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Engaging Families in Anti-Oppression, Anti-Racism Work
Engaging Families in Anti-Oppression, Anti-Racism Work
Faith Development, Families & Faith Development

By Tracey L. Hurd, Ph.D.

Our UU faith offers a place to nurture our individual and collective spirits. As a denomination we try to offer unwavering support for families of all forms. Our congregations are in unique positions to provide families opportunities to work together, sharing and learning across the ages. Intergenerational family engagement in social justice work is meaningful to the toddler who learns by association, the school-age child who contributes towards a larger effort, the youth who gathers live examples of how to put faith in action, and the adult who deepens in understanding of self, faith, and families.


Engage all families. Rev. Bobbie Nelson wrote, in 1984, "Recently someone asked me, 'How do you work with very young children?' I believe that social justice is 'caught' not 'taught.' When children are involved in the excitement of a project with everyone else in the community, then they catch the spirit. That spirit is hard to kill if it is nourished."


Provide active opportunities for families to participate together toward anti-oppressive social change. Worship, education, and service, imbued with a justice lens, make our Principles come to life. Family opportunities may take the form of workdays, with tasks for all ages and child care for very young children. Other times, shared social action can be multi-layered: School-age children might explore the Race to Justice curriculum in their religious education program, while youth might participate in a city-to-city work program, while some adults collaborate to raise funds for college scholarships for youth historically unable to attend, and others participate in workshops on Parents as Social Justice Educators. Layered, multifaceted action toward justice can be highlighted during worship services, providing yet another dimension. When planning for families, plan for participants of all ages. Rev. Bobbie Nelson (1984) explains: "All of our projects do not need to be heroic in size. We talk globally when most of our children, who have a much smaller view of the world, need projects that are within their perspective."


An anti-oppression lens is critical to every aspect of congregational life. Lifespan faith development is part of the fabric of all of congregational life and ministry. Religious education and social justice are branches of the same tree. Over two decades ago, there was a national workshop on that specific topic. During their keynote addresses, Rev. Bobbie Nelson and Rev. Dick Gilbert explored infusing work toward justice into congregational worship, education, and opportunities for service. The Rev. Dick Gilbert (1984) offered five arguments for what he called 'the indivisibility of religious education and social responsibility':

  • Meaning emerges from personal investment in the common life. Social action is a vehicle for personal growth.
  • We learn by doing and we do by learning. Our lives bring us to religious thinking, more than the other way around.
  • It is our tradition: Our religious heroes and heroines did things that embody our faith.
  • Social responsibility is the spirit in action; religious ideas yearn to be embodied.
  • We learn not as mind or feelings or spirit alone, but as whole beings with thoughts, feelings, convictions, behaviors.

Children, families, and youth need to be wholly engaged through words and deeds to grow in faith. Anti-oppression is learned as fully in practice as it is in worship or formal religious education.


Ours is a living faith. Families need venues to intentionally put their faith in action. Congregations need the energy and resources of families. The lived meaning of faith is deepened, and large segments of congregational communities are welcomed, with family involvement. Families need concrete involvement with anti-oppression work that links UU faith with anti-oppression ideology /work in many real-life contexts. Intentionally providing for family engagement in anti-oppression, social-justice work requires adjusting programs so that a large range of people are welcomed. This process is much more than simply accommodating families; it is a process of deeply welcoming all who are willing to come into the lives of our faith communities. It is both a process and product of anti-oppression work. Infusing education, service, and worship for families, we enact our Principles. We:

  • honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • respect and nurture justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • accept one another and encourage spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • nurture a free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • support the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and
  • respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.


Rev. Richard Gilbert (1984). "The Compleat Church: Linking Religious Education and Social Action." Delivered as part of the Unitarian Universalist National Workshop on Social Justice.

Rev. Roberta Nelson (1984). "Religious Education for Social Justice." Delivered as part of the Unitarian Universalist National Workshop on Social Justice.

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