What is the Purpose for Church?

It is an important question. For if the church has no purpose, then why would we gather on Sunday morning? Unlike other faiths, where non-attendance is considered a sin, Unitarian Universalists, do not have such a creed. So, for these other faiths, attending church is in a way to avoid committing at least one sin, and is easily averted.

There are some Unitarian Universalist congregations where Sunday morning offers a nice program. Several years ago there was one congregation that invited me to speak.  The service was not a religious service but a program of a chamber quartet performance.  The words I offered were considered the intermission for the quartet. There were no hymnals for congregational singing. There were no prayers or meditations, no recognition of a community of people, there was no children’s time, just a program of Sunday morning music and some words offered.  Very nice, very relaxing but in my mind not congruent with the purpose of church.

What is the purpose of church?  For the congregation that loved their chamber music, the purpose of their church was to offer a morning where one could relax with some nice music and have coffee afterwards.

There is a story told about Rev. William Ellery Channing, known in our Unitarian history as the author of the defining sermon “Unitarian Christianity.”  One Sunday morning, he was crossing the Boston Common on his way to church when he saw one of his parishioners walking towards him.  They greeted one another, and Rev. Channing asked the parishioner where they were going since church was about to start within the half hour.  The parishioner said, I know what you are going to say about the topic being offered so I am going to do something of more importance.  That was the last Sunday in which Rev. Channing offered a title and a blurb on his Sunday morning message.

If the reason for attending church is only for the sake of hearing an interesting topic or lecture, then I think that is a poor purpose for church.  There are other venues, especially in a university town, that can meet that important need.

Yes, I hope the words and meditations I offer are encouraging and perhaps even challenging, but my words or thoughts should not be the primary draw here. I have no desire to be a celebrity pastor like Joel Osteen or TD Jakes, or Norman Vincent Peale. These people speak eloquently from the pulpit their doctrinal beliefs and thousands of people flock to them for the chance to hear an inspiring message or make them feel good about themselves.

And if a person stays away from church because they think they know what is going to be said in the pulpit and therefore wants to do something of more importance, I believe they are missing the point of church.  I have shared in the past that before I became a Unitarian Universalist, I lived in an intentional Christian community. We met, not only to pray together, but also to minister to one another.  If we were not there, we could not minister to others nor be ministered to. If we were not there we were not living up to our individual calling. I still carry this purpose in Unitarian Universalism, though how we minister to one another might be, no, I guarantee, is vastly different from the Christian community in style and scope.  We each have something to offer to one another here in this place.  It may be to offer a listening ear to someone who has not had anyone listen to them all week long.  It might be to offer a hug to someone who has not received any human touch this past week.  It may be to offer a joke or two and allow belly laughs to occur which releases endorphins to make us feel good and reduces pain.

Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal and not a doctrinal faith.  We covenant with one another to uphold and encourage one another to pursue a set of aspirational principles.  The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.  Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.  A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.  The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.  The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These are difficult aspirations to uphold.  We are going to fall short in the fulfillment of them in our daily lives but it is important, and given our current national environment, vital for us to come together to encourage one another to not lose heart in holding these aspirations as possible for our lives, for our congregation, for our community, and for our nation.

We need one another in these days of intense pain being inflicted upon women, LGBTQ, immigrants, and people of color by our own government.  Our current national administration is stripping our civil rights away and we need the strength to resist the rollbacks of rights and protections.  These cold-hearted inhumane rollbacks of protections are causing great pain in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities.

But these are not the only pain people in our congregations are facing. We have people grieving the loss of family members. We have people grieving the loss of employment. We have people who are struggling in their marriage. We have people who are lonely, people who suffer traumas from childhood or from military service. We have people who are struggling with all sorts of infirmaries, both short term and chronic. We cannot minister to one another if we do not attend our main service a week.  Each of us has a role to minister to one another and it need not be a conscious effort to do so.  Sometimes it is the willingness to listen to one another that is all that is needed that offers a balm of healing and comfort. And each of you have the unique gift of yourself that may be just the thing that someone else needs to hear or see.  But if you are not here, because you think you know what the speaker is going to say that you have heard it all, then that person who is needing to hear that encouraging word that only you can give, will leave here empty-handed.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow   …    Number 1021 join me in singing…

The purpose of church is not the elements of the worship service.  The liturgy, the music, the hymn singing, the words shared from the pulpit.  These are only elements to a much greater purpose, which is to minister to one another in a community of relationships. And in this place, there is a covenant, a promise that each member here says when they sign the membership book, that they will participate in the life of the congregation.  At every membership recognition service, I recite these words to our  members [1]:

You are here this morning because you have chosen to be in a relationship with these people and with this religious institution.  “I can take care of myself” has been replaced by “We can and will take care of each other.”  Your membership also tells the world that you believe in and support the need for the free religious voice amidst the religious pluralism of our country and our world. “We need not think alike to love alike” said Francis David in 16th century Hungary.  This is the basis by which our individual searches for truth and meaning are encouraged within this loving and supportive community.  Becoming a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation is your opportunity to find inherent worth, affirmation, appreciation of diversity and respect for commitment.  It is also a path to salvation, understood not as entry into another world at death, but rather as the recognition that wholeness, health and loving relationship are available to each of us right here and now, within this life and this world.  

Members of the congregation then renew their pledge to walk together in the ways of truth and affection, as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come, that we and our children may be fulfilled, and that we may speak to the world, in words and in action, of peace and good will.

These are not idle words.  They are a promise to one another.  A promise and a calling.  A calling to strive to be supportive of one another, to listen from the heart, to respond from the heart.

The purpose of the church, as we have declared it to be in our covenant is one that is sorely needed in our world today.  If we build on this covenant here with one another, by meeting weekly as we are able, then as our relationships grow we gain the confidence and the skills to take our faith, our principles that we seek to uphold here into our daily lives as a beacon of hope for all to see. We will begin to find ourselves ministering to others, friends and strangers alike, because that is who we are as a people.  People who are moving on the side of love.  And that is the purpose of church.  Blessed Be.

[1] Adapted from Alice Blair Wesley lectures found in Our Covenant: The 2000-01 Minns Lectures

Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on 10 September 2017(c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond

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Published in: on September 13, 2017 at 2:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does Saying I live in a White Supremacy Culture make me a White Supremacist?

The short answer is no.

But let’s put this into a much larger historical context.

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V authorized King Alfonso V of Portugal to place Muslims and pagans into “perpetual slavery,”  thus beginning the slave trade from Africa.  In 1455, he wrote King Alfonso authorizing Catholic nations to claim dominion over any “discovered lands” allowing for seizure of the lands and placing the non-Christian native peoples into slavery.  Then in 1493, Pope Alexander VI stated that one Catholic nation did not have claim to lands previously claimed by other Catholic nations. These papal bulls created what is now known as the Doctrine of Discovery. This doctrine opened the door for imperialism and heavily influenced the formation of Manifest Destiny which stated that the US had the divine right to expand its lands across the Americas. Doing so meant subduing the indigenous people and stealing their lands.  The American people, those in power, were white Northern Europeans (Eastern and Southern Europeans were not considered white until the mid- 20th century).

The Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny had in its core the belief that the white race was superior to any other culture or race. It is what justified the slave traders and the slave owners in the Americas. It is what justified the genocide during the forced removal of the indigenous people known as the Trail of Tears. Both of these policies reduced people of color and the indigenous people to objects, non-human status. This is White Supremacy Culture.

White Supremacy Culture was in the very backbone of the forming governments in the colonies. Benjamin Franklin wrote that only those of English descent were of the white race and specifically noted that Germans were of inferior stock. Jews were not considered white. Irish were not considered white. And as I mentioned earlier those of the Eastern and Southern European countries (Italy, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Hungary, etc.) were not considered white.

Our national history is one of white supremacy.  The obvious examples are the violent subjugation of Blacks into slavery and the violent, often genocidal, removal of the Indigenous people from their lands to reservations. Their cultures were considered savage, their religions dismissed, and their languages denied expression. This is an understatement.  It is still happening today.  The violation of sacred burial lands of the indigenous people at Standing Rock in order to build a pipeline that was moved because it was too close to a white community is a flagrant example of white supremacy.  The needs of White people trumps the needs of any other group.

Two Supreme Court cases regarding immigrants being white occurred.  In 1922, The Naturalization Act of 1906 stated that those eligible for citizenship included “free white persons.”  Takao Ozawa and Takuji Yamashita, two Japanese immigrants filed for naturalization claiming that Japanese had white skin.  The Supreme Court ruled that the designation of white was reserved for caucasians only.  In 1923, Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh, being of Aryan descent in northern India and therefore caucasian applied for naturalization. The Supreme Court denied him because he did not fit the “common understanding” of what determined one to be caucasian.  Living in the United States means one is living in a White Supremacy Culture.

So, because I live in the White Supremacy Culture of the United States, does this mean I am a White Supremacist?

The Alabama State Constitution of 1901, still  in force today, was created specifically to establish a White Supremacist State. And while many of the worst aspects of the constitution were struck down by Supreme Court rulings in the 1950s and 60s, it is still a white supremacist document that ensures that people of color are oppressed. This is done through more subtle laws such as denial of home rule of municipalities. (One example is the recent law passed that nullified Birmingham’s minimum wage increase for its residents, harming its 74% majority Black community.) This is also done by gerrymandering districts to create white republican majorities. This is done through voter suppression laws in the state of Alabama. Shelby County v Holder removed the discrimination protection of voters in Alabama. Immediately after its removal, the very argument used to defeat it (Alabama learned its lesson over the last 50 years and will never suppress voters again), was shown to be false and voter suppression occurred. The State of Alabama is perhaps the clearest example of a white supremacy culture because the examples are so very stark and plain to see by any who examines even slightly what is beneath the surface of this constitution.

In 2011, then Senator Beason, was caught on wiretap as joking about the economic development of the residents of predominantly Black Greene County. He stated those running the Greenetrack Casino as being “aborigines.” Beason was looking to shut down this gambling site which was at the time the largest employer in Greene County. If you live in Alabama, you are living in a White Supremacy Culture. This is simply a fact codified in its constitution.

So, because I live in the White Supremacy Culture of Alabama, does this make me a White Supremacist?

There are active White Supremacy hate groups that advocate for the return of the Jim Crow era or worse.  In Alabama there is the League of the South, whose goal is to have Alabama and other southern states secede from the US, deport all people of color, and restore the south to its former White Supremacist glory to protect the purity of the white race. There are other hate groups as well like the KKK and neo-nazi nationalist groups who also advocate white supremacy. These individuals would indeed be supremacists because they sincerely believe their superiority over people of color and indigenous people. And they use violence against people of color to intimidate and to oppress.

However, there are also predominant white groups, organizations that may publicly disavow racism and yet have policies, both formal and informal, that inadvertently hold people of color back.  The recent hiring controversy that rocked the Unitarian Universalist Association, my faith, is an example of one such predominant white group. There has been pushback from white Unitarian Universalists regarding using the term White Supremacy Culture to describe the culture of Unitarian Universalism.

Let’s unpack the culture of Unitarian Universalism. Neither our Unitarian or Universalist ancestors have a squeaky clean history when it comes to interactions with people of color. In fact, the American Unitarian Association acted in very white supremacist ways. Mark Morrison-Reed in his book, Black Pioneers in a White Denomination writes: “In 1907 when [Ethelred] Brown wrote to inquire about theological school and financial aid, denominational officials discouraged him.  Unitarians feared that their system of belief might be corrupted if embraced by the mass of common men and women, much less by blacks.” White supremacy culture combined with class structures hindered our ability to support those people of color who wanted entrance into the Unitarian faith. Universalists were not any better. Recent research done by Ministerial Intern, Monica Dobbins, found that a white Universalist minister who felt a calling to reach out to the Black community in Birmingham in the early part of the 20th century was told by his Universalist headquarters to end his ministry.

In an out of print (2009) book entitled The Arc of the Universe is Long: Unitarian Universalists, Anti-Racism and the Journey from Calgary, we find the following history of White Supremacy Culture in Unitarian Universalism.

There was the Black Empowerment Controversy in 1969 following the successes of the civil rights movement involvement, Unitarian Universalism was unable to keep its commitments. Of this controversy, The Racial and Cultural Diversity Task Force reported: “How could we have known at the time that the model of racial assimilation and integration for which we had fought so long was inadequate to address the newly felt needs for empowerment?” 

An institutional racism audit was conducted in 1980/81. This audit defined racism as “attitudes, beliefs, norms, and values reflected in institutional policies, practices and procedures which deny to members of racial minority groups access to goods, services, and resources on the basis of race.” 

The following imperative was adopted by the UUA board in 1981: “Recognizing the fact that institutional racism is still embedded in American society in 1981, the Unitarian Universalist Association shall seek to eliminate racism in all its institutional structures, policies, practices, and patterns of behavior so that it will become a racially equitable institution and can make an effective contribution toward achieving a similarly equitable society.” 

There were thirty-two recommendations of which the board decided to implement twenty-five.  The top recommendation was affirmative action in staffing. This was placed as the highest priority and should have been visibly addressed by the start of the 21st century.

Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyon wrote in 2006:  “.. Imagine then our dismay to hear that when the questions of people of color and the ministry were at one time put before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, a response was characterized with the following words: Do ‘they’ fit the mold? Are ‘their’ backgrounds, and experience typical of our usual placement requirements? Will we have to lower the standards?” 

This history points to a white supremacy culture that is long and deep in our heritage. Placing the current hiring controversy in the context of our Unitarian Universalist history, it becomes very clear that eleven years after Rev. Santos-Lyon wrote these words nothing has effectively changed. Stories have surfaced from former UUA staff of the history of discriminatory hiring practices at the UUA. In the 1980s and 90s we called it institutional racism. The definition of racism used in 1980 could also be used to define White Supremacy Culture.

Our denomination’s people of color organizations, Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) and Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective (BLUU) have asked us to name these policies and procedures within the UUA as being part of “White Supremacy Culture” because the analysis of the history of the UUA and of congregations shows repeated shortcomings in the very areas that have been promised to be addressed, not just in recent years, but consistently promised over the 50 years since the civil rights movement. Our siblings of color continue to report the experiences of microaggressions and the informal and formal policies in our faith congregations and institutions as being on the continuum of White Supremacy Culture. They also are challenging us to reflect on how white privilege and racism has shaped our denomination and have kept us from living our principles as fully as we can.

In a position paper calling for an 8th principle; BLUU highlights the following:

  • If, as stated in the 1997 resolution, we are committed to “an ongoing process for the comprehensive institutionalization of anti-racism and multiculturalism” within our faith, where is the demonstrable commitment to explicitly dismantling white supremacist norms within our Association’s hiring practices? Within the culture of our member congregations? Within the hearts and minds of those who identify as Unitarian Universalists?
  • The 1997 resolution affirms that “all Unitarian Universalist leaders, including ministers, religious educators, leaders of associate and affiliate organizations, governing boards, Unitarian Universalist Association staff, theological schools, and future General Assemblies [are] to engage in ongoing anti-racism training, to examine basic assumptions, structures, and functions, and, in response to what is learned, develop action plans.” As such, where is the consistent and demonstrable effort on behalf of the Association to protect UUs of color especially from harm by moving beyond action plans into a demonstrable effort around dismantling white supremacy in the structure, culture and liturgy of our faith community?

When I talk with white Unitarian Universalists, they are quick to acknowledge that they have white privilege.  They state that they are sometimes blind to how white privilege operates in their lives because they recognize that it is insipid in our culture. I have been told by these same white Unitarian Universalists that using the term White Supremacy Culture is offensive and will turn people off. That the term White Supremacy Culture labels white liberal Unitarian Universalists as supremacists.  A term that is often used to refer to the hate groups I mentioned above.

Where is white privilege grounded?  How have we come to receive the privilege of being white in our culture?  If we can recognize the pervasiveness of white privilege in this culture, then why can’t we recognize that white privilege is grounded in White Supremacy Culture?  How is that we cannot make the connection that white privilege is the benefit conferred to white people in a white supremacy culture without somehow being personally offended?

Yes, this is uncomfortable work. Yes, It is challenging our perception of who we are. But to acknowledge that the culture we live in is White Supremacy Culture does not mean that simply by living in this culture makes one a white supremacist.  Living in the Deep South means that I live in a Christian Culture.  Yet, that does not automatically make me a Christian.  If I lived in a Muslim Culture, it would not automatically make me Muslim. So how does recognizing that I am living in a White Supremacist Culture automatically translates into being a White Supremacist?

It doesn’t.  But it does imply that there may be white supremacist norms of behavior going on.  White privilege being one.  Having Whiteness be the default in my thinking is another. It also does not give me a free pass from my responsibility to do the work to dismantle the white supremacy culture that I see impacting my siblings of color. If I do not actively and with humility challenge myself to see how policies, formal and informal, hold my siblings of color from being fully embraced by this faith that has saved me, then I am complicit to holding the white cultural norms that have been established by our spiritual ancestors of this faith.

Why wouldn’t I want to reduce the pain our Sibling UUs of Color have experienced in our faith?  Why wouldn’t I want to decenter whiteness to enable our Siblings of Color to grow in this faith with the same enthusiasm as I have experienced?  Why would I want to hold on to a culture that inflicts such pain others?  How does that negative attitude embody our beloved principles?

When I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow; Rev. William Barber’s The Third Reconstruction; I see plainly how White Supremacy Culture has manifested itself in our country in the 21st century. How can I then deny this is where I live and breathe?

We, White UUs, can easily say, well, we are not a part of the society that causes these levels of racism/ supremacy; and that might be very true. But we are a part of this culture where these things are happening, and therefore can either be part of the antidote or part of the ongoing infection that is causing pain. Our Sibling UUs of Color are asking us to see the log in our own eyes before we can effectively address that which we see in society. Our Sibling UUs of Color are not calling us supremacists.  They are calling us complicit in supporting the culture we live in. There in is the difference.

Craving Salt in a Saltless Society

Reading:

Mark: 9-49-50:  For everyone will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you restore its saltiness? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

 

This is perhaps one of the most difficult passages in the Christian Scriptures to understand.  Theologians for literally hundreds of years have tried to ascertain what exactly did Jesus mean by these words. Salted with fire?  Salted with salt? Restore saltiness? Salt in yourselves? Be at peace?

I am sure that my words today will not unravel the mysterious meanings that others before me could not unravel.  But there are some things that others have explored that I believe, are important for us as Unitarian Universalists to grasp an understanding.

To put this passage in context, In the Mid-1800s German Theologians and later Methodist Theologians[i] recognized that this passage begins with the disciples arguing who is the greatest among them. Jesus’ response to them was whoever wants to be first must be last and servant to all.  Jesus uses the example of welcoming the child as one welcoming Jesus.  In other words, one was to give equal attention and affection to those without power as they might to someone, in authority, whose actions could benefit their standing in the world.  The passage continues with disciples telling Jesus that they stopped a stranger from exorcising demons in Jesus name, because the stranger was not a follower of Jesus.  Jesus said, whoever is not against us is for us.  In other words, just because a person does not look like us, does not mean they do not share the same values we share.  Jesus then goes into an exhortation of things that would lead a person to burn in hell: placing stumbling blocks in the way of those without power; Hands, feet, and eyes causing us to stumble. Would be better to chop off or pluck them out and enter the realm of heaven; than to have both hands, feet, and eyes and be thrown into hell where the fire is never quenched.

All of this context is placed directly before Jesus says, For everyone will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.  Salt is good; but if salt has lost is saltiness, how can you restore it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

The passage comes full circle referring to the beginning when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest.

Most conservative Christians believe this salt passage refers to the fires of hell and damnation. Fire is all consuming, it destroys. Salt preserves, therefore will be a protective from the fires of hell.  If you do not have salt, ie belief, then you will perish in hell. The difficulty with this interpretation is the use of the word Everyone or literally in the Greek, All. Which may have a larger connotation than just people.

Some Roman Catholic theologians have believed this passage refers to the concept of purgatory because it says “everyone will be salted with fire.” Fire also is used as a means of purification. We have the phrase refining fire to refer to this process of purification. Fire is used to purify ore to extract the metal from it.  But this is also a difficult reading because if the person has lost their saltiness, how can they be purified?

The phrase every sacrifice will be salted with salt, refers directly to the Mosaic Law of salting the sacrifices before they are presented to God.  Salt was used as a preservative against decay and corruption. The salt of sacrifice refers to the covenant that was created between the people of Israel and God. The covenant between Israel and God was also considered “incorruptible, undecaying, indissoluble.”

When they sacrificed animals and birds, they would salt the carcass to draw out the blood before it was burned on the altar. This ritual made the sacrifice holy to God.  This salt of sacrifice declared the covenant holy, declared the people holy in relationship with their god, who is holy.  Be holy for I am holy. Salt symbolized this holiness with its character to preserve from decay and corruption. It also denoted the ability of salt to cleanse, to purify.   Salt has been used to cleanse wounds.  And today, sterile saline solution is used to irrigate wounds and kill infesting bacteria at the wound site[ii].

Salt, in the Middle East, has long been a symbol of friendship, harmony, and of covenant agreement. We also have the idiom of saying someone is the salt of the earth, which implies a person of integrity, of sound character.

A few years ago, while I was visiting family in Florida, we visited a restaurant that placed on the table a variety of different dishes of salt.  They were of different colors and each had a distinctively different salt taste. There was a Hawaiian sea salt which is red, and Himalayan salt which is pink, a grey sea salt and Portuguese sea salt which is a very fine grain white salt. There were others that I do not remember. We were told that certain salts would enhance the flavor of certain foods.

The last 70 days or so, our nation has seen some major saltless changes. Our president has created a cabinet that is majority white male. The executive orders he has signed has ended services for the poor, removed anti-discrimination protections for transgender youth in schools; LGBTQ in government employment; rounded up non-criminal immigrants; removed water protectors from Sioux lands; ended student loan forgiveness programs; removed funding at healthcare centers for women, and repealed anti-pollution regulations allowing for coal ash to once again defile our water supplies.

This was going to be the bulk of my sermon.  I was going to spend most of this sermon on how returning to 1930s invisibility of the broad diversity of people hurts our society. How our palate is better when we can taste the diversity of humanity and find ways to respect our individual and collective stories.

Then an announcement of a Unitarian Universalist Association Southern Regional Lead hire was made and they were not moving into the region. Then it surfaced that there was a qualified person of color within the region who was not hired.  There was talk about “best fit” which has been seen by people of color over the decades as code for “people who look like us.” Stories started to surface about the decades long pattern of favoring whites over people of color. Our denomination had made a commitment to become an anti-racist, anti-white supremacist organization and here was evidence that this was not happening.  There was a letter from our President, Peter Morales, a person of color, who used language in the letter that called those who were making the claim, hysterical. Again, terms that are traditionally used in a white supremacist culture.  People responded poorly to this letter.  And then on Thursday, Peter Morales, resigned from his office with only three months left to serve in his term.  He apologized for his insensitivity and stated that he no longer saw himself as the leader who could lead us forward through this process of reviewing hiring practices. You can find his letter on our congregation’s group Facebook page, as well as several other letters.

Everyone will be salted with fire and every sacrifice will be salted with salt.

With all that is happening on the national scene what happens in Boston might not seem like it is worth attention.  But it is precisely because of what is happening on the national scene that makes what is happening in our denomination take on a far more urgent status.  It is far more urgent because this congregation is a microcosm of the larger whole.  As Captain Obvious would say, this congregation is predominantly white.

As we see more and more people who had gained visibility and protections in our nation begin to lose those protections, what happens within our congregations becomes vital as a form of resistance. This nation is less safe today for people of color, women, and LGBTQ people than they were last year. How our denomination and our individual congregations responds to the national storm that is brewing is urgent.

As a congregation are we a safe place for people of color? We have a few people of color in this congregation but does that mean we are a safe place? There are people of color in our denomination who despite their vast accomplishments, despite their degrees, despite their standing in the community, despite their years as a Unitarian Universalist, still find their voices dismissed within their congregations. Members should not have to work at justifying their being one of us and valued for who they are. Their accomplishments, their degrees, their standing in the community, or their years as Unitarian Universalists should not even matter to their value to the congregation. Would we welcome a shift in culture if this congregation began to mirror the nation’s population?   Would they know they have a voice within these halls? Would their voice carry power? Or would they be met with a white centered culture and find their voice silenced and dismissed?

As a congregation are we a safe place for those who are struggling to make ends meet?  If they lose their federal or state assistance, SNAP, TANF, VA benefits, medical coverage, would they know they have a voice within these halls?  Would their voice carry power? Would they be able to invoke cultural change here to ensure that this place is safe for them? Or would we simply shake our heads and minimalize their experiences, their concerns dismissed, or worse tell them to raise themselves up by their bootstraps.

Rev. Sean Parker Dennison in response to Rev. Peter Morales letter wrote:  We must be constantly vigilant that our culture and practices are consistent with our core values and not overshadowed or coopted by other forces that have great cultural power. White supremacy, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, and other forms of power-over are constantly disguising themselves. Our movement is rooted in BOTH the ideals of religious freedom and justice AND the culture of privilege and supremacy. To assert that there is an unassailable core that is immune from critique is just plain wrong and flirts with dogmatism. There is no more important work than the careful cycle of work and reflection … We must all be open and willing to reflect on our mistakes and the ways we have become complicit with injustice. If we do not do this, we risk all credibility when we tell others that our values call us to counter oppression and injustice[iii].

To be a congregation where everyone truly feels safe will mean that we will need to create an even more inclusive culture.  A culture where no one “cultural, ethnic, or racial group dominates the church’s style of ministry[iv]” in music, structure, or activities. It would mean that whiteness is not in the cultural center but off to the side to allow Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous people to rise as equal and strong pillars of the congregation. It will mean that we will need to examine where our stumbling blocks are that would hold others back from being fully embraced in community.  It will require more listening to others and holding their words, their experiences in our hearts and not responding with white fragility.  That uncomfortable feeling that somehow hearing about another’s experience is a personal affront that needs defending.

It is craving salt in a saltless society; the salt that each person uniquely and collectively brings to the table.  A desire to affirm the diversity and plurality of our many paths collectively. It is a reaffirmation of our covenantal faith, that we[v] walk together in the ways of truth and affection, as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come, that we and our children may be fulfilled, and that we may speak to the world, in words and in action, of peace and good will.

The salt of sacrifice is our willingness to uphold our covenants with one another as a sacred trust.  It is our striving to be holy as life is holy.  It is to have salt in ourselves so we may be healing balms to cleanse our wounded-ness and short comings, as preservatives of all that is just and right, and creating a covenant of relationship so that we may be at peace with one another.  May it be so. Blessed Be.

[i] The Methodist Quarterly Review, Volume 32; G. Lane and P.P. Sanford, 1850

[ii] http://woundcaresociety.org/salt-water-make-wounds-heal-faster

[iii] https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5XxfpPKfHEkaU5jdm1uQi04Nkk/view

[iv] http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201201/201201_ejo_multicult_ch.cfm

[v] From UUCTuscaloosa’s Membership recognition service

Finding Courage

In the early evening on December 1st, 1955,

a woman leaving work sat on a bus in Montgomery.

In the early evening, a tired woman leaving work

sat down on a seat on a bus in Montgomery.

In the early evening, a tired black woman left work

and took a seat in the “colored” section of a bus in Montgomery.

In the early evening, after a long day of work,

a tired and weary black woman

took a seat in the “colored” section

behind the white section on a crowded bus in Montgomery.

 

In the early evening, on December 1st 1955,

after a long day of work making clothes for white people,

a tired weary black woman took her seat

in the “colored” section behind the white section

on a crowded, standing room only bus in Montgomery.

When all the white seats were taken,

this tired weary black woman was told to stand

so white people could sit down.

 

In the early evening, on December 1st, 1955,

after a long day of work making clothes for white people,

a tired weary black woman took her seat in the “colored” section

behind the white section on a crowded,

standing room only bus in Montgomery.

When all the white seats were taken,

she was told to stand to make room

so white people could sit down,

this tired weary black woman,

named Rosa Parks, said

“No.”

 

 

Four days later, the Women’s Political Council initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days and when it ended, the buses were no longer segregated.  Rev. King’s home was fire bombed shortly after the boycott began which led to the decision to not just overturn Montgomery’s Bus policy but to seek the overturn of the Alabama segregation law. On December 20 1956, the US Supreme Court upheld the state’s ruling that this state law was unconstitutional and Rosa Parks then sat in the front seat of a bus.

This was not a random act that Rosa Parks took. Her finding courage to remain in her seat was not done on a spur of the moment in the vain hopes that her community would rally to her side. No, Rosa Parks was already active in her community.

The Women’s Political Council formed 9 years earlier precisely over this issue of black people being arrested because they sat down in empty seats that were not designated for black passengers. This event was 9 years in the making building coalitions across Montgomery.   In March of 1954, The Women’s Political Council meets with Mayor Gayle about ending the pay-in- front-and-enter-in-the-rear policy of the bus company. With no response from his office, they write to warn him that there are 25 organizations preparing for a city-wide boycott of the city busses.

Jo Ann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council, in 1987 wrote about the Montgomery boycott and said: We organized the Women’s Council and within a month’s time we had over a hundred members. We organized a second chapter and a third, and soon we had more than 300 members. We had members in every elementary, junior high, and senior high school. We had them organized from federal and state and local jobs; wherever there were more than ten blacks employed, we had a member there. We were organized to the point that we knew that in a matter of hours we could corral the whole city.[i]

When she told her chapter heads that Rosa Parks had been arrested, she was told, “You have the plans, put them into operation.”  She stayed up creating the stencils to print out 35K flyers calling for the boycott to begin on the 5th.  There was no social media in those days to make an instant announcement—there were mimeographs.

Rosa Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in the 1930s.  She served as secretary of the chapter. She and her husband would have meetings in their house.  These were dangerous times with numerous executions by the KKK. Young black men were falsely accused of raping white women and were given the death sentence.  The chapter fought to assist these individuals. She is quoted as saying, “I remember 1949 as a very bad year. Things happened that people never heard about because they never were reported in the newspapers. At times I felt overwhelmed by the violence and hatred, but there was nothing to do but keep going.[ii]

As a member, she attended the Highlander Center in the summer of 1955 to receive training.  Rosa Parks once remarked to Studs Terkel that this training had “everything” to do with her ability to remain seated on December 1.  The form of training was called Popular Education which is defined as the empowerment of adults through democratically structured cooperative study and action, directed toward achieving more just and peaceful societies, within a life sustaining global environment.[iii]  

She was invited back to Highlander in March of 1956 to talk about the boycott her arrest sparked.  She was asked by Myles Horton, co-founder of Highlander Center, this question.

What you did was a very little thing, you know, to touch off such a fire. Why did you do it; what moved you not to move? I’m interested in motivations – what makes people do things. What went on in your mind; Rosa?

Rosa Parks answered: Well, in the first place, I had been working all day on the job. I was quite tired after spending a full day working. I handle and work on clothing that white people wear. That didn’t come in my mind but this is what I wanted to know; when and how would we ever determine our rights as human beings? The section of the bus where I was sitting was what we call the colored section, especially in this neighborhood because the bus was filled more than two-thirds with Negro passengers and a number of them were standing. And just as soon as enough white passengers got on the bus to take what we consider their seats and then a few over, that meant that we would have to move back for them even though there was no room to move back.[iv]

How would we ever determine our rights as human beings?  Parks in her autobiography would later state she wasn’t overly physically tired that fateful day, as she was more tired of giving in.

 

Donny Hathaway—wrote a song Tryin’ Times. The version I remember is the one by Roberta Flack–

Tryin’ times. That’s the world is talkin about. …

folks wouldn’t have to suffer
If there was more love for your brother
But these are tryin’ times …

A whole lot of things that’s wrong is going down,

I don’t understand it from my point of view
I remember somebody said do unto others
As you would have them do unto you

Then folks wouldn’t have to suffer
If there was more love
But these are tryin’ times,

 

Today, we are in need of courageous hearts again.  We need those who are willing to sit down, when told to move to the back; willing to stand, when told to sit and obey; willing to organize, when told to wait and see.

These are tryin’ times. Different perhaps from the days when Rosa Parks decided to sit, but as I look around me, I smell those days rising again.  It is intoxicating and like the field of poppies on the way to the Emerald City, it will lull us to sleep.

Unless we mobilize and organize now, we won’t be able to protect ourselves or our friends—who are immigrants, who are queer, who are black, who are Muslim, who are water protectors. The safe thing, the safe thing is to carry nosegays so we cannot smell the stench and blinders so we cannot see what is happening.  And being white and silent means we could squeak by at the risk of losing our soul.

Do this and our silence makes us accomplices in the hateful cloud that is swirling around us.  Already, Mosques have received threats of genocide coming their way. There have been threats in our schools, and in the market place against those who are marginalized.

Already, gays and trans folks have been warned that whatever rights they have achieved will be removed. The very first bill pre-filed for this next Alabama legislative session is a bathroom bill aimed against our Trans gender friends. With Trump in the White House, Alabama will feel emboldened to pass this and other hate filled bills against its citizens.

The mainstream media will fall in line. In fact, it is already happening. If you look at what mainstream media is reporting it is based on allegation driven news rather than evidence driven news[v]. So instead of making the lack of evidence the news, they are making the allegation the news, which when repeated over enough times is accepted as truth.  We saw that when FBI chief Comey announced there were emails connected to Hillary found on Weiner’s lap top. It was an allegation that proved to be absolutely nothing and the media dug into the allegation and fueled that pile of sticks hoping there would smoke and fire. There was nothing. We have seen people repeat the allegation as fact and do not care there was no evidence for it.  The new word of the year is Post-Truth. Or as one Trump surrogate stated on NPR, there are no facts, facts no longer exist[vi].

We have already seen Trump threaten the media. His tantrum regarding his meeting with the New York Times was both informative and a warning.  Do not cross him as President.  He will retaliate.

So we are living in a different kind of world where Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 are no longer fictional pieces but the new reality—where white supremacists can call protesters un-American, and allegations can be called truth and evidence is called falsehood. We cannot sit back and watch like this is a football game, where we cheer the witty comebacks of our favorite team and then gnash our teeth when they fumble.  No, we need to find the courage to be engaged in this Brave New World.

We need to find the courage to be willing to risk our freedom like Rosa Parks did when she chose to remain seated.  Her action had consequences.  And in this new world order, our actions will have consequences but we must be willing to stand strong to the hate-mongering that is increasing around us.

But finding courage is not done in a vacuum.  Rosa Parks did not do this without any forethought, she did this because she had been prepared for that moment. She was surrounded by a community that supported one another—that mobilized around her action. She educated herself on the issues to understand the power dynamics of what was happening. Others were educated as well.  They worked together to prepare for the opportunity to resist.  We need to be studying up on how to live under a demagogue.  We need to be educated just as Rosa Parks was educated in popular education so when she resisted, she could do so with conviction and moral integrity.  And inspire others to follow her lead.

Describing that first day of the boycott, Martin Luther King writes During the rush hours the sidewalks were crowded with laborers and domestic workers, many of them well past middle age, trudging patiently to their jobs and home again, sometimes as much as twelve miles. They knew why they walked, and the knowledge was evident in the way they carried themselves. And as I watched them I knew that there is nothing more majestic than the determined courage of individuals willing to suffer and sacrifice for their freedom and dignity[vii].

May it be so.

[i] http://www.crmvet.org/info/robinson.htm

[ii] https://the-spark.net/np762801.html

[iii] http://www.reimaginerpe.org/node/1172

[iv] http://www.crmvet.org/disc/parks_mbb.pdf

[v] https://storify.com/jayrosen_nyu/evidence-based-vs-accusation-driven-reporting

[vi] https://www.rawstory.com/2016/12/trump-booster-scottie-nell-hughes-gets-blasted-on-npr-after-saying-theres-no-such-thing-as-facts/

[vii] http://www.crmvet.org/tim/timhis55.htm#1955mbbholt

(c) Fred L Hammond 2016

Moral Integrity

There was a recent story in the news about Republican Governor Baker falling in line behind Trump’s administration by not condemning the appointment of Stephen Bannon, a so-called Alt Right politico whose media group publishes white supremacist and white nationalist articles. Governor Baker had previously condemned Trump’s racist rhetoric and now is dutifully falling in line. His defense was that the commonwealth of Massachusetts depends on federal grants and contracts.

I posted this story on my facebook page with the comment that this should not be surprising.  In my comments on this post I stated, “Very few people have the moral integrity to hold fast in the face of evil.”

I want to expand on this notion of moral integrity and why it is vitally important to fortify it in order to save American democracy.  Moral integrity is not a solo action. It is not developed in a vacuum and it cannot be maintained in an isolated realm.  Those who attempt to do so are betrayed, imprisoned, and ultimately killed–sometimes figuratively–sometimes literally.  You can begin to see why Governor Baker reversed course in his stance of condemning Trump’s racist rhetoric to taking the more supportive desire “to have an open dialog” with Trump’s administration. He caved to save his political standing in the new regime that is coming to power in less than 90 days.  He knows that this is an administration that will retaliate with vengeance against any who stand in its way. His response is self-protective.

After the cast of Hamilton spoke out to Mike Pence for their hope in the future of America, Trump condemned such a statement as “harassment.” Once Trump is in power, expect Nixonian style enemy lists and attempts to decimate them. Governor Baker’s cave in was in realization of this new reality, where civil discourse is harassment.

Remember when Jesus was arrested not one of his disciples remained except John, Mary his mother, and Mary Magdalene. Maintaining moral integrity in the face of evil is difficult even for the founders of the Christian faith. The Roman Empire was a cruel and evil force that crushed any who exerted self-differentiation.  The disciples only found their footing again by supporting one another, by affirming their values and nurturing one another to remain firm.

This is the only way one can maintain moral integrity. Just as they supported one another, we must support one another. Just as they met with one another, we must meet with one another. Just as they loved one another, we must love one another. They became the resistance and showed the world another way. That is our task today. To love one another with a radically subversive love that transforms hearts. It means we form collectives and coalitions of love to resist the authoritarian fascism that we see happening.

And even doing all of that, maintaining moral integrity is a hard road to travel.  We only need to look at the history of Christianity to know that most of its 2000 year history has been anything but moral. So to maintain moral integrity also means being willing to call out and call in those who break covenant with one another. We must align ourselves with truth tellers not those who promote truthiness or post-truths; those things that we want to hear and believe because they feed our bigotry and biases. But truth tellers that remind us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Truth tellers who remind us that actions that hurt people who do not look like us, do not act like us, do not live like us; those actions also hurt us as well because we are all one body, called the United States of America.

There is truth in the Christian Scriptures, when my hand is cut, am I not going to grasp it and tend to its wound? I am not going to say, it is only my hand, I can live without it. The leg cannot say to the eye, I am not an eye so I do not need you. We are only strong when all of our different parts are working together, and we are only a force for good when we have the courage to speak up against evil in all of its forms.  Right now we have a section of our body that is hurting and is diseased with hatred.

The hurt is real. The pain is real.  But to appease the pain by supporting the gangrene of white nationalists to move into power is not the way to move forward. That only teaches those in pain that their acting out is validated.  It only reinforces their hateful rhetoric and amps up their behaviors to attack others who are different than they are. We need to be able to resist their attempt to make us cower in fear and rise up to say this behavior is not acceptable in a nation that proudly proclaims, E Pluribus Unum –Out of Many, One.

And that is going to take all of us to strengthen our moral integrity so it will remain strong to act in the dark days ahead. And it means contacting those in political office, who often look to expediency and compromise rather than moral integrity, telling them that we have their back when they act with moral integrity.

All of our bluster today must not disappear when Trump is in full power. That is the temptation awaiting us on January 2oth. The temptation for us to also fall in line and succumb to the new reality of a white nationalist government. We must not, the lives of too many people are at stake. Protecting and strengthening our moral integrity is the order of the day. We must encourage one another to remain strong in the face of evil.  We must encourage one another not to hide and act as if nothing is happening.  We must encourage one another to continue to love one another and support their moral actions of resistance.

What Now

 

How goes it with your spirit?  I have to say that I have been crushed by this election.  And when I say crushed I don’t just mean disappointed.  I mean my spirit has been pulverized and left gasping for air.  I am still struggling to catch my breath and absorb what has happened.

Last Sunday I stated this election was not about electing a man or a woman, or even about electing a republican or a democrat to the office of the presidency.  It was about ratifying and affirming our nations most sacred values—E pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One.  Our unalienable birth rights of Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty and justice for all.

Apparently, America no longer wants to be an America that celebrates E Pluribus Unum. That value was okay to proclaim when America was 90% white in 1950.  It apparently is not okay when America’s white people reflects 61% of the population in 2016 and is projected to be 49% in less than 30 years.  When America finally begins to look like E Pluribus Unum, Whites get nervous because it will mean they will need to share their power.

I shouldn’t be surprised given how White America treated our first Black president who probably will go down in history as one of the all-time great presidents.  Not by this generation but by future generations.  Abraham Lincoln was hated when he was president[i].  I mean states seceded from the union and millions of people died because he became president. Not exactly how one wins and influence friends.

I still believe these values were the heart of this election.  I still believe that this nation was given an opportunity to make a deliberate choice to embody the values on which this nation stood, albeit imperfectly.  We were given a choice to turn away, even if ever so slightly, from our nation’s original sin of racism.  We were given a choice.

And we chose white supremacy.

I think what stung me the most was the realization that the only demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Trump was the White vote. Of the 70% of White voters, 58% of them voted for Trump.  No other racial demographic overwhelmingly voted for Trump.  No other racial demographic comprised a majority in their support for Trump. Not one.

Now there are many individual reasons why a person might have voted for Trump.  So when individuals begin giving reasons why they voted Trump, the reason is not because they believe that Whites need to stay in power and oppress other groups. No, they believe there are other reasons, but the aggregate reason is racism.  This is an important distinction.  Let me rephrase this point another way.  Trump’s appeal to individual White voter’s is not because individually they supported his racism, but the systemic impact in this election of White voters is racism.

We need to understand the message this sends to marginalized groups when one demographic votes overwhelmingly for a demagogue like Donald Trump. We need to understand that their fear, my fear, is not unreasonable but is based in the history of events over the last 24 months.

We have seen an uptick in hate crimes against Blacks, Muslims, Trans-fulx, Mexican immigrants over the last 24 months committed by White people who support Trump.  Southern Poverty Law Center reports 200 hate crimes[ii] were documented in the 72 hours after the election alone.

And these are the ones that are documented as hate crimes.  The hanging effigy of a black man off the apartment balcony above OHenry’s is not considered a hate crime.  The poster displaying Trump with a statement saying, “Obama, You’re Fired” in a math teacher’s class in Northridge High School is not considered a hate crime. The American Latino citizen, who was yelled at by a passerby “to go pack because Trump is deporting your ass” is not a hate crime.  The woman at UA who received anonymous rape threats because of her public support of Clinton. Our congregation’s children being told in school by friends that Trump is going to remove all the gays from Alabama. These have all occurred in the last week here in Tuscaloosa. They may not be hate crimes per the current statutes of the law, but they carry with them pain and anguish.

The KKK in North Carolina is planning on hosting a victory parade in Trump’s honor. The Alabama Klan has come out publicly stating they are going to hold Trump accountable for his campaign promises to deport immigrants, ban Muslims, and repeal LGBT rights. But the White nationalists do not represent the White 70% of the 59 plus million who voted for Trump. But the White nationalists have benefitted from the collective vote that supports their agenda for oppression.

If your vote supports the oppression of others even if you voted your conscience for your personal reasons, then your vote supported racism.  It is that simple and that complex.

I need to sit with that information and realize that I as a white person have some responsibility in these election results.  I did not speak to my relatives of my concerns regarding a Trump presidency.  I did not tell my relatives that if they loved me and supported my life as a gay man, that they should consider not voting for Trump.  I didn’t, because if I did, then I would have to contemplate that my relatives do not in fact love me for who I am.  That fact would be too painful for me to face.  Despite all their verbal assurances that they do, their actions shout no.  So I would prefer not hearing them say the words that they would prefer a Trump presidency over the safety of a gay relative. Did you tell your relatives—that a Trump presidency would endanger the life of your gay minister or your trans friends in this congregation?  Or your friends of color?  Or your Muslim friends? Or your immigrant friends?

But the individuals who voted for Trump are not going to be able to hear that a vote for Trump was a vote for racism. Not going to hear it because standing in their shoes, they believe that Trump finally heard their cry for help. They see their ability to earn a livable wage and to give their children a better life than they had, slipping away. Their concerns are not, in their essence, based in racism; they are based in economic realities. The median income finally rose this year to just over $56.5K[iii] but its buying power is still less than it was in 1999[iv].  The hard truth is that for millions of people in this country, they are hurting. No matter what they have done to try to get ahead they are thwarted in their attempts.  My colleague, the Rev. Daniel O’Connell noted that half of the country ‘finally feels heard and the other half feels a deep and anxious fear for their future.’

I also know there is a desire to self-differentiate myself from the 58% of White voters who voted for Trump.  I don’t want marginalized people, who do not know me, wondering if I voted for Trump because I am white.  My age group voted overwhelmingly for Trump.  So I want to differentiate myself. So I get it when others want to send some sort of signal, some sort of sign that says, I did not vote like the rest of my white family and neighbors. Should you decide to wear some symbol as a sign, a blue finger nail or safety pin, be ready to back that symbol up with some actions.  Don’t wear them and then remain silent when the racist or sexist comment is made.  Don’t wear them and then turn a blind eye when you see a person being discriminated against because they wear a hajib or are Black or Brown.  Don’t wear them and then walk on by when you see someone being attacked.

I don’t know what the future holds. I appreciated Clinton’s concession speech.  I appreciated Obama’s comments on the election and the smooth transition of power that he is in the process of ensuring.  I even appreciated Trump’s acceptance speech which, if that was the first time I heard him speak, I would have thought wow, what a classy guy, praising his opponent and all.  But that was not what he shared on the campaign trail. He made threats to prosecute his opponent if he was elected. He made threats against me and people like me, he made threats against my immigrant friends, those here with visas and greed cards and those undocumented, he made threats against my Muslim friends, and he made threats against my black friends.  I can only assume that he now intends to follow through on these threats.

So what now in light of this turn of events in our nation’s history?  We, as a congregation seek to love one another all the more.  We find ways to differentiate ourselves from every other predominant white congregation in Tuscaloosa County so when people come here to visit, know that they have visited someplace unique and special and most importantly safe. That they will know our principles and our personal creeds are not just lip service but is indeed who we are in our most inner being.

As I stated I do not have a crystal ball to predict what is coming down the pike with a Trump presidency. We live in one of the most conservative states in the union.  But every fiber in my being tells me that we are going to need one another more than ever if we are going to thrive in this brave new world.  This means your support is needed more than ever to ensure that this congregation is able to support you in the days ahead.  Support and nurture your inherent worth and dignity. Support your ability to develop justice, equity, and compassion in your relations.  Support your free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Support your right of conscience and the democratic process.  Support your work towards developing community with peace, liberty and justice for all. And support the well-being of your spirit.  Blessed Be

[i] http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/01/02/abraham-lincoln-was-actually-hated-when-president/

[ii] https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/11/over-200-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election-day

[iii] http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/13/news/economy/median-income-census/

[iv] http://www.davemanuel.com/median-household-income.php

What Now? 13 November 2016 © Rev. Fred L Hammond  delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

We attempted to live stream the sermon and discovered that the internet bandwidth was insufficient.  So the video below is severely pixeled but the audio is relatively ok by comparison.

Religious Freedom and Judge Roy Moore

(I was asked to speak at the No Moore Rally today at the Alabama Supreme Court Building in Montgomery, AL.  Judge Roy Moore was being tried on six out of seven ethics violations when he urged Alabama Probate Judges to disobey US Supreme Court Ruling on the constitutionality of Same Sex Marriage. Here is what I said.)

We have been standing here for quite some time now awaiting the verdict that Judge Moore is found guilty of violating the Supreme Court orders to enforce marriage equality in this state. Judge Moore believes that he is above the law of the land.  He believes he is called to impose his brand of religion onto the citizens of this state. He believes that his brand of religion is the one true faith, that he has the pure and unadulterated interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. That all other interpretations of these sacred texts are heresy and therefore should be purged from the state of Alabama.

However, Judge Moore does not live in a country where only one religion is declared the official government religion.  Where only one interpretation of that religion is sanctioned. Where other religions are persecuted.

The United States does not have an official government sanctioned religion.  Here we have religious pluralism and the promise of religious freedom for all religions to not only be practiced but to have their rituals protected and recognized by the Government. This protection is found in our nation’s most sacred of texts, a text that Judge Moore vowed to uphold in his role as judge.

From the Declaration of Independence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Constitution of the United States, 1st Amendment:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Constitution of the United States, 14 Amendment, Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is from these documents that I stand here today to proclaim that my faith, which teaches me to love one another, no matter who you are or whom you love is to be respected under this constitution.  My religion, while a minority religion in the state of Alabama, has under the US Constitution the legal and moral authority to have its marriages recognized by the government of these states.  This right has been denied the members of my faith and other faiths for decades.  It was a right that was finally recognized by the Supreme Court as being fully constitutional.

Roy Moore and his ilk want to deny people, who do not agree with his religious faith, their rights as citizens of these United States. The followers of his religious faith are not hindered in any way by the practices of those who follow another faith or who follow no faith, just as my faith is not hindered in any way by the practices of his.  Where hindrance occurs is when followers of his faith demand that I and others adhere to his faith tenets.

In countries where there is one sanctioned religion his approach would be legal but here in the United States all people are free to practice their faith.  All people have the right to pursue happiness.

But here is thing; Judge Moore’s faith doesn’t even follow the tenets of his religion. His professed religion is Christianity.

Jesus declared that for his followers, and I am reading from the King James version, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Judge Moore violates this commandment. He is not loving his neighbor.  His behaviors show no respect for the diversity of his neighbors.  His behaviors show only contempt which goes against his very faith which insists on following the author of love, by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I feel sorry for Judge Moore.  I do.  Truly.  I feel sorry for him because he has no love in his heart.  He has walled himself off from knowing the freedom that divine love gives to each of us when we are willing to be embraced by that love.  He is afraid. And in his fear, he attacks others who have found the freedom that love bestows.

That love for one another is expressed in the Christian Scriptures of Galatians 3:28. Here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We do not need to be afraid of each other any longer because when love is present, when love is placed at the center of our hearts, the need to separate us into categories falls away.  The desire for ensuring mutual respect of our differences rises to the fore.

But Judge Moore has not experienced the very redemption his Christian faith teaches him.  Redemption is more than just reciting a few words on a page.  And the Redemption I am talking about is not just in the life to come, but redemption in this life. Freedom in this life which our founding parents of this nation in their wisdom codified into law—the redemption of being able to have life and the pursuit of happiness.  He does not know this redeeming love.  He only knows hatred for others who not only are different than he is, but have found happiness and love through that difference.

He is going to need a bit of a nudge from today to be told once again, that he does not have the right to enforce his hatred onto the citizens of Alabama.  He does not have the right to impose his version of Christianity onto the citizens of Alabama—who have found the power of love through other Christian denominations, through Judaism, through Islam, through Buddhism, through Baha’i, through Sikhism, through Taoism, through atheism, through humanism, through Jainism, through Wiccan, through indigenous faiths, and yes, even through my faith, Unitarian Universalism.

Judge Moore, you have betrayed the trust of the state of the Alabama by violating our most sacred creeds as a nation.  Not just once, but twice.  You must be removed from office this day.  And you cannot be allowed to serve a public office again because you have proven yourself as not being able to hold the people’s rights above your own interests and agendas.  Perhaps one day you will realize that Love is Love and that all people have the right to experience love and have that love recognized by the government.

An Open Letter to Chief Justice Roy Moore

 

29 April 2016

Dear Chief Justice Moore:

As a citizen of Alabama, I am rather disappointed in your press conference comments.  Not only did they portray the events on January 12th incorrectly, they expressed defamation of character of a private citizen.

The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on January 12th.  I did.  I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings. To have my faith honored with recognizing the marriages that I officiate is an example of the religious freedom that this country honors and values since the days of the founding of this nation’s constitution.  It is in the Bill of Rights that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the practice thereof.

Yet, for far too long, this country has forbade my religion’s right to solemnize marriages of same gender weddings and have them recognized by the state.  You say this is not about religion, but it is, Justice Moore.  It is.  By denying equal marriage rights, you are declaring your faith doctrines to be supreme over all religious doctrines and practices and that is simply not the American way in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom means being able to practice one’s religion without fear of government censure. Not being able to have couples’ marriages recognized by the state is a form of government censure of religion. For you to declare the wedding I officiated a mockery is a show of profound disrespect of the religion I serve as minister. A religion whose American roots date back to the founding of this nation.

The bills being passed under the guise of religious freedom are privileging a certain sect of Christianity.  It does not represent the whole of Christianity nor does it protect any other religions’ practice.  It is sanctioned discrimination against anyone whose faith does not align with this branch of Christianity. This is not religious freedom.  It is religious oppression.

I am authorized by my church and faith tradition to officiate marriages of same gender couples. The marriage I officiated on January 12, 2016, included the signing of the marriage license issued by a probate judge in Alabama. That certificate was filed according to Alabama statutes and a marriage certificate was issued the couple recognizing them as a married couple. If this marriage was illegal and in defiance of your order as you claim, then I would have expected the probate judge to not have issued the license. Further, I would expect that if this was illegal that you would file charges against probate judges who did not follow your order, making every probate judge who has issued licenses accountable to your ruling.  But you have done no such filing and therefore, you have not enforced the law as you claim exists. Why? Because you know you have no authority to overrule the US Supreme Court ruling that lifted the ban on same sex marriages.

But that is not what you stated at the press conference.  Instead you claimed the complaints were an attack on your character. You claimed you were a victim of the media misrepresenting your orders.  Then you made defamatory statements insinuating the mental instability of a private citizen. You are not a licensed Mental Health professional, therefore you have no authority to diagnose or even publicly speculate on the mental health of another person.

As a judge in the attempts to answer complaints on your defiance of a US Supreme Court Ruling, you have once again violated your own profession’s ethics by making these inflammatory statements against a private citizen. It was an attempt to discredit Ambrosia Starling’s and other’s complaints against your ethical conduct.  It was an attempt to inflict injury on Ambrosia Starling’s reputation. I see you.  I see what you are trying to do and it is offensive, not only personally offensive, but offensive to the citizens of this state.

You defended your orders based on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling which by your own quoting the US Constitution at the press conference revealed that it was over ruled by the US Supreme Court. Your own words convict you. Yet, you insist you are in the right. You have shown repeated disregard for the US Supreme Court which ruled that the bans against same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Your own colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court do not side with you in this matter. In fact, your colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed on March 4 of this year, a challenge to same sex marriages made by some probate judges and a conservative policy group. The Alabama Supreme Court is adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling.

You state your orders are still in effect.  Yet, even the Alabama Supreme Court by their dismissing the challenge declare your orders are not in effect any longer. If they were in effect still, then they would not have dismissed the challenge to same sex marriage. The federal and Alabama state courts have spoken on this matter.  Your legal opinion has been declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land.  There is no conflict between the courts as you stated at your press conference. They are now in sync.

If you, in good conscience, cannot abide by the highest court in the land then to protect your integrity you need to step down as chief justice. The tide of change is coming to this country. We will finally live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all.  We will no longer privilege one religion over another in this nation.  We will no longer privilege one class of people over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one gender over another or one sexual orientation over another. We will no longer privilege one race over another in this nation.  Those days are coming to an end. May they come quickly for people are suffering injustices in this land.

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, MS, MDiv

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

 

Funding The Vision

Our congregation is in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign.  We had a well attended kick-off dinner, in fact it was the best attended kick-off dinner in recent history. One would think such attendance would bode well for this year’s budget. Those who consistently pledge annually have turned in their pledges for this next year.  We are now at the stage of follow-up calls for this year’s pledges.

The presentation at the dinner was powerful.  We spoke to the four pillars** that enables our congregation to live our mission of being an open, nurturing community of Unitarian Universalists made visible by our actions to create a better world. We spoke to the fact that last year 25% of our pledges were made by two members.  And that 20 of our potential 71 pledging units did not make any pledge last year. These two statistics point to an unhealthy fiscal picture. Our push this year is to have every member turn in a pledge form with some level of support.

One of the things I did not want to do this year  was to promise all the things we would be able to do with increased resources only to then discover we have to cut our budget because the pledges simply did not meet the promise. We have received most of the pledges that we normally receive without prodding. We are now in the reminding stage of calling our members to turn in their pledges so we can create our budget.

I am already seeing that we have made a tactical mistake in our stewardship campaign this year. I am hoping to offer a corrective.

Two true stories to illustrate that mistake.

There was a small congregation of under a 100 members who had a part time minister whose salary was covered by one member.  The other members pledged minimal amounts if at all.  The message that the minister received by this was that the congregation really did not want a minister.  They liked the idea of a minister. But they did not want a minister because if they had they would pledge the funds needed to support a minister.  So the minister suggested to the member to donate the funds instead to the congregation’s building fund and not to the operating budget.  When the congregation was told they would not be able to keep the minister the following year because they had no money, they were stunned.  They exclaimed, but we have always been able to afford a minister with our level of pledging. The minister replied, they had a minister because they allowed one member to carry all of their obligations.  If they want a minister, they each must support that ministry with a pledge that reflects that support.

There was another congregation, even smaller than the first who rented their meeting space for about $200 a month.  Their annual budget was about $5,000. The members stated they wanted to grow their congregation in order to have a minister but could not afford one given their budget.  Their median pledge was about $15 a month.  A consultant told them if they wanted to grow their congregation then they would need to increase their financial pledges to reflect their desire to grow.

Both of these congregations missed the mark.  A minister is not what makes a church.  It is the ministry of the congregation that makes the church. A minister is only a resource of that ministry.  The first chose not to support the ministry that they potentially had at their doorsteps with their minister.  Yes, their salary was paid but they did not support any resources to build a ministry that would make a difference in their community.  The minister’s hands were tied from doing the necessary things to build that ministry.

The other congregation funded their reality not their vision.  Again, it is the ministry that needed support not the rent, not the office supplies. If all that is desired is a social club where people gather for a talk and coffee on Sunday mornings, then a budget of $5,000 serves that need very nicely. But if the congregation wants to be known in the community as a vibrant community of faith where people live their Unitarian Universalist values into the world and make a significant push to create a better world for the people in the neighborhood, then they need to fund the vision of the ministry they are building to help manifest that vision into a new reality.  They needed to fund resources to build that vision.

There is a long list of things that our congregation would like to be able to do this next year. We want to increase our leadership development. We want to increase our participation in denominational affairs. We want to increase our infrastructure with an administrator assistant and bookkeeper, thereby freeing up our volunteers to being able to build up the faith. We want to offer more programs to address the spiritual needs of our members.

But it is not this list of things that we seek funding, we are seeking funding for the ability to change the landscape of our society here in Alabama.  A landscape where systems of oppression are in full force. Where mean-spirited legislation is passed that maims and cripples the hearts and wills of people. Everyday, some new legislation is passed that causes new suffering in the lives of people in our congregation and in the larger community.

We are seeking funding for the ability to heal those hearts within this community of faith.  We gather on Sundays and at other times to listen to the stories of our lives in order to know that we are not alone. We gather to create community by getting to know one another.  We gather to be that balm in Gilead to heal and strengthen each other in order for us to go back out into the community to live our values into being.

In order to have this come to pass, we need to fund a ministry. It is not funding a minister. It is not funding a director of religious educator.  It is not funding an administrator or custodian or even nursery care worker. Yes, these are important but these are only resources to build the ministry of the church. The ministry transcends the physical reality of brick and mortar and staff.  The ministry seeks to build a new way of being in the world.

As a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you committed to help build this new way, therefore the congregation needs you to  honor your commitment by making a pledge of financial support to the best of your ability so there are resources to build the ministry. Fund the vision of the ministry not where the congregation is currently, not the immediate need.

Don’t tie the hands of the ministry by withholding your financial pledge. This is your ministry, your work in the world through a community of faith.  Not making a financial pledge hurts the congregation in ways perhaps unseen at first, but made visible over time.

** In our congregation we have categorized the work of the church into four pillars: Finance and Operations, Building Community, Spiritual Growth and Development, and Social Justice. There are various teams and work groups that each pillar includes and each pillar requires funding resources. If any one of these pillars were missing, then our ministry would not be able to live our mission.  Not being able to fund any one of these pillars sufficiently, hurts our ability to live our mission.  

 

Published in: on February 25, 2016 at 2:12 pm  Comments Off on Funding The Vision  
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Minimum Wage address to Tuscaloosa City Council

This was given to the Mayor and City Council on February 9, 2016.

I am here before you tonight because I am confused by the city’s legislative agenda as it pertains to item 16–Minimum Wage Legislation.

It reads: Minimum wage determination should be controlled on a state or federal level rather than the local government level. Local government determinations of minimum wage could lead to unintended consequences for those who are low to moderate income, as well as have negative economic development impacts for local government. 

In order to reduce the likelihood of poverty and keep wage rates current, the City supports adjustments of the minimum wage rate where there is a cost of living adjustment that is tied to the consumer price index. 

This legislative agenda was passed on January 26th

I am confused because when Mayor Maddox and a few members of the council met with the coalition on January 27th; we were told that the city wanted to study this issue by setting up a task force with Northport and the County.  Why would the council state that to us, when there is clear indication in the city’s agenda that the city has no intention to pursue what is in the best interests of the people of Tuscaloosa?

Consider the words of the Prophet Malachi:  I will draw near to you judgment; and I will be a swift witness … against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan…” 

You serve the people of this city.  Now I am not a literalist when it comes to scriptures but I view the judgment as a metaphor of what is coming. Perhaps you are not seeing it as clearly as I do–before I became a minister I was a clinical specialist that examined behaviors.  In my opinion, the judgment comes in the way of a crisis for our citizens.

17,000 people are desperately trying to make ends meet on an hourly wage that does not cover the rent, does not cover childcare, does not put food on the table, does not give them access to preventative health care.  They are forced to seek public assistance in attempt to make ends meet; which in our culture is a shameful act.  The coalition has heard from these families and it breaks my heart, especially when there are city solutions that can be taken.

When people are in a desperate situation that boxes then into a corner they begin to choose options harmful to themselves and to the community.  They steal food.  They steal items to sell for cash.  They resort to violence.  Domestic violence occurs because they are frustrated and angry at themselves for not being able to provide for their families.  They get arrested.  Police are placed in situations where unarmed people are shot.  We have already seen this happen in Tuscaloosa.

A pastor recently said, we are one gunshot away from being another Ferguson. We have a crisis here.  The city agenda speaks of unintended consequences, consider the unintended consequences of passing the buck.  The unintended consequences of passing the buck is more people choosing behaviors that cause physical harm and possible loss of life.  These will continue if the city council refuses to do the right thing for its citizens. It is already escalating. Good people in desperate situations are choosing poor behaviors to address immediate basic needs like food and shelter.

You do have the authority given to you by the state or the state would not be seeking to prevent that authority to act on behalf of the citizens of this community.  You have been given studies that show that raising the minimum wage benefits the local economy with increased tax revenue because the working poor spend their resources locally.  That is increased revenue in  your city’s budget.  It is good for business becuse increased wages reduce staff turnover which any business owner can tell you, it is more expensive to train new staff than to keep staff.  Every single state and city that has done this has prospered.

Further, you have the backing of the US Department of Labor to act on behalf the citizens.

Not acting with your authority will result in increased suffering in this city, in your heart of hearts you know this.  I close with one more quote, this from Apostle James, the brother of Jesus: If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. 

You are committing a grievous sin against your own conscience by refusing to do what your own words declare is right.