Conservative UUs call for inclusivity

Packed room hears voices of UU conservatives (©Sonja L. Cohen)

Workshop attendees listen to a presentation about the experience of politically conservative Unitarian Universalists. (©Sonja L. Cohen)

“How can we do viable social justice work if we don’t agree politically?” That was the question a crowd of about 175 people considered Friday afternoon at “Crossing Political Borders, Breaking Down Barriers,” a workshop focusing on the viewpoints of politically conservative and moderate UUs.

“We are not separated by the labels of our chosen party,” the Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, minister of the UUs of Sterling, Va., said in her opening remarks, “but by the unholy authority we give those labels to speak for us and to split us, one from another.”

The gathering featured a performance of the short play The Unheard Voices of UU Conservatives, written by Anya Sammler-Michael*, which was compiled using interviews with real members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. The play examined the feelings of isolation and rejection that politically conservative UUs often feel within their overwhelmingly liberal faith community.

Organizers followed the play with a series of talks on the topics of theology, ecclesiology, and “How do we live this?”

The Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, minister of Accotink UU Church in Burke, Va., spoke on the topic of theology. “Some Unitarian Universalists act as if our churches are the religious lobby for the Democratic National Committee,” he said. But, in order for UUs to be “justice-seeking people, we must be critical of the culture and its politics and never be a reliable source of support for just one party. Party affiliation is a corrosive substitute for theology.”

The workshop attracted a larger than anticipated audience, with some attendees standing or sitting on the floor along the walls and in the back of the small room at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The Rev. Nancy McDonald-Ladd, minister of the Bull Run UUs in Manassas, Va., earned a hearty round of applause from the crowd when she asked, “If the litmus test for ‘people like me’ becomes political affiliation, are we not mirroring the exact political partisanship and brokenness present in the world outside our doors, and are we not called—as faithful, courageous people—to something higher than mirroring the worst of the world around us?”

Paul Roche, a founding member of the UUs of Sterling, Va., spoke last. He said while he is proud of being a Unitarian Universalist, he feels that, “It is hypocritical of us to promise a free and responsible search for truth and meaning but quickly let it be known that some responsible searches are more equal than others.”

Roche argued that the only way for the faith to grow in numbers and spirit is to be “inclusive in words and deeds” of people of all political affiliations.

Correction 6.28.12: An earlier version of this post misidentified the author of the play. Click here to return to the corrected paragraph.

  • Bill Baar

    Thanks Sonja for this report. I was curious how these was received.

  • Bill Baar

    Re: While I do wonder what a “political conservative” and a “religious liberal” does within her or his own mind, to reconcile what would seem to be to be values-costantly-at-odds-with-one-another, maybe this just reflects some of my own internal unconscious limitations.

    I was baffled by Rev Sinkford’s warm words at that dinner for Iran’s No-Gays-in-Iran Ahmadinejad. But Sinkford’s just as UU as me. He’s just a badly mistaken one.

  • Tracy L Avent

    While I do wonder what a “political conservative” and a “religious liberal” does within her or his own mind, to reconcile what would seem to be to be values-costantly-at-odds-with-one-another, maybe this just reflects some of my own internal unconscious limitations. I would certainly want to hear some discussions of same, if for no other reason than to have a better grasp of a thinking or emotional style that is probably foreign to me.

    UU culture definitely has had a telling effect upon me, over the thirty-or-so-years that I have been self-recognized as UU or UU-leaning; originally I was a Republican, but eventually left that Party in disgust after voting for Reagan both times and seeing the bait-and-switch tactics of that party and the moneyed interests that call virtually all of the shots there. I was Libertarian for a while, but lost interest, given the consistently lackluster candidates that they tend to produce, and their general self-definition in terms of what they do NOT believe (in a way, similar to the self-deprecating-image I saw of UU’s in my early days in the milieu) which probably does us more harm than good, but has an appeal to the iconoclast facet of many of us.

    For around twenty years I’ve been “Independent” and non-Party-aligned. Frankly I see the two-party system as a remora upon the electorate; Parties seem to function for little else than financial-structuring reasons, and as such, have a muting effect upon candidates and issues that would “cross lines” as though those lines were somehow etched in concrete. I am generally supportive of the situations and sacrifices (and our commitments to) troops in military service, but very suspicious of too much “classified” information that insulates voters from the actual tactics that representatives of this country are using, on foreign soil (and apparently our own) and an ongoing “end-justifies-the-means” mentality. I support the principle behind organized labor and believe strongly that industry has historically abused its bargaining position in labor
    markets, but on the other hand there is strong evidence that labor movements have been infiltrated by organized crime in some significant cases. I admire police in their somewhat
    altruistic motive to “fight crime” but often their tactics border upon crime themselves, and
    I am certain that corruption exists from individual cops, all the way up to the Attorney General’s office.

    And, of course, being from a “minority party” seems somehow familiar, given my perspective
    of “minority faith”. I have to say that, for those who have never had the experience of BEING
    somehow a minority, and observing the behavior of the majority(ies) with respect to it, is at
    least a mind-expanding experience if not a fundamental source of valuable, if not necessary, education.

  • Tracy L Avent

    oh, one other thing: I was not there at GA but I note with some pride, the turnout for this session; it does reflect the UU faith in practice: UU’s tend to be willing to entertain the notion that their own value system is not universal, and that other views are not only valid but possibly valuable, and despite the possible risks of exposing oneself to the “unknown”, UU’s tend to seek it, and be willing to deal with all of the ambiguities that it might engender. It is this tendency I think, that identifies a UU, more than anything else. We are seekers. It is our nature to seek, no matter what we ultimately might find.


Previous Coverage


UUA logo

Unitarian Universalist Association
24 Farnsworth Street
Boston MA 02210-1409