The Culture is the Crucible

Connie Goodbread, Acting District Executive for the Mid-South District of the Unitarian Universalism Association of Congregations (UUA) when speaking about faith development will often say:  “Faith Development is all we do; Unitarian Universalism is all we teach;  and the Congregation is the Curriculum.”   Recently at a Regional staff meeting we were discussing the vision of Unitarian Universalism for the Southern Region and I mentioned that when we live our faith out in the community the Culture is the Crucible.

We only truly embody our faith and values when we live those values in the culture.  It is in the culture that our faith is put to the test to strengthen our mettle.  Currently our culture is resisting attempts to be compassionate towards others.  There are loud voices that claim  the individual is above all others; disregarding the worth and dignity of others.   Moves in our government to reduce taxes on the über wealthy and corporations  to the detriment of life giving services to the poorest in our country is received with high praise by politicians and citizens alike.  The recent GOP debate had an audience member shout ‘let him die’  to the hypothetical question  of a young man who chose not to get insurance and then had an accident which left him in a coma, should he be treated?  A bad decision on the young man’s part and lack of compassion by the Ayn Rand neophytes who place individual rights and a disdain for minor impositions above collective societal rights.   It is in this world where we either live up to what we claim to profess on Sunday morning or we fail to meet the challenge.

This is the test of our values as Unitarian Universalists. How well do we represent these values in the day to day? Do we speak up when we see someone being abused for being gay or discriminated against for being an immigrant? Do we talk with our friends about the deep matters in life or do we hide away to keep the peace when a disparaging word is said about another group ?

If being Unitarian Universalist is only good one day a week then our faith is weak and ineffective.  We should not continually wonder why our congregations are not growing and or why claims of irrelevance surface. If we are not seeking to live the principles that we covenant to uphold then our voice will continue to grow weak against the din and noise of the popular cultural shift towards Ayn Rand’s extreme individualism.

As a faith, as congregations, as individuals we need to examine how we embody the values our faith teaches out in the world where we breathe, and eat, and have our being.  This is not an easy challenge. It is hard work  this path we have chosen. Dag Hammarskjold wrote these words “This is your path, And it is now, Now, that you must not fail.”

I repeat Connie Goodbread’s words with mine added at the end:

Faith development is all we do;
Unitarian Universalism is all we teach;
the congregation is the curriculum;
and the culture is the crucible.

This is our task and our path. We must not fail.

HB 56: Pondering Civil Disobedience

I have been pondering what our next steps should be in response to HB 56 in AL and HB 87 in GA. I confess my understanding of the HB 87 in GA is limited, so my comments here will reflect more on HB 56.

I attended the federal hearing of HB 56 in Birmingham. Judge Blackburn just wasn’t getting the religious argument and the attorney was not presenting a very strong argument to enable her to get it.  In fact, I thought she erred in her strategy altogether. The attorney went doctrinal and this law is not about doctrines but about resources that religious organizations offer in practicing their faith that enable immigrants (undocumented and documented) to remain in AL.  So there is a very good chance that the judge will rule for the state in regard to first amendment rights being violated.

But this is indeed about first amendment rights being violated. And so I have been wondering, what are the next steps?  I have been reading about the New Sanctuary movement.  The original sanctuary movement in the 1980’s was in response to supporting refugees from El Salvador fleeing their country from the US backed civil war. These refugees were not given asylum in the US because the US maintained they were allies with these countries. But this reason hides the deeper truth that the US was providing military training and arms to the governments that were killing their people involved in liberation theology in El Salvador.  So congregations of many faith traditions became sanctuary congregations and gave hiding places to refugees and moved them from congregation to congregation to Canada which was offering asylum.

In 2007 the New Sanctuary Movement was born, “with the goal of protecting immigrant families from unjust deportation, affirming and making visible these families as children of God and awakening the moral imagination of the country through prayer and witness.”  This movement is also comprised of a broad interfaith coalition including the Unitarian Universalist Association.  (See the UUA’s involvement with the New Sanctuary Movement here. )

These congregations support a family undergoing deportation with American born children perhaps by providing meals, transportation to work, and other material and spiritual support.  Congregations may also offer their locations to alternative labor/employer match sites.  I encourage you to thoughtfully examine the New Sanctuary Movement website and pay close attention to what are the expectations and roles of participating congregations as found here.

This site also discusses briefly the federal Immigration and Nationality Act which includes section 1324 regarding harboring.  According to this site, all cases regarding prosecution of this act were aimed at individuals who secretly harbored or concealed but not those individuals who notified INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continued to shelter them.   They surmise the same would be true for congregations who alert INS of the undocumented person’s presence but continue to shelter them. But this has never been tested in court and therefore the UUA legal counsel advises that congregations contemplating this stance to consult with an immigration lawyer.

In most states sanctuary is not a criminal activity but in AL under this new law providing sanctuary or creating sanctuary for undocumented persons is a crime.  Mickey Hammon, State Representative, during the public hearing of his version of HB 56 stated, after I spoke against this bill, that if any congregation has undocumented individuals worshiping in the church that he will ensure that the clergy with the undocumented persons are arrested. He has also stated that HB 56 was to impact all aspects of the immigrant’s life.

I am quite aware that in AL, if we were to have sanctuary congregations we would be asking our congregations to be willing to face the criminal charges as defined in Alabama’s law. People harboring undocumented immigrants could be charged with a class A misdemeanor unless ten or more individuals were harbored and then the charge is a Class C Felony.  What are we willing to risk to create justice?