The 17th century English dissenters who settled New England were very idealistic. They sought to strip away pretense and vanity to establish “pure religion,” and hence were called by many, including eventually themselves, “puritans.” They’re typically depicted as stiff and unyielding, but most of them were like most of us: easy going about some things and less so about other things. One of the things they took very seriously was self-government. As dissenters, they were committed to living cooperatively and getting along without rancor or undue competition, as such behavior might alert authorities back in London. Thus, they drafted church covenants and they worked hard to live up to them. And they perfected —over the 150 years leading up to the American Revolution—the democratic principles enshrined in America’s founding documents and in our Seven Unitarian Universalist Principles.
Like the others, our Fifth Principle—the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large—is sacred to Unitarian Universalists. Sacred as a religious value. And sacred as a civic obligation.
The January 6 authoritarian power grab attempted by the now, thankfully, ex-President Trump was a brazen attempt to take down and destroy our republic. The full story of what took place, who was working for whom, and how fully coordinated the Capitol assault was will take time to sort out. But one thing is sure: the Retrumplicans mounted an assault on the U.S. Congress to interrupt and prevent them from fulfilling their constitutional duty to certify duly elected Joe Biden as America’s 46th President. They were trying to thwart the will of the people and impose a different—undemocratic—outcome on the citizens of our country. And on the world.
Speaking virtually to the Munich Security Conference on February 19, President Biden promised “America is back.” His Administration will recommit to NATO and re-engage with Europe to address the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic and climate crises. Then the President went to the heart of the matter. “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face—from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic—that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue… And those who understand that democracy is essential—essential to meeting those challenges— [must not abandon their hope and their commitment.]” The President concluded, “Democracy will and must prevail. We must demonstrate that democracies can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission.”
Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures across the country seem to be strategizing their return to power by preventing more people (that is, Democrats) from voting, more or less abandoning democracy altogether. The GOP of my youth and up through the presidency of Ronald Reagan trumpeted their party as one of bold, creative ideas. They competed successfully in the marketplace of ideas and strategies. In those pre-Newt Gingrich years, they were also civil with those across the aisle—a primal virtue required for self-government to succeed.
East Shore Unitarian Universalists: Democracy is always up for grabs! We pulled off a successful defense of it this past year leading up to and in the three months after the national election. But the events of January 6 have made obvious to me what I have long suspected: that there are many people who look and act “respectable,” but who have no commitment to our democracy, its forms, or institutions. BUT WE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS DO. And we must stay faithful in defending them.
In abiding liberal faith, Steve
by Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Furrer