Deconstructing “standing on the side of love”

An anonymous correspondent wrote recently about the General Assembly experience, noting in part: “…all the Standing on the Side of Love stuff about did me in….”

I realized that felt the same way about the “Standing on the Side of Love” catchphrase and logo as did Anonymous Correspondent. Because I feel that way, and because I am a postmodern guy, let’s deconstruct both the catch-phrase and the logo:

  • Linguistic deconstruction: Love doesn’t have sides, certainly not sides that you can stand on. This is sloppy language, which implies either sloppy thinking or doublespeak (see below).
  • Theological deconstruction: The catchphrase implies that love is on one side (our side), and hate or evil is on the other side. Instead of an “I-Thou” relationship, the catchphrase promotes an exclusivist theological position. (This is actually consistent with most Unitarian Universalist theological praxis, if not with professed Universalist theology).
  • Political deconstruction: Politically speaking, the catchphrase is applied to subjects as different as same-sex marriage and immigration reform. Thus, the catchphrase becomes a form of political doublespeak: “It means what we want it to mean.”
  • Pop culture deconstruction 1: The catchphrase is a blatant attempt to use late twentieth century modernist marketing techniques. The catchphrase, through its inanity and puerility, aims to reach a broad market segment; in its meaninglessness, it attempts to be all things to all people.
  • Pop culture deconstruction 2: The graphics for the campaign, roughly-drawn hearts, attempts to look cute (sort of like Hello Kitty for the liberal religious set). But because the graphic image is repeated over and over without variation (except in size), it comes across as a modernist attempt to force an unvarying narrative on us, with no chance of customizing it for specific and tiny segments of the population.

Feel free to add your own deconstructions of the “Standing on the Side of Love” catchphrase and logo. You will receive extra points for use of irony, multisyllabic-words, and “quotation marks”. Feel equally free to defend “Standing on the Side of Love.” But since this is a postmodern blog, you will be expected to express your feelings, and shy away from reason (just like the “Standing on the Side of Love” catchphrase does… hey, wait a minute….)

22 thoughts on “Deconstructing “standing on the side of love”

  1. Jim

    Your assessment really seems more of a critique than a deconstruction (Where have all the deconstructionists gone, long time passin’?), but that’s the way things go.

    The best I can do is offer my own deconstruction of your deconstruction. (I’ll include lots of quotation marks, so maybe I’ll earn bonus points anyway; but I will not use many “multi-syllabic words” because to do so would be just so 20th-century.)

    “Love doesn’t have sides.” The catchphrase doesn’t imply that love has sides; rather, it implies that there are issues that can be met with love (as one choice among many).

    “The catchphrase implies that love is on one side (our side) . . .” The phrase certainly implies that there are sides, but it’s not at all clear that hate or evil are the only other possible sides. Indifference is clearly one such possibility. Scorn is another. How about “Standing on the Side of Snark” as an alternative?

    “. . . the catchphrase is applied to subjects as different as same-sex marriage and immigration reform. Thus, the catchphrase becomes a form of political doublespeak . . .” A phrase that can be applied to different subjects is pretty much by definition a “catchphrase.” It would be “doublespeak” if it said nothing (or contradictory things) rather than saying many things.

    While it is true that “The catchphrase is a blatant attempt to use late twentieth century modernist marketing techniques,” it does not in any way follow that it is inane, puerile or meaningless.

    “The graphics for the campaign, roughly-drawn hearts, attempts [sic] to look cute (sort of like Hello Kitty for the liberal religious set).” Au contraire, mon ami, the graphic looks very much like East Asian calligraphy. While Hello Kitty is the weirdly mushy and overdrawn expression of post-modern Asian ideals, the hearts seem to point toward the simplicity of Zen Buddhist poetry.

    OK, so my deconstruction is not so much a deconstruction as it is a rebuttal– so it goes, mon ami.

  2. Bill Baar

    My first thought was who’s on the other side? Sarah Palin, George Bush, Rush L, WalMart (but maybe WalMart’s on our side of love now)?

  3. Dan

    Jim @ 1 — It’s deconstruction insofar as the intent is to uncover hidden tendencies in the underlying meaning which subvert the surface meaning. I’m also challenging the modernist urges inherent in the catchphrase that work towards creating a single narrative that ties everything together, and which represent a kind of domination. 20th C. marketing techniques represent this kind of domination. (And yes, there’s lots of irony in the fact that I’m approaching this from a Marxist perspective, since part of what I’m going after is the UUA’s use of capitalism — and yet Marxism is one of the paradigmatic forms of modernist meta-narrative.)

    Bill @ 2 — My feelings exactly. Except I hadn’t thought of WalMart, but now that you’ve mentioned it….

  4. Victor Beaumont

    I like SSL. It’s no less worthy than “God is Love” or “Deeds Not Creeds” or any other number of other UU catchphrases that have all been popular at one time or another. So, get with the program, and cut out the b.s.

  5. Jaume

    We may discuss if the marketing strategy is up-to-date or fashionable, but the basics of the SotSoL campaign are good: you avoid controversial concepts (gay marriage) by using words that everybody likes (love). You also state your conviction in a positive tone, rather than using negative connotations, just as those who oppose abortion call their approach “pro-life”. About appropriation of the word “love”, well, it happens all the time as with other catchwords such as “freedom” or “justice”. You just underline that you are supporting positive values, no matter how inconsistent your position can be (others will take care of that, you don’t). Finally, the self-identity of a group is as much defined by how the group defines itself as in opposition to other groups/stances. For many years American UUism has defined itself in opposition to Evangelical Christianity (or just any Christianity that is not extremely liberal), and this is just another example of that “old and venerable tradition” in self-definition.

  6. Dan

    Victor Beaumont @ 5 — Well, your comment didn’t convince me that I should “get with the program.” Anyway, thanks for sharing your feelings.

    Jaume @ 6 — You write, in part: “…the basics of the SotSoL campaign are good: you avoid controversial concepts (gay marriage) by using words that everybody likes (love).”

    Your comment is quite helpful to me, because you bring out what makes me feel uncomfortable about the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.

    I don’t want to avoid controversy, I want to have substantive conversations on controversial topics. For example, if I believe same sex couples should have the legal right to marry, then I’m going to say exactly that. And by doing just that, I have engaged with opponents of same sex marriage and had some substantive conversations. These conversations have forced me to think more deeply about my attitudes towards marriage, and I am coming to realize that as a minister I’m not sure I should be an agent of the state in terms of officiating at a marriage ceremony that causes to individuals to engage in a legal contract — i.e., I am coming to believe that legal marriage should be separated from religious marriage, and that a justice of the peace or similar official duly authorized by the government should be charged with establishing legal contracts, leaving me as a clergy person to officiate at the establishment of a human relationship within the context of religious commitment. In short, by not hiding behind a catchphrase, I have been transformed myself, and maybe even gotten a little more religiously mature.

    I also want to distinguish between the various issues that have been folded into the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. Take, for example, same sex marriage and immigrants’ rights: I don’t think we are well served by trying to connect these two very different issues in one political campaign. Certainly, I do not feel well-served when the UUA tries to connect theses two issues — the religious issues relating to immigrants’ rights seem to me to be both more complex, and significantly different from the issue of same sex marriage. Reducing them to the same easy slogan makes it harder for me to really dig into the separate issues in a morally responsible way.

    Additionally, the Standing of the Side of Love campaign cannot easily incorporate the two moral issues which I feel are of utmost importance today, to wit, looming environmental disaster (at a global level) and fighting the continuing legacy of racism (at the national level). Both of these are complex issues requiring a high degree of systems thinking. The reductionistic approach of Standing on the Side of Love will not help me work through the complexity of these moral problems.

    You also write: “Finally, the self-identity of a group is as much defined by how the group defines itself as in opposition to other groups/stances.”

    You make a very valid point here, but I don’t think it’s a point that really applies to the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. The way for a religious group to define itself is through theological reflection, and that is the way we have defined ourselves in opposition to conservative Christianity.

  7. Jean

    “Standing on the Side of Love”? Oh my. Now I know why I’m not a UU — or any other demonination for that matter — anymore. It kind of makes “Love” sound like, oh, a highway. Oh, but wait!!! Then, there could be a really cool country song:

    I was standin’ on the side of Love
    fixin’ to hitch a ride out of town

    I had my dog Blue and one old glove
    my heart on my sleeve, and I was down

    A semi stopped and picked us up
    we headed down that road of Love

    Standin on the Side of Love
    Me and my dog, big Ol Blue
    we had our hopes and nothin more
    waitin on the Side of Love
    wooooo woooooo oooooooooooooooooooooo
    (cue banjo, slide guitar, piano)


    There’s the ticket, UUs: Country music for UU! You’d sweep the vast flyover zone and have huge congregations. I bet Jewel could be conscripted to write the lyrics, if not the tunes, and she has big credentials out here: she has a REAL cowboy boyfriend. There you go.

  8. Jaume

    Dan, actually I agree with you that religious ministers should not become officers of the states. What about some church-state separation in marriage matters? Let the States make their laws about marriage and let religions do their blessings for couples within their own communities, but not mix them.

    OTOH you say that the campaign has a reductionistic approach. Well, I cannot think of any slogan or marketing strategy that is deep, profound and meaningful. They are all reductionistic and try to make the maximum emotional impact with fewer words and images. A UU communication problem was that it tried to do theology in their publicity efforts for too long. I think it is ok to leave theology where it belongs (the pulpit, the book, the deepening class) and take marketing for what it is (I could put it in nicer words, but bluntly speaking, it is banal, manipulative, and as effective as possible in a highly competitive market). Since we are dealing with marketing and not with theology, I generally agree with the campaign (if it became a matter for small study, as it is perhaps already happening, then I would strongly oppose it).

  9. Dan

    Jaume @ 9/10 — You write: “I cannot think of any slogan or marketing strategy that is deep, profound and meaningful.”

    Yesterday, I had lunch with the only Unitarian Universalist I know who has actually done research on church growth (she surveyed existing social science research). She said marketing campaigns don’t work particularly well. In fact, she said that only thing that really works is being nice to newcomers. So if Standing on the Side of Love is a marketing campaign designed to attract newcomers, it is unlikely to work. Thus, the real UU communication problem (according to her) is that we, as individual UUs, aren’t nice to newcomers when we come face-to-face with them.

    Yes, I am very critical of marketing. If we, as individual UUs, place all this responsibility on the UUA, that means we don’t have to take responsibility ourselves for welcoming the individuals who visit our churches. Yet another reason to deconstruct Standing on the Side of Love: to bring us face-to-face with our responsibility to do good face-to-face communication as individuals.

  10. carol

    I think you’re voted down, Dan, and Michelle hasn’t even posted. Perhaps you can be Standing On the Side of Acquiescence.

  11. Victor Beaumont

    To Dan @11. I don’t think SSL is a marketing campaign designed to attract newcomers. It’s designed to get the people who are already in the pews engaged in taking a stand on various social justice issues, and actually doing something about it. That’s my understanding of what the “campaign” is all about. It’s a campaign to get complacent UUs who think good thoughts, but can’t quite work up the energy to get involved in taking a stand on issues which seek to dehumanize individuals.

    Also, marketing has its place in religion. I agree that we shouldn’t rely solely on marketing as a growth strategy, but that was never the goal of the UUA’s marketing campaigns. I think growth has more to do with the demographics of the area in which a church is located than anything else, including being “nice” to newcomers. In fact, I can’t stand “nice.” It’s not what I was looking for when I came to a UU church. All churches pride themselves on being nice to newcomers. Yuuuch.

    Finally, as a gay man who just recently married his partner after 25 years of being together, I’m not particularly concerned that the SSL campaign is not exclusively focused on gay marriage, although that topic is obviously important to me. If we can get people energized to do something about immigration reform, then maybe those same folks might be willing to get involved in the gay marriage debacle.

  12. Dan

    carol @ 12 — I still say the campaign needs to be deconstructed. There are some underlying messages there that are at odds with the surface messages. Being aware of those underlying messages means that those who wish to can use the campaign more effectively.

    Victor Beaumont @ 13 — When I talk about being nice to newcomers, I mean things like actually being polite and acknowledging their presence at a level that keeps them comfortable. I hear that you don’t like “nice,” but this isn’t about personal preferences, it’s about using techniques that actually work — the extensive and well-researched literature on church growth shows that being nice actually works.

    And congratulations on your marriage! Which of the six states did you get married in?

  13. Victor Beaumont

    Dan @14. California – before Prop 8 (in San Diego’s County Courthouse), then again here in St. Petersburg, Florida, in my UU church.

    Dan, I think many people who visit our churches are seeking to fill some emptiness in their lives – they want to feel whole again. Being nice and polite is okay (and who isn’t?), but unless you get to a deeper level, these folks won’t stay around, and our churches will not grow. So the problem with growth is that we attract people on an intellectual level, but don’t reach them on an emotional level. As a faith, we’re not very good at this.

  14. Jeff Wasson

    A simple question…if we’re not standing on the side of love where are we standing?
    If we’re not on the side of love are we on the side of fear?
    I fail to see the detriment of considering how we approach issues personally, for a congregation can only be as committed as its members.
    We can discuss at length what the “Loving side” is on different issues, but let us at least put love at the top.

  15. Jennifer

    Thanks for the post and for the conversation. The campaign seemed to cheapen the Knoxville shooting and depth of that community’s response.

    I still like the hymn, though. That seemed ok when it came out. If it came out as part of the SSL “sizzle” campaign (leave it to the uu’s to further reduce catchphrases into deeper code) I wouldn’t care for it.

    I’ve been formulating thoughts on how to tell the story of the shooting. This thread has been very helpful.

    Thanks again.

  16. Carol Agate

    It’s interesting that no one has commented on the use of the word “Standing.” At a GA meeting of Equual Access those who were unable to stand felt excluded by the slogan.

  17. Karen Solon

    Years ago, I took part in a Children’s Defense Fund program called “Stand for Children.” The word “stand” had nothing to do with standing on two feet, but simply implored us to advocate for children. I would hope that anyone unable to “stand,” physically, would appreciate that another meaning of the word, as in, “to take a stand.” Symbols “stand” for something, and most symbols don’t have two feet. We can all “stand for something” (and can’t stand other things), regardless of our physical ability. My mother-in-law did so at age 91 from her hospital bed, 3 days before she died; told that “pro-life” protesters were picketing the hospital, she snarled, “Who do they think they are, telling me what I can do!”

    Taking a stand on a controversial issue is a choice. The SSL campain asks ME to look at what motivates ME to be an advocate. And it asks me to examine the basis for the opposition, and/or the outcome should they opposition prevail. It ask me to decide WHICH side seems to me to be more “loving.”

    And when I think “love,”, I hear Martin Luther King’s voice, or the biblical injunction to “love” my neighbor as myself.

    The SSL slogan “rang a bell” for me the first time I heard it, and still “rings true” today. It is not about “theology” for me, nor marketing, nor being cute. It defines my own evolution, and explains why I was so pissed this week when my gay neighbor had to even THINK about having “legal papers” on hand when his partner of 34 1/2 years was taken to the ER, and admitted to the ICU, in the midst of having a stroke. We have been close neighbors and friends for well over 10 years. I will attend the Equality March and Rally on Oct 11, with those carrying the UU SSL banner, because I care about my friends. I love them. And I’ve taken a stand, and continue to “stand” on “my side” of the the gay marriage debate because another couple I care about will most likely leave my state to move to a jurisdiction that will recognize a legal relationship between the two women, and between the non-biological parent and her beloved children. I recognize the “love” shared by these couples and their families. And when asked to choose between that “love” and “tradition” or “religion” or any other reason offered up by the opposition — I choose love. I Stand on the Side of Love.

    And it makes me both proud and humbled to be with others who have thought deeply about their values, about the issues, and have decided to take the same stand, out of love — whether from a wheelchair or on their feet.

    Pete Seeger’s old song asks, “which side ore you on?” And Elie Wiesel says that “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Furthermore, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

    So, standing on the side of love, to me, means simply that I must taking a stand, and KEEP taking it (ie, “standing”) and that love does not allow me to be silent about the stand I take. Someone sitting in a wheelchair at the Rally in DC on Sunday will be taking a stand, and will be “standing” as long as he or she sits there with the rest of those willing to bear witness.

  18. Benjamin Hall

    This is all fascinating. I appreciate people’s thoughts, feelings, and words.
    I share some of Dan’s skepticism about the whole campaign–its vagueness and somewhat sloppy “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” reasoning. However, I really appreciate Karen Solon’s points and passion (and others who’ve shared similar reasoning and passion). Maybe the campaign isn’t, and cannot be, complex and nuanced. Maybe it must be catchy and short. (Imagine a slogan, “We stand, and will keep on standing for, that which creates, sustains, and nourishes relationships of mutual respect and love. Moreover, we commit ourselves to working to change structures of oppression which dehumanize and persecute people, including laws about marriage and laws about immigration policy and enforcement. Finally, we commit to thoughtful, respectful, and heart-felt dialogue, both among ourselves and with those with whom we disagree, in an effort to pursue–and, ultimately, create–justice.” While it energizes me to compose that, it wouldn’t fit in email subject lines, let alone on the side of a bus (in letters large enough to read unless you were riding a bike next to it).
    Anyway, thanks to everyone for your engagement (theoretical and bodily), and for stimulating mine.

  19. Dan

    Ben @ 21 — Hey, good to hear from you! I like your long slogan for its accuracy — and yeah, one problem with accurate slogans is they don’t fit on the sides of buses.

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