There was exactly one person from UUA Headquarters here in St. Louis over the 4 days of Ferguson October. It was not Peter Morales. In fact, institutional Unitarian Universalism has been almost deathly silent over the events that have happened since July 17th–the day that Eric Garner was chokeholded to death by the NYPD. (one statement a month later–on Michael Brown– and a video shown on Friday evening do not really mean much in the grand scheme of things and doesn’t constitute speaking on the subject) Never mind that there has been no mention from Headquarters about the facts in a report that came out recently which showed how racist BOSTON policing practice is.
Last month I wrote a post on how I thought (and continue to think) that the UUA is haunted by the Black Empowerment Controversy. That however only looks at part of the issue. This post will broaden this out to look at liberal religion (not just Unitarian Universalism) as a group.
Did you know that there are four times as many Quakers in Kenya as there are in the U.S.? Keep that little factoid in mind while I continue.
Those of you who are familiar with 19th-century U.S. religious history know that certain religious groups–mainly the Baptists and Methodists, but the Lutherans and Presbyterians were also in the mix–were very good at founding ethnic congregations. In the case of the Baptists and the Methodists, African Americans created entirely new denominations; that’s why there’s the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. and all of its offspring along with the A.M.E., A.M.E. Zion, C.M.E. and their offspring.
Homegrown religious groups such as the Restorationists (any church/denomination that comes out of the Stone-Campbell movement), Mormons, New Thought (Christian Science and the like), Spiritualists (while they are new thought, there are differences), Adventists and the like have a mixed history when it comes to minority members and congregations.
But there is one group of religious people who studiously avoided starting ethnic/minority congregations or truly letting in those who didn’t fit a very narrow type; the liberal religionists (or the dissenting end of the dissenting tradition)–the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Unitarians (and Universalists to a lesser extent), Quakers, Anabaptists and Pietists, and so forth. Yes, I know that there are a smattering of black Episcopal churches and the largest church in the UCC is overwhelmingly black, so don’t write a comment trying to correct me on that. You know what my point is. Yet, if you look at the numbers (with the exception of the UCC and the UUA), all of these denominations have much greater membership in African and Asian countries than they do in the U.S. A big part of the reason for this is that most of these denominations sent missionaries out to those “remote” places around the world in order to “Christianize and civilize the natives.” But there has to be something more.
Why has liberal religion always had a hard time with race and racial issues in this country, yet had no problem going on overseas mission trips to countries where they would be confronted with the very same people they studiously avoided at home? What is it in liberal religion’s DNA that makes this cognitive dissonance possible?
Because until this is resolved, liberal religion is going to be flailing around and being irrelevant.