Friday, June 24, 2016

Reflections on Religious Democracy

I am currently attending my sixth consecutive General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association of congregations (UUA). 

Unitarian Universalism is a "covenantal" religion. There is no agreed upon "creed", no religious test of faith required for membership. There are Buddhist UUs, Pagan UUs, Humanist and Atheist UUs, and yes, even Christian UUs!

What holds us together are covenants, at the congregational level between congregants and, at the denominational level between the separate congregations. These covenants are not at all about what we "believe" in a religious context. Instead they're about how we agree to be in community together as congregants and as an association of self-governed congregations. 

The congregations agree to the seven principles. The seven principles start at the individual level (we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people) and progress to the communal (we affirm and promote the interconnected web of life, of which we are all a part), each of the principles existing in a precarious tension: How do you affirm the inherent worth and dignity of a Hitler or a Manson? Is, the mosquito as integral to the web of life as a human being? But, we often don't think about the tension inherent in our fifth principle (we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large). 

The sounds so simple! How else would a group as diverse as UUs get anything accomplished without using a good and fair democratic process? But, think for a moment: is democracy always good, is it always fair? 

Democracy, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is the worst form of government, except for all the others.  While a democratic process might be good at getting near a concensus (arguable) that "consensus" is usually that of the least marginalized subgroups in any polity. 

How inclusive is our American democracy to indigenous people, to people of color, to women, to the poor, to our LGBTQAI siblings? It is very inclusive if you're white, and a man, and cis/het, and upper middle class. But it is pretty clear that we (America, the collective) have done a piss-poor job of supporting and providing for those on the margins. Sadly, I have too often seen that same dynamic play itself out within my religion. 

Our General Assembly is a meeting of UUs from all across the country and from all aspects of UU identity including ethnicity, gender expression, sexuality, family structure and on and on. But, as with American society writ large, the voting body of GA is primarily white, primarily middle class (or above) and primarily over the age of fifty. 

It is too often concerned with money (or lack thereof), too often concerned with propriety (G_d forbid there be conflict). And, although UUs, in general, are rabidly in favor of being anti-racist and anti-oppressive, that too often only goes as far as can be accomplished without actual systemic change. 

This post isn't a treatise on the bad old UUs though. What I really want to ponder and what I really want my UU siblings to ponder is this: can our democracy, as we practice it today, ever lead us to the beloved community to which we aspire? Can Roberts Rules (revised or otherwise) ever really address the needs and concerns of our most marginalized groups without substantial change in their implementation. Personally, I am really on the fence as to that notion. 

And here is why that's so concerning to me: ours is not a nation state or a municipality, ours is the governing body of a religion. Let me state that again for emphasis. Ours is a religion! We come together once a year to guide the fate of an institution devoted not to meeting the physical needs of protection and defense but the SPIRITUAL needs of protection and defense. There is no higher calling. We are in ministry to each other and to our religion as a whole. When we miss the voice of the voiceless in these halls we can take away hope. We can destroy trust. We can insert our need for "process" between our siblings and their higher selves, their higher spirits, their deity!!!

We have choices in how we engage in our denominational polity. We can choose to let every voice have its say. Or we can listen to the voices that are, even in our houses of worship, far too seldom heard. We can listen to those voices first; we can give weight to those needs first; we can step back from our own need to be heard or counted and make sure that they are heard and counted. First. 

As we move forward as a denomination and yes, even within our congregations, may we make that choice. After all, what would Jesus do?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Some (very) quick thoughts about responsible gun control

I wrote the comments below in response to a request for a civil debate about gun control in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy. Listed are several questions that have been posed as to the usefulness and realness of imposing some sort of gun control(s) in America that are often asked by those who are adamantly opposed to any restriction on the 2nd Amendment.

I invite comment on this post - please. But I will NOT allow a flame war and comments MUST remain respectful.

Q) Why ban a rifle that is less powerful than others out there?

A) The AR-15 is in a class of weapons designed for the express purpose of being used in war. A combination of light weight, portability, high magazine load (typically 30 rounds although that is regulated in some states) and the capability of loading 75 and 100 round drums (legal to own but not use and easily available on the Internet) combined with the "Macho" factor (after all the military variant of this weapon was standard issue for many years) give it a certain cache. Perhaps that's why it was the weapon of choice in the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. as well as Orlando. Additionally, although it is illegal to own a fully automatic version without (fairly) hard to come by licenses the AR-15 can easily be modified to fire fully automatic with instructions available on YouTube and tools you can buy at any hardware store or gun shop. Personally, I can see no reason to use this weapon for hunting as there are cheaper and more accurate rifles available on the general market that would suit better to nearly any game you might choose.

Q) (paraphrase) What about the large number of guns in the "banned" categories that are out there already?

A) We can't get rid of every weapon or even a large percentage of them without either the cooperation of gun owners or through confiscation. We could do a cash for guns buyback program though either with direct cash payments or a tax credit issued when the weapon is certified as destroyed by a regulated agency. We could also compensate dealers for their existing inventory for any weapons that are "banned"

Q) Won't the guns we lose and sell to foreign countries be purchased back through the black market?

A) Inevitable but manageable. We could impose trade sanctions on countries that didn't crack down on black market guns (similar to how we handle drugs and money laundering now). We could make enforcement of black market sales a high priority for local and/or federal law enforcement and beef up the BATF for that purpose.

Q) We can't punish responsible gun owners

A) Agreed. But we could ensure they're responsible by enforcing a background check, requiring gun safety and regular, ongoing training in how to safely use their weapon. We could license them like cars to better track the illegal sale of black market weapons. We could require liability insurance (again in the same way we do for cars). We could impose an age limit (like we do for cars) with both a low and a high range.

Q) Should people on the FBI list be able to have one?

A) No. Further, if you're on an FBI list (or other law enforcement agency list) as a felon, a person with a history of violence, a person with certain medical or psychological issues then you should be subject to restricted ownership (IMO); this one is a bare minimum for me. We have the technology to allow for on the spot instantaneous background checks but the gun lobby has vigorously opposed every effort to enact even the loosest background checks at a national level.

I can see MANY potential reasonable options for limiting access to certain kinds of weapons (and ammunition for that matter) that would still allow gun owners to have a weapon for sport or defense. But, to even begin that conversation we have to get away from the automatic assumption that ANY regulation of guns is a first step on the road to confiscation and eventual total disarmament of our citizens.

Enough. I. AM. DONE.

So, it's 4am on Monday June 13th as I write this post.

After several attempts at sleep tonight I have given up. Every time I close my eyes and try to quiet my thoughts I return to mass shooting in Orlando. I cannot get out of my mind imagined scenes of frightened people who, only moments before, were reveling in their lives, sharing precious moments with their friends or lovers, dancing with joy and abandon and were then forced to run for their lives or hide from bullets. I feel the chaos of the moment come over me every time I close my eyes. And I weep.

I. Am. Done.

I am done defending your "right" to bear arms without restriction. I am done expecting our "leaders" will somehow find the courage to stand up to the criminal gun lobby and do the sensible thing and enact even the smallest measure like a fucking background check.

C. Fibbonacci Blue 2016-06-12 This is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License.
Our country, and I include myself in this to my own shame, have become adjusted to mass shootings. They happen so often now that unless the body count reaches double digits or there is some other factor like race involved we don't even register them. They don't make the evening news beyond the tv market in which the happen. They have become background noise. Like the gunshots that ring out in the night with such regularity in every city in the US. Like the sirens that could as easily be firefighters rushing to save a life as police rushing in body armor to confront yet another "lone gunman", yet another "mentally ill/crazy" shooter.

We have adjusted. We've adjusted our sense of decency. We've adjusted our tolerance for horror. We've adjusted our expectations.

I. Am. Done.

I am done being adjusted to it. I am claiming my righteous anger. From here on I will be maladjusted. I think we all should be. Maladjusted to the constant slaughter of our neighbors. Maladjusted to a congress that lacks the courage to confront the plague of gun violence with even the most basic prophylactic measures. Maladjusted to the fanatics of the second amendment that claim their G_d-given right to carry their weapons of mass destruction wherever they please. No. I am DONE being adjusted to this psychosis.

I. Am. Done.