Why do we call ourselves the "Conservative" Covenant Group?
from an email exchange from June 2012
posted June 2014 by Peter Taylor
As I've said before, "Probably the most difficult aspect of founding this group was coming up with a name. We settled on 'conservative' as the shortest and least misleading of many alternatives. In this context, the word 'conservative' is a catch-all term for an array of similar yet distinguishable social and political perspectives, including libertarian, communitarian, Democrat, independent, neoconservative, theoconservative, Republican, and possibly others."
But nobody really seems to like the name. The libertarians in our group generally don't consider themselves conservatives, and what passes as 'conservative' in UU circles is not necessarily what the average person thinks of as 'conservative'. So there are good reasons for wanting a new name. But there are also bad reasons for changing our name. A few years ago we had a lengthy discussion over email about this.
One of our members wrote,
Here are some reactions I've gotten at BAUUC when presenting myself as Conservative: (Names have been changed to protect feelings and friendships.)
"Emmett" told me he thought of me as "too nice of a nice person to support Ron Paul."
"Susie" said that UUs tend to be smarter, that is why UUs tend to be political liberals.
"Billie" said that President Obama's stated intentions were radically different than Pres. GW Bush, that is why, though his actions and results are so similar to G.W.Bush's, he is a better, and much different kind of president.
"Chip" rolled his eyes and quit talking to me when I said I'm a conservative.
"Nan" asked if my family is racist, when I told her I come from a conservative family. When I told her no, she said that maybe I just didn't realize it.
This was followed a few days later with,
To explain the situation in which I had to defend the fact I am a part of a group named "Conservative": it had nothing to do with Ron Paul. As a matter of fact, this friend of mine has told me he's not 100% against Paul (lol).
What he said was, "What?!? You're not Racist?!?"
Here was my response:
> "Emmett" told me he thought of me as "too nice of a nice person to support Ron Paul."
>"When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it." — Paul Graham
The reason the Conservative Covenant Group (CCG) exists is because UU is full of people who are bad at open-mindedness but don't know it. I'll refer to these people as "The Tolerance Police." "Emmett" is one of them. Q&A numbers 1, 4, and 5 in our FAQ talk about how to deal with these people.
The CCG exists partly to serve ourselves, as a shelter against emotional abuse, but also partly in order to force the Tolerance Police to follow their own rules. This latter function is inherently somewhat confrontational.
The first problem I see in discussing a name change is the conflict between doing our job (reminding the Tolerance Police to actually be tolerant themselves) and wanting to be liked. Do you want to be respected for being able and willing to defend your beliefs, and being open-minded enough to accept other people whose beliefs may be even less popular at UU churches than yours? Or do you want to be liked, and believe that there is some sort of semantic "girdle" that you could wriggle into, such that a person who despises Ron Paul will react favorably towards you, despite knowing that you are a Ron Paul supporter?
I believe that no such girdle exists.
The poem, Desiderata, advises us, "As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons." You are right in thinking that my T-shirt proposal is unnecessarily provocative*. But I regard your attempts to wriggle into "Emmett's" girdle as being a form of surrender.
I also believe that it is an exercise in futility. I believe that "Emmett's" self-image depends on being able to create an illusion of consensus among "good people" around certain beliefs, and that your presence as a Ron Paul supporter destroys that illusion of consensus. If I'm right, the only way that "Emmett" is ever likely to be more than icily polite to you is if he undergoes a very painful collapse of his self-image. There is no clever way to finesse this. Evasion doesn't help because, while "Emmett" may be a little crazy, he's not stupid.
I can think of good reasons for not liking the name, "Conservative," but in my opinion, wanting to get along better with the Tolerance Police is a bad reason. We are much better off being direct with them and insisting that they live up to their own standards.
The other consideration I want to bring up is that the name we choose for ourselves, and the way we respond to bullying by the Tolerance Police, has the potential to set the bounds of permissible political expression within the church for many years to come. I interpret "Conservative" as a catch-all term for anyone that the Tolerance Police look down their noses at. I interpret "Classical Liberals" as meaning something far more specific. Ironically, that makes it more exclusionary. Is there someone, or some issue, we want to throw under the bus in order to appease the Tolerance Police? Someone we would like to exclude from our group because we don't like his political views, who would qualify as a "conservative" but not as a "classical liberal?" I may be the last person in the church that "Emmett" would like to see show up at an open mike poetry reading. The person I'm holding the door open for may be me. I'd rather keep it vague.
* The T-shirt proposal was, "Conservative? Fine by me.", a parody of a popular UU T-shirt, "Gay? Fine by me."