In dismantling white supremacy within their faith, Unitarian Universalists could lead faith groups in ‘long-needed work of justice and redemption in this nation.’
(From left) Interim Co-Presidents Leon Spencer, William G. Sinkford, and Sofía Betancourt (© 2017 Nancy Pierce/UUA)
The moment is now for Unitarian Universalism “to be on the forward moving edge again on racial justice,” said Interim Co-President Sofía Betancourt during a “Co-Presidents’ Reflection” in Thursday’s General Session at the 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans.
“We are hearing from our family of liberal religious traditions that folks are watching, paying attention to what we are doing,” and “looking for leadership” from UUs, said Betancourt. As Unitarian Universalists take up the challenge to dismantle white supremacy, it presents “an invitation to our broader communities to do this long-needed work of justice and redemption in this nation,” she said.
Betancourt and the two other interim co-presidents, William G. Sinkford and Leon Spencer, have served for eleven weeks as interim leaders of the UUA following the resignation of former President Peter Morales on April 1. Morales stepped down during controversy over UUA hiring practices, which critics say favor white people, especially white male ministers.
Jesse King, chair of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, moderated the discussion with the co-presidents, during which they spoke openly of the challenges facing the denomination, especially regarding racial justice, and their hopes for its future.
In describing why she chose to accept the request from former Moderator Jim Key to serve as an interim president until a new president is elected June 24, Betancourt said Key struggled to describe the job he was asking her to take on. “We need you to hold the faith,” Key finally said, according to Betancourt. She then turned to the audience and asked, “Will you continue to hold the faith in Jim’s honor and memory?”
Sinkford said Key told him the UUA needed Sinkford "to help set the table for the future of this faith.” Key went on to say that “the table we thought was perfect in every respect or at least nearly so has some big flaws that need mending,” Sinkford recalled.
Betancourt, Sinkford, and Spencer said they see great opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to finally live into their values with regard to racial justice.
Approximately 700 UU congregations participated in a White Supremacy Teach-In this spring that three UU religious educators organized in response to the crisis. Spencer said, “Gosh, you’ve never seen people so ready with things that some people thought that we shouldn’t do, that it would rock the boat.”
Sinkford added, “There’s a world out there where black people and people of color are getting killed every day. It’s a real tension for me as to whether to invest all of my energy here or out there, and I know it’s a tension for many of you. And the place I’ve had to find in my own spirit is to understand it’s one piece of work.”
Betancourt thanked the many people of color who gave of themselves for decades to bring Unitarian Universalism to this “moment of opportunity.” She observed that the three interim co-presidents—along with King, their conversation facilitator—are people of color. But “we are predominantly a white denomination,” Betancourt said, “and if the white leadership doesn’t participate we’ll continue to burn out our leaders of color and lose them.”
As the audience leapt to its feet and cheered, King thanked the three for their “wisdom, thoughtfulness, time, and your hearts” in leading the faith.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.