This month’s social justice article is about building a social justice culture which is the outward expression of UUCS’s values seen by the greater community.
Any religion’s rational for being is the values it professes. What makes a value system a religion is acting on those values. Yes, there is more to a religion than values, but I prefer to focus on the essence of religion as applied to Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalist’s values are our Seven Principles and are implemented by our congregation’s mission statement:
“Our mission is to provide a respectful home for intellectual, spiritual, and creative exploration, and to build a community of fellowship, caring and service that lights the flame of social action.”
A mission statement defines an organization’s purpose and provides guidance, i.e. the criteria for decisions made by an organization. Then there is the congregational culture that supports the implementation of UUCS’s mission and UUA’s values.
I’m going to go down a rabbit hole and discuss UUCS’s social justice mission. The Social Justice Team doesn’t have an explicit mission that guides our actions, however UUCS’s Mission Statement provides guidance. My interpretation of UUCS’s mission is UUCS’s focus is social action (justice). The Unitarian Universalist Association provides additional guidance:
UUA’s Justice and Inclusion web page opens with We have a legacy of “deeds not creeds.” Our work for a better world calls us to unexpected places as we harness love’s power to stop oppression.
UUA’s Take Action: Resources for Justice webpage starts with Justice is at the core of our faith. Our congregations are called to make a positive difference in our wider communities.
Those statements say Unitarian Universalism is an action-oriented religion that makes a positive difference in its community. Ending oppression is a huge task and UUCS’s social justice must work to end oppression. If social justice was a novel about ending oppression it would have a plot twist. The hero would succeed at ending oppression but would not forget people impacted by oppression need help to recover from their oppression. Misogyny, racism, anti-immigrant, homophobia, transphobia, global warming, and inequity have had a significant negative impact on those affected by them, including suicide. Too often people work to end oppression and overlook the results of oppression. Is it enough to be a welcoming congregation that works to end homophobia and transphobia? I say it isn’t, but that isn’t my call, it is the congregation’s decision. Working to end oppression doesn’t exclude addressing the impact of oppression. Both can be done.
The Social Justice Team has two ongoing tasks, building a culture of social justice and engaging the congregation in the selection of social justice initiatives and working on those initiatives. If social justice is a core value of UUCS, we must live that value, but what does that mean? To me it means the congregation has a culture that supports social action by actively working to end oppression and social injustices.
What social action(s) should the congregation pursue? There are so many oppressed groups and injustices to be addressed plus the need to help those who have suffered because of them. A primary consideration is the scope of social action. Do we want to address a national issue such as racism, transphobia, inequity, or global warming? Or do we want to address local issues such as homelessness, domestic violence, child abuse, or food insecurity? Scope includes our capabilities, i.e. the resources we have, both personal and institutional, balanced against the magnitude of the issue. Choosing a social action is a congregational decision facilitated by the Social Justice Team.
UUA’s discussion of social justice starts with the importance of social justice the UUA and its congregations:
“Social justice work has long been a part of Unitarian Universalism, and for almost as long it has been a source of tension within and among congregations. One dearly held value-the right to freedom of belief-at times conflicts with our belief that collective social justice work is crucial to who we are as religious people. Congregations need to explore ways of making decisions about social justice actions that affirm both the right to individual belief and the responsibility for corporate social justice action. This section suggests several approaches to decision making about social justice issues.”
Not everyone will agree with social actions chosen by our congregation. That is to be expected. Congregations can have multiple social actions. A congregation of UUCS’s size can support 3 or 4 social actions.
A fair, transparent process is needed for the congregation to select social actions. UUA resources that will help us develop a fair transparent process include:
- Congregational Justice Programs outlines steps to an effective social justice program.
- The Social Justice Empowerment Handbook …supporting congregational action for transformational social change,
- Inspired Faith Effective Action, A Social Justice Workbook for Unitarian Universalist Congregations, and
- Examples of social justice issues are on UUA’s Justice and Inclusion webpage.
Any social justice processes and practices we adopt should be simple, effective, and reflect what is learned from social justice initiatives and actions.
The June Chalice and Flame will discuss the outline of a UUCS social justice program.
~ John Prohodsky, Social Justice Team Chair