Our faith has spoken out against a wide variety of oppressions for over 200 years. Our forefathers and foremothers agitated against slavery, economic injustice for workers, and the right to vote for women, just to name a few.
But while these public pronouncements are fine, it is the actions that can speak louder than any words that are spoken. There were Universalists and Unitarians who harbored runaway slaves and helped them escape to freedom. Some were beaten and jailed themselves for what they did to help another human being. When women demanded the vote, courageous women chained themselves to the fence at the White House in Washington. These women were pelted with eggs, called unmentionable names, beaten by police, and put in jails.
When the Civil Rights movement was galvanizing the country, Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay people went to Alabama and Mississippi in support of African Americans seeking the end of Jim Crow laws that barred them from voting. Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo gave their lives in that struggle and are rightfully honored for their sacrifice today.
In more modern times, our fellow congregants have been arrested for protesting against the treatment of undocumented workers who were housed in inhumane conditions in Arizona. There has been civil disobedience by our leaders who have put their bodies on the line to protest injustice for the rights of same sex couples to marry.
There is the story of Henry David Thoreau being jailed for non-payment of a tax levied to support the Mexican War of 1845. Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him in jail. Emerson asked why Thoreau was in jail and Thoreau replied, “Waldo, why aren’t you in here with me?”
I must confess that I have never been arrested for any of my protests. I am not sure what I would do if faced with that prospect. I hope that I would be brave enough to face being beaten, jailed, or harmed in some way for a moral issue. I have only had verbal abuse heaped upon me at the protests I have attended.
As I approach retirement, I wonder about how I can still be involved in putting my faith into action. Maybe I will never be arrested. But I can also put my values into action in less dramatic ways. I can write letters to politicians. I can lobby elected leaders for better treatment of those that are oppressed. I can educate myself and others on the issues that matter. I can contribute to causes such as the Southern Poverty Law Center who use the courts to overturn injustices and seek to suppress those that hate because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin.
There is much that I can do to bring about a more perfect union and help bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice. Reflect on what you can do to add your efforts to those of hundreds and thousands of people of good will who are working to build the beloved community. I think you will find your efforts soul satisfying.
Yours in the Faith,