A mixture of triumph and pain

A mixture of triumph and pain

The UUA General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, contained a mixture of triumph and pain that reflects the state of our movement and the state of America.

Peter Morales
UUA President Peter Morales
© Nancy Pierce


Our General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, contained a mixture of triumph and pain that reflects the state of our movement and the state of America. One of the highlights of GA was the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. What a joy it was to invite over a hundred same-sex couples onto the stage. We should be proud of the role we played in this historic victory. Thousands of UUs devoted millions of hours in campaign after campaign, rally after rally, year after year.

This victory is in stark contrast to the resurgence of racial hatred and violence across the nation. We see case after case of unarmed black people murdered by police. We came to GA with the memory of the murders in Charleston fresh and raw. Beyond violent racism is the pernicious mutant racism that disguises itself as “preventing voter fraud” or a “war on drugs.”

The contrast is stark. On marriage equality and gender issues we have made spectacular progress in the last twenty years. On the issue of race we see a resurgence of Jim Crow: mass incarceration of black Americans, attacks on voting rights, income inequality that crushes people of color. I see the pain on the faces and in the body language of my colleagues of color.

Why are issues of gender and sexuality so much easier for us than issues of race? I don’t mean to diminish the tremendous progress we have made in areas like the Welcoming Congregations initiative and the settlement of so many gay and lesbian clergy. Yet the stark fact remains: we are far more comfortable with issues of sexuality than with issues of race. Why?

We should not ignore hopeful signs. Our return to Selma on the fiftieth anniversary and the rededication of so many leaders to the work was inspiring. The persistent commitment of so many UUs to the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina is heartening. The number of religious professionals of color has more than doubled in the last decade.

And yet. And yet we have seen stunning progress in the inclusion of LGBTQ people while the progress in the inclusion and full acceptance of people of color is halting, slow, and uneven. What is true of our movement is more true of our nation. Why?

I believe the reason goes to our deep human tendency toward tribalism. We instinctively, even unconsciously, divide people between us and them. Race is one powerful way we do it, but not the only way. People who speak with a different accent are outside our tribe. People who speak a different language or who have a different religion are other. Gender issues are easier because many LGBTQ people are members of our tribe. They are family, friends, colleagues.

None of us wants the racial divide we have today. None of us. But how do we move forward? How do we build the world we dream of?

The problem is not cognitive. We can’t think our way to the Beloved Community. Workshops and trainings won’t get us there.

We build a new world through action. We build relationships. We build alliances. We must open ourselves to experience the “other”—for once we truly experience one another in depth and over time the “other” is no longer other. “They” become “we.” We have to cross the borders of race, culture, and class. This is why I am such a believer in experiential programs like the College of Social Justice.

Building the Beloved Community takes time. It takes commitment. It is soul work. And together, together, we can do it.