Readers respond to the Fall 2015 issue.
While individual Unitarian Universalists and congregations, the 2015 General Assembly, and the staff of the UUA support the Black Lives Matter movement, statements of support in print (like Christopher L. Walton’s “From the Editor” column in the Fall issue) and in social media bring a by now predictable push back. Though it is not possible to tell if a commenter is a UU, many “All Lives Matter” comments made on UU World’s and the UUA’s websites and social media channels are bolstered by reference to the First Principle. The ensuing comments and rebuttals are frequently emotional and/or disrespectful.
Senior editor Kenny Wiley’s “Five Ways to Support Black Lives Matter” (8.10.15; see page 14) prompted one typical exchange on Facebook, with 46 comments. (It was shared 49 times, “liked” 161 times, and reached 8,073 people.) Following is a relatively respectful unedited sample. (To reiterate, one cannot assume that any particular commenter is a Unitarian Universalist; social media extends beyond our current membership.)
Evelyn Chris Virgil All lives matter. (9.1.15)
Jenny Daugherty Smith They do. But some people needed a reminder that that includes the black lives. (9.1.15)
Robert B. Reno Hmmm. . . . Jenny it seems to me if someone is not intelligent enough to understand the word “all” it wouldn’t matter what you called it. (9.2.15)
Kevin LeMaster No I don’t think so. I think they need a reminder that justice matters regardless of race. Black Lives Matter doesn’t seek justice, they live off of division and hate. Give me one good reason Darren Wilson should be arrested. If you can’t then you might rethink who you’re supporting. (9.2.15)
Vera Hannaford Wow. I really thought that UU people would be more down with Black Lives Matter. Did I stumble onto Fox News? (9.2.15)
Brenda Daly Kevin LeMaster: have you read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow? If so, how can you say that the Black Lives Matter movement lives “off division and hate”? (9.2.15)
Ellen Skagerberg The problem with “All Lives Matter” is that it has been used as an anti-abortion slogan.
That said, UUs welcome a range of opinions, beliefs, and stages of growth. One can be a religious liberal without being, say, a political liberal. The idea that we all have to believe the same, or to shut up if we vary from the mainstream UU opinion, is not in keeping with our Third and Fourth Principles. (9.3.15)
James Clarke Jenny, the UUs who need a reminder of that clearly have an inadequate understanding of what “every person” refers to in the First Principle. (9.6.15)
At uuworld.org, Wiley’s article received four comments, including this from “rkean”: “Hard to imagine an issue that is more real or current than unarmed people being murdered by the police. Black Lives Matter is getting at one of the violent, daily manifestations of racism and white supremacy in our U.S. society.” (9.13.15)
On August 12 we posted a link on Facebook to a news story about the Black Lives Matter banner at River Road UU Church in Bethesda, Maryland, being vandalized for the second time in two weeks. (See senior editor Elaine McArdle’s coverage on page 45.) It was shared 34 times and 56 people “liked” it. It reached 8,473 people. Among the 58 comments, Carrie Mol wrote, “The amount of white privilege present in this thread boggles my mind. Black Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter. It’s just the black ones we are concerned about right now. The number of black men and black women dying because of direct and indirect actions of police is appalling. Can we focus on that problem? Or on the Native lives, because they are at risk, too? See, the too is implicit, but you’d rather argue over whether we’re being inclusive rather than being appalled that our brothers and sisters of color are at higher risk of being killed by people who are supposed to protect and serve them, too.” (8.13.15)
In UUA President Peter Morales’s column in the Fall issue, “A Mixture of Triumph and Pain,” he wrote, “Why are issues of gender and sexuality so much easier for us than issues of race?” Marnie Singer responded, “You seem to have fallen into the common conflation of issues of gender and sexuality. They are not at all the same! . . . More accurately, you might say that sexual orientation issues are easier because we are coming to see that LBG people are members of our tribe. However, transgender and gender variant people, even in our liberal congregations, are still seen as ‘other’ and not welcomed. There is more work to do.” (9.3.15)
Barry Thomas wrote, “He crows about the ‘victory’ related to the issue of marital equality. No matter how sympathetic I may be to the rights of gay and lesbian members of society, I cringe at this crowing when I think about the substantial minority in society who are losers on the other side of the victory—now, more disenfranchised and more excluded from mainstream society because they hold deeply felt values about holy matrimony different from his. By embracing one group of ‘others,’ his victory has created another group of ‘others,’ excluded from his circle. . . . [W]hat about the police who he describes in inflammatory, intemperate, and unsubstantiated terms as murderers and the white ‘others’ of us in society that he characterizes as instinctively tribal and, therefore, racist. These words and this single-minded advocacy of one group over another could not be more divisive and contrary to good conflict resolution, enlightened peacemaking practice, and our liberal religious principles.” (9.9.15)
In “Retaining Our Humanity,” the Rev. Schuyler Vogel wrote, “Unitarian Universalists are often accused of being moral relativists, and of having no core of faith to worry about preserving or holding on to. We have no creed, no doctrine we must sign to agree with when we join our congregations.” David Kipp responded, “[T]hank you for that gentle and interesting piece. I differ with you about UU’s lack of creed or tolerance for diverse views. I’m a lifelong (and currently suffering) Unitarian, and I can assure you that a person who dares challenge any central tenets of political liberalism, which masquerades as social justice, is openly scorned, mocked, and made unwelcome by UU congregations. Our creed is not religious, it is political, and our faith is deeply undermined by it.” (8.25.15)
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Kenneth Sutton is managing editor of UU World.