Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, Multiculturalism
As a minister I am accountable to my conscience, my religious convictions, my congregation, and my community. It is important that I, despite my imperfection, do what I can, and support others to do the same. I deeply love our tradition, and the theological convictions that we are all of value and all connected. I choose to live them out through my ability to embrace, my ability to witness and most importantly, my ability to listen.
Our heritage from Unitarianism and Universalism has given birth to our commitment to educational and personal growth, and greater justice. In this post- modern age we are also moving into a better understanding of how we are all interdependent.
First, our belief that every person is a child of God, loved by God, and love-able, as expressed in the Universalist statement of faith: "...God as eternal and all-conquering love... the supreme worth of every human personality..." and by Channing, in his "Likeness to God" sermon and Emerson, for instance, in this quote: "God enters in through a private door into every person" and both of them in their work for abolition. This sentiment is enshrined in our first principle of our association’s covenant. The seventh principle lifts up the second major theological theme: the connectedness of all. I believe Martin Luther King found inspiration from first Corinthians, 12:26 “if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the part are glad” when he penned "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." in his letter from Birmingham jail. This is a part of our Christian heritage and of the gift from our Process and Liberation theologians, and the scientists among us (those who are able to continue to be open to the findings of quantum physics) who, in philosophy, andin science, showed us that we are interconnected in far more than a spiritual or psychological way.
Those two values are the alpha and omega of our association's principles: "Inherent worth and dignity of every being" and "Interconnected web of all existence." These two values require that we recognize the ways in which (as Rev. Rebecca Parker puts it) we are "in the midst of the flood" of oppression and harm. These understandings of God and human require us to stand with those who are most harmed, and speak with our own prophetic voices. I witness, and speak out for myself and for others. I support those who witness and speak out.
When ministering to people in their identity of privilege, I think of the Unitarian Minister, Theodore Parker. Chattel slavery was a violation of his religious convictions, but he did not break past the myth that the descendents of Africans were different and inferior to the descendents of northern Europeans. Many of our members and friends seem to echo Theodore Parker: Their conviction is that discrimination and prejudice are wrong, but their experience is that African Americans are different, and inferior, to Euro-Americans. Why is it that many white people experience black (and brown) people as inferior? I have observed two factors: One is that people of color often are systemically denied opportunities for good nutrition, education, and professional opportunity. While white people’s perceptions are reinforced by personal experience and messaging from the media. Another is that the culture of European Americans is dominant and normative, which makes those of us who live and breathe it unable to see it, much less recognize the value of other cultural norms.
In my experience there were individual exceptions to these two “rules” but the exceptions proved the rule. Not until I was able to be among people of color: many, diverse, people of color, could I grasp that my media-mediated
perceptions and ethnocentricity were incomplete, and damaging. As a minister my work is to lift up my own experience, share my analysis of the oppressive system, and to help others see through their cultural bias, without blaming or shaming. Even when minds and hearts have not changed I need to push for standards of behavior that support the worth and dignity of all.
In order to truly embrace, we must listen to one another. The sense of creating heaven on earth flows through our Unitarian and Universalist history: the idea of building the "city on the hill" that our Puritan forebears came to this country to do. We have inherited a conviction that paradise is both achievable, and that it is our responsibility to bring it into being. This requires that we turn our hands and hearts to fighting injustice. We must end violence, and celebrate the diverse complexity that is life's yearning toward life. Pagan theologies, and Feminist theology are also rivers feeding Unitarian Universalist theologies. We are all a part of a community. Our role is to see, hear, and celebrate one another.
To celebrate diversity is to recognize that we all experience the damage of oppression and that we all are oppressors in some way. We must reach out to others to provide comfort, but must not become too comfortable. We must welcome that which has the power to bind up our own wounds and gives us the strength to go on. We must welcome that which is hard for us to hear and be willing to speak up about what we see.
We must also listen. It is my quest to honor the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and to recognize our interconnectedness. To do this, we must listen to each other’s stories and we must welcome these stories in the ways that they are offered. It is important to accept that myth and story and singing and embodied expressions of religiosity are not signs of "undeveloped" stages of
faith. It is patronizing to assume that African Americans (or Native Americans and Hispanic and Latino people, Asians, or the economically oppressed) can't relate to the idea and benefits of intellectual freedom and individual development. It is equally limiting and disrespectful to assume that privileged persons cannot benefit from a personal relationship with deity, a kinesthetic expression of spirit, or accountability to a religious community. All these modalities are a part of any faith that welcomes people of diverse gifts and needs.
I am committed to making room for embodied expression, and differing modes of art and music, language and experiences; modes that are consonant with the people who are in and could be in the congregation’s community.
An example of listening, and witnessing in order to embrace in anti- oppression work is an ‘Ethic for Religious Sharing’ which I have developed for myself.
Between people/cultures of equivalent power all that is required is a basic understanding of the other culture, commitment to honoring the context and intention of the thing or activity, and mutually respectful communication.
However, sharing is almost never between equals. For instance... Unitarian Universalists as a group are educated, North American, white. We are historically conquerors, colonizers, oppressors. We are beneficiaries of racist systems. This requires additional ethical obligations when considering enjoying the spiritual gifts of others. As a minister, I ask my self, and those I serve, to: know ourselves, understand what is being borrowed, and where it came from, know and move into right relationship with the people of the culture that is being borrowed from. We must give credit, and acknowledge our mistakes with apologies and renewed commitment.
We must witness and embrace, but most importantly, we must listen.