“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
These are the words for the proposed 8th Principle of Unitarian Universalism. One need look no further than the report Widening the Circle of Concern from our Commission on Institutional Change to know that we still have ample work to do in achieving that aim of diverse multicultural Beloved Community. Our faith and our institutions have long been characterized as embracing of other belief systems - an embrace of theological pluralism unique to the American religious landscape. That’s something we should be proud of! But if we are to make that lived Unitarian Universalist dream a reality, we must match our embrace of theological pluralism with our embrace of cultural pluralism. We must become, as my colleague, mentor, and architect of the 8th principle project, Paula Cole Jones puts it, a “Community of Communities.”
I will mostly let this lecture speak for itself, but here are a few parts I’d like to highlight:
“Building a community of communities is about honoring and releasing the power of we.” Individualism is not categorically a bad thing, but among other things, the way that the pandemic has been handled in this country demonstrates to us that it can go too far. How might we re-shift our thinking back toward the collective?
Marginalized people always form communities that are safe and affirming of their identities. This is inevitable. The question is- can we create an infrastructure which allows space for this? Will we continue to empower our trans and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to caucus on their own? Affinity groups are certainly common in churches, but the existence of identity-based groups can sometimes receive pushback from the larger congregational culture. Needing affirming and understanding spaces for that doesn’t mean it’s ‘separate’ or that there’s something inherently wrong with the larger church. In fact, churches that have thriving identity-based groups are on the right track toward engraining this vision into the system!
Family model tends to be more reflective of the dominant cultural paradigm, community of communities represents a multicultural one.
Of the many problematic cultural staples of the 90s I grew up with, loved, and was influenced by, the tv show Friends is certainly a highlight. Coming of age with this show, the idea of having a group of “ride or die” friends who you see every day and do virtually everything with became deeply romanticized in my mind. It was so much so that I spent much of my 20s trying to combat feelings of isolation and aloneness by trying to cultivate that Friends feeling in my own life (both in church and secular contexts), and it became realized by my mid- 20s. I even had a group of friends that I watched Friends with just about every day! Unfortunately, however, in doing so, I ultimately sacrificed my sense of self, going against my instincts and better judgment to set good boundaries. Needless to say, this group was short-lived.
Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Monica were something of an adult ‘family.’ The less generous word would be a clique. They were also very homogenous- middle class; white; straight (although many of us wondered if Phoebe was actually bi but was deterred from coming out due to the relentless casual homophobia that the rest of the group exhibited). Such families rely on the existence of an “out group” to define their own identities.
In the wake of the George Floyd verdict, one can’t help but wonder about the killings of unarmed black and brown people where the perpetrators were not held accountable. I believe the Fraternal Order of Police (“fraternal” being the key word here) to be an entity that has acted as a major barrier to such accountability, among many other things.
Unitarian Universalism gives us a beautiful theological foundation for us in moving toward this beloved community, and an even better one if we can become more explicit in our desires to dismantle oppression. When we can shift our thinking of the Church as just a singular community, but as an interdependent web of diverse communities, we can be unstoppable.
Let’s work together on implementing these principles into your congregation. Never hesitate to reach out to your Southern Region staff at email@example.com.