Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Freedom of the Pulpit

The UU Leaders email chat has been dealing with the relationship and meaning of "Freedom of the Pulpit" and how that extends to things like rental weddings. So I started thinking about the many issues this raises.

Freedom of the pulpit, in this minister's belief, is the freedom from advance censorship. It is extended to a minister because the minister and congregation have covenanted together; the minister to speak the truth in love and to mind the best interests of the church and the traditions of our free faith, and the congregation has agreed to hear that truth, love, and responsibility with an open mind. (Freedom of the Pulpit might not be extended to those who are not in covenant with the congregation. We don't extend it here in Albuquerque and regularly ask to review pulpit editorials and talks by guests and members in advance. We've actually never had to go back and ask people to make changes in content, but often ask them to shorten, tighten up, or otherwise do a better job with their writing. We came to this policy after some difficult experiences.)

A minister who, let's just speculate, got obsessed with polyamory and began to preach about it out of proportion to its importance to the members, who used the pulpit to scold those who disagreed, caused damage to the church's reputation in the community, and who did not speak responsibly about the pros and cons of openly accepting and welcoming this particular life style choice would probably be judged out of bounds of the covenant and could be asked to make changes in their preaching subject, manner, and priorities. If the covenant stayed broken for long, the congregation would probably dismiss the minister by it's democratic procedures.

It's not really true therefore, to say that "freedom of the pulpit means that the minister can say anything s/he wants to."


Clyde Grubbs said...


Should be sent to guideline's committee. We are thinking of rewriting the UUMA guideline's to reflect right relations rather than don't tread on senior parish ministers.

Christine Robinson said...

Humm...I guess I've never really read the Guidelines (the minsterial code of professional practice) quite that way. Do you want to say more?

LT said...

I think that it needs to be mentioned that the foundation of the freedom of the pulpit is the respect that the members of a covenanted community has for the freedom of each other. Any attempt to censor in advance the words of the minister is, at heart, an attempt by one part of the community to restrict what the other members of the community will hear from the pulpit. Freedom of the pulpit and the free opinion in the pews are not on a see-saw where one rises when the other one falls. Instead, they rise and fall together.
Indeed, attempts to censor the minister are signs of unresolved conflicts within the congregation, and anxiety over the identity or direction of the institution.