On the Silence of the Pulpit

We have reached that part of the service where I get to ask to give money. But before I invite you to reach deeply into your pockets to give as generously as you can to the Living Tradition Fund I would like to ask you a question. How many of you have heard of the Powell Memo?

Well, it is probably good that none of you are going to take the final exam I will be giving later this month. Don’t worry. I hadn’t heard of the memo either until a few months ago. It is actually a fairly obscure document. But that does not lessen its importance. You see, the Powell Memo was a letter that future US Supreme Justice Louis Powell, Jr. penned to his friend Eugene Syndor in 1971. Syndor was one of the leaders of the United States Chamber of Commerce. In his text Powell laid out a political agenda for conservatives. Like many others of his social class he was concerned with the rise of the New Left. He wanted to make sure that the American capitalism remained as unrestrained as possible.

Now, I am not going to walk you through all of the points in Powell’s memo. Thankfully this is not a history class. But I do want to share with you Powell’s major argument. Powell told Syndor that if the Right wanted to firmly wrest control of the United States from liberals and leftists there was one important thing that needed to be done. Businessmen like Syndor could fund independent political organizations to influence public policy, provide a permanent non-party base for mobilization, and seize control of the nation’s educational system. Historians will tell you that the rise of the complex of right-wing think tanks and lobbying organizations that have profoundly influenced American society partially dates from the Powell memo.

We Unitarian Universalists have aspirations to influence the moral direction of this country. Many of us want to see racial justice, a strong environmental movement, and true gender equity. If we really want any of these things I suggest that we need to take a page from the Powell memo and invest in the creation of strong institutions that promote our values. Giving to the Living Tradition Fund is one way you can support such an institution. That institution is the clergy. Unitarian Universalist clergy have been an important prophetic voice in this country for generations. For many, the Living Tradition Fund provides needed financial security. It helps us pay for seminary, retire student debt, and, when necessary, aid in emergencies. All of these things make ministry possibly. An offering will now to taken for the Living Tradition Fund. I know that you will give generously.

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