbert Loftin and Robert Loftin
Rebecca Parker doesn't mention that what made for peace in 1939-1945 was all-out war. Violence can be bad, and violence can be good. If someone turns on us or our loved ones or on the innocent, counter-violence may be (in the real world) the best response.
The United States has made mistakes, has made self-serving decisions that have hurt and angered others, has been greedy and selfish and we need to examine those mistakes and change them when we can. But the U.S. has also been an economic, productive force for much of the world; it has been a model for democracy; it probably tolerates more diverse religions than any other nation and has one of the freest presses. For all its ills, it is the nation more people seek to come to than any other. Still it could be better.
But some of our critics need to consider the mote in their own eye. Though we are flawed, I don't see people fleeing our shores for less flawed nations.
James C. Daly
The September/October issue is the best we have ever received: pertinent to today's concerns, helpful, inspiring, good reading, and furthermore what we need to hear from our leadership. We want to thank you especially for Rebecca Parker's "Against Vengeance." We will continue to practice every way we can find to make a difference to open our hearts to love, to giving and receiving hope for a peaceful world.
Bert and Esther Savage
While I agree whole-heartedly with Rebecca Parker, it seems there's one angle she didn't consider. With all her talk of violent theology, she has missed Naomi Goldenberg's concept of "thealogy," the feminine divine, the more loving, nurturing, and less war-like aspect of the Goddess. This ancient idea that has been written out of most modern religions, but it is one reason some Unitarian Universalists embrace Earth-based spirituality. That's not to say that a religion focused on God can't be peaceful, but that one which celebrates both the God and the Goddess may make peace a more accessible possibility.
Heather Robb characterizes the migrant worker town of Crewport, Washington, as "social injustice in my country" ("Work Camp," September/October). She fails to ask the right questions: Are the living conditions in these settlements as bad as those in the places from which these immigrants migrated? If not, why do they stay instead of going back?
Since many of the farmworkers are in the country illegally, is it morally right for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee to be abetting illegal aliens? What kind of message do UU parents send their children by sending them to abet persons living here illegally? Would improving living conditions in these camps only encourage more people to immigrate illegally?
UU World needs to do a better job of balancing the social justice perspectives it presents. One could read the magazine and never know that we believe in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning in social issues, perceiving instead that we dogmatically adhere to social liberalism.
Dino J. Drudi
In your report on the UUA General Assembly ("Delegates Take a Global View in Québec," September/October), Christopher L. Walton mentioned only one aspect of the Action of Immediate Witness "Toward Peace and Justice in the Middle East." Not mentioned were some of the vital resolves: "Freedom from occupation and equal rights for all . . .; opposition to Israeli settlements, land confiscation, house demolitions, and other violations of international law; opposition to all attacks on civilians, whether by suicide bombers, by F-12 or helicopter gunships, or by any other means; support for a central United Nations role to achieve a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace."
The resolution also calls for our congregations to become educated and involved with this pressing justice issue. I hope every member will read the entire resolution (available in each church office or from the UUA), discuss it, and act upon it.
The Rev. David D. Van Strien
Peterborough, New Hampshire
The author is chair of Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, which sponsored the Action of Immediate Witness. The full text is on-line. The Eds.
Let's Be Clear
How sad and distressing to read UUA president William Sinkford calling for a change in U.S. policy toward Israel ("Our Calling," July/August). I think of how in the last century righteous Unitarian Universalists helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
The more Sinkford persists in advocating a change in U.S. policy toward Israel, the more he will alienate most Jewish people. Let us be clear about the meaning of his words: A change in U.S. policy would mean a diminishing of support for Israel. Less U.S. support for Israel would threaten its very existence, as much in these critical times as ever.
Hazlet, New Jersey
Barnum the Beast
I am disappointed that the subject of the September/October "Looking Back" column was P.T. Barnum, probably the most influential and prominent figure in the slavery and exploitation of non-human animals. As founder and organizer of the Oakland, California, chapter of Unitarian Universalists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (UFETA), I strive to raise awareness about the many ways non-human animals endure tremendous pain and suffering simply to provide pleasure to humans.
To truly manifest the Seventh Principle, upon which UFETA is based, is to realize the worth and dignity of all living beings. To honor and praise a man such as P.T. Barnum is to disregard the Seventh Principle altogether.
I look forward to UU World celebrating such Unitarian animal advocates as Henry Bergh (founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Henry David Thoreau, and others.
Colleen A. Patrick
In her review of Maglipay Universalist, Rosemary Bray McNatt writes: "The fact that most members [of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines] are poor and uneducated may conjure stereotypes about the validity of their faith" ("Bookshelf," September/October). If we have those stereotypes, I suggest that we dispose of them immediately.
We may doubt the validity of certain beliefs; that is one reason for the existence of different religions. To judge the validity of someone's faith, i.e., a person's relationship to his or her religion and that religion's ultimate inspiration, is another matter entirely, suggesting the arrogance of which we UUs are sometimes accused.
A production error replaced a word in this letter in the printed magazine and has been corrected for the on-line edition. We regret the error. The Eds.
We agree with just about everything the UUA supports socially and politically. We even agree that faith communities should take political and socially progressive positions. We have discovered, however, that an almost steady diet of politics or social justice was not soul-nourishing for us. Therefore we asked to have our names removed from the membership list of a nearby congregation; the September/October UU World was our last issue. In gratitude for over ten years of loving association with our UUA congregation, we offer this letter as a kind of religious exit interview.
We became frustrated with a UUA that too often seemed to say there is no virtue in Western European civilization and its religious traditions and no vice in non-Western civilizations and their traditions. We became frustrated with a UUA that has lost the ability to speak in simple words that the vast majority of people can understand.
We do not expect perfection of individual humans or human institutions but we think it reasonable to expect the UUA to reflect more closely its stated values in practice. We reluctantly exit the UU fold acknowledging that what we seek in a religious community has yet to emerge. We hope and expect that when and if it emerges, it will include much of what Unitarian Universalism says it wants to be.
Paul and Valerie Luther
Donald E. Skinner wrote about sharing the "good news" of Unitarian Universalism ("UU Trend," September/October). One of the ways I do this is to use the Seven Principles (one at a time) as signature lines in my e-mail messages, alternating them with several quotations that inspire me. It takes very little effort and costs nothing. Since most of us now have e-mail, if more of us started to use this method of sharing we could reach millions.
San Diego, California
|UU World welcomes letters to the editor. Please address to "Letters," UU World, 25 Beacon St., Boston MA 02108, or e-mail us at email@example.com. Include your name, address, and daytime phone number on all correspondence. Letters are edited for length and style; a maximum length of 200 words is suggested. We regret that we cannot publish or respond to all letters.
UU World XVII:1
(January/February 2003): 6-11