Widening the Circle

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

Mya Wade-Harper has been a lifetime UU. Two years ago, she was a freshman at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, pursuing a degree in African-American Studies. When she was a youth member at her home church in Lexington Kentucky, she was able to help her congregation adopt the 8th Principle. She said this about the process:

“Sometimes justice work can be hard. You doubt that what you are doing is enough and if it is small you may believe that it doesn’t even matter. I found out about the 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism when I went to Youth Midwest Leadership School in the summer of 2019. Upon returning to my home church of Lexington, Kentucky, I brought the principle up to my minister and board. Thus, began the whirlwind of work my church and I did to vote on the principle. To me, the 8th Principle is a call to action to stand up for people who are oppressed and crush white supremacy. As a POC and activist, I also find a calling to stand up for myself and others. The experience of helping my church adopt the 8th Principle was something I had never done. When I raised my hand and joined my church in adopting the 8th Principle I was struck with how exhausting the process had been, how there was still so much work to be done, but also how rewarding it was. My Mama tells me that this work is sacred, and I agree. It is sacred and necessary.”

It is sacred and necessary. It is sacred because it is about UUs learning uncomfortable truths, listening to those who are asking for unexamined practices to be viewed through a less dominant lens, so that those practices come into better alignment with who we say we are, who we claim we want to be, changing in ways that are necessary, because we must do this to widen the circle of who we are.

Despite the Community Course of Racism, which this congregation has hosted for years, despite the anti-racism efforts that we support in the wider community, UUCSH has not yet really taken up the internal work of the 8th Principle. I am hopeful that we will.  I am hopeful that we will feel it is necessary to do what we need to do, to move closer to creating the Beloved Community within this congregation. That would mean a deeper understanding of what dismantling racism means for UUCSH. To date, over 145 UU congregations have adopted the 8th Principle.

It states:

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.

It is a journey. It will take some time.

It was years ago when several active African-American UUs came to the understanding, after they had done anti-racism work with differing UU groups, that “a person can believe they are being a ‘good UU’ and following the 7 Principles without [ever] thinking about or dealing with racism and other oppressions at [a] the systemic level.”

The 8th Principle acknowledges that there are systemic injustices that are more powerful than personal feelings. That there are white culture attitudes that have informed practices that need to be recognized, understood for what they are, and accountably “dismantled.”

Most UU congregations are primarily European-American in membership, in culture and in leadership. UU groups, institutions of higher learning, our congregations, our denomination have certainly made progress dismantling systemic sexism. We have made progress in dismantling homophobia. We are still struggling to understand and confront transphobia.

Yet, as active as many of our now-elders were in the civil rights movement of the ’60s, we still fall short in understanding and doing what needs to be done to dismantle the effects of systemic racism within our UU culture, within our congregations. 

It is sacred and necessary work that must happen.

One cannot fully imagine or become the Beloved Community without this work. 

Perhaps, some of you will lead this congregation to pass a motion to adopt the 8th principle and join our sister congregations who have already done so, over 145 to date.

De-centering whiteness in UUism is what the adoption of this principle and the accountable action that goes along with it is all about. It is important for all of us. It is important for those of us who identify as white to see, to understand, to acknowledge what systemic racism does, how insidious and how deep seated it is. 

Choosing to ignore the impact of systemic racism is exactly what keeps the racism in our congregations alive.

To further not only the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but of our own ideals, we need to de-center whiteness in Unitarian Universalism.

This isn’t about making Black people and people of color become like us. It is about centering Black voices, Latinx voices, and indigenous perspectives in order to fulfill the potential of our existing principles.  It is about making way in the middle for those who for too long have been on the sidelines.

Each choice we make shapes the world, creates new possibilities, brings love or pain. Each choice is made with intention or made in deep sleep. We are being asked to wake up, to pay attention, to take accountable action to be different than we have been. 

Nothing we do in the world is done in a vacuum. Our actions ripple out beyond ourselves in ever-widening circles that intersect the ever-widening circles of life all around us.

If we are awake, we see that we must help awaken others, because our children and children’s children will live in a world that is shaped by our actions today.

Next month I will be talking about this year’s Common Read. That is the one book that the UUA recommends that we all read each year. This year’s book is Defund Fear: Safety without Policing, Prisons and Punishments by Zach Norris, (Beacon Press, 2021).

I have just started reading it. It is an eye-opening challenge that will change your perspective. Here is just one quote for you to consider:

“Powerful entities conceal the most pervasive and persistent harms… scapegoating and dehumanizing entire communities…. When we allow those architects of anxiety to distract us from… real threats… we decrease our capacity to hold them accountable for the things that actually threaten and harm us.”

Zach Norris, from Defund Fear: Safety without Policing, Prisons and Punishments.

We must change our perspective in order to right the many wrongs, the injustices that affect not only others, but all of us. We must rebel against the “powerful entities.”

We can do this. We can and we will.

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