Let’s Talk (about) Politics

For all that is our life” by Rev. Andrew

A recent article in UU World made a rather astonishing claim. For congregations to engage in social issues, such as by lobbying for laws that would promote equality and justice and against laws that would permit discrimination and prejudice, they need to be able to demonstrate a consistent history of such advocacy in order to comply with IRS guidelines on political activities by churches. In other words, the article explains, “some congregations might actually need to do more lobbying and issue advocacy in between elections”, rather than just getting active at election time when the stakes seem highest.

Since there’s quite an amount of confusion over what religious communities can and cannot do when it comes to political engagement, the Unitarian Universalist Association maintains a handbook, The Real Rules, that “is intended to clarify Internal Revenue Service guidelines as they relate to religious organizations in the hope that more congregations will (1) choose to become involved in working for justice; and (2) know when it is important to seek legal advice.” If you are not familiar with this document, it is well worth reading, particularly if you have any concerns about what our (or any other) congregation is permitted to do. There’s even a helpful summary in terms of the limits imposed by IRS regulations on three types of activities, which I’ll further summarize as follows:

  1. Congregations may not advocate for or against candidates for public office.
  2. Congregations may lobby for or against specific pieces of legislation so long as such lobbying represents at most 5% of all congregational activities.
  3. Congregations may engage in education, advocacy and witness on issues without limit.

Of course, when it comes to what we are permitted to do, we can ask the question that just because something is allowed, does that mean we should do it? Well, think about it this way:

  1. When we claim to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, what does it say about us if we don’t protest on-the-spot executions of black people?
  2. When we claim to affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations, what does it say about us if we don’t challenge policies that punish the poor for their poverty and the sick for their illness?
  3. When we claim to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations, what does it say about us if we don’t speak up for the distinction between the freedom to choose one’s own faith community and the “freedom” to impose one’s religious beliefs on other people?
  4. When we claim to affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, what does it say about us if we don’t demand the comprehensive, effective and adequately funded public school system that is the lifeblood of the middle class?
  5. When we claim to affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large, what does it say about us if we allow our fellow citizens to be denied their right or their ability to vote in elections?
  6. When we claim to affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, what does it say about us if we don’t speak out against the demonization of immigrants and whole cultures of people?
  7. When we claim to affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, what does it say about us if we don’t devote ourselves to changing our trajectory into the deepening disaster of global climate change?

Should we get involved in political issues? How can we not and still call ourselves Unitarian Universalists?

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