Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

We Will Only Rise

By JeKaren Olaoya

“There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
—Arundhati Roy

My mom is a searcher and I love her for that, because we went to a lot of different churches when I was growing up. I got a rich background in what faith can look like. When I went to the Unitarian Universalist church on my own, following her example, I fell in love. I knew instantly that I’d found my faith community.

We Unitarian Universalists like to tell everyone that they're welcome, but I quickly realized that in order to be part of this community, I had to find a way to fit in; to not make waves about my needs. It’s painful, physically and spiritually, to be silenced in an environment that encourages people to speak out against injustice—but it’s something I deal with every day of my commitment to this faith community.

Seen from below looking up, a circle of BIPOC people clasp hands.

I’m not alone: the default in most of our UU churches is whiteness. For non-white UUs, the rules of Unitarian Universalism have been very clear for a long time—Don’t disturb the status quo—and we've had to keep quiet and fade into the background. Many of us are recruited into leadership positions and as soon as we offer an alternative perspective or suggestion, we’re discarded. Too many of us have learned the hard way that the only way that you can stay is if you're quiet and you sit in the back while you try to get spiritual nourishment from the worship service.

As more people of the global majority have been drawn to UU’ism—especially queer BIPOC people—they’re leaving faith systems that tell them they're condemned. These seekers experience our theological freedom and say, “You know what? I’m loved, just as I am! These Principles mean that I have a place in this world, and I have dignity. I want to be part of that.” But when they come into our UU churches, too often they’re met with ambivalence, not welcome.

What would it take to welcome BIPOC people? To start, it would require white UUs to say, Hey, come in. How can we make you feel welcome? How can we incorporate what's important to you?

To create congregations and spaces that are truly welcoming, we have to keep finding ways to widen the circle of care and concern. That circle shouldn’t be a hard, plastic white box; it should be a bubble that morphs and changes and moves. Our greatest aspiration should be that everyone can bring the best of their beliefs and their culture into our UU spaces and get to live them fully, while also incorporating the Principles that we all hold together.

Prayer

Divine Spirit and Ancestors, We are grateful for the empowerment of the voices we are given as we seek liberation for all. Give us the support we need to keep moving forward—because we will not leave; we will not back down; we will only rise, rise, rise. Àṣẹ.

About the Author

JeKaren Olaoya

JeKaren Olaoya (she/her) is a life-long UU, poet, writer, mixed-media artist, and Death and Grief Doula who serves Beloved Conversations, a program of The Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard School of Theology, and the UUA Board of Trustees while attending Starr King School for the Ministry i...

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