Monday, October 5, 2015

Universalist Pragmatism & Courage

by Rev. Kenn Hurto, UUA Southern Region Lead

No doubt you have heard that many Unitarian Universalist congregations have posted signs on their property — Black Lives Matter — only to have them defaced or torn down, sometimes within hours, and often more than once.

What’s that all about? It is a sad sign of the fear and hatred abounding in our society. That the phrase “black lives matter” is controversial is a sign of white privilege. Yes, I hear the anxiety in the retort, “All lives matter.” And, indeed they do. But, why is it problematic to say “black lives  matter?” Are people of color not in the “all?” That’s just the point: black lives matter, too! Not more, but as well as all others!

 Black Lives Matter arose in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin murder and a sense that a great injustice had been done — again! For background, see A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by movement co-founder Alicia Garza.

The need for a banner comes in part from the undeniable observation that all too often black lives don’t matter in our racially severed society. Indeed, to quote Alicia Garza, where black lives “are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”

The late Unitarian Universalist theologian, Dr. Ted Jones once quipped: “Black people get the most of the worst and the least of the best.” Slavery is the original sin of America. It’s legacy is everywhere and shows up in a pandora’s box of racist evils: From crime to housing access, from lack of educational opportunity to unjust policing, from health care to no decent neighborhood grocery stores, from employment barriers to every day slights, everything is harder if you are black. Black Lives Matter is one way of saying, enough and no more.

Unitarian Universalism has its roots in the spiritual struggles of white, European, Protestant descendants. Our faith has been defined mostly as an effort to come up with right belief, correcting the irrational tenets of religious orthodoxy. We have good reason to be proud of our critique of ill-founded, often superstitious beliefs. 

Beliefs do matter. Racism is proof of that. Yet, sadly, all too often our Unitarian Universalist yearning for purity in our belief truncates our ministry into an unending series of irrelevant arguments. This fussing is a bad habit. It keeps us distant from the daily struggles too many have just to survive. When you consider that 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity every day or that more than 30,000 people die of gun shots every year, is the question of God’s unity vs trinity even worth discussing? 

Our sainted Emerson, preferring a well-grounded faith, famously cut down a pompous orator of right belief by saying, “Sir, your actions speak so loudly, I can barely hear a word you say.” Our Universalist ancestors — less preoccupied with religious argument than the Unitarians —taught  that God or what simply matters most is found in loving action and that all souls are worthy of such love. That side of our faith is the source of another banner we proudly display: “Standing on the Side of Love.”

In a recent sermon, I said, “Love is our teaching. It is our practice. It is our end.” Love calls us to be awake to the ways any lives do not matter. Love demands we speak up, step up when and where anyone is not loved. We Unitarian Universalists are at our best when stand on the side of love every day. We are at our best when our congregations assess their ministries by asking: Are we loving more broadly, more truly? If not, let’s get going; there’s work to be done.

I am proud so many Unitarian Universalists and so many of our congregations are showing up and standing on the side of Black Lives Matter. It is our faith at its best.