When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

Or: Vegetarianism and animal issues are not THE most pressing issue in the universe to everyone right now.

I am on the UFETA (Unitarian Universalist for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) listserve, and I think it is a great group. I love the dialogue. I love the passion. The care for suffering beings. I think it is an essential and prophetic voice in our faith community.

But a conversation has been going on recently that freaked me out a bit. I didn’t respond to the listserve because I think some people were voicing what it is I desired to say. But it brought up a good point that I wanted to raise here, more broadly.

The gist of the conversation on the listserve is that a UU church is going to have a chicken raising club or something – egg chickens, not eating chickens. I totally understand why people are not fond of this idea. What happens to the chickens when they quit laying? Where are you getting them from? A mean, terrible hatchery where the male chicks are killed an the laying hens are treated very very poorly? I do not think there is a problem in and of itself of eating the eggs of chickens that are your pets, but I am not so much a fan of raising chickens for eggs, especially if you are going to do away with them once they are no longer good egg producers.

But I digress. The point of this is that I think that it is quite reasonable to identify some ethical stumbling blocks with a church sponsored/orchestrated chicken raising club. But the thing that really freaked me out is the suggestion that those people who oppose this maybe should WITHHOLD THEIR PLEDGE because of this. Stop the presses! Can you IMAGE the mehem that would be caused in UU churches across the nation if people started withholding pledges when they really really disagreed with something?

I can think of five examples of the top of my head:

1. I think sweatshops are bad. Terrrrrrible. Violations of human rights. This is my cause. AND WE ORDERED OUR R.E. t-shirts from a company that uses sweatshop labor!!!!!!!! And the minister’s robe was MADE IN CHINA. And people are wearing sweatshop-made clothes to Sunday services. THIS MUST STOP. We must be consistant, people. We talk about human rights. Justice. Equality. And now the church is supporting sweatshop labor everywhere you look. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. And if it isn’t, I am withholding my pledge until I feel like it is being better addressed.

2. Climate change is coming fast, people! And our church is doing like a zillion things that make it worse. We are all driving to church. Where are the bikes? And the church is sponsoring events on Sunday evening so people drive to church on Sunday morning, drive home AND THEN DRIVE BACK. We keep this place 69 degrees in the winter, which is way too warm. We could very easily keep it at 67 and just bundle up. And, we need to get a new furnace which is more efficient, which costs only $10,000. I know this is a lot to ask BUT A LOT IS AT STAKE HERE PEOPLE. I am sorry, but I will have to withhold my pledge until this church takes more drastic steps to address this VERY SERIOUS problem.

Okay, so I won’t give five examples, but my point is that there are lots of very important issues that are probably not being well-addressed by our churches. We are not perfect. We are sometimes spoiled. We talk a lot about ethical stuff and do-gooding stuff but that is hard to do and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is easier to support things that we already agree with (we are for peace! gay marriage! sex-ed!)  than to do hard stuff we don’t want to do like stop buying sweatshop clothes or turn down the heat or drive less or whatever. I’ll never forget talking with one church I was involved in about socially responsible investing (which, let’s be honest, is not perfect but probably better than just haphazard investing in whatever). And they were like, “Yeah, well we tried that and the returns were really bad.” So, they invest in whatever, including nuclear energy, arms companies, oil companies and so on.

So, my point? Unless your parish committee has decided to open a nudie bar in the parish hall with the church income instead of having an R.E. program, with holding your pledge is really just not a reasonable approach to expressing your wants and desires in your congregation. Discussion – yes. Education – yes. Joining the parish committee/board – yes. Starting an ethical eating club – yes. But if our financial support of our churches starts becoming a “only if you attend satisfactorly to the issue I deem most important” then I say fulfill your pledge this year (since, you know, you did pledge it) and then find a different church that will meet your needs and expecations in every way. (Good luck with that one.) Because being part of a faith community can’t be so freaking conditional. It is a committement, in many ways, for better or worse. I understand that there are sometimes good, legit reasons to find a new church home or even to find a new faith home. But, I hope it would be bigger than issues. Because, when it comes down to it, we are all treading on this earth very heavily – doing harm – enmeshed in a system that is going to be a part of this system of harm. Our goal, I think, should be to lessen our harm, to love, listen, do better, try harder, and, in the end, know we aren’t going to be able to do it all and be humble that we are imperfect people stumbling along on this spinning planet together. And we are going to have to stick in it together – educating each other, learning from each other, listening to each other, being with each other – in order to get anywhere.

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7 Responses to When YOUR Issue becomes THE Issue

  1. Patrick McLaughlin says:

    Vive la purisme!

    Sigh.

    This is the kind of behavior that led to my chucking the Green Party (I’ve since found other solid reasons for what I did and don’t regret it, but this kind of nonsense was the trigger). My way, holier than thy way–or I’ll hold my marbles at home until I turn blue, and then you’ll be sorry.

    Sigh.

    Some folks either need a covenant, or need to be whacked firmly between the eyes with a rolled up copy of the covenant(s) they’re party to.

    I’ll admit, there are moments when I think that the group most likely to ignite a real schism (yes, the metaphor is mixed) are the UFETA zealots (Note please that that refers to the zealots, not all UFETA members–and my minister is part of UFETA and I was on the search committee that brought her, and I stand by it). People need to accept that others don’t agree with them, and the consequences. Here, UFETA folk ought to embrace the idea that there’s progress here–those people aren’t about to give up eating eggs right now, but they’re willing and even eager to find a way to treat the animals laying the eggs they’re eating in humane ways. And they’re going to be local eggs, too. That’s a big piece of progress…

    And the purists would rather die over the fact that it’s not the “right” answer.

    Free and responsible search for the truth, folks. Other people get to decide what’s true, too. They may be wrong. You may be wrong. I may be. In all likelihood… we all are.

    Now, all that said, I think it would be admirable for a congregation that could legally do this to support it by providing space. But paying for this out of congregational funds? Say what? Or is that an erroneous assumption? Heck, we’ve repeatedly encouraged and supported vegans who want to hold vegan outreach potlucks or wanted to grow gardens on our grounds. And the non-vegetarians haven’t hyperventilated.

    Lord, save us from those afflicted by holier than thou.

  2. uusoul says:

    I’m totally with ya on this, Elizabeth. I emailed supportive comments off-list to Nancy. I hated to jump into the list conversation when I haven’t participated since my unpopular comments a while back. Withholding pledges, soooo not the way to go.

  3. Charlie Talbert says:

    Probably most people believe it is wrong to withhold a pledge for a church policy or practice decision, and I agree.

    And most of the posts on this topic on the UFETA list (I’m signed up too) did not support this withholding a pledge approach either. I think this is in line with Patrick’s observation that not all UFETA members are zealots.

    Actually, none I know are zealots, although I don’t know all of the members. But I can understand how readers of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere believe animal advocates are weird, given the higher number of posts criticizing and ridiculing people who advocate, compared to the few posts exposing or challenging the viciousness of the animal agricultural, entertainment, and research industries.

    I’m pasting in below the UFETA member’s follow-up response to the criticism from other UFETA members about withholding a pledge. It states that the church won’t be hurt financially by the withholding of the pledge. This may mean the member plans to make a non-pledge contribution to offset the withheld pledge.

    I think the author makes a good case for speaking up. It doesn’t appear like zealotry or elitism to me.

    [Excerpt Below, with identifying information removed]

    Our church has 3-ministers, a congregation of 1,000+/-, two-services every Sunday, ~300 attending each. It’s important to me that you know I love each of our ministers very much: [they] are truly beautiful people. Our church does so much that I support, and locally we’re regarded as the more progressive, activist-filled church in the area. They do offer veg-options at UU events, including soymilk for coffee after church. My [spouse] and I have pledged our money monthly since joining in 2001 (plus the plate). I respect our ministers, but I cannot sit idly by and be complicit in any form of animal exploitation.

    Ministers are influential by definition in that they lead, in words and in actions. Congregations put money in the collection plate ~ members give pledges. The website reflects what the church is about.

    But who will speak for the animals if not us?

    Again, this is not about insisting they become Vegan. It is about not forcing church members into complicity by watching any portion of our pledge-dollars go into “a Unitarian farming of animals”.

    I have what I believe to be a reasonable expectation of ministers, who preach-and-lead on the path of nonviolence, who are compassionate, and who believe themselves to be open-minded … and that is to be “consistent”. Go Green! Gay Rights! Bring the Troops Home! Reduce our Carbon Footprint. But don’t mess with my taste buds?!?

    I must also say ~ I do have an expectation of the planet’s oh-too-small-population of animal advocates. We each have a responsibility to learn all we can about animal exploitation. We then have a moral obligation (imo) to share that information fully, to the best of our ability, in all aspects of our lives, to end animal exploitation. The idea is not to “regulate the exploitation” so we feel better about eating/using them.

    Ministers leading church members to buy egg-laying hens and supporting HATCHERY-HELL (and possibly slaughtering them after they are “spent”) is unacceptable. Further, I feel we/humans are conditioned to believe we somehow have the right to make use of animals’ bodies, even if done “with love” – but if we are honest – this is out of habit, for pleasure, or for profit. Not to mention the ill effects of a carnivorous diet. Animal advocates need to be promoting a plant-based diet, always, for the animals, our health, the planet. So yes, I have an expectation that people involved in any group of “advocacy for animals” need to learn the information, share it, and most certainly not be complicit in any part of it.

    If it’s “elitist” to stand up and speak outloud for my beliefs, then I guess I’m proud to be so labeled!

    My [spouse] and I will be withholding our church pledge so long as our own church is complicit in this “UU Chicken Club”. (Withholding our pledge is to make a statement – our church will not suffer financially from this.) We don’t want one cent of our money paying for ~ advertising the UU Chicken Club on the church website, or into the paychecks of the ministers leading/promoting it, and to make it known that we refuse to support “our church’s farming of animals”.

  4. Girish Menon says:

    I love animals. On my plate. They are sooooo tasty.

  5. serenityhome says:

    There are other ways of with holding support than from stopping ones pledge over an issue that for better or worse is not held universally by all of the members. What the with holding of pledges really states is that the person no longer wants to be in covenant with these people. That is a fair position and they may decide this but that is what is being communicated. To state the church will not suffer financially is erroneous thinking. If each person chose to with hold their pledge because their pet cause was not being supported by the congregation, the impact would be disastrous.

    I doubt that the “UU Chicken Club” is seeking to practice factory farming and I doubt the reasons behind sponsoring it were intended to upset UFETA activists. No where in this blog posting or in the comments was the mention of the reasons of why the UU Congregation is compelled to start such a venture which resulted in at least one congregant to suggest with holding pledges. The lack of mentioning the reasons behind such a move opens the door to the broad assumptions that are erroneously based made in the comments.

    What the pledge with holder could have done was to designate their pledge to a specific part of the budget. For instance, they could designate their pledge to the acquisition of music or for the RE program or towards janitorial services. This does two things: 1) they are noting their displeasure with the UU Chicken Club 2) They send a clear message that they intend to remain in covenant with the congregation and therefore remain at the table for dialoging about their concerns.

    Blessings,

  6. […] won’t go into examples here, but if you want to read my writing about this you can go here, here or […]

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