Thursday, May 1, 2014

Racism = Bigotry + Power

by the Rev. Kenn Hurto, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff Lead Executive

The infuriating news regarding the LA Clippers basketball team owner's racist remarks combined with the ranting Nevada rancher -- the one with perverted notions of freedom for poaching on public land -- who argues that slavery was a good thing is an appalling insult to human dignity. The bad news is that this is old news. The good news is it’s not being put up with.

We Unitarian Universalists are sometimes glib when we invoke our 1st Principle regarding human worth. We should not be. This teaching is at the core of our theological commitment. It's the Universalist teaching: We are all -- all humans! -- children of the Divine and therefore worthy of being treated with respect. This stands in direct opposition to the Calvinist legacy, claiming that some people are saved (worthy) and others damned (unworthy).

Sadly, Calvinism, not Universalism, is the prevailing theology of American society. Everywhere you turn you can hear people dividing the world into two classes: those like me, who are good, and everyone else. I once knew a man who believed, "There are two ways to do things: my way or the wrong way." It is hard to know how to be in the same room with such folk. It is even harder to live in a society where the habit is to play "I'm OK, You're Not!" games at every turn.

Most people have negative attitudes toward differences. Prejudice seems to come instinctively. Could it be, we are still very tribal creatures, easily frightened, thus threatened by difference? Although we are all pretty much the same, we make big deals of minor differences. For the most part, we still get along. It becomes a problem, though, when one group has or tries to have power over another and justifies that power in terms of differences. That is when bigotry turns to racism. It is said that slavery and its legacy is the great sin of American culture. These two news stories, as I say, are old news.

Most Unitarian Universalists are not glib; we do more than affirm, we seek to promote the worth and dignity of all. Many of our congregations are committed to being and becoming intentionally anti-racist and anti-oppressive. That's why our Standing on the Side of Love efforts are so appealing. Candidly though, we struggle to know just how to do that well. We have much to learn along the journey to spiritual, inter-personal and institutional wholeness.

One thing we have learned is that effective counters to racism require positive action. Writing off bigots as lost doesn't help (and contradicts our theology). Hence, more Unitarian Universalists have embarked on a deep exploration toward becoming multi-cultural. We need to learn how to deal positively with differences of attitude and values, of styles and manner to become interculturally competent. What is multi-culturalism?

"Multiculturalism means that we create religious homes where encounters between people of different cultural identities intersect with Unitarian Universalism to create a fully inclusive community where...all people are welcomed as blessings and the human family lives whole and reconciled.” This definition comes from our UUA.

Embracing a multi-cultural ministry is the long-term corrective to racism: Together we can learn how to love the mosaic of diversity and to appreciate each other's life experiences and the unique gifts we each bring to the table. This is what we are called to do, to build the common good all the days of our lives. When we begin with self-awareness and self-examination, we nurture the beloved community. As we build the beloved community, we show our people how to engage difference free of prejudice. If we can be a highly functioning non-creedal faith community -- that humbly admits no one of us has all the truth and therefore we need to listen and learn from one another -- if we can do that, then we can also actively choose to learn from our various cultural identities and ways of being in the world. From there, we can then learn how to bear effective witness to our core values in our everyday actions in society at large.

Our UUA has wonderful resources to help. See: The field staff are also ready to show the way. Please contact us directly if you are ready for this ministry.

May universal love prevail, every day in every way.

Blessings, Kenn