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.

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