Bending Toward Justice

It’s sometimes hard to get everything I want to say on a particular topic into a single sermon.  While I want to emphasize certain points with an illustration to make more concrete what might otherwise remain abstract, such an illustration must be brief at the risk of becoming a distracting tangent or, worse, sidelining the sermon’s intended message.  Sometimes, however, an illustration deserves considerably more airtime.

My Yom Kippur sermon in early October, for example, mentioned the importance of rejecting “cheap grace” when it comes to healing brokenness and restoring wholeness.  I cited the wisdom my mother shared with me that it will take at least as long to mend something as it did to break it.  I then said:

Just think about what that means in this country when it comes to something like racism and the legacy of slavery, which existed as a legal institution for 246 years but was only abolished 146 years ago.  By my reckoning that means we have at least a century of work still to do — and just because we have an African-American President in the White House does not mean we’re done!

Unitarian minister Theodore Parker knew this in 1830 when he spoke of the arc of the moral universe being long but bending toward justice.  This understanding was paraphrased 130 years later by Dr. King and repeated more recently by (then Senator) Barack Obama.  What for Parker was a matter of faithful intuition, however, became a matter of determined action for Obama: the moral arc bends because we put our hands on it and make it bend toward justice.

Picking up on this theme, our newly renamed Southeast District has launched a campaign called “Bending the Arc” which is aimed at taking the racial and social justice work of Unitarian Universalism in the South to a new level.  With a vision for transforming the Southeast into the world we dream about, the campaign will, amongst other efforts, focus attention on racial justice in a Southern context, create linkages between congregations to maximize our social justice impact, assist congregations in developing effective interfaith and community partnerships, and seed UU legislative advocacy groups to work on critical social issues.

This is, of course, work that we are called to undertake at my congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula, and I intend to begin a conversation in the new year about what that might mean for us and how we might engage with it.  We’ll start with workshops for youth and adults based on The Arc of the Universe is Long, a book recently published by the UUA’s Skinner House that presents a history of “Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary” from the mid-1980s to 2006.

Arc is based on original interviews as well as written records and other documents that address matters of race and ethnicity, and traces the work of anti-racist, anti-oppressive multiculturalism from the 1983 report Empowerment: One Denomination’s Quest for Racial Justice to the 1992 resolution “Racial and Cultural Diversity in Unitarian Universalism” through the renewed commitment expressed at the 2006 General Assembly to address racism and classism in Unitarian Universalist congregations.  The five-session curriculum by one of the authors, UU minister Leslie Takahashi Morris, is intended to generate a discussion about race, identity, relationships, social change and faith in ways that are respectful and constructive.

The most recent issue of UU World includes an article by UU minister Mark Morrison-Reed, whose Black Pioneers in a White Denomination is generally credited with renewing the Unitarian Universalist conversation around race and racism in the 1980s.  In that article, he notes that UUs remain unreconciled over issues of multiculturalism four decades after our Association wounded itself over “black empowerment”, and yet even that failure to live up to our vaunted ideals underscores our common humanity.  The Arc of the Universe Is Long reminds us that our journey toward justice continues, so let us dedicate ourselves to this soul work of redemption and transformation!

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2 Comments »

  1. […] Every religion seeks to make this life better in some way, though for many it’s really only a means to another end.  For both the Universalists and the Unitarians, though, it became an important end in and of itself.  Many religious traditions as well as science tell us that all life is interdependent, that we’re all in this together.  Whether viewed out of enlightened self-interest or pure altruism, this means that we are all called to build a better world for everyone.  This is salvation that isn’t just a matter of an individual promise concerning something in the future; rather this is salvation that’s a matter of a common commitment in the here and now.  Rather than salvation in another life after death, it’s salvation in this life.  So when, in our Principles, we affirm such values as “justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and “world community with peace, liberty and justice for all”, we’re not just saying, well, that’d be nice, and hoping they magically show up; rather, we’re making a commitment to work for them and realize them together. […]

  2. […] faith in the progress of the human endeavor, faith that we can overcome our differences and bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice and bring the Beloved Community into […]

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