From the Road: Welcome to Justice General Assembly

There is something eerie about touring an empty convention center before General Assembly. It is a little like an empty stadium before a big game.

Yesterday morning I walked around the Phoenix Convention Center, getting a sense of the layout and locating the venues for many of the events I will be attending. (I count 37 events on my GA calendar—about half of which I have some speaking role!)

We saw some “Justice GA” banners on the street. A few other early arrivers are here. Every GA has events and trainings that precede the main gathering. Some ministerial colleagues are here for “good officer” training.

I arrived Sunday afternoon. I had dinner with Susan Frederick-Gray and Sandy Weir of the Arizona Immigration Ministry team. They have been working for a year getting ready. What wonderful work they are doing.

And, despite all the preparations, some things are very much in the air. Almost everyone is expecting a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070. Monday morning at 7:00 a.m., I sat in a coffee shop following a live blog of the Supreme Court decisions given out that day. Had the SB 1070 decision been announced, I would have been at a press conference at 9:00. Now the decision will likely come on Thursday and reaction to it may disrupt the GA schedule. No one to whom I have spoken expects a favorable decision.

I was reflecting last night that my generation came to think of the U. S. Supreme Court as a progressive institution. When I was a boy the court issued its famous “Brown vs. Board of Education” decision that declared school segregation illegal. The court furthered civil liberties in Roe vs. Wade and expanded voting rights.

But the court has also been a force for the most repressive forces in America. Before our Civil War the infamous Dred Scott decision had the effect of treating black people as less than human, as mere property with no rights whatsoever. It also opened the way for the expansion of slavery into all federal territories. That decision (and it was not a close decision—it was 7-2) created such a reaction that it was a contributing factor to the election of Lincoln and, some say, to the Civil War. I fear the SB 1070 decision will be another that will be a blight on the court’s legacy.

We have to remember that the great struggle for basic human rights for Latino immigrants or for LGBTQ people is not a legal battle. It is a battle for our souls. For Unitarian Universalists, our commitment to justice is based on the principle that every human being has inherent worth and dignity.

At the very core of our faith, though it be a creedless faith, is the conviction that religion should focus on this life. Our religion is not an escape from this life, but a means of engaging life fully. Our emphasis on justice is not partisan, but rather an organic expression of our belief that we are all equal and all in this together.

The struggle for justice, for the beloved community, is a long, long struggle. It will not be won in the courtroom. It will be won in the human heart. It will be won when we let go of fear, let go of hate, let go of greed, and let the power of compassion fill our hearts and guide our lives.

May this Justice GA be one step on that long journey.

Permanent link to this article:

Giving and Receiving

When I was a editor and publisher of small newspapers, letters to the editor were always a source of some amusement. Most of them were legitimate comments on community issues. Some, however, were off the wall. Some of these were actually a little frightening, for they revealed some level of derangement.

As UUA president, I get my share of letters—almost all of them emails. Some of these emails remind me of my newspaper days. Some letters want us to take action of matters over which we have no control. But I also get more than my share of very sweet notes of appreciation.

Eliot Chapel

Last month I received a copy of an open letter that the Rev. David Keyes sent to Eliot Chapel in St. Louis, where he has been serving as interim minister. The letter describes his congregation’s interaction with UUA staff over a two year period.

I was amazed and delighted by what I read. Yet I wasn’t surprised. This is not atypical of what UUA staff do, especially for a congregation in transition.

One of the things that struck me in the letter is how so much of the work of our staff happens behind the scenes and goes unnoticed. I know I was guilty of failing to appreciate the work the UUA staff does when I served as a parish minister. Like so many UUs, I took for granted all the support we received and was even unaware of much more.

Please take a look at David’s letter. Pay special attention to the comments he makes about the congregation moving to pay its full share to the Annual Program Fund in support of the Association after allowing its contributions to decline.

Permanent link to this article:

Supporting Marriage Equality

I am proud of the way Unitarian Universalists have been leaders in the full acceptance of LGBT people. We have been leaders in the faith community on issues of gender equality. I am proud of the way we have “walked our talk” with the acceptance of LGBT clergy in our congregations.

In recent years, our public witness has centered on the issue of marriage equality.

What a gift it has been for President Obama to take the position in favor of marriage equality. (I wish he would be half so courageous on the matter of immigrant rights, but that is a discussion for another time.)

Many of my clergy colleagues have been eloquent and passionate on the subject. I have been privileged to stand with them on the side of love at rallies.

Most recently, Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, preached a sermon that has “gone viral” on the internet. Marlin uses humor beautifully to make a very serious point.

I urge you to take a look and to share these links with your social media friends. We are slowly and steadily winning this long struggle. A national poll just released shows that the majority of Americans now support gay marriage. Here are the clips:

Rev. Marlin Lavanhar on "Gay Marriage & Straight Sex"

On "Redefining Marriage"


Permanent link to this article:

Restoring Trust

Craig Roshaven, UUA's Witness Ministries Director

A broad based national coalition of immigrant rights organizations and faith communities  has launched a national campaign to mitigate the worst effects of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Secure-Communities Program (S-Comm). I was informed of this group by the Rev. Craig Roshaven, the UUA’s Witness Ministries Director. Craig is based in our Washington, D. C., office.

The name of the campaign is Restoring Trust: Breaking ICE’s Hold on Our Communities. The Campaign’s goal is to establish 20 advocacy teams across the country by the end of the year to change how law enforcement will respond to requests by ICE to hold people who’ve been arrested or detained for an additional 48 hours.

Maria Hinojosa, GA 2012 Ware Lecturer

Maria Hinojosa, this year’s Ware Lecturer at our General Assembly, did a PBS Frontline documentary “Lost in Detention,” which focused on the worst effects of S-Comm. If you have not seen this program, you should take a look at it. Restoring Trust offers UUs and our partners a meaningful way to respond to what she reported.

One of the goals of this year’s Justice General Assembly is for our congregations to bring the ongoing work of justice home. The Restoring Trust Campaign offers Unitarian Universalist leaders and congregations a significant opportunity for sustained and meaningful immigrant justice advocacy. The Campaign has significant support from national faith and immigrant rights organizations.

This is definitely worth exploring. More information is available on the Interfaith Immigration Coalition website.

Our commitment to justice, equity and compassion is fundamental to our faith. Working together with interfaith partners and local groups is critical to our success.

Permanent link to this article:

From the Road: Meadville Lombard Commencement

First Unitarian Church of Chicago

I love graduations. They are wonderful celebrations that also put us in mind of some of our core values—hope, high aspirations, honoring human accomplishment, mutual support. Besides, at graduations people are so happy that it is contagious. Like weddings, graduations also turn out to be reunions of family and friends.

I had the privilege of speaking at the Meadville Lombard Theological School graduation Sunday. This commencement was particularly meaningful for me because I was awarded an honorary doctorate. I find myself surprised by how much it means to me. Receiving an honorary degree is a little like getting to attend your own memorial service.

It was so good to get a chance to visit with members of the Meadville faculty, staff, and board of trustees. They have been through an exciting and trying time in the last several years as the school has changed its curriculum to become more multicultural, has changed to a model that emphasizes more distance learning and, to top it off, has sold its old building and moved to a modern facility.

This was one of Meadville’s largest classes ever—27 graduates. I understand that my alma mater, Starr King School for the Ministry, also had a class about the same size. This is good news for all of us.

The past decade has been very difficult for seminaries. A number have closed. Many more are expected to close. Our own seminaries have struggled financially. And while the struggles are not over, it is a wonderful sign to see their enrollments increasing. It is also good to see that more of our ministers will come from our “identity schools.” It bodes well for Unitarian Universalism.

I hate to think that we would ever get to the point of having no seminaries that were UU seminaries. This is not to take anything away from many fine seminaries across the country that educate the majority of our ministers. Still, our seminaries have a vital role to play in maintaining and preserving UU culture as well as leading change.

The faculty and the boards of our seminaries care passionately about Unitarian Universalism. We are so blessed to have them preparing our leaders.

Permanent link to this article: