Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists Without the Protests? (GA Query #1)

[those of you familiar with Quaker practice know what I mean by query. for those of you with less Quaker experience, queries are questions that members are asked to consider during their silent worship period. if they are being used during a monthly meeting, they are typically concerning subjects that will be coming before the meeting]

Now that we are about 3 weeks away from the start of General Assembly, I thought I would pose some queries that are related to my activities during GA.

So query #1……

Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists without the protests?

(don’t give me your knee-jerk reaction to the question, really think about it)

Here’s why I ask…
Before the “county brown” [St. Louis County police] decided to mess with reporters here in Ferguson, most Unitarian Universalists had virtually ignored the extrajudicial killings of African Americans by those in law enforcement and the treatment of communities of color by law enforcement in general. One doesn’t have to look at too many of these cases to see the almost universal silence from our end of the liberal religion spectrum.

Having been around Unitarian Universalism for more than a few days, I’ve seen and heard UU talk about issues of law enforcement/criminal justice and race that would make Calvin feel proud.

Then Ferguson happens. (and NYC and Cleveland and Baltimore and N. Charleston and…)

6 thoughts on “Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists Without the Protests? (GA Query #1)

  1. In my experience, UU churches in Michigan have not “picked now” to put up banners. My church (uulansing.org) and many others I know about were doing work on racial justice and attending events long before it became a media storm. After it became a big news story, of course, those activities have gotten more attention. My church in particular “picked now” to put up a “Black Lives Matter” sign because… the meme didn’t exist before. The underlying issue did, though, and many people were on it. UU churches across Michigan have been doing a lot of work around mass incarceration, law enforcement, and racial justice for many years–Ann Arbor’s prison book ministry, for example, and a whole lot of legislative action, much organized through the Michigan UU Social Justice Network. Only now has it become trendy enough in the media enough to garner big attention. I can’t speak for UU churches outside of Michigan, but yeah. Michigan UUs have been doggedly addressing these issues for many years. I’ve been involved for almost 10, and it didn’t start with me.

    • If anything, as a newer UU, I’ve been bemused as to why racial justice has been such a strong, hot topic for a bunch of mostly- or all-white congregations. Certainly not all churches, if any, handle it perfectly. But most UU churches are very interested. Politically, on issues of race and equality, I think UUism is an extreme outlier for a majority “white” tradition. Certainly I wouldn’t say that UUs have always known just the right thing to do or say about racial justice, but “would black lives matter to UUs…” is a completely unfair question. “Would it” implies that it hasn’t been a top issue for a long time now, which it has. We can always learn to do it better, sure. But we’ve been at this table since way before the reporters showed up.

      • I’ve been around UUism longer than you, and have been involved with criminal justice/drug law/prison reform since I was 17, and I (and others) can give you stories of how UUs talked about race and criminal justice/law enforcement issues before Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow” came out.

        But the one thing I can guarantee that in no way has racial justice been “such a strong, hot topic for a bunch of mostly- or all-white congregations.” Especially not in UUism. Yes, I know there are exceptions (and some Michigan congregations may well be those exceptions), but those exceptions are exactly that…exceptions.

        ““Would it” implies that it hasn’t been a top issue for a long time now, which it has.”
        This is most definitely NOT true. Again, there are exceptions, but as a general rule, UUism has a spotty record on showing-up on racial issues. There has been NO sustained involvement as there has been on LGBT issues or accessibility issues or reproductive rights. This is not anecdotal; read a little UU history and you will see that I am not just making this up.

        I’m glad that UU congregations in Michigan have been involved before now. But that is certainly not the case for most UU congregations. That is why my “would it” question is not unfair. My experience, and UU history, show–and tell–me that without focused media attention, most UU congregations would still be avoiding these issues like the plague.

  2. “Would #BlackLivesMatter to Unitarian Universalists without the protests?”

    Probably not – from my experience many UUs – with notable exceptions – are oblivious to the oppression suffered by others. And while many are willing to engage in a protest or march these seem to be more like hobbies than a meaningful acts to effect change. Yep – seems more like a protest of the month at times. If they were serious about effecting change – they could in fact use their privilege to do so.

  3. Well, I suppose Michigan UUs are exceptional then. I’ve been working with folks involved with the ACLU and State Bar and interfaith campaigns on racial justice for a long time before Michelle Alexander’s book. I do know some embarrassing and crappy history of racism in UUism, and back further in Unitarianism too.

    I think we are perhaps comparing UUs to different backdrops as well. I come from a conservative white Christian religious upbringing, which was and remains unabashedly, appallingly racist. I do think my local UU is doing exceptional work at paying attention, showing up, asking itself hard questions, and changing at a rapid pace. The church is more diverse, racially and by other measures, than other non-UU churches in the area–which I see as not a goal so much as an indication that things are healthy inside. I see the good happening there, and it gives me hope.

  4. Before the protests in Ferguson began, I did not see many UUs really engage with the issue of race. I read about it on your blog, there were a few mentions of Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow,” and I think I heard one sermon address it, but that was about it. Granted, I’ve only been involved with UU for about five years, and during most of that time, I did not hear/see/read sermons consistently. However, I did spend a lot of time reading various UU publications online (blogs, UUWorld, etc.), and I participated in various UU Facebook groups.

    From what I saw, it did not look like that would change. Yet the protests did evoke a change, and I’m glad that more UUs are taking this seriously. I hope this change sticks around.

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