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Archive for the ‘Diversity’ Category

Black Lives Matter: Why We Care

uucj-blm-bannerThe congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson has placed a banner and affirmed a statement in support of Black Lives Matter to demonstrate our commitment to challenging long-standing racism and systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and language.

Black Lives Matter is an affirmation of the contributions of African Americans to this society and humanity. This movement arose in response to enduring injustices including the criminalization of Black life, racist police practices, repeated and unjustified violence directed at Black people, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the persistent economic disadvantages facing Black people.

Find out more information at: http://www.uujackson.org/why-we-care/

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We’re Better Off Together

This sermon, is part two of my Exploration of the 5 Smooth Stones. Before starting this sermon I read a lengthy section from a James Luther Adams essay called Our Response in Society. 

During the Sermon I have an extended reading from Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith, and will reference it often as I explore the question of why do some choose a violent path.

Synopsis:

Early on in my work with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson I would have to confront a basic question from good natured believers of a differing theology. When I explained the lack of theological homogeneity (as it refers to the existence of God) of our collective, I would no doubt be met with blank stares and then the question, “So you’re not really a church?” Early on I was dumbfounded when met with this question because I had work to do, I didn’t know how to enter into a dialogue that would begin with, “Church, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Reflections on Being an Ally

“In every age, no matter how cruel the oppression carried on by those in power, there have been those who struggled for a different world. I believe this is the genius of humankind, the thing that makes us half divine: the fact that some human beings can envision a world that has never existed.”

-Anne Braden

Anne Braden was a white civil rights activist in Louisville, Kentucky; one of very few white American’s Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted to say that he trusted to have his back. I was introduced to her legacy while attending the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013. Her story quickly began to weave its way into my soul. If you don’t know much about her there is a wonderful documentary about her life. This post is not about Anne Braden, but her life story is very important when we consider what it means to be an ally.

Sadly, in our generation being an ally is a learned ideal. With the recent news from Arizona, Kansas, and a myriad of other states our ability to stand with others will become very important. Civil rights leaders have fought a long embittered struggle through the latter half of the 20th century to end one form of segregation only to be met with segregation anew in the 21st. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been fighting an uphill battle for many years and they must be gaining ground because opposition to equality has really kicked into overdrive. In the United States we look to Arizona reinstituting Jim Crow. Russia now makes demonstrating for the LGBTQ community a crime, and different countries in Africa calling for prison and death–all for people who just want the right to be themselves. Now, this new segregation is making its way into Mississippi.

When I was a child I never understood why two people of the same sex couldn’t be married. When I was in high school very brave friends starting coming out, and as I grew to be an adult I found that I knew more people in the LGBTQ community than I had imagined. Human beings–not faceless masses huddled in alleyways–but friends, family, and loved ones. I noticed that when I needed an ear, they listened; when I needed a shoulder to cry on, they offered; and when I needed support, they provided. They are different than me, but not really. Our hearts beat the same, our blood pumps the same, and when it comes down to brass tacks, we want the same thing– love. In fact I find the continued use of the terms they and them in this post problematic. I feel limited by language, but then in reality isn’t that just a reflection of the privileges I am granted automatically by being white, male, and heterosexual?

The happiest day of my life was my wedding, and it is a terrible tragedy that weddings only come to those born within a narrow range of acceptability. Love shouldn’t be allowed only for the privileged. Over the years being an ally has meant different things, but the core has always been the same. People I love are being marginalized and mistreated because of who they are, and I find that unacceptable. Perhaps a better word is shameful. But we have to continue to work together with that vision of a different world– the one we write poems about, the one we sing songs about. Staying in the struggle and the power will enable us to get there together.

Justin

Fear of God

When I was new to Unitarian Universalism I learned a new “Fear of God,” not the fear to believe, or the fear of God’s glory, but the fear to mention his name, the fear to appear too theistic to those who are not. I was shocked then when I read “Our Chosen Faith,” the book given me during the celebration of my membership, that God was all throughout the book.

After doing research into the matter I found that Unitarian Universalism was working toward reclaiming religious language including God. So I sat down today in my office to write a few words about this reclamation. I started with a simple Google search, and was taken down a rabbit hole of history that I found very educational.

In 2003 Rev William G Sinkford, self-proclaimed atheist and President of the UUA, made the national news as he declared that Unitarian Universalism would begin reclaiming religious language. He said in 2003 that it would be his goal to reclaim the “language of reverence, in the association,” citing his issue with the lack of spiritual language anywhere in our principles or traditions.

In a sermon in January of 2003 preached to First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church he said, “I believe that Unitarian Universalism is growing up. Growing out of a cranky and contentious adolescence into a more confident maturity. A maturity in which we can not only claim our Good News, the value we have found in this free faith, but also begin to offer that Good News to the world outside these beautiful sanctuary walls.” Later in that sermon he points to one of the problems he sees with our refusal to claim religious language “Our resistance to religious language gets reflected, I think, in the struggle that so many us have in trying to find ways to say who we are, to define Unitarian Universalism.”

But he was very clear that Unitarian Universalism was not going to adopt the picture of God in the Christian Sense. In his 2009 book, The Cathedral of the World, Forest Church defines God this way “’God’ is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each.” These two men are very clear to define God differently than modern Christianity.

Living in the American South this idea takes on a completely different flavor. In Jackson, Mississippi, public atheists still work against prejudice. Mississippi is not in a world clearly enveloped in humanism or atheism. Many schools still begin their days with Christian prayer and becoming politically active is difficult if not backed by Judeo-Christian identification.

And for this reason I think it is important to reclaim religious language as a whole, but respectful to all parties willing to join the meeting: to understand conversation of faith, belief, and salvation–not in the popular sense but an even more traditional sense. It is important to talk about sin, but sin as the negative action against each other not divine judgment against the self in regard to things we cannot control. It is important to talk about salvation from the prison we build around ourselves that doesn’t involve changing the core of who we are. Most of all it is important to talk about God–whether we mean the deity that teaches us to become better or the Spirit of Life that drives us, let us talk of God, without fear but with love. As we reclaim the language of our UU forbearers we may find that we really aren’t that polarized after all–even in Mississippi.

Six Mississippi Churches Get It about DOMA and Prop 8 Ruling

Originally published June 28 2013 by Eunice Benton

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TO: SUN HERALD – Attn: mynews@sunherald.com,
KAREN NELSON — klnelson@sunherald.com
FROM: MISSISSIPPI UU CONGREGATIONS
CONTACT: Eunice Benton – eunice.benton@gmail.com – 770-356-1057 (cell)
(More references & contacts below)

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SIX MISSISSIPPI CHURCHES ‘GET IT’
ABOUT DOMA AND PROP 8 RULING

MISSISSIPPI CHURCHES LEARN
TO WELCOME ALL PERSONS

How do religious people in Mississippi respond to the Supreme Court’s decisions about DOMA and Proposition 8? For six congregations in the state the news from the court this week added to the educational mission they have been pursuing.

Since last fall six Mississippi congregations have been engaged in a study program to better understand what it means to identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered or ‘queer’ and what it feels like to live in the current American and Southern culture with those orientations. Now these six congregations, all part of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, ‘get it’ about why the court’s ruling is vitally important.

“We believe that love, compassion, acceptance, and justice are at the very heart of what people of faith should be about,” said Eunice Milton Benton, a member of the Oxford Unitarian Universalist congregation. “Our congregations could see that we needed to be more informed and more intentional about welcoming our GLBTQ sisters and brothers. So, last fall, we gathered for a training weekend and set out on a year-long program to be more accepting and welcoming.”

The six churches doing the study program are Mississippi’s Unitarian Universalist congregations and are part of the religious tradition that arose during the Reformation. Although not as omnipresent in the South as some other denominations, the religion has included Europeans and Americans like Joseph Priestly, John and John Quincy Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Adlai Stevenson.

Today the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, of which Mississippi’s churches are a part, offers a study program about being ‘Welcoming Congregations’ and leads a popular justice initiative called ‘Standing On The Side Of Love.’

In Mississippi the congregations working toward being ‘Welcoming Congregations’ are in Ellisville, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, Tupelo and Oxford. The congregations maintain a simple web site (www.uums.org) and a Facebook page (Mississippi Welcoming Congregations) as part of their hospitality initiative.

Jim Becker, a long-time religious leader for Jackson’s GLBTQ community and a past president of the UU Church of Jackson, was very moved by this week’s court’s decisions. “This is a momentous occasion! I nearly had to pull off the interstate to cry tears of great joy. I’ve learned that when the GLBTQ community has to take two steps back, that we just do it, knowing that there will come the day when two-steps forward will be ours,” he said.

Gail Stratton and Pat Miller, members of the Oxford congregation who had to go out of state to get legally married after being in a committed relationship for twenty years, recently noted, “Getting married finally gave us common language with our families, co-workers, friends, acquaintances, and everyone we know for what our relationship means to us! We love each other, and now we don’t dance around ‘what word do we use to describe what we have?’”

Unitarian Universalist congregations have been at the forefront of accepting the GLBTQ community. Two of the central tenets that guide the priorities for the faith, are “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,“ and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” Many ministers and other religious professionals in the tradition are ‘other than straight’ and the right to legal marriage had UUA support early on.

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For more information:

Eunice Benton (UU Oxford) eunice.benton@gmail.com / 770-356-1057

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA)
http://uua.org/index.shtml

UUA Office – GLBTQ Ministries
http://uua.org/directory/staff/multiculturalgrowth/lesbiangay/index.php

Mississippi UU Congregations (links to all congregations)
http://www.uums.org/

UUA President Responds to SCOTUS Decisions
http://uua.org/news/pressroom/pressreleases/287446.shtml

UUA ‘Standing On The Side Of Love’
http://uua.org/love/index.shtml

A Capitol (Very White) Fourth to Us!

Having watched “A Capitol Fourth” on television from Washington DC, I can truly say it was not diverse.

Here was the run-down of the evening’s performances:
1. Barry Manilow–white
2. The cast of Motown, the musical (an all-black cast)
3. Darren Criss (of Glee fame)–(white)
4. Jackie Evanco (child wonder from America’s Got Talent)–white
5. Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln movie clips with John Williams conducting his background music–Spielberg and Williams, white
6. Scotty McCreery (last year’s winner of American Idol)–white
7. Candice Glover (latest winner of American Idol)–a person of color [FINALLY!]

That was the lineup. White lead singers with backup choirs either all black or partial people of color. Can we say white people had the leads and people of color did the backup/backroom stuff?

If that was not bad enough, the cameras that panned the crowd had a hard time finding people of color. When “Motown” performed, the cameras found one or two people of color. When Candice Glover sang, they found one black woman in tears listening to her performance. After Candice sang, they panned the front row (all white) and showed people talking among themselves, looking very bored, and hardly clapping.

TIME WARP! Where was I?

Now I know that across the country this was not the representation at various other locations, but what image do we give to the world when our nation’s supposedly premier performance holds up a white standard and raises it on a flagpole to waive to the world?

When we talk about people of color, I assume we mean people who are other than Caucasian European descent. In the audience we were allowed to see, I saw approximately this ratio: white-90%, black-5%, Asian-4%, other of unknown descent-1%, Hispanic 0%. What?–no Hispanic singers or backup choirs?

If that was not enough, where were the gay performers? How about Lady Bunny–now that would have been a fabulous show! Or how about RuPaul?

At best, “A Capital Fourth” was a bastardization of what this country is. It represented a snow white show interspersed with one or two tiny bits of the diversity of this country. I, for one, was very unimpressed.

Jim Becker
Communications Director, UUCJ