UUA launches 'Standing on the Side of Love' campaign

UUA launches 'Standing on the Side of Love' campaign

New website, resources to help congregations rally local communities on behalf of marginalized people.
Jane Greer


The Unitarian Universalist Association launched a new public advocacy campaign this summer, “Standing on the Side of the Love,” aimed at helping UU congregations mobilize support in their communities for marginalized groups.

The campaign’s new, expanded website, standingonthesideoflove.org, went live on September 3. It offers photos and videos, extensive resources for organizers, social networking tools, inspirational stories, and guidelines with best practices.

Standing on the Side of Love (or SSL, which campaign organizers pronounce as “sizzle”) is based on Unitarian Universalism’s First Principle, which affirms and promotes the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” Funded by special donations for one year, the campaign calls Unitarian Universalists to form local groups to address discrimination in their own communities. This might include lobbying for same-sex marriage, calling for immigration reform, or protesting hate crimes. The groups are encouraged to form coalitions with other religious or community groups. As part of the campaign, clergy and religious leaders will be trained in dealing with the local media to maximize their group’s message.

The campaign was started in response to the shooting last year at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. On July 27, 2008, Jim David Adkisson walked into the church’s sanctuary during the performance of a children’s musical and began firing a shotgun, killing two and injuring six. Among the fatalities and the injured were members of TVUUC and Westside Unitarian Universalist Church, also in Knoxville.

In a letter later found by police, Adkisson said that he targeted the church because of its liberal values—including its openness to gays and lesbians. “The UU church is the Fountainhead [sic], the veritable wellspring of anti-American organizations like Moveon.org, Code Pink, and other un-American groups,” he wrote.

After the shooting, both Knoxville congregations pledged to remain open and welcoming—and many religious communities from across the theological and political spectrum rushed to provide food, comfort, and assistance. The extensive media coverage of the event led to an influx of church visitors as people heard about Unitarian Universalism, some for the first time, and came to check it out. For TVUUC, around 40 of these visitors became members.

The courageous responses of both congregations as well as the broad-based Knoxville community support inspired SSL organizers.

UUA President William G. Sinkford introduced the campaign during his final annual report to the General Assembly in June 2009. (Sinkford’s term ended at the General Assembly; delegates elected the Rev. Peter Morales to succeed him.) “After Knoxville,” Sinkford said, “I asked our media consultant, Fred Garcia, to help us imagine what a visibility campaign, centered on what we stand for, might look like. The result is what we are calling the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.”

“Every day people are targeted because of identities which are somehow deemed ‘okay to hate,’” Sinkford continued. “We are called to use our public presence to more actively stand up with and for those who are targets for violence, exclusion, or oppression because of who they are.”

The Rev. Meg Riley, SSL’s chair and director of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness staff program, said, “The Knoxville shooting inspired deep thinking about the message of hope that those two congregations brought in the wake of tragedy and the theology that was embedded in that hope. We felt that that was our good news to share as a faith and we really wanted to strategically maximize our voice in that way.

“This is going to be a real grass-roots-oriented campaign. We will be resourcing congregations to take action. We will put much more energy into where there are local leaders whom we can support who will have the impact that’s needed.”

The UUA is in the process of raising $300,000 for the campaign, according to Catherine Lynch, director of campaigning.

SSL’s new website has been designed to do three things, according to Adam Gerhardstein, SSL’s campaign manager. The first is to provide congregations with enough resources to organize a local group, build community partnerships, formulate a message, and interact successfully with the media. An online store provides users with T-shirts, banners, and tote bags with the SSL logo to help groups with their visibility. The site makes maximum use of social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. It also features a blog. “As people are taking action in their communities, we want to lift up local stories,” Gerhardstein said.

The website will also help to keep people informed on a national level by issuing emails with breaking news and featuring well-known writers on its blog.

The last function of the new website is to engage and inspire participants. “We’ll be highlighting news stories from the campaign about harnessing love’s power to counter oppression,” Gerhardstein said. The site’s home page also has a “love notes” function, where people can leave messages about their hopes for and experiences of the campaign.

The new website was developed by Fission Strategy, whose clients have included Greenpeace, the American Cancer Society, and MoveOn.org. The company specializes in helping clients with online advocacy, marketing, and communications.

The UUA recently hired Jay Carmona to serve as the campaign’s online community organizer.

The UUA has used the “Standing on the Side of Love” slogan for its marriage equality campaign for several years. The Rev. Jason Shelton, associate minister for music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, Tenn., popularized the phrase when he wrote the song “Standing on the Side of Love,” which became the anthem of the UUA’s marriage equality movement.

Standing on the Side of Love was adopted by the newer campaign because it describes the campaign’s expanded mission. “In state initiatives for marriage equality,” said Riley, “‘Standing on the Side of Love’ has already been a very effective message for Unitarian Universalists when we state our religious values. We want to build on that success and make the umbrella even bigger.”

While one goal of the campaign is to gain greater visibility for Unitarian Universalism, campaign organizers say a second and equally important one is empowering local congregations to act in countering oppression. “That might come off as a visibility campaign,” said Gerhardstein, “but that visibility is about love and about the belief that what we share is so much more powerful than what divides us.”

The campaign had an enthusiastic start at the 2009 General Assembly in Salt Lake City. Before conferees even entered the Salt Palace Convention Center, they were greeted by giant banners emblazoned with the words “Standing on the Side of Love.” Hundreds of people donned yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirts during the assembly, with many in evidence at a GA public witness event on immigration reform.

Standing on the Side of Love is grounded in religious values, said newly-elected UUA President Peter Morales. “There’s no difference between spiritual values and social action,” he said. “They’re two sides of the same coin. When we experience our connection with that which transcends us and with other people, we become compassionate. We suffer with, not separated from the other. That’s a deeply spiritual experience.

“A campaign like SSL that’s all about the inclusion of the most marginalized is simply a way in which we can act upon our deepest religious passions.”

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