When my daughter Shannon was in the sixth grade at a public elementary school, she made the point, during a classroom discussion, that a community organization with the word “Christian” in its name might discourage non-Christians from joining. Some kids in the class looked at her as if she had condoned devil worship. She was raised to accept and respect all people and was surprised at their reaction. However, she quickly learned that the dominant social culture in her school equated Christianity with goodness.
A daughter of a friend of mine also spoke up in her elementary class one day when the teacher openly criticized pagans as heathens who hated God. Allison responded that this couldn’t be true because her mother was a pagan and she wasn’t like that at all. The teacher was shocked, but not nearly as shocked as Allison’s mother was that she had been “outed” as a non-Christian in their conservative community.
Children and youth raised as Unitarian Universalists have often spoken out unflinchingly against racism and other oppressions, giving voice to the injustices they see in the world. They do not intrinsically fear that calling attention to oppression exacerbates rather than seeks to eliminate it. They don’t struggle to find the words to explain their offense, and they have deeply internalized the understanding that silence about oppression breeds more injustice. Standing up and speaking out can be risky, but they have been taught to do it anyway. Some have even been known to call adults in their congregations to task for making tasteless jokes or disrespectful remarks about the religious beliefs of others or a childhood faith they rejected.
How have your children and youth spoken up? Have they taken a stand on something they believe strongly in? How did their actions affect others? Were they encouraged to continue to act, or were the repercussions too daunting for them to feel confident in speaking out under certain circumstances again?
I sometimes envy the confidence and self-assuredness of our youth, who are vocal about their religious beliefs and who readily call attention to the injustices they witness. I am saddened by those who learn to squelch their need to stand up and speak out, yet I understand why this often happens. However, with the right support, they can continue to express their truths and reveal injustice, even in the face of disbelief or shock. They can spread the good news of Unitarian Universalism and create the change we all long to see in our world. They can continue to stand up and speak out for those who remain silent. And perhaps the more they do speak out, the more others will choose to join their voices with them.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).