Reflection from 1936

Reflection from 1936

We UU’s, as a faith, have something to offer national politics and governance.

For those who like social reflection out there…and find it fascinating when the past is relevant today…I was just re-reading the 1936 Commission on Appraisal Report “Unitarians Face a New Age” and Chapter 13, on page 307-308 I found:

Centralization, which is the inevitable organizational result of centripetal forces, can usually be traced to one of three tendencies or some combination of them: (1) an indifferent constituency, (2) an instinctive drive by individuals to use the organization for personal power, and (3) social-economic necessities under pressure of time and circumstances.

Ok, so how many of those forces could we say apply to our current United States culture and politics, and how many seem to be at work in the current presidential race?  The CoA report goes on to say:

Given an indifferent constituency, centralization in a voluntary association can easily be rationalized because it is easier; because it can be claimed that it is more economic; and because it sometimes doubted whether the constituency will sufficiently participate in the association’s activities to maintain a decentralized form.  The rationalization of social economic necessity arises very easily in an industrial society such as ours, where the business point of view and its efficiency-values have been so strongly established.

Essentially this is the idea that we need a stronger centralized authority because it “gets things done” (which presidential candidate is that?) and because people just “want to get on with their lives” (uh-huh) and because “we need to restore our economic strength.”

Then I read this:

Thus preoccupation with legalism, the purely economic point of view and the business side of the association’s affairs, easily creates circumstances in which the social and ethical values of the association are completely dominated by the legal and economic.

I have a few bullet points to illustrate the social and ethical values of “the association” (meaning any democratic union) being compromised due to legalism and purely economic point of view:

  • The prison industry, resulting in mass incarceration, the New Jim Crow, color-blind economic oppression
  • Leverage of non-documented workers in whole national industries for profits while vilifying the same workers
  • Off-shoring our manufacturing so that fewer middle class jobs are available without specialized training and reducing the size of the middle class, which sustains our economic well-being
  • Forgetting that the faith which which this nation’s governance identifies (predominantly Christianity) is a faith that espouses taking care of one’s neighbor, not deporting one’s neighbor

We have come to a place in our voluntary association where our ethical and value-based policies have been vastly compromised due to economic, legal and centralization pressures.  The nature of such pressures causes those who would leverage the association for personal gain to rise in political presence, those in power to myopically focus on economics as the motivation for policy, and genuine ethical concerns to grow mired in legalities.

In 1936, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) Commission on Appraisal wrote about many of these forces affecting our denomination.

Their recommendations?

  • A symbolic center in the form of a symbol of unity (chalice) that would provide a sense of unity instead of centralization.  Essentially a theological center instead of a political one.
  • Administrative methods that call for active lay participation in day to day affairs and governance.  Essentially engaging lay (population) in authority so as to decentralize the authority of central offices.
  • Education around cooperation; those who are used to acting individually must learn to act cooperatively.  Imagine what profundity might happen if we rethought the mythology of “American Individualism” to “American Cooperation”…HMMM…
  • Evolution of Organizations; with changing times organizational structure must change and adapt.
  • Strengthening of local associations and engagement of membership on the local level to allow collaboration on a larger scale.
  • Doing the hard work of finding common ground across divergent perspectives; given the bipartisan nature of US politics right now, we have a lot of work to do in this area.
  • Deal with the emotional dissociation and apathy that comes with tolerance; yes, tolerance alone is not enough to strengthen association, we have to move into acceptance and ultimately into welcoming difference in order to bridge and collaborate with one-another.  Tolerance breeds apathy.

These are some of the ideas and comments that the Unitarian Commission on Appraisal had back in 1936.  I can see places in our movement where these ideas took hold and we adapted and grew.  I think that some of the learning we gained engaging such vision is part of what we as a movement and a faith have to offer the greater world around us.  We can welcome differences, even political ones, with a sense of curiosity and wonder.  That is something we have practiced for decades now as a people; and right now, this nation needs to welcome some differences among its people and learn to talk and share with one-another without degenerating into metaphorical fisticuffs.

Just a little reflection from a group that published a report in 1936.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *