On Sinkford and Ahmadinejad

When I saw the news at UUA.org that Unitarian Universalist Association president Bill Sinkford had met, in a delegation, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I groaned. I did not, however, write about it because

  1. Jonathan and I were up to our eyeballs in boxes, and
  2. I try not to get worked up about lame-duck presidents.

But it’s clear there’s a lot of warm and righteous anger about this meeting. And I share it.

The one thing I haven’t seen is a comparison of this meeting with the dust-up at the first presidential debate of whether the United States president should or should not meet with leadership like Ahmadinejad “without preconditions.”

For the record, I think that American diplomats and presidents should be able to meet with anyone without preconditions. You don’t conduct hard and vital diplomacy only with your best friends, and I’m not willing to tie anyone’s hands if there can be a peaceful and successful diplomatic solution that prevents an economic or military action. And Senator McCain would have my backing thus should he end up president.

But I can imagine the fear behind the “meetings without preconditions” rhetoric. Wouldn’t we just be Iran or North Korea or whomever’s patsy? Wouldn’t the full faith and credit of the American people and republic be flushed down the crapper to satisfy some impossible tyrant?

Well, no, but that level of trust doesn’t devolve to private citizens. There’s a difference between a diplomat and a dilettante.

For Sinkford, there came the opportunity to something relevant, that most intoxicating of mod-churchly ideals.

For Ahmadinejad, he gets Americans who seem to support him. Sinkford’s unflattering (and unnecessary) comparison of Ahmadinejad with President Bush — for whom I hold no love or esteem — only reinforced the point. Propaganda gold that’s as useful as the delegation’s message is forgetful.

For Unitarian Universalists? Well, I can imagine the finger-shaking we’ll get from Bahais and — as others have mentioned — Jews in days to come.

In a word, while diplomats play hardball, Sinkford — and by extension, us — just got played.

4 Replies to “On Sinkford and Ahmadinejad”

  1. A leader of a Church in a different situation than leader of a state. (Nieburhr’s moral man and immoral society if you want…..). Sinkford was in a position of being the moral man and meeting with the Devil, debating the Devil, may be part of the job.

    And the cheap shot against Bush was sad.

    But Sinkford’s Moral Failure, for which he should resign as Prez, was failing to speak the names of fellow religous and political leaders held in Ahmadinejad’s prisons.

    That’s an unforgiveable thing for him to have done. Sinkford could have helped Liberal’s in Iran and failed miserably. He made their fate worse.

    We need to know how the candidates for Sinkford’s job stand on this one too. We can’t have another UUA Prez like him especiallly when UUA is asking for a blank check to speak on behalf of all UU’s on War and Peace with a peacemaking statement that is almost certain to be open to a 100 and 1 intrepretations (if it’s anything like the draft my Church’s SJ committee has written).

  2. I like and admire Bill Sinkford, and have felt on balance he has served well as our Association’s president.

    And this was a bad decision, unfortunate for many reasons.

    For all practical purposes, sadly, it becomes a coda to his tenure.


  3. I found the press releases around this meeting to be unsettling. To my eyes it felt like a Sinkford photo-op, and it also looked to me like his pressence was being exploited by the Iranian leader. And in this context, their seems to be an insensitivity to the problematic state of Iran’s native Bahais (who are even banned from attending high school and college).

    I believe that engagement with Iran is the right thing to do, but that this particular mode of engagement was not effective. I think a more effective model has been the grass-roots effort by groups of Quakers and Mennonites who spend 3 months to a year studying Islam in the holy city of Qom, and who as part of this exchange-student experience organize inter-faith dialogs with Islamic scholars and their students. These efforts lack the glamor of a UN meeting with a foreign head of state, but they engage groups of fairly mundane but religiously engaged citizens, across cultures.

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