Candles – Part 3

February 11, 2010

Candles – Part 3, Political and Social Pronouncements

I had intended to cover political and social pronouncements in separate columns, but I know that some have become impatient with my continued focus on the use of candles for the “personal” only.  Therefore I will try to combine the two topics.

Candles for political (partisan) purposes are wrong for two reasons.  First, if we becomes engaged in partisan political promotion, we could lose our non-profit status.  Second, we are a liberal religious organization, not a liberal political organization; when we gather together our worship ought to transcend our political differences and unite us. 

My politics and religion are deeply intertwined in a seamless manner.  But other people find that their politics—though very different from mine—also unites with their Unitarian Universalism.  What matters is our shared religious journey.

What of social pronouncements, concerns about human rights or about the threat of corruption in the political process? 

I said in an earlier column,” I see the candle lighting as the time in our service when we speak about our lives, about the events that touch our souls, when we speak from deep within our hearts about the personal things that move and change us”.  Does this not include events such as earthquakes, Supreme Court decisions, discrimination or human horror?  Why should I feel limited in expressing my feelings about these?  There is a place for announcements in the service, but not for this kind of statement, so I really cannot put it elsewhere.

I have a deep empathy for that point of view.  However…

1. There is a distinction between the personal and the social; my feelings regarding a societal occurrence is nothing compared to the grief I felt at the loss of my mother and father.  

2. The personal has a universal element; we can all share the feelings of the candle lighter.  A law may upset you but please me, so candles of social concern can be divisive rather than uniting of our community.  That is not worshipful.

3. Some things (e.g., genocide) do move us all.  But there are places in the congregation to express our feelings about social issues and that is through our Social Action Programs.  Action is more meaningful than lighting a candle during a service.

4. Opening the door to social commentary tends to lead to polemical statements which are alienating of others—again, no matter how satisfying to the individual. 

Ultimately this decision is not up to me; it is a community choice, a congregational choice.  How do we wish to use the time of candle lighting?  What is its purpose?  What enhances worship rather than distracting from it?  What serves to build community across social, political and other lines rather than divide it?  (My own answer to that—but maybe not the congregation’s even though it seems obvious to me—is candles that are personal sharing, not social commentary.)

I will be working with the Worship Committee to try to discern what that choice is and your continuing comments to me will be helpful in that discernment process.