This section explores how Unitarian Universalism grounds us in our work for social justice, exploring the question “What does social justice have to do with Unitarian Universalism?” As Rev. Meg Riley explains, “this section isn’t long but it is dense.” She will appear a few times in the segment to clarify and or frame some of speakers’ ideas. Further, as facilitator you may wish to refer to this guide’s Glossary in order to understand and explain some of the terminology used. Meg encourages listeners to “take the time to hear themselves think,” which this guide makes possible. Meg also points listeners to the book, A People So Bold (Skinner House, 2009), which includes an essay from each of the DVDs speakers.
Materials and Preparation
- A People So Bold DVD
- DVD player, TV/screen, and speakers
- Chalice, candle, and matches
- Writing paper—at least one sheet per participant
- Pens or pencils—at least one per participant
- Copies of Singing the Living Tradition, the UUA hymnal—one per participant
- Optional: newsprint and markers for writing discussion questions that do not appear on-screen
Time: 75-150 minutes (may be spread over two or more meetings)
Welcome participants. Recruit a volunteer to light the chalice.
Offer opening words 436 from Singing the Living Tradition as the volunteer kindles the flame.
Note: The length of this discussion varies significantly, and depends on whether you pause the DVD twice for two 30 minute discussions, or once for one ten minute discussion, or any combination of the options presented below. Plan in advance how you will allocate the time and lead the process.
Introduce the "Theological Roots" segment of the video:
Today we have an opportunity to reflect on how Unitarian Universalism grounds us in work for social justice. You’ll hear and speak about our faith’s theological roots and be introduced to some theological concepts that can inspire us as we seek to make the world more just, equitable, and compassionate.
Introduce the speakers that participants will hear from in the next segment: Paul Rasor, Rebecca Ann Parker, Dan McKanan, and Jill Schwendeman (see Appendix A for biographies.)
Watch the first part of the “Theological Roots” segment of the DVD. You can pause the DVD for discussion at two different places.
- At 6:31 Meg asks listeners to reflect on the following questions:
- What was most resonant for you in the discussion so far?
- How would you describe the relationship between social justice and Unitarian Universalism?
- What stories would you tell?
- What parts of history would you lift up?
- What would you say about your congregation today?
- At 7:53 listeners are invited to reflect on the following question, which appears on screen:
- What gifts does Unitarian Universalism offer you as someone who wants a more just and equitable world?
Whether you pause at 6:31, 7:53, or both, you may lead the group in reflection and discussion with this process, which can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on time you allot for each piece. Options:
- Offer a time of silence for individual reflection and writing.
- Form the group into pairs or triads in which participants take turns sharing their responses and ideas.
- Bring the whole group back for a summary discussion, asking for highlights of the small group discussions.
Present or Future
Explain that this section begins with comments and questions from two Unitarian Universalists in the audience. Tell participants that Paula Cole Jones will refer to her home congregation, All Souls in Washington, DC. For the purpose of understanding her reference it’s valuable to know that All Souls is much more multicultural than most Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Play the DVD, continuing with panelists’ discussion of our theological roots and their relationship to social justice.
Pause at 14:42 and invite the group to reflect on the on-screen questions.
- Look through the hymnal with the question: Where do we ground our hope?
- What difference does it make if we ground our social justice work in the imperfect present as opposed to focusing on the future?
You may choose to use a process of individual reflection and small-group work as suggested above for Part 1 of this segment. Or you may invite the whole group to just start right in looking at the hymnals and responding to the questions.
Tell participants that Part 3 of “Theological Roots” continues with discussion about Unitarian Universalism’s “emotional culture,” and begins with questions from Unitarian Universalists in the audience: Adam Gerhardstein, Rev. Ned Wight, and Rev. Dr. Thandeka.
Explain that Rebecca Parker, in responding to their questions, is going to use a familiar term in an unfamiliar way, and it may seem surprising. Tell the group:
Rebecca will talk about white supremacy being part of Unitarian Universalist identity and culture. She is not talking about the KKK or any kind of white supremacist organizations.
She’s using the term “white supremacy” in the way it’s often used in anti-racism work: to describe a system of racial privilege and power that benefits white people and harms non-white people.
Specifically, she’ll speak of the emotional consequences of a white supremacist culture—a culture that presents white people as rational and emotionally controlled, while at the same time associates people of color with strong emotions and irrationality. You’ll have an opportunity to discuss Unitarian Universalist culture, and white supremacy, after we watch this lively discussion on-screen.
Watch video. Pause at 20:23 to display questions for discussion.
- Share with someone else a memory of community based justice work.
- What do you think Rebecca Parker means by placing our history in white supremacist culture?
- What’s your congregation’s emotional culture?
- How does it affect justice work? (i.e. does it encourage or discourage risk taking as an activist, an ally?)
To respond to the first question, invite participants to reflect for a short time, then form pairs and share memories.
Invite participants to respond to the second and third questions in the large group. If, at the end of the video, the group’s seems energized about discussing UU culture you may wish to skip the first question (about memories of community based justice work) or to offer it third.
Invite participants to reflect and share with these or similar words:
Take a few moments to think of something that you’re inspired by in Unitarian Universalism’s theological tradition. Think of a way you can say it in a few words. [Pause.] I invite you to share those things that inspire you about our Unitarian Universalist theology.
Go around the room with each willing participant sharing a few words.
- View "Theological Roots, Part One" (YouTube, 8:01)
- Part Two (YouTube, 7:03)
- Part Three (YouTube, 5:30)
A People So Bold Theology and Ministry for Unitarian Universalists
John Gibb Millspaugh
From Skinner House Books
More than 20 inspiring essays explore the vision, language and practice of Unitarian Universalism today.