Have Faith In Democracy

 Have Faith in Democracy

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

      • Make a religious commitment to democracy.
      • Have faith and vote!

OPENING WORDS, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Sound the alarm early and loud.
Wake the nation.
Fill the car with neighbors.
Drive to the polls.
This is it.
Now is here.
We decide.


May all who gather here bring their ideals, dreams, and songs. May this flame signal a call to a dedicated and constructive life, and may it help us to garner energy and enthusiasm for a higher purpose and a common good.

    • – Loring Prosser (adapted)

RESPONSIVE READING The Idea of Democracy by Abraham Lincoln

As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great, durable, curse of the race.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

Our reliance is in our love for liberty; our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all people in all lands everywhere.

Destroy this spirit, and we have planted the seeds of despotism at our own doors.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and cannot long retain it.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

READING Our Fifth Principle adapted from an essay by Earl Holt

We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

It may seem unusual for a religious body to include a commitment to a political method in its defining principles. Perhaps it is less surprising, though, if we remember that both Unitarianism and Universalism were born here in the formative years of the American Republic, each of them decisively influenced and shaped by the same Enlightenment ideas and values that gave rise to the American Revolution and American democracy.

It is no accident that many of the founders of the Republic were also leaders in the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism, including, among others, Benjamin Rush, Universalist signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Joseph Priestley, the scientist and Unitarian preacher who was a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Their religious convictions were crucial in their formulation of America’s political creed, for as James Madison would say later, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" Political and religious ideas interpenetrate. For example, the political notion that a people have a right to self-government grows out of religious conviction that human beings have the capacity to shape their own destiny, that they are not mere puppets on a divine string.

Democracy, to put it another way, is more than a mechanism of governance. It is an expression of faith in the power of human beings to shape their own lives, a faith that is most explicit in the ideals of our Unitarian Universalist religious tradition.

One of the most articulate and important advocates of this expression of faith was A. Powell Davies. Democracy in his view "is the social and political expression of [a] religious principle," that all human beings are kin and humankind a family; "and at this higher level," he said, "the spiritual unity of the human family is declared to be unrestricted by nation, race, or creed." This "Religion of Democracy," as it has been called, or "The Faith Behind Freedom" is obviously not intended to be the unique possession or treasured value of a single sect or denomination, ours or any other. Its application is universal so we commit ourselves to its implementation not only in our own congregations but also in society at large.

It is important to note, too, that our covenantal commitment to the democratic process is explicitly linked to the protection of an individual right: freedom of conscience. In recent years, the most tireless advocate of this principle was the Reverend Paul Beattie, founder of Unitarian Universalists for Freedom of Conscience. Bettie articulated a vision that would encourage the widest possible diversity and pluralism in our congregations:

I want my Unitarian Universalist church to include Christians, Theists, Humanists, and others. I want its political discussions to include Republicans, Democrats, Consumerists, and Libertarians. I want discussions of economics to include Milton Friedmanites and John Kenneth Galbraithians, Marxists, socialists and capitalists, or free enterprisers. Such inclusiveness, which grows out of a radical congregational polity, the free mind principle, and the noncreedal approach to religion, is the only possible basis for modern Unitarian Universalism.

There is always a temptation for humans to seek something more safe and certain, especially in the face of rough passage. Paul Beattie called this temptation the great illusion.

We have to learn and relearn in each generation that the quest for certainty is the great illusion. We have to learn and relearn how wonderful it is to say to each person: you must learn to think for yourself and act for yourself  no one can or should do it for you. Many, many people hunger to hear this message and to live it. There is no substitute for the freedom of the mind and the heart and the conscience.

READING Beloved Community adapted from an essay by Richard Gilbert

The term Beloved Community elucidates the liberal religious concern for justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Community is a term both contemporary and democratic; Beloved Community is a term for humanistic, theistic, and other theological perspectives. It implies that ours is a project in loving the neighbor near and distant, an endeavor that is squarely in humanity’s hands  keeping in step with the long Unitarian Universalist tradition of trying to build a heaven on earth.

Beloved Community then is a constellation of values to be lived out by the individual and the religious community in the wider society. Unitarian Universalism seeks to be a "church without walls" in which social concerns become the agenda of the people as they take their spiritual and ethical values into the public arena. Our congregations seek to be communities of moral discourse and social action on the frontiers of living. The congregants become conspirators for Beloved Community  conspiracy meaning "to breathe together." We Unitarian Universalists are a "spiritual center with a civic circumference." We have a proud history of repairing the world. And we live under a prophetic imperative to work for the Beloved Community. We covenant together to live out compassion, equity, and justice in communal life. We are clear that some values are not optional; they must be lived. To refuse to act, to fail to live out our values, is to abdicate our role as spiritual and moral beings.

SERMON         Have Faith in Democracy                     &nb
sp;Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Have faith in democracy. I believe fervently in the separation of church and state. I do NOT believe, th
ough, that separation of church and state means that I need to check my moral convictions before engaging in civic discourse. On the contrary, I believe that my religious values shape my civic response and responsibility. So, thankfully, do most candidates running for public office in this election.

Let me say at the outset that this is service is part pep rally, part revival meeting. And, it is for me. (They say ministers preach what they most need to hear.) I am doing this to remind myself how dearly I cherish the freedom to voice my opinion and vote my conscience. I’m hoping to reignite in me what I experience as a call (in the religious sense of call) to exercise those freedoms to sustain the common good. It to help me garner energy and enthusiasm for what lays ahead, regardless of any of the outcomes on November 2. It is unabashedly for me in the face of anxious days and sleepless nights. I hope it is for you, too.

So here it is in a nutshell. I’m worried. I’m angry. I’m afraid. I’m losing faith in democracy.

I’m worried about homelessness and joblessness. I’m concerned about what we’re doing to our most vulnerable citizens: children, elders, those with mental illness, with AIDS, those without adequate protection or resources, and those who fall through the cracks of the system. I’m anxious about health care, and public education, and eroding civil liberties. I lose sleep wondering what will happen to the freedom to choose, the freedom to marry, the freedom to dissent. I’m terrified about the next Supreme Court appointments.

I’m angry. I’m angry about this war which, for me, IS the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I’m angry at how we are exporting democracy abroad without protecting it here at home. I’m pissed that human beings are dying for no good reason  children and families because they live in a "war-torn" area, inner city kids because they live on the wrong side of the street. I’m irate that we are using up and abusing the world’s natural resources, often in the name of greed. I’m furious at the murder of countless Africans in the Sudan because somebody has the twisted idea of exterminating a class of human beings. I’m incensed that the sick and the elderly cannot afford medical treatment or medicines. I’m outraged that Jews, Muslims, and Christians are killing each other because they happened to be Jews or Muslims, or Christians. I’m livid that that innocent bystanders get caught in the cross-fire of someone else’s rage. I feel rage, too, rage that some are trying to make "liberal" a dirty word and others accuse dissenters of being unpatriotic.

I’m afraid of what is happening in my country. Afraid that our democratic principles are being distorted to serve special interests. Afraid of how divided and hateful we’ve become. Afraid, in fact, that we are becoming what we say we are most afraid of: terrorists, bullies, occupiers, empire-builders.

I need to stop (though I could go on). I need to remind you  though I hope most of you will need no reminding  that when I speak you are not obliged to agree with me. You grant me (or whoever stands here) the freedom of the pulpit; I grant you (or whoever is sitting there) the freedom of the pew. I am eager to engage in conversation about any of these issues  conversation just like Paul Beattie describes in today’s reading  a dialogue that grows out of the free mind principle, an exchange that can only happen when a radical inclusiveness ensures that no opinion will be excluded. (Bigots, unyielding extremists, and ideologues, however, are only welcome to participate in the conversation if they speak and listen with respect and do not force their opinions on others. There will be no coercion here.)

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of UU ministers in this district  all of us from Eastern Massachusetts. We were talking about the election. We discussed our prophetic role (what we can and can’t do from the pulpit); our pastoral role, and our role as witnesses, advocates and activists. During the pastoral part of the discussion, one colleague said she’d recently gotten a call from a parishioner who asked, seriously and with genuine concern, "Is it safe to park there on Sunday morning? We have a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on our car."

I was broken-hearted to hear that question. I suspect many of us share a similar political perspective, but I do not assume that we all do. One UU minister said that we UUs are freethinkers. We are not a liberal movement for liberal causes. Our task is to keep the doors and windows open, to responsibly search and explore the unknown, inhibited in that quest only by conscience and a concern for humanity.

Like Rev. Beattie, I too want our conversations to be peopled with Democrats and Republicans and Green Party folks and Libertarians. I want our meeting house to host opportunities for moral and civic discourse. I want to hear reasoned and deeply-held opinions that are similar to my own but also ones that are different. In fact, hard as it is in these divisive times, I want to work hardest to preserve the open forum on which our democratic principles are based. I see it as my religious responsibility. I see it as a moral imperative.

That is really why I chose to talk about our fifth principle today, to put things in a religious and moral context. As citizens we have a right and responsibility to vote; as Unitarian Universalists I would argue that we have a religious obligation to participate in the process. Democracy, we heard earlier, is an expression of faith in the power of human beings to shape our own lives. It is an act of courage to think and act for oneself; it is an act of response-ability. Two words: response; ability. This right  this freedom  guarantees us the ability to respond; or it should. In the words of A. Powell Davies, democracy is the social and political expression of a religious principle: that all human beings are kin and all humankind a family. We Unitarian Universalists are called to live that principle.

I know many of us are. You’ve told me how you are supporting the candidates of your choice materially and in so many other ways. You’re making phone calls. You’re going door to door in the rain. You’re standing in the cold with signs. You’re hosting gatherings in your living rooms. Some UUs (even some here) are voting absentee and traveling to the so-called battleground states. A whole group is going from the Winchester congregation as part of the Election Protection poll monitoring program. Many UUs  including many of us here  have been working tirelessly for voter registration. Others on voter education and voter mobilization. And still others on poll monitoring and advocacy.

Of course, regardless of what you are doing now, you must do at least one thing on or before November 2. Vote. Four years ago, according to the US Census Bureau, one in five voters claimed they were "too busy" to vote. Only 36 percent of those 18-24 voted. Only 38 percent of people living in households with income less than $10,000 voted. And only 55 percent of the total voting age population voted. We’re too busy. We think our vote won’t count. We’re apathetic. We take our vote for granted. As religious people who affirm the freedom of conscience and the use of the democratic process, we have no excuse. Vote. Find the time. Find a way. Vote. And, if you are able, help others to do the same.

It troubles me when I hear stories that officials are denying voter registrations, when independent sources verify the validity of those registrations. It pains me to know that seemingly simple-to-overcome barriers  like long waits at the polls, or the absence of child care, or transportation, or the voting machines themselves  may disadvantage certain voters. The folks at Election Protection, a nonpartisan, national partnership to encourage voter participation report that "in 2000, millions of Amer
icans in minority communities were denied their righ
t to vote through a combination of illegal threats and intimidation, poor voter education, poorly trained poll workers and voting machines that didn’t work." In America. Not Afghanistan. Not Iraq. America  land of the free.

This happens to be a national election. If we’re lucky that will get us to the polls in record numbers. Still, I know some will say your vote doesn’t matter here because we know how Massachusetts will go in the national election. I don’t buy that, and I remind those voters that there are important  I would say vital  elections closer to home. In Sudbury and surrounding towns, we have contested elections for our state senators and our state representatives. These, too, are heated and potentially divisive campaigns that deserve your attention…and someone deserves your vote. There are stark contrasts among candidates on the issues  the freedom to marry being a prime example, but by no means the only one.

I chose the two readings we heard this morning because they point out a creative tension in our UU values. Both the right of conscience and beloved community. Both individual freedom and the common good. It’s not always possible to have it both ways. And, frankly, I fear that my country is forgetting about the common good. Too many special interests are fighting for a bigger share of the pie. And the common citizen? Well, some are waiting for crumbs. I also worry that the right of conscience is being tested by those who view dissent as unacceptable. I find the so-called Patriot Act to be dangerous. And that’s just one example. Right of conscience and beloved community. Individual freedom and the common good. Both are necessary. Neither can be wholly sacrificed for the other. But finding the balance  and working together to preserve and sustain it  is our moral imperative. It is our religious and our civic responsibility.

Winston Churchill said "democracy is the worst form of government  except for all the others!

Can we reclaim our democracy? Can we revive our pride and patriotism that was born here, practically on this very soil? Can we sing with pride about the land we love  land of the free, home of the brave? Can we have faith in democracy?

I think we must. It is our religious responsibility. It is our moral imperative.


I believe that voting is an act of faith and hope, based on civic and religious values. Voting has an importance that transcends the particulars of any given issue, candidate, or election.

My vote is my voice, and I have a responsibility to my community and myself to use it. As a matter of religious commitment, I covenant to be an active participant in democracy. I will have faith and vote!