Where is My Religious Liberty?

 

     My faith is embodied…

It believes that the most intimate connection with another consenting adult is a divine right.

It believes that the sacred capacity to gestate a new life is a blessed and totally autonomous covenant between an individual and their conscience, god or God.

It believes that gender is holy, is not a choice, and that it is revealed by, with and to the individual.

It believes that ability is relative, individual, valid and unshamable.

     My faith is counter colonial…

It believes that black history is ongoing American history that is more than slavery, poverty and incarceration.

It believes we can never atone for native genocide but we have the power to change the future in relationship with the first people of this land.

It believes that Asia and Africa are continents not people and the people on them are all unique with unique names and cultures.

It believes that whiteness is not supreme.

     My faith is equity…

It believes in public, unhoused, section 8, Medicaid
It believes in rent, not own, gig work and uninsured
It believes there is enough of this planet to share…if we don’t destroy it
It believes that the future is not a commodity.

     My faith is inclusive of not exclusive to God…

It believes in gospel music shared and received not co-opted or copied.
It believes there is no language that is too much trouble to find so people can understand.
It believes in prayer, meditation, and silence.
It believes in temples, shrines, forests, and storefronts.
It believes in good without any god at all.

My faith is all of this and more in the face of religious bigots who cry victim
as they trample over all others
claiming victory over a planet they abuse
over people they ignore
over ideas they fear
over possibilities they can’t understand.

Where is my religious liberty in this world of politics as God,
and God as politics?
Where dogma becomes dictate
And creed is constitution.

Maybe my faith can be bigger than all of that?

With the mandate in its name
Declaring that we are united as one human kind
not as one kind of human all the same,
Affirming our existence in a vast universe
in which we all have the right of life and love and time and death.

Maybe this fragile flawed evolving new faith of mine is the religious liberty
I am searching so hard to find.

-ALD

Liberation vs. Colonial Pews

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First Parish in Cambridge Interior – Colonial Revival (renovation ca. 1914)

Listening to Rev. Joan Javier-Duval’s sermon at the closing worship of the UUA General Assembly, there was one word that resonated particularly deeply with me: Liberation.  Her message is a beautiful arc of what moving toward liberation can actually look like and I hope we take her challenge and continue crossing bridges to the other side.  But what does liberation look like for Unitarian Universalism?  Too often, and too easily, our energies get focused exclusively on the liberation of others.  So, I want to echo and amplify a significant part of Rev. Javier-Duval’s message, that the liberation must also be an internal ‘crossing over’.

Meetinghouse Original
First Parish in Cambridge Interior  – Gothic Revival (ca. 1870s)

The congregation of First Parish in Cambridge has an ongoing debate about getting rid of the high backed colonial pews in our meetinghouse.  These pews are not original. They were installed in 1914 when all of the New England Unitarian churches were embracing a colonial revival.   It was an aesthetic choice.  In fact, at that time the entire interior of the meetinghouse was gutted and done over in ‘colonial revival’ and the original Gothic revival decor (see image) was erased.  The congregation was trying to capitalize on something that had never been a part of the physical expression of the church building although the colonial history was inescapable in every other aspect of the community.

Today, these pews shape how we worship and how we experience our time together.  I cannot force the hand of my congregation…the church belongs to them.  Removing these pews will be their decision alone.  At the same time, I recognize that the potential removal of these pews is also a metaphor for the act of liberation that is most necessary across the wider Unitarian Universalist denomination.  Simply put, in order to liberate Unitarian Universalism we must first de-colonize Unitarian Universalism.  Intentionally, systematically and universally de-colonizing Unitarian Universalism is one step that will invite people of color, people with disabilities and people who otherwise would not have been thought of as fully human by the likes of our early Unitarian heroes, to feel whole in our our spaces our communities and our theology.

How can we cheer for the removal of Southern Confederate statues while our own congregations cling to celebrating Northern scholars and influencers who were apologists for slavery and white supremacy?  How can we reasonably invite land acknowledgement rituals in our spaces when we as a denomination never consistently acknowledge Unitarians as the theological progeny of the Puritans who were responsible for the removal, death and erasure of native people from their land and history? (See my previous post: Failure of My Faith for more on this subject.)

If we truly want to embrace liberation within our faith, then Unitarian Universalism should not get a pass in the national reckoning on histories and legacies of oppression.  Here are a few ideas for what de-colonizing Unitarian Universalism could look like:

  • Laying bare the disconnect between the colonial project and the modern inclusive, anti-oppressive movement.
  • De-centering Western religious history in what we teach, what we preach and how we practice; placing it instead as an equal in the global spiritual narrative.
  • Retiring harmful Puritan worship formats and content and/or reserving them for specific times and purposes when they are appropriate.
  • Asking white UUs to fully explore cultural whiteness, letting go of frameworks that regard people of color as problematic or the “other” to be solved.
  • Require congregations to assess their relationships with local communities of color providing them with resources, options and measures to build those relationships.
  • Rewrite the UU Principles to include the word “love” prominently along with an affirmation (not apology) of racial, religious and cultural diversity and a statement acknowledging the harmful colonial origins of the tradition.

We cannot continue to make excuses for our colonial roots if we are going to be the leader in creating modern inclusive spiritual community.  Our spiritual potential is too great and our future too important to be hampered by a brutally flawed past.  We cannot build a modern structure on the un-level surface of colonialism.  Doing so has already left the relatively new structure of Unitarian Universalism unstable.  It is not too late.  This is not cancel culture, but corrective culture.  This is liberation.  We have the opportunity in this moment of national reckoning to identify the flaws of the past, build a new foundation, and be informed by and aware of the past while placing it in its proper context.

We are not done.  Unitarian Universalism deserves a blueprint for change and a variety of actionable ways to make that change a reality. The question we are left with now is whether or not our faith is willing to be as strong in action as it is in words.  Are we willing to endure the pain of real liberation?  De-colonize Unitarian Universalism, NOW.

-ALD