"We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us, but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life." (Steven Biko, South African Anti-apartheid Activist)From the earliest beginnings of Unitarianism and Universalist (however one identifies the "beginning") the ideas that went into and came out of the development of UU religion had political implications. Unitarians, Universalists, and their ideas were major influences in the founding of the US political system and on US religion and culture.
Ours is a theology of engagement. We draw inspiration and truth from experiencing each other and the world around us. In doing so, we necessarily witness both the beauty and brokenness of our larger community and environment. UUs today, just as in the past, want to help heal the brokenness. In undertaking to do social justice work in and through our congregation, it is important to remember that:
- Unitarian Universalist congregations are religious communities, not secular activist organizations. Seeking social change may be a major part of what we do, but fostering personal growth and building relationships are also critically important.
- How the work is done is as important as the end goal of promoting justice. If the justice work we do fails to build community—or worse yet, destroys it—then we will not have served our congregations or Association well.
- Any congregational decision can be divisive if done badly, which typically means that it was done too fast and congregants felt that their voices were not heard. The solution is not to avoid the decision, but to use an appropriate, healthy process that gives everyone a voice.
- This is about personal transformation. Our ability to create social transformation is linked with our willingness to go through personal transformation in the process. How can we expect the world to change if we‘re not willing to?
- We learn from reflection. Educator and writer Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, argued that we learn not from action, but from reflection on action. The cycle of action-reflection is often referred to as "praxis."
- We need strong relationships. The more we are in relationship with each other, and approach social justice in ways that value this relationship, the better off we‘ll be as a community. This type of sharing, namely personal, ethical, emotional, spiritual, and/or theological, is necessary both for effective justice work, and for personal and congregational development.
Five Types of Justice Work
An effective social justice plan will include balance among these five types.
- Service: Direct assistance to those in need. Examples: volunteering hours in a soup kitchen; bringing coats to the homeless
- Education: Classes and collective study of the complexities of a social issue. We have to know what we're taking about.
- Organizing: Forming coalitions with other UU congregations, with other faith institutions, and with secular organizations is crucial both for our own learning and transformation and for maximizing our effectiveness in the world.
- Advocacy: Lobbying and anything else that brings our voice to our elected officials, or to others who change and make policy. (Note: We lobby for and against policies. We cannot advocate for or against a particular candidate or party.)
- Witness: Using the media; publicizing the issue and our efforts. Forms include: advertising, unearned coverage (coverage we might get without taking any steps to get it), and earned coverage (coverage we get due to intentionally seeking coverage).
Grounding, Accountability, Fit, Opportunity
Unitarian Universalist congregations should determine social issues to work on based on Grounding, Accountability, Fit, and Opportunity.
Grounding: Does the issue have authentic and deep Unitarian Universalist roots? Does it link to the current identity and theology of Unitarian Universalists?
- Theology – What is the spiritual, philosophical, historical, and ethical basis for our position?
- Worship and Congregational Life – What is our members‘ engagement on the theme in the congregation?
- Social Action – Is there historic and current UU engagement on the theme in the public arena?
- Can the congregation be an effective and sensitive ally? Is the congregation educated about how the issue impacts marginalized communities?
- Can reconciliation and right relationship be an outcome of working on this issue?
- Are there opportunities for dismantling institutional oppression? For systemic reform? For reparations?
- Informed and Inspiring Leaders – Are there Unitarian Universalists who are or could publicly represent a UU perspective on the theme?
- Institutional Resources – Is there a task group devoted to the issue? Has the minister spoken out? Is there money available for the effort? What UUA offices, committees, affiliates, publications, curricula exist to support the congregation in taking a position?
- Partners – Are there national and/or local interfaith and allied organizations the congregation or UUA has a history of partnership with or that are actively seeking partners?
- Relevance in News and Public Dialogue – What is the degree to which the theme is or could become a meaningful factor in news coverage or public debate?
- Other Voices – Congruent: What religious and secular organizations share our views and are vocal?
- Other Voices – Contrary: What religious and secular organizations oppose our views and are vocal?
Excerpted/adapted from Inspired Faith, Effective Action: A Social Justice Workbook for Unitarian Universalist Congregations. CLICK HERE.