It is important to be honest about our complicated history, not to bring shame or guilt, but to bring understanding that can inform our faith today.
As the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, approaches, I am reflecting on the charge that the Rev. William G. Sinkford delivered to me during my installation at GA 2017.
He said, “Call us to become the religious people we want to be. We have a new chance to move toward beloved community that can be squandered by failure of will or insistence on holding habits that point to our past rather than our future. Call us to a belief in the good news our tradition can offer and our communities can sustain.”
I may have been the one holding Sinkford’s hand during the charge, but I believe his words were meant for all of us. Throughout my first year as president, I have seen Unitarian Universalists taking up this charge, bravely embracing the responsibility of what it means to be a person of faith in dangerous times. I have witnessed people filled with unprecedented energy for what this faith offers. I’ve seen congregations with hearts on fire for the work of becoming a beloved community and doing justice within and beyond their walls.
In North Carolina, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte is dedicating their full attention to racial and environmental justice with the express purpose of transformation. And congregations everywhere are sharing about the impact of their participation in the Promise and the Practice Campaign to fund the commitment to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU). Their testimonies describe how meaningful the campaign to raise funds for bluu has been. Together, the UUA, donors, and congregations have already raised nearly $2.8 million dollars in pledges and gifts toward our goal of $5.3 million. If you have not yet joined this effort, you can find resources at uua.org.
At the UUA, we are applying a lens of equity, inclusion, and change to all we do—from our mission and priorities to the budget and finances. We are also using models of shared and collaborative leadership, most prominently in the co-moderators of the UUA Board, Mr. Barb Greve and Elandria Williams, and also with the co-regional leads in the Southern Region and the co-directors of the Ministries and Faith Development Office. We are committed to the work of the Commission on Institutional Change and moving to implement their recommendations.
This is only a beginning. Living into the beloved community also means reckoning with a fuller picture of how racism has lived within Unitarian Universalism.
In April, I was in Memphis, Tennessee, with the Poor People’s Campaign as part of the commemorative events remembering the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There, the Memphis Unitarian Church has been telling its part in that history in ways that illuminate the fullness of who we are. It’s a history that includes many members who were active in the civil rights movement, including one who printed the iconic “I Am a Man” signs for the sanitation workers strike. But a story told less often is that of the minister at the time who was highly critical of both the civil rights movement and the NAACP.
We love to celebrate when we were on the right side of history—when we let our faith and commitment to human dignity and commitment to universalism lead us into the practice of justice. But that is not the whole story, and it is important to be honest about our complicated history, not to bring shame or guilt, but to bring understanding that can inform our faith today.
We are in a time of deep challenge and opportunity in our faith. The reality for many is dire, and increasing threats are real. Policies of the state seek to silence, imprison, deport, and even murder people. Our congregations are faced with important questions of how we answer to empire as well as how to wrestle with how close we have come to beloved community—or how far we still have to go. It is important that we not let the opportunity or the urgency of this moment slip away. Like the theme of this year’s GA says, “All are called” to this work, and I believe we have been readying for it.
My hope is that this GA may be one more collective pace forward to “becoming the religious people we want to be,” the religious people we are called to be. I hope you will join me in person in Kansas City, or online, June 20–24, to experience your calling woven into the wide tapestry of our faith.
Yours in love, Susan
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UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray
The Rev. 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, Henry.