In the midst of critical justice work, it is essential to practice more deeply our faith.
Courtesy Susan Frederick-Gray
Days before the opening of General Assembly in June, I chose a gently worn purse from my closet to donate as part of GA’s service and witness project. As I went through the pockets, I found a small, bright orange piece of paper with the words “We will not comply” printed boldly across the top. These cards were distributed by Puente Arizona as part of a larger noncompliance strategy with the statewide racial profiling law known as the “show me your papers” law. I used it to replace my driver’s license. It was terrifying at worst and inconvenient at best to envision not producing identification at a roadside stop, but it was part of a larger effort to practice noncompliance with injustice at the individual, institutional, communal, state, and national levels.
No matter who you were or how you were positioned in society, there was a role for you to play. Being engaged meant more than calling an elected official to influence their agenda or donating to a group for them to take action. It was not just attempting to get someone else to do something, it was shaped by what we each did, as individuals and as communities, every day when we left the house.
This issue of UU World arrives to you in the time of ingathering and water communion services for many congregations; however I am writing it just days after General Assembly, when I am inspired by the thousands of Unitarian Universalists showing up in the streets in their communities, in the Capitol, and at the border in acts of direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the policies and practice of family separation by the U.S. government and in particular ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Family separation is not new in the United States. There are centuries of enslavement, genocide, and displacement throughout our history. The massive current deportation and detention system built up over more than a decade, as well as systems of mass incarceration and police brutality, have been separating and orphaning children for years. But it is also the case that the brutality and inhumanity has been escalating under the current federal administration. The particular context we are living in challenges each of us to ask: what acts will we take each day to not comply with these growing practices of dehumanization and violence? For whenever we practice cruelty against another or are complicit in such practices, we undermine our own humanity, our own capacity for kindness and compassion. It is all connected.
At the annual ministers gathering that precedes General Assembly, the Rev. Rose Schwab of Shawnee Mission UU Church reminded us that in times of such injustice, “Civil disobedience is not just disobedience. It is obedience—obedience to a higher moral law, obedience to faith, obedience to our values.”
‘Obedience” isn’t a word that is readily embraced in Unitarian Universalism, yet this statement invites us to embrace a more powerful, committed practice of our values, knowing that it will lead us into noncompliance during times of great injustice. And it also calls us to strengthen our practices of compassion and kindness as a way to nuture our humanity in the midst of systems trying to tear us down and apart. In the midst of critical justice work, it is essential to practice more deeply our faith—to attend to that which gives us life, that which inspires and strengthens our hearts and sustains our spirits.
During some of the most difficult times in Arizona, I would remember the words of another Arizona leader, Tupac Enrique Acosta of Tonatierra Community Development Institute, who said the whole purpose of the spiritual community is to develop more fully our humanity.
As our communities draw together for the beginning of another year, may we remember that the need to sustain our compassion and our humanity is an essential part of our resistance and faithful leadership. May we invest in practices of community and theology that nurture the values of interdependence and dignity, that foster the practice of kindness, that nurture our souls with the beauty of life.
Yours in love, Susan
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The Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray is the ninth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). She was elected in June 2017 to a six-year term after serving congregations in Phoenix, Arizona; Youngstown, Ohio; and Nashville, Tennessee. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Brian Frederick-Gray, and their son.