What We Say Matters

A banner produced by our Unitarian Universalist Association

As individuals and as a community, we have placed import on expressing our values. With this end in mind, and not without discussion or thoughtfulness, congregants pitched in to purchase the above banner, produced by our Unitarian Universalist Association.

The first several times I encountered this sign, I drank these words like they were water in the desert. See, I had been deprived for so long that I had ceased to notice my thirst. Thirst for language that was beautiful versus vulgar. Thirst for ideas that mattered instead of demeaned. This sign was important to me.

Then, during the August 18 workshop led by Chris Crass, a couple of black community activists asked that we take down this sign, and for it to be given it to them. They shared, from a place of pain and frustration, that what they had witnessed regarding this event and our surrounding decision-making and communications had led them to believe that All Souls does not behave in ways that affirm that black lives matter.

I took down our banner, and provided it to them. I want to share why. First, it was an acknowledgement that our actions, in relation to the workshop, compounded the harm that people of color regularly experience across their communities – harm particularly caused by those with white identities. Secondly, “Black Lives Matters” – while a theological statement that we uphold and a value statement that we hold dear – is also an organization, with a clear agenda, and constituent groups of people. Unfortunately, there is no official Black Lives Matter chapter in Indiana, and so we are unable to partner with them. Someone could have interpreted our sign an us claiming that this partnership existed when it did not.

So where are we?

We continue to express that black lives matter, because they do. Last month, we explored the theologies of William Ellery Channing. 200 years ago, Channing, in the language of his day, also affirmed that black lives matter. He stated publicly that that each person currently enslaved in America was a precious, dearly loved person to God and that God held a particularly love for each of them, as for each of us. Channing articulated the necessity of uprooting systems, including slavery, that prevented those enslaved and those enslaving from engaging in one’s own salvation by character – which is another way of saying that Channing affirmed that people of color had a right and a responsibility to contribute to the ethical whole of our society, and that depriving them of such (by legal, religious, or social means) was a sin. Though regularly denied, people of color have inherent worth, and their contributions are wanted and necessary.

We must continue to express our theologies and our values. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor said that if you want to make a difference in history we should “remember that the force of our ideas and the strength of our articulation matter.” This task falls to each of us. Our message is needed each day, in all the places of our lives. Lifting up a moral and enlivening Unitarian Universalism is our sacred work. Thanks for joining in it.