Letters and commentary on our story about Jason Shelton’s changes to the lyrics of his beloved song “We Are Standing on the Side of Love.”
Contributing editor Kimberly French’s article “A Gesture of Love” (Fall 2017)—which documented reactions to the word “standing” in the Rev. Jason Shelton’s hymn “Standing on the Side of Love” and the process by which Shelton, after paying attention to critiques from the Rev. Theresa Soto, the Rev. Suzanne Fast, and others, decided to change the lyrics to “Answering the Call of Love”—garnered a larger than usual volume of reader responses, both in traditional letters to the UU World editorial staff and as conversation on Facebook.
One early reply, which came via email, was from Amanda Udis-Kessler from High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who supports the shift. “The change . . . reflects a more mature wisdom about the society we live in and how we are invited to respond. ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ suggested a clear and single division between love and hate . . . ‘Answering the Call of Love’ acknowledges the participation of the many of us UUs who are white in a white supremacist society and encourages us to struggle against a system that benefits us.”
Many readers felt that the shift away from “standing”—part of the phrase first uttered by then-UUA President William G. Sinkford in 2004—is overly sensitive. The phrase became the slogan the UU faith is perhaps best known for, used to promote marriage equality and to resist immigration laws and practices most Unitarian Universalists find unjust; it is emblazoned on T-shirts and banners.
Karolyn Schalk commented on Facebook: “As someone with invisible disabilities . . . I must comment. To stand for a principle is very different than standing physically. Standing for the principle of love for all, equal rights for all and recognition of the worth and dignity of all is very different than ‘answering a call’ which, to me is just wishy-washy in comparison.”
Marty Peak Helman wrote on Facebook, “‘Standing on the side of love’ does not require physical dexterity; it takes mental and emotional commitment.”
Ariel Sublett joined the Facebook discussion to express support for those who said how “standing” excluded them. “It takes courage for people to make themselves vulnerable and share when they were hurt. . . . Can we at least sit with that discomfort instead of trying to minimize their feelings?”
A uuworld.org commenter using the name BldrJanet from Boulder, Colorado, posted that she struggled with the change, but is working to support it. “I feel a sense of loss. . . . But I do recall how excluded I felt when ‘man’ was justified to include all humans. Without much work, I can imagine how these words sting like those words used to sting me.”
Shelton responded at length on uuworld.org, expressing dismay at the “negative reactions” to the change: “Though [the song’s] original intent had nothing to do with accessibility, its impact has become a painful reminder of the ways ableism has diminished our capacity to witness together. . . . I felt it a matter of conscience to act in a way that was responsive to the pain that had become associated with ‘my’ song. I can't change the T-shirts, but I can do this. In the end, Answering the Call of Love is a better metaphor. It’s about responding to what love calls us to do.”
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Kenny Wiley is a Denver-based UU World senior editor and program director for congregational engagement at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. His writing has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, and Skyd Magazine.