Everyone has preferences: I generally prefer Coke products, but if you’re a Pepsi person, it’s probably not something we’re going to come to blows over. I don’t like potato salad, but I don’t think any less of you if you do (unless you try to force me to eat it!).

Such preferences aren’t necessarily deeply held values; it’s possible my tastes may change one day and I may grow to like potato salad. The trouble comes when we confuse preferences with values.

There’s a line I’ve always liked from a song by country music singer Aaron Tippin: “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” I’ve come back to it many times in my life because, to me, it begs the question: what are my deepest held values? What are the things I’m willing to take a stand on, a hill I’m willing to die on to use an old cliché?

A person’s values will always say a lot about them: what are the things they are unwilling to compromise on?

I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, in justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, and that we’re all interdependent. These are values my faith reminds me of daily, and which I try to live my life by. I don’t always succeed, but I certainly try, and I get back up and try again when I fail.

Problems arise when we confuse our preferences over our values, and that’s where I seen so much of the conflict during this Covid-19 pandemic rooted. I will be the first to say that I would prefer things to get back to where they were in January. I wish I hadn’t had to cancel multiple retreats and vacations. I want to be able to get out of town on weekends and run around town without a mask. I would love to see family and friends back in Indiana this summer.

And I would love it if my congregation could be together again, the way we were.

The fact is, though, that I recognize all these activities have the potential to impact lives as long as a vaccine and widespread testing for the coronavirus are unavailable. I have family, friends, colleagues and parishioners who will likely die if they contract the virus. And my belief in the sanctity of human life calls me to protect human life over my preferences of how I would like things to be right now. 

It is why I’m committed to continued social distancing for as long as it takes. 

Rev. Susan Frederick-Grey, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, recently called on Unitarian Universalist congregations around the country to consider the possibility we may have to meet virtually for at least another year to slow the spread of Covid-19. No one likes the sound of this, and I would really love for her to be wrong, but I suspect she’s not. I’m so proud of my fellowship here in Auburn embracing this challenge head-on as we meet and worship virtually via Zoom every week. It’s times like this that really make explicit the internal values we hold, and I’m proud to be a part of such a loving, caring community.

And, as I told my Board of Trustees this week, I intend to be social distancing as long as it takes because it is what it means to live into my values, to stand for something in the midst of so much compromise.

Rev. Chris Rothbauer (they/them/their) is minister of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. A native of Southern Indiana, they live in Auburn with their partner, a senior rescue beagle, and a spoiled rotten cat. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

(2) comments


Nicely stated, Reverend Rothbauer. Protecting and caring for others remains of great importance.


Values vs preferences- good food for thought. Thanks, Chris!

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