Our public witness efforts advocating change in public policy are central to our religious movement. Public witness has been a major part of my own work as president, and it will continue.
And yet, I am convinced that our work aimed at changing unjust laws is part of a larger and even more important challenge: leading a change in the hearts and minds of our culture. Yes, we must speak truth to power. But more importantly, we must persuade the frightened and uninformed.
Consider our advocacy for marriage equality. The laws changed (and what stunning success the last few years have brought!) when attitudes changed.
Similarly, our efforts in the Civil Rights movement and anti-slavery were most effective when they focused on moral appeals and changing people’s hearts. Religion, I have long believed, is much more about what we love than about what we think. The central religious task is to change hearts, not just opinions.
The great challenge of the coming generations is preservation of sustainable human life on earth. Climate change looms as a threat to all of us. The potential effects are devastating, especially to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people. Yet there is hopeful news: it need not happen. Humanity has the knowledge to create a sustainable and healthy future for all.
We face a historic threat. We know what needs to be done. We know we have the capacity to do it, yet we do not. We see stunning levels of willful denial. Again, the real threats are fear and ignorance.
While we UUs can and will advocate for change in public policy as part of our work in public witness, this is not where our central focus should be. Our religious challenge, now as always, is to help change hearts and minds. Although we are often uncomfortable with the language of religious conversion, religious conversion is exactly what is needed.
We need to bear witness to our core religious teachings, like the interdependence of all life and the inherent worth and dignity of all people. People need to see and feel our interconnection. They need to see what they are doing to their children and grandchildren.
How are we to do this? It won’t be easy. It won’t happen quickly. And we can’t do it alone. I believe we already have a model before us. We have only to look at the miraculous (the word is not too strong) change in attitudes around sexuality, gender, and marriage equality. Here are the elements I believe have been critical to our success in this area:
- We joined hands with other progressive religious groups and became part of a larger movement.
- We stood for something, not against something. We framed the issues as matters of equality and love.
- We made it personal. Real people were being marginalized and brutalized and denied basic rights.
- We were relentless. We did not give up when elections and court cases went against us.
Speaking truth to power is important. And speaking truth to power is not sufficient. It never has been.
Let us bear witness to love and truth. Let us help people overcome their fears. We have done it before, and we must do it again. This is our great religious challenge.
This article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of UU World (page 5).