Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Faith Like a River: A Program on Unitarian Universalist History for Adults

Handout 1: Love and Power

Excerpted from "Love and Power: The Universalist Dilemma" by the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, first presented as the John Murray Distinguished Lecture at the UUA General Assembly in Boston, June 2003. Used with permission.

The story we Unitarian Universalists tell about ourselves is a story of heroic dissent. Much of that story is true: For a long time, and in many places, we have affirmed life in the face of death; we have stood for justice in the face of injustice. That has been our gift and a small part of our blessing to this world. But what looks to us like heroic dissent has often gone unnoticed in the larger world. We call for a world of love and justice, but who is listening? The truth is that liberal religious people, including Unitarian Universalists, have been politically marginalized for some time...

We Unitarian Universalists are extraordinarily faithful witnesses. We are willing to call attention to injustices by the score; our congregations' social justice and faith in action committees are worn out and burnt out from the gestures of sympathy and solidarity with which we burden them and ourselves. We are vigorous and vocal in our unwillingness to allow anyone within the sound of our voices to believe, even for a second, that the regressive behavior of our government, or the racist behavior of the local police force, or the homophobic behavior of state legislators, has anything whatsoever to do with us. We are not that kind of people, we say, and we are proud of it, proud of being able to say that as bad as things periodically get, we do not remain silent. We speak up; we speak out.

We feel good about the commitments we make, and in so doing, we make a point as well: We make sure that our hands are clean, that we are disconnected from the big horrors and the small ones that plague this broken world. We make it clear that our hearts are pure. "Don't blame me," in the words of the bumper sticker, "I voted for the other guy." Above all else, we are wedded to our innocence. We believe that "love will guide us through the hard night." But I am not so sure of that as I once was; I have found myself afraid for our faith—afraid that we have embraced a love too sentimental, too anemic, too powerless to matter in a world filled with unspeakable acts committed by people who have no interest in our witness. I am afraid that we have embraced only the symbols of love and justice and peace with no commitment, and often no clue about what we will face at the moment we attempt to make these things real. I am afraid we have consistently underestimated the people and the systems we oppose, and overestimated our own skill, our own willingness, and our own resilience. I am afraid that we have settled for cheap grace in a very expensive world...

I have rediscovered in these past few months that I have a healthy tolerance for fear, but that I really cannot bear the idea that I might be a coward. I cannot abide the idea that the faith I love so much is so often paralyzed by purity, so often blocked by a certain kind of cowardice that we render our good news worthless to those whose lives are under siege.