As Unitarian Universalists, we seek to be as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible of all people and cultures. And, we each can only fully know our own experience. Therefore, when we gather together, it is important to be intentional about how we engage with one another and how we present our ideas and share our aspirations in order to avoid unintended impact and harms.
The General Assembly Planning Committee is committed to supporting Program/Worship leaders at each General Assembly with guidance for prioritizing and discovering how programming can be created in ways where every attendee can locate themselves in workshops.
This is not about controlling language or using the “right words.” Inclusion is about demonstrating respect and showing an understanding that others have different experiences of the world that are valid and true, and honoring how people see themselves. It is less about not using or only using certain words and instead ensuring that we name things and people in myriad ways so that everyone feels acknowledged.
Often people who live inside the dominant culture are simply unaware of how the dominant culture engages people with marginalized identities. And, sometimes people with one marginalized identity are unaware of how other marginalized communities are impacted by the dominant culture or other cultures.
This document is not and will never be finished. We are all always learning more about how to be more inclusive. And, we hope that it may provide insights to help you affirm multiple experiences at our largest gathering of Unitarian Universalism.
Regardless of the particular identity, some considerations apply to all:
- Try to use a variety of descriptors and language choices, rather than relying on a single metaphor or description (e.g., "spirit, God, the universe, the great unknown" instead of just "spirit").
- Use a diversity of readings, music, messages, and other content in terms of the identities of authors/composers. Consider drawing from a variety of genres and cultures if they are connected to your message and you can contextualize and honor the source.
- Examine how colloquialisms and metaphors can include and exclude people or communicate the superiority or inferiority of certain groups (e.g., body-based metaphors, metaphors around darkness/lightness, etc., see more below).
- Strive to be both preemptively and radically inclusive of all possible identities in any given space. Avoid "othering" of identities that you do not hold.
- As much as possible, avoid binaries (e.g., brothers and sisters, Black and white, gay and straight, theists and atheists) in favor of broader language (e.g., people of all genders, races, sexualities, and beliefs).
The following is a partial examination of various aspects of identity, and considerations that UUs with marginalized identities in those areas have asked to be taken into account.
WARNING: the next section contains examples of what not to do.
Race is a social construct designed to oppress people with darker skin to support colonization and uncompensated use of their bodies and labor to the benefit of other peoples and countries, predominantly in western Europe. Unitarian Universalism is actively seeking to live into its potential and commitment to be an anti-racist, multiracial faith.
- While light and dark exist in nature and we need both the night sky and the stars, light/dark metaphors can become problematic when dark is always equated with negativity.
- A group of predominantly white people singing songs created and sung by people who were enslaved and oppressed as they worked for their liberation and the freedom to live their lives can feel insensitive and painful to many people of color.
- Remember that the UU community is made of people of many different races when considering how your message will be received. Avoiding centering whiteness (e.g., by only using readings and music written by white people, by treating white people and their lived experiences as the "default," etc.) is a key way to counter white supremacy culture.
Ethnicity is the national or cultural identity of a people. Ethnic groups often have rituals, dress, food, and practices that are specific to their people and are identifiable as belonging to that ethnicity.
- Using non-English words and songs can be powerful in a worship service, and it is imperative that those works are presented by people actually skilled and preferably native speakers of those languages. It is also important to include in your script what language is being used. And, ensure that all accents and special characters are correctly included so closed captions can be correct and respectful.
- Rituals and other cultural aspects should not be used lightly in worship services by people not part of that culture. It is usually inappropriate for those who aren’t deeply connected to that culture to use that culture’s sacred community-building tools.
- Be aware of how Europeans and white people in the US have engaged with particular cultures, especially whether they participated in the destruction and dismantling of the culture that you are trying to honor. (For example, US leaders outlawed and actively sought to destroy Indigenous spiritual practices for the majority of US history; this context is vitally important.)
Gender is a social construct that is not a binary or a continuum. Many people, including many UUs, are non-binary (not exclusively female or male) and/or intersex (born with physical traits of more than one gender). In addition, actively countering sexism and gender-based assumptions is an important value within our faith.
- Consider using gender-inclusive language whenever possible. For example, “Welcome, my friends” is much more wide-reaching than “Welcome, ladies & gentlemen.”
- ALWAYS use individuals’ correct, self-identified pronouns. Never argue with someone about their pronouns or intentionally use the wrong name or pronouns for them. Avoid assuming the gender or pronouns of authors, composers, etc., based only on their names.
- Examine stories that you use as part of worship for gender bias.
Sexual Orientation and Family Construction
Being fully welcoming and inclusive requires acknowledging and honoring the diversity of sexual orientation and the many different ways that people in our faith movement form families.
- Question norms that treat heterosexual parents with children as the primary definition of "family;" embrace notions of chosen families, multigenerational families, families without children, polyamorous families, and more.
- Consider how families appear in stories, songs, readings, and homilies, and strive to feature a diversity of families.
- Acknowledge sexual orientations other than gay and straight; recognize that some people (asexual folks) do not experience sexual attraction and others (bisexual, pansexual, and/or queer folks) are attracted to people of multiple genders.
- Recognize that sexual/romantic relationships are not the only or primary ways that all people form deep connections and bonds with one another.
Physical and Sensory
Everyone’s body works differently. And for all of us, as we age and live our lives, our bodies and what they can do changes. Using language, activities, or music/lyrics that exclude people who cannot do that thing can be painful. Similarly, using metaphors that treat being nondisabled as normal and positive and being disabled as inherently negative is widespread and has a harmful cumulative effect for people with disabilities.
- “Please rise” is preferable to “Please stand.” “...in body or spirit” is preferable to either “...as you are able” or “...as you are able and willing.”
- Consider “bringing forward” instead of “lifting up.”
- Instead of only saying “walking” or “standing,” consider speaking to multiple ways of moving, such as “walking, rolling, and moving.”
- Strive to avoid negative metaphors such as “falling on deaf ears,” “blind to the truth,” “paralyzed with fear,” and “crippled with debt.”
- When using the concept of “brokenness” as something that happens to all people, it is preferable not to illustrate this with stories or pictures of visibly disabled people or animals.
- Be mindful of different bodies and abilities when incorporating movement into your service, such as standing, raising or holding hands, or moving around, and provide options for people who can’t do these things. Similarly, when blessing people’s actions, it is preferable not to assume which body part people use to do it. Bless the reaching out, not the hands, for example.
- Weight stigma remains a very widespread stigma. Please avoid language and imagery that present fatness in negative ways.
People living with anxiety, depression, mania, and other illnesses are valuable parts of our community and don’t need to be “fixed” before being included.
- Avoid using the language of mental health conditions flippantly, colloquially, or as metaphors, for example, “crazy,” “insane,” “nuts,” “OCD,” “bipolar,” and “schizophrenic.”
- Never assume that no one present experiences mental health conditions; normalize the fact that many of us are living with these conditions.
There are many neurodivergent people in UU circles. How autistic people and folks with dyslexia, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, and/or other neurodevelopmental conditions absorb and process information is often very different from how neurotypical people do.
- Ensure you include all the senses whenever possible in your worship.
- Use both metaphor and concrete examples of ideas.
- Strive to avoid unnecessary jargon, acronyms, etc.; whenever possible, use plain language and/or explain things in multiple ways.
- It is very common to use disability slurs for things we don’t like (e.g., “stupid,” “dumb,” “idiot”). So common, that the origin of these words is often forgotten. Please pay attention to the history of the pejoratives you use.
Class is a social system that divides people based on wealth, income, education, geography, resources, jobs, and power. Class isn’t just about money; it’s deeply cultural. People of different classes have different cultural norms around family, community, scarcity, abundance, and other values. In order to create welcoming and meaningful worship experiences for all those present, it’s important to carefully consider how people of different class identities and backgrounds may experience what you are creating.
- Examine your message and other worship materials for unquestioned class-based assumptions around basic necessities like access to housing, transportation, food, etc. Avoid assuming that everyone present has these basic necessities.
- Examine your message and other worship materials for assumptions around income, wealth, and employment. Avoid assuming that everyone present is making ends meet, is employed, can count on being able to retire, or works certain jobs and not others.
- Examine your message and other worship materials for assumptions around education. Avoid assuming that everyone present has graduated from high school or gone to college, and avoid using overly academic or obtuse language.
- “Good-hearted” recommendations based on understandings of particular UU values may feel shaming or insensitive to people without the means to engage in those behaviors (e.g., purchasing organic food or only buying sustainably harvested materials or “eco-friendly” packaging).
- Travel, education, and exposure to other cultures can be limited by financial means. Avoid assuming that everyone present has traveled widely or at all.
While this may seem like an exhaustive list, it is not. Thank you for taking the time to consider everyone who will be part of our community that is eager to experience the workshops you create.