Over the last few years, I have heard a number of people in my life express a wide range of feelings at the sudden insertion of words like White Supremacy, White Privilege, Systemic Racism, and Black Lives Matter into their daily lives. It is important to note that the awareness of the sudden increase in these words has been noted by both black friends and white friends alike. After all, the mainstream introduction of a set of vocabulary words and frameworks previously reserved for more academic settings is honestly new for everyone. What has been more interesting and impactful for me in hearing the various responses however has been the underlying experiences and understandings of what these words mean to different people. Many of my white friends and family, when talking about this new vocabulary, have expressed such feelings as confusion, anger, sadness, guilt, denial, enlightenment, and inspiration. The response of the majority of my black friends and family however has been much more consistent. “Aha,” they basically have said. “So that’s what it’s called. So that’s the word for describing what we already knew was real.”
So let me speak to my fellow white UUs. It is my belief that however you or I have personally experienced or responded to this new vocabulary and framework is valid. It’s real. It’s honest. In my opinion, the immediate experience of complex emotions is part of that whole inherent worth and dignity of every individual. It’s what we proclaim when we speak of our First Principle. So please don’t judge others for where their hearts and minds are located when confronted with “new” ideas. Please don’t judge me. Don’t judge yourself.
But please don’t stay there. Don’t sit passively by while others stay there. After all, though the First Principle might allow us a space to be seen and respected for our immediate emotional and intellectual responses, there are other principles we have to listen to as well. Other Principles to help move us forward.
Personally, I would argue that once we recognize where we are in one principle, we might listen to and be moved by some of the others. For example, our 2nd Principle calls for equity and compassion in human relations. Our 3rd Principle calls for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. Our 5th affirms our belief in the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. Our 6th Principle proclaims a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
One might even draw inspiration from the recently proposed 8th Principle that calls UUs to “affirm and promote a journey toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by actions that dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” In other words, regardless of where you find yourself within the 1st Principle, you are also called on to move yourself by the others.
Motivated by this past summer’s explosion of anger and action around racial injustice, the Board of Trustees here at UUCA has felt the call to respond to the reality of White Supremacy in the world around us near and far, as well as to the reality of White Supremacy in the world within us. We have felt called to move ourselves. We have felt hopeful and inspired by the idea of the movement of our congregation. In that vein, we have been engaged in conversations around how we might craft a statement in support of Black lives and opposed to White Supremacy. Further, we have been engaged in discussion on how we might move beyond a statement as well to help strengthen the momentum already occurring within UUCA towards the goal of racial justice.
These are ideas that we all agree on. Yet despite our shared values, as it is in our larger lives, simply agreeing does not always result in “Agreement”. This conversation, be it taking place among the Board members or taking place around the dinner table, is not an easy one. It takes patience, love, flexibility, and steadfastness. It takes buy-in. It takes covenant. It takes time. It’s hard work.
In the coming weeks and months, the Board will be continuing to center our Annual Vision of Ministry discussion around the work of anti-racism and Beloved Community. As we work out the meaning and the methods of this annual vision of ministry, know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the offering of more workshops or book studies. Know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the sharing out of websites and worship services. After all, we as a Board know that there are so many incredible individuals who have already been and continue to do these things and who have been leading this work on so many levels for years and we want them to know that their work is deeply appreciated and honored.
However, rather than fine tune our vision on the involvement of individuals, it is our hope instead to focus on the UUCA as a whole and on empowering and fostering a UUCA that not only believes in the goal of racial justice but systemically provides the spiritual nourishment and environment for that work to fully happen.
So how do we get there? Well, that brings me back to us all sharing and honoring where we as a congregation came from and where we find ourselves now, to letting our principles guide us forward. And know that as we move forward in this conversation, we the Board will be leaning on the input and experience of those UUCA individuals already so actively engaged. We know also however that each and every congregant here can contribute a wide range of inspirations and ideas to help shape or influence the direction in which we will embark. We know that there are Black and Brown neighbors and friends in our community who stand outside of the UUCA walls (that’s figurative of course since, thanks to COVID, we are all standing outside of UUCA walls…) that can offer the truth of personal experience and who can hold up guidepost and caution signs as we make our way towards this new horizon.
In the coming weeks and months, know that we might come to you and ask for your input as well as your action to help this vision take shape. Know that we will want you to come to us and share with us your ideas on how this vision takes form. This work will require the COLLECTIVE participation of us all as we work to envision what it means for UUCA to help build and become the Beloved Community our Principles call us to be. Are you ready to get moving?!
Ryan William, President, Board of Trustees