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By Ellen Zemlin, a White Unitarian Universalist.
For me, there's never really been a question about whether my Unitarian Universalism and my commitment to antiracism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism are related. My introduction to justice work came sitting in a circle on the floor at youth conferences, in late-night conversations with fellow YRUUers [Young Religious Unitarian Universalists], and at Sunday School. Concepts like "collective liberation" and "inherent worth and dignity" have always walked hand in hand. The political isn't just personal—it's spiritual.
I was brought up UU and knew the Seven Principles from an early age. But it wasn't until antiracism became a large part of my life that I began to realize what the Principles really meant, and how radical a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person really is. Through this, my antiracist and anti-oppressive practice and my spiritual practice became more and more tightly intertwined. I began organizing church workshops and conferences focused on social justice. I served on denominational committees about cultural misappropriation and cross-cultural engagement. I built strong and lasting relationships with other UUs based on our common commitments. Most importantly, though, I kept on learning and growing as a person of faith and as an activist.
Through this fusion of religious community and consciousness-raising group, I learned about privilege and power, about marginality and oppression, and about the institutions and structures within our society that are built on and enable the perpetuation of these realities. But I learned more than that. I learned about radically inclusive and intentionally anti-oppressive spaces. I learned how to make mistakes—and how to be forgiven. I learned that the relationships we form with others in pursuit of liberation are the building blocks for a more just world. I learned that standing in solidarity with others is often more powerful than having others stand in solidarity with you.
Sometimes people worry that the growing emphasis on antiracism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism within our faith is beginning to eclipse the more traditionally religious aspects of it. On the contrary, I see this as a shift toward more radical and revolutionary forms of spiritual sustenance. Even though I don't attend church regularly, I find spiritual fulfillment in working together with UUs and other people of faith to build a better world. I've stayed UU because I feel called to work for a more just society, and because I feel that my denomination is doing important work toward that.
While preparing for volunteer service after college, I kept encountering a verse from the Old Testament: What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) The theist language isn't particularly meaningful for me, but the sentiment is. What does my commitment to building radical, just, and beloved community require of me but to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly? At this point, only these things and nothing more.
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Last updated on Friday, July 20, 2012.
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