There are religious traditions that encourage passivity. A common teaching is that there is a God who controls everything and that it is the role of human beings to believe that everything that occurs is an aspect of God’s will, and that it is our duty to submit to that will, trusting that in doing so, all will be well and that we will be rewarded in a heavenly afterlife. Unitarian Universalists have consistently thought otherwise. Our fourth principle affirms the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
Asserting that we affirm and promote the right of conscience means also that we promote action prompted by conscience. To believe in a cause or a right or a way of life and to take no steps that will actualize that cause or right or way of life is to live in a separate and interior world that does not recognize the truth of our seventh principle: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
At the Ohio-Kentucky ministers’ cluster meeting that I attended in Louisville at the end of November, I heard from a minister who identifies as transgender. She and her partner had plans to marry when the time was right in their lives. She believes that as a result of the recent election, that right may be taken away from them. It’s a belief that is founded on a realistic fear, as the team of the president-elect and vice-president elect have voiced their support of “traditional” ideas of marriage and other social norms.
I listened to a minister who is of Iranian extraction as she wondered what the effect on her life and her 15-year-old daughter’s life would be after inauguration day in January. She is very much afraid that she and others of their nationality will be targeted, victims of prejudice and inflamed passions. As a woman, she was offended by comments that implied that women exist to be used for pleasure by men with power and privilege. The rhetoric used by the president-elect during the election season was often rude, hateful, dismissive, and demeaning of those who do not identify within a very narrow vision of what it means to be an American. Many people are afraid of what the next four years will bring.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “fascism” as a “political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a central autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” There is evidence aplenty that the nation as a whole should legitimately fear that we are in the early stages of the imposition of this kind of regime. As ministers, we have a choice: to be silent, to sit on the sidelines, to rationalize, to avoid hard conversations and hard realities or to make statements and take actions in accord with the dictates of our consciences. As Unitarian Universalists, we have the same kind of choice.
I have heard arguments and insinuations that the kind of fears that I have listed here are overreactions or that to draw such connections is to misuse the role of religion and to use the pulpit as an instrument of partisan politics. In response, I can only point to the well-known words of Rev. Martin Niemoller:
First, they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then, they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then, they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then, they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Many of us have a fairly comfortable life. We’ve seen budgets stretched as costs of health care, education, and housing have gone up, but we’ve managed and have faith in the system that has provided this fairly comfortable life for us and a fairly stable political climate up to now. Taking actions to stand up to bullying when we see it—whether of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or questioning folks, immigrants, refugees, or women—will take a kind of initiative and courage we have not had to cultivate until now. Taking no action when we are aware of institutionalized bullying means, frankly, being complicit with systemic injustice. I don’t believe I’m overstating it when I say that these are times that will try our souls and make demands on our spirits. We will be challenged to speak and act on behalf of what we understand to be justice. If we don’t, we’ll have the consequences to live with for a generation or more.
My blessings are with you as we all do our best to speak for justice, express gratitude for what we have been given and spread hope and love and joy and peace wherever we go during this holiday season.
See you in church and in the community,