Moral Values in a Pluralistic Society

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shaktinah
Moral Values in a Pluralistic Society

So what is your congregation doing to address this question?

Issue: How might the moral and ethical grounding of Unitarian Universalism be given greater voice in the public square?

Background and Reasons for Study: Throughout the 1980s, religious conservatives have gained credibility in politics asserting their religious values should be incorporated into public policy development to the exclusion of other faith traditions. Their influence has only increased with the election of President George W. Bush in the 2000 election, and again in 2004. Their vision for the United States-indeed the world-is one that results in oppression, discrimination, and domination, reserving power for a small number of government and business elites. As the gap between rich and poor expands in the United States and the ill effects of globalization intensify, the exclusion of religious liberals from this civic dialogue is dangerous.

Significance to Unitarian Universalism: Theodore Parker, the 19th century Unitarian minister, proclaimed, "I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one ... And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice." In the faith that we share, amid the pluralism that we celebrate, in the pluralistic society that we inhabit, we are challenged to articulate the elements of that bend in the arc of which Parker spoke.

Unitarian Universalists exhibit a high degree of theological and philosophical diversity. Despite our differences, we have developed congregational communities and have covenanted to be institutionally associated, respecting and affirming our differences of belief. We also have a history of involvement in public witness. Our collective voice can be found in annual statements of public witness that date from the first General Assembly of the Association in 1961, and long before in statements adopted by the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America. Within Unitarian Universalism, we are challenged to offer our message of public witness in a framework of moral values that is recognized with an affirmative nod within our own ranks and well beyond our own ranks if we are to be relevant at all. Yet Unitarian Universalists have been historically and theologically resistant, if not repulsed, by the notion of codifying a set of so-called moral values for ourselves and for others or of having such a set of principles imposed upon us or other people. The dilemma is how to ensure our moral values are heard in the square of public opinion and in the halls of government?

The Reverend William Sinkford, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, voiced his view on moral values in a November 9, 2004 statement: "Moral values are not just particular opinions on 'hot button' topics in a divisive election year. Moral values grow out of our calling as religious people to work to create the Beloved Community ... Moral values instruct us to 'love our neighbors as ourselves' and always to ask the question, 'Who is my neighbor?' They are fundamentally inclusive rather than exclusive, and they call on generosity of spirit rather than mean spiritedness." It is understandable the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke frequently of the Beloved Community and that he often quoted the Reverend Theodore Parker on the direction of that moral arc of the universe. As a community of liberal faith and equally liberal doubt, we have a historic opportunity to engage in interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue to discern a core morality that would bend the arc of our current moral universe toward compassionate justice in our pluralistic global society.

Possible Study Questions:

• What is the difference between "morality" and "ethics?" How do we understand morality? How
do we understand it in a Unitarian Universalist and civic contexts? By what authority does our understanding of morality derive?
• Is it appropriate for Unitarian Universalist congregations to collectively speak out, as a faith community, on moral and ethical issues? How are dissenting voices within the congregation
honored while allowing the majority to speak out?

• How do our actions move us to bend the arc of the moral universe toward or away from compassionate justice? How might we build ever more compassionate bridges across differences and avoid temptations to exploit these differences in the service of being "right?"

• How can we as Unitarian Universalists contribute most effectively to the public dialogue on
the role of shared moral values in our changing, global, pluralistic society? On what basis do we evaluate our social witness efforts?


Possible Actions:

• Form covenant groups and sponsor congregational forums for people to discuss morality,
what it would mean for us to reclaim the word, and what the goals of congregationally based
social witness are.

• Establish a process that respectfully discerns the will of the majority within the congregation on issues of public witness and that enables the congregation to collectively voice its opinion while recognizing and honoring the views of those holding different opinions.

• Actively participate in the social witness process of the Unitarian Universalist Association by proposing Study/Action Issues, forming task forces to engage issues selected annually by the General Assembly for two years of congregational and district discernment, submitting comments
on proposed Statements of Conscience of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and working to implement adopted public policy statements.

• Work collaboratively with neighboring Unitarian Universalist congregations on issues of public policy. Participate in district-wide advocacy efforts.

• Sponsor interfaith and civic discussions on the role of religion and morality in the public square. Sponsor meetings with other faith communities to explore and discern common values.

Related Prior Social Witness Statements: Beyond Religious Tolerance: The Challenges of Interfaith Cooperation Begin with Us (1999 Statement of Conscience).

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