February greetings! This is the month of groundhogs, sweethearts and leap years. It also brings President’s Day, which honors the birthdays of two U.S. Presidents critical to our national political development, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Their actions are highly instructive about getting along as a community of individuals. Washington, after having successfully prosecuted the Revolutionary War, was approached by his army and told they would support him taking the crown as King George I of the United States of America. Washington said, in effect, “Have you guys been paying any attention at all?” He told them that taking autocratic power would betray the principles for which the revolution had been fought; he showed them that America’s democratic experiment is a sacred vision, requiring steadfastness.
Lincoln, presiding 70 years later, is known these days for his ability to draw differing opinions together and taking counsel from them. He showed that even sharp differences of opinion can be can be used, and indeed are useful, in democratic governance. Of course, this is a gross simplification of Lincoln’s times and actions, when some differing opinions were aggressively trumped by force. It is significant, however, as noted in Doris Goodwin’s excellent work Team of Rivals, that Lincoln achieved very difficult political goals by bringing alternative views and sometimes disputatious people together, showing them their common cause.
Thus for me, February is a month ringing with democratic ideals that we as Unitarian Universalists admire, aspire to and celebrate. The power of leaders is to be used in service of democratic ends, and civil disparities of opinion create a stronger and more effective group.
We strive to employ these principles at Starr King. Our leaders tend to serve with humility and a sense of fiduciary obligation. We choose to be governed in our relations by a Covenant that says we will address conflicts personally, directly and respectfully, seeking the assistance of church leadership when difficulties persist or relations lose their respectful quality.
But lest we be smug, we must also acknowledge the pervasive disenfranchisement of non-whites and women in the midst of our “democratic” history. It is “the elephant in the room” that challenges our idealized view of democratic institutions and leaders. Black History Month, observed in February, is a great reminder to reflect on who has been and perhaps is still disenfranchised in our midst. Let us humbly acknowledge our lingering vestiges of homophobia, racism, sexism or other -isms.
Look inward. Reach outward. Take responsibility for the health of our community. And love, love, love.