Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who's the Boss?

I blame John Boehner.

My sermon was neatly finished on Tuesday, and then on Friday John Boehner decided to resign from Congress in October without consulting me or considering how that would affect what I’d prepared for this morning.  I eventually let it go, realizing that Boehner doesn’t need to consult me about major decisions he makes. But I needed to change the sermon based on who he did consult to make this major decision. When Pope Francis arrived in Washington this week Boehner, who was staged quite close to him, was overcome emotionally, emotion that couldn’t be contained.  He announced the next day that while he said his morning prayers he instantly decided to resign.

Some believe Boehner’s resignation followed intense pressure from his party for being too liberal and not moving in the right direction quickly enough to defund Planned Parenthood, which would lead us to a government shutdown. Boehner’s resignation shut all of that down. I agree that Boehner had had it, but I also observed Boehner’s epiphany during and after the Pope’s visit.  Had Boehner consulted his God, realizing he was a barrier to all that God’s messenger on earth, the Pope, had sermonized about? Had Boehner been ultimately reminded of his God’s laws preventing him from continuing with political business as usual and harming the masses?

Yes, that is my hypothesis, and I think we may see this hypothesis play out as Boehner has already urged Congress to vote for fairness to all Americans. A change of heart.  It’s interesting that within this hypothesis we see a man surrender himself to the will of his God versus his free will and that of his party and any agenda.

Questions for us are what do we do with all of this, how do we understand choosing religious law over secular law? Or secular law over religious law?  This is a real issue for us as our world becomes closer and closer together. How do we celebrate diversity in our country, the welcoming of refugees of a different religious variety and understand why religious law might supersede the law of the land?  This is a here and now question.  It’s not a matter of when it happens.  It has happened. As global citizens we are now required to answer these questions as people who live in our communities, native or refugee, require us to understand their truth and the dilemma it might bring.

The most public example is the story of County Clerk Kim Davis, who became the face of opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same sex marriage. Davis refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, despite a federal court order, thus refusing to do what was expected of her as an elected county clerk based on her belief in the laws of her God superseding the law of the land. That won her five days in jail and death threats and other distressing treatment, as you might imagine. But she has decided to move from being Democrat to Republican this week, so I’m not giving her any more air time other than to note that she did what she did and endured persecution and prosecution to honor religious law over secular law.
Believe it or not, it’s hard to tell most days that the separation of church and state is foundational for our country and has lived within Unitarianism for generations.  We must remember, though, that many countries traditionally have closer links between state and religion. Religious law is ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. I offer the historical interpretation of secular law offered by Oliver Wendell Holmes. He writes that “law is a magic mirror."  He continues, “this abstraction called the law, wherein, as in a magic mirror, we see reflected, not only our lives, but the lives of all men that have been.”  I take Holmes metaphor to mean that law is a cultural artifact, a moral deposit of society. That is, he angles the mirror to reflect law in American history not the history of American law. We then understand that the interaction of law and society changes. So we uncover the gray area about who the boss actually is -- which law do we honor?  Both are influenced by culture and tradition.

In our reading this morning we learned of the gray area that secular and religious law live within.  Even the greatest minds in the highest courts struggle with these questions.  As McEwan pointed out, it’s not black and white. Secular law is not the law of morality taught by tradition, but a law that applies secular principles, and he tells us what is lawful is not always right. Again, what is lawful is not always right. I challenge all of us to hold that statement. Whether we agree with the separation of church and state and champion secular law or know deep in our bones the wishes and power of our personal God and follow our God’s law, we will not always be right.

The question we must ask ourselves is not, “Should secular law trump religious law or religious law trump secular law?” The question is, “Are our laws life-giving?” Do our laws have the ability to impart life and vitality? As Unitarian Universalists this is what we work for. This is the place we should occupy. It is what we believe, who we are, and our work is to move toward life sustaining and life giving beliefs and practices. We work to reverse the symptoms of a hurting world. Not unlike a patient with a debilitating disease. The patient works to restore health and their work through healing is life giving.

This is the way to travel out of the gray area that we’ve been talking about. That is, do we follow a legal code or our customs?  You see our work is to determine whether any law, religious or secular, is life sustaining and life giving. What makes a religious or secular law life giving? Law is life giving if it is a demonstration of justice and mercy. Religious laws that condemn, call for violence, tear apart communities and devalue are not life giving. Secular laws that place a greater divide between the haves and have nots, prevent anyone from living a full life, promote war among individuals, communities or countries are not life giving.

Our answer to the question of who’s the boss?, which is mightier? is that law, religious or secular that brings justice for all, compassion, and truth. I have no problem advising that we should denounce any law that asks us to do the opposite. What is law is not always right. As Unitarian Universalists we have the responsibility and the opportunity to make it right. We work to protect religious liberty as freedom from discrimination against religious belief and worship, and denounce religious liberty as exemption from non-discriminatory laws that burden religiously motivated conduct. Freedom of religion is one thing. but using such freedom to justify hate and violence must never be allowed. A theocracy we can live without. But what about secular laws that promote hate, violence, and discrimination? Think of current immigration laws, criminal law that promotes inequality and division, laws that protect wage inequality.

Service is our law.  We affirm that covenant, written in 1864 by Unitarian Minister James Blake each Sunday.  Seeing ourselves as bound in covenant is an old practice among us. In 1630, John Winthrop, soon to become the first governor of Massachusetts, spoke to a soggy, stalwart band of fellow Puritans, our ancestors, sailing with high and pious hopes aboard the Arabella toward a new life in New England:

(i)Now the only way to avoid . . . shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.... We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.(i)

It was an extraordinary declaration of interdependence. Despite their stone-cold reputation, their caricatured intolerance, these were people who promised to bear each other’s burdens as their own, to subvert their separate, private interests, their “superfluities,” for the public good of all. Humbly, gently, patiently, they would serve a vision larger than any single eye could see; they would hold a larger hope. Those who heard John Winthrop speak would surely have grasped the metaphor of danger: they would have been afraid not only of foundering, literally, on New England’s rocky shore, but of failing in their errand to establish this commonwealth, their “city on a hill.” The only way to avoid shipwreck, spiritual or otherwise, was to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” -- to make and keep a sacred covenant together.
Unlike many traditions where a specific scripture is the law, service to the common good is our highest calling. Knowing that our fates are intertwined and that when injustice is done to anyone, anywhere, injustice is done to all of us, everywhere, we work steadily towards righting the many injustices in the world. “We are what we do in the world.”  We are lost without contributing to the world. The great injustice is not that people break laws or claim loyalty laws that tear down or destroy. The great injustice is that each person is not empowered to contribute to the lives of others. What makes us human is not that we are able to kill our enemies and to take whatever we can ravage from a destitute world. What makes us human is that we can shout danger and encouragement to one another; we can share surplus necessities and find better ways of doing things; and we can dance with one another, giving and receiving, following and leading. We are what we do for and with one another. Through service, may we find and empower wholeness.  May we always reach for and hold up the magic mirror.

May it be so.

Sermon by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Sep 27, 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Possible Peace

There’s a lot
not to understand,
news reports that make us
wince, wring our hands,
and wonder,
what can be done

There’s too much
striving, climbing, scrambling
to get to the top of the wall
to declare it MINE
in the name of whatever
knocking down the weak
kicking difference in the face
ignoring the cry, the injustice,
the suffering soul
of another’s humanity.

Peace — who can speak of its possibility
with a million forces mounting
always, always against us?

We must remember.
We must take heart.

Walls built in hatred have come down.
Tyrants too have to die.
Enlightenment manages to emerge, somehow.

Even still, the images rend us
Teachers taking bullets for their students
Journalists on their knees for medieval-like execution.

We endlessly ask,
How could they?
What’s to be done?

Our peace is disturbed.
We pound our fists.
shout at the television.
Our anger and frustration
Slowly brewing into bitterness
And helplessness.

It is true.
We can’t eradicate evil
any more than we can stop
the flowering of new life.

We can only trust that the poverty we see,
the cries for injustice that we hear
the reason the full-hearted speak,
will change us.

We don’t have to search other continents
or journey into foreign war zones
or distant lands full of the oppressed.

There are neighbors,
Invisible ones we don’t usually see
living on streets we often pass by,
in those sections of town
where people are different.

We can open our eyes
change our response
see someone’s child instead of a criminal
up to no good.

We can see people
who know a thing or two about community
instead of foreigners who don’t belong.

We can hear music in words and accents
we don’t understand,
glory in the differences,
take joy in the capacity to understand,
and offer a helping hand
a voice calling for change

one small step
one opened mind
one softened heart
at a time.

A poem by Amy Douglas and read by Amy Douglas at 1stUUPB during the Sunday peace service, Sep 20, 2015.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peace, Positive and Negative

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. -- from the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Jeremiah 6: verse 14

What is peace? Most people visualize peace as a tranquil world where everyone gets along. Our children just shared their ideas with you. To be desirable, that kind of peace must be based on fairness and justice with everyone having what they need. This is almost impossible to imagine in today’s world. This morning, I’d like to suggest a different meaning of peace, which seems more relevant and achievable. I was reading a sermon by Susan Maginn, which gave me a new way of looking at what peace means in our time. Today I’d like to share her concept with you which echoes what you heard MLK state in the opening words -- that peace is more about justice than order. He defines a positive and a negative peace.

Let’s explore the difference between the two. What many consider the idea of peace is really negative peace -- the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice. Let me repeat. A negative peace is the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice.

Negative peace is the comfortable status quo. Don’t rock the boat. It is tempting to interpret this as a desirable peace. We can look the other way and pretend that all is well. As a country and a world we can no longer afford this negative peace -- a peace of denial, a peace of submission, a peace of silence, a peace of resignation, a peace of hopelessness, a peace of oppression.  

Positive peace on the other hand, is loud, messy and uncomfortable, but necessary to move forward. Lately, we have heard the refrain “No justice, No peace.” on the streets of the United States. When I first heard it, I thought it meant that the people chanting it were really saying if you don’t give us what we want, there will be trouble. Now I see it in a different light. Without justice there can be no true peace. “No justice, No peace.” We need that tension between the power and the people to make positive peace. Tension is an essential ingredient when it comes to peace and justice. When that tension is not there, when the tension is not allowed or not tolerated, or when the tension is not desirable, then there can easily be an abuse of power. Without that tension, we humans can easily grow into nothing but corrupt power structures on one side, and on the other, silent suffering. We need a positive peace which is the presence of justice. We need a way to hold the tension that exists between the power structure and the people so we can find our way toward justice

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

There is hope that peace is being born from the racial tension right now in our own country. Peace is being born through the street memorials, the protests, die-ins, marches, and traffic blockades. Peace is being born through the black community which is confronting the status quo saying: “Enough!” Enough of mistaking order for peace. Enough of saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.

This tension is real and we must wrestle through it, led by visionary activists around the country. The tension may sound like progress to some and civil disobedience to others. Many wish all the tension would just go away. But if we are to know true peace, we need to work through the tension, uncomfortable as that may be.

Desmond Tutu says. “If we are neutral on situations of injustice then we have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In other words, we have chosen negative peace. So let us not be neutral. Let us actively wrestle with racism and other injustices. Let us wrestle until we are living on the right side of history, wrestle until we overcome, until we make injustice and division into beloved community. Let us be hungry for peace and worthy of the blessing.  May it be so.

Peace, Positive and Negative, a sermon delivered by Judy Bonner at 1stUUPB on Sep 21, 2015.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Education is the most powerful tool for changing the world. I know that all of us as Unitarian Universalists want to change the world. We want to make it a better place than when we first arrived; we want to right the injustices we see daily; and we want to leave a legacy that will far outlast the span of our earthly beings. There is no better way to do this than through our children. Investing in our children’s development from the earliest stage is the single most important contribution we can make to the world, but then again, I did major in child development, so perhaps that is the only acceptable answer for someone like me.

There is a quote from Dr. Haim Ginott that I love that says, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” This statement is so simple yet could not be any more true.

Most parents have had that “uh-oh” moment when they hear their child repeat a derogatory phrase or curse word, and of course it always happens in front of a crowd or their dear, sweet great-grandmother. While it makes for a great story later on, it also reminds us all of something. Children are incredibly intuitive and perceptive to the world around them, and one of the most important things we as adults can do is model the kind of person we would like for them to be. We never know if one simple gesture could impact that child for the rest of their life, which can at times feel daunting to parents and educators. No, your child will not end up in therapy because you made them clean their room, but perhaps they will become a better human being if they see you stop and help someone in need. Much to the chagrin of us as adults, children often close their ears to advice or greet it with an eye roll. The thing is, though, they open their eyes to example.

If we all stop and think about it, every person in this room can name at least one person who positively affected their lives. ... I wonder who that person is for you. Some of us are blessed with many people who come to mind, but it only takes the one to change you forever. Personally, I am lucky enough to have had many teachers and adults in my life growing up who made me into the person I am today. There are several that pop into mind when I think about the meaningful relationships I had in my childhood. There is my kindergarten teacher, who inspired me to become a teacher myself; there is the elderly gentleman from the church I grew up in who I used to sit with each Sunday at coffee hour telling jokes and sharing stories.

The most important relationship I’ve ever had, even to this day, is the bond I shared with my grandfather. He lived just a few miles from my house, and I would ride my bike over to visit him as often as possible. Weekends were usually spent with me spending the night; we would stay up late at night watching movies or reading books, and he would cook my grandmother and me a big breakfast in the morning.

My grandfather, Bill, was one of the most charismatic people you could ever meet. He was a true southern gentleman and charmed everyone he came into contact with, which is probably what made him such a successful businessman. Everywhere we went we saw someone he knew. He knew the names of all the cashiers at Publix, every staff member of his doctor’s office, all of his neighbors; as a child it felt like he surely must know everyone in town.

He passed on many important things to me, such as treating people with dignity and respect, the art of striking up a conversation with the person behind you in line at the store, and how to work hard and diligently to achieve your goals. Of course, one of the best things he passed on was his southern idioms. Everything from ‘Bless your little heart’, to ‘What in tarnation’, ‘Lord have mercy’, ‘Heavens to Betsy’, ‘Gimme some sugar’, and of course ‘chewin’ the fat’ and ‘chompin’ at the bit’…OK, I’ll stop, but I could go on and on! He wasn’t a Unitarian Universalist, but he sure behaved like one!

The most important lessons I remember learning from my grandfather revolved around helping other people. He always told me that if I could do anything at all to help another person, then I should. No questions asked, don’t overthink it, just do what you can. He would tell me about how, as an elementary school student during the Great Depression, no one really had much of anything. His family, however, had more than some of his friends. So, he would bring his friends to his house for lunch (as most of you probably know, this was during the days when kids went home from school for lunch and then returned…all by themselves! No parental supervision!). They would all share a lunch his mother would make -- lard sandwiches. Two pieces of bread with lard in between. That sounds awful to us, but to my grandfather and his friends, it was a blessing.

Above all else, my grandfather showed me how to have a kind soul by sharing with me experiences I won’t ever forget. He would always provide help or resources to those who needed it. My grandfather was the president of the West Palm Beach Rotary club, and he would take me with him to deliver turkeys at Thanksgiving, hams at Christmas, and school supplies before the start of school. We would visit families in neighborhoods that were beyond anything I had ever seen before, and I would play with the children while he chatted with the adults. I remember the first time I went with him on such a delivery, and as we got back into our air-conditioned car, I told him how guilty I felt for having the things that I did. He told me, Darlin’, don’t worry or feel guilty, just turn that feeling into action; strive to do as much as you possibly can whenever you can. You don’t need to feel guilty for your blessings; simply share them with others. He also told me something that I always kept in mind when I was teaching -- every day you have the opportunity to change someone’s life. It was not meant to overwhelm, but to inspire.

Imagine if we all woke up every day and sought to change another person’s life. How would our actions differ? Could we perhaps be less annoyed when, after a long day, the children ahead of us in line at the grocery store are screaming at the top of their lungs while their overwrought mother tries to regain control, or when we are cut off in traffic, or when the coffee shop gets our order wrong? Most of us seek to infect the world with kindness, but this often gets lost in translation when we become caught up in the technicalities of day to day life.

So, the question is, how do we make this world into the place we want it to be? I believe the answer starts with our children. I know some of you may be thinking about how you don’t have children of your own, or about how your children are grown adults. This is where I urge you to think of the children who we see here on Sundays. We all have a responsibility as members of this Congregation to nurture and support the children in it. Life learning is about respecting the everyday experiences that enable children to understand and interact with the world and their cultures. How do we do that?

Well, adults teach children three important things: the first is by example, the second is by example, and the third is by example.

What we learn becomes a part of who we are. So, what are we going to teach our children? Reaching the children is an important part of growing a church. Many of us here today recall memories of the church we grew up in. Why not make those memories for the children we serve today positive ones? As Unitarian Universalists we believe that faith is a journey we take together. Religious education takes a lifetime. It happens both within and outside of the Congregation’s walls. We support one another as individuals, families, and communities in an ongoing search for truth and meaning. We strive to guide one another -- all ages among us -- in religious questioning, personal change, and discovering ways to better live in faith. Through continually learning and growing together we encourage and support another, and our children, to know and express our moral agency.

From anti-racism to environmental justice to personal spiritual growth, UU religious education taps the wisdom of diverse sources. One of those diverse sources is the members of this Congregation. Just imagine all the stories each one of you have to tell. I often have people tell me that they feel they are inadequate to teach a children’s lesson, whether it be that they have never spent much time with children or that they are new to the faith or that they simply don’t know what it is that they would say. My response is this -- say whatever comes to mind. Teach whatever you feel is relevant to the day’s lesson. Share stories of your own and invite feedback as much as possible. After all, you never know what one little interaction could turn in to. Perhaps you can be that person in a child’s life who will transform them forever. Plus, children are the best in that they don’t have a judgmental bone in their body. It is one of the things that first attracted me to working with children. You can walk in as you are, and they do not care about the clothes you are wearing or whether you’ve lost those ten pounds. They see you as you are, for the soul within and not the physical embodiment. Every child has a story that needs to be heard. Maybe you are the one meant to hear it. In the words of Socrates, education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. May it be so.

Sermon delivered by Beth Mathews, director of 1stUUPB Child and Youth programs, at 1stUUPB, Sep 13, 2015.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Black Lives Matter

My favorite entertainer is British comedian Alan Carr.  Alan has an evening chat show on BBC called Chatty Man and as he enters the stage at the top of the show he says, “What a week it has been!” and then makes light of headlines.

I say to you this morning, “What a week it has been.” In early summer thousands of Unitarian Universalists from around the country attended a conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference takes place in an American city every summer and is called General Assembly. At this particular General Assembly all Unitarian Universalists received a call to Action of Immediate Witness.

I quote:
  • The 2015 General Assembly calls congregations to action, in order to become closer to a just world community . . urges congregations to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and language . . .; encourages congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work towards police reform and prison abolition, which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable; and . . . recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago, and urges congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices many black people are exposed to.

What a week it has been.  Having sat with that call to witness, I made the decision to relay the call to action to our Congregation in a sermon entitled Black Lives Matter, just as our sign advertises. I had prepared a homecoming sermon entitled Gather the Spirit, but scrapped it because we have more urgent matters at hand.

We advertise the sermon title each week on our sign by the street and when Black Lives Matter was placed I wondered if we would be victim to vandals as many other Unitarian Universalist congregations had been across the country, their Black Lives Matter signs defaced, torn down, and mangled. The concern was smaller than the message that we needed to share so the title went up. 

We were doing just fine until this past Friday morning when our office administrator, Barbara, discovered our sign vandalized. Vandals broke into the sign damaging the locks and other mechanisms and placed a sign that read WHITE over the word BLACK making the sign read White Lives Matter. The police were called and were concerned and offered us much support. Then came the Palm Beach Post, Newscenter 5, and CBS which became a whirlwind of telling our story.  It is most troubling that the vandals placed the word WHITE over the word BLACK. Usually signs are changed to read ALL Lives Matter. Using the word WHITE was blatant racism. 

The whirlwind of press was important to us because we are the liberal voice in South Florida and we are Unitarian Universalists, which gives us the responsibility to speak up and out and to tell the story of oppression. We were handed that legacy by those who came before us. I mention that legacy because I needed to call on my Unitarian and Universalist ancestors this week to guide me, to hold me, and remind me to be brave.

In times like these I ask myself, What would Theodore Parker do?  Parker was an outspoken 19th-century Unitarian minister followed by many and ostracized by his Boston colleagues.  More remarkable is his brave position as an abolitionist who sheltered slaves seeking freedom in the North.  Under the rug under his desk where he wrote his sermons was a door leading to a space where slaves would hide when their southern masters came looking for them.  Parker eventually needed to keep a weapon on his desk as he received so many threats for standing for justice. Parker did the right thing knowing it wasn’t popular, it would be difficult, and his well-being was at risk.  He stayed true to his call to ministry and to justice.

And so despite the hate emails and phone calls, warnings from the police, and being labeled cop killer and racist, I decided to stay true to my call to ministry and honor my promise to this Congregation to lead us through difficult times and to let our community know we are a justice-seeking people.

Many of you probably wonder why do we have to say BLACK LIVES MATTER? Why can’t we say ALL LIVES MATTER ... because they do. Black lives matter doesn’t mean that we think that black lives are more important than other lives.  It’s not to be viewed as a threat to the lives of others. It is a rallying call of black people to no longer be devalued or dismissed as they have been for centuries in our country.  All lives matter co-opts powerful language and diminishes the voices of color that have gone unheard for so long.

I wondered why people were so threatened by the slogan?  What would cause someone to believe that black lives mattered more and that they were under attack?  Yes, its racism but that’s too easy of an answer. That's when I returned to a book I’ve been studying entitled The Compassionate Mind by Dr. Paul Gilbert.  Dr. Gilbert explains that compassion is seen as a weakness in societies that encourage us to compete with each other. Striving to get ahead, self-criticism, fear and hostility toward others seem to come naturally to us. The book reveals the evolutionary and social reasons why our brains react so readily to threats.

Our brain gives more priority to dealing with threats than pleasurable things. We are hard wired to a system of self protection. Threat can be activated for us if a goal or something else we want is perceived to be blocked. We begin to fear being hurt or destroyed, fear of having no control over our life, meaning, or purposes, and the fear of being unwanted, marginalized, ignored, excluded or isolated. Such fears live within us. Remember that your threat and self-protection system was designed to protect you. That primitive design, which has served many species for millions of years, is powerful. But we live in a modern world and we need “new minds” to contain them. Societies have evolved, but our hard-wired systems have yet to catch up and prepare us for the modern world. We may even feel under attack but have forgotten the reasons why we respond with self-protection and fear of being marginalized, producing a hostile response. And so to understand why people feel threatened when we say black lives matter it is because they are experiencing a primitive response and primitive responses help you buy into oppression. A new mind, adapted to the world of today is called for.

Let us move on to Black Lives Matter as a movement or campaign. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was created following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer in 2013. It gained national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Black Lives Matter has also called attention to the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and the killing of Tamir Rice in 2014.  Black Lives Matter has gained the most attention for protests against police brutality and concerns about the justice system and other issues that affect communities of color. The work of the movement, or campaign, was a match for our Unitarian Universalist values at its inception.  Since then it has lost some credibility, being accused of promoting anti-law enforcement messages.

Those claims were not real. Not until the Minnesota State Fair protest this summer where a leader of the Black Lives Matter campaign was videotaped chanting, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” which then became the chant of the group of activists. Activists claimed it was an inside joke between them and the police. The perceived reality was that the activists were advocating violence against law enforcement. I’m neither judge nor jury, but if I am to be honest the incident raised an eyebrow for me. Could I lead a congregation to align itself with a movement that is perceived to have evolved into advocating for violence?

I sat with that question and decided that the Black Lives Matter campaign has become the scapegoat and is unfairly being characterized as cop killers when it is against police brutality, not law enforcement. Again, against police brutality not against law enforcement. That’s an important distinction. However, the Minnesota State Fair incident happened as the Huffington Post explains, “the Black Lives Matter campaign or movement has no formal leadership structure and is subject to the buffoonery of free speech.“  Author Torri Stuckey had this response to the pigs-in-a-blanket incident: “A large part of me wanted to scream "IMPOSTERS!" But who am I that I may denounce a group's authenticity? I'm not at liberty to speak to their struggle. I am no more entitled to the Black Lives Matter movement than any other person who feels connected to its intrinsic value.” The issues are so much deeper than just the institution of law enforcement.

Racism is deeply embedded in our criminal laws and law making, which precipitate bias in our judicial system. Yes, activists are angry and their anger cannot be dismissed as illegitimate; for doing so would be a direct denial of the black experience in our country. Does Black Lives Matter have a public relations problem? Absolutely, but not one that should water down their message. The movement has a problem with police brutality. They should make it clear through their speech and behavior just as they expect from law enforcement. The movement is imperfect.

Now… to acknowledge, as I think we must, that there is a serious racial discrimination problem in American policing, as well as in other aspects of the American judicial system, is NOT -- and please hear this loud and clear friends –- this is NOT to single out the brave men and women who serve our society in law enforcement as somehow being uniquely racist or wrong … they are not. There surely are countless law enforcement officers –- the overwhelming majority certainly -- who regularly apply the law fairly, justly and equally to all.  And I, as all of you, have been profoundly shocked and saddened by the recent cold-blooded murders of several police officers over recent days, as they were working to protect the communities they bravely serve.  I join hearts with those who say “BLUE LIVES MATTER”, for they most certainly do.

How do we begin to purposefully address this pressing social and cultural problem that has become so obvious with all the recent deaths?  We answer the call to action. Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations; have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all and allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles. We continue to support Black-led racial justice organizations. We answer that call to action to become closer to a just world community. We commit to engage and organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language. We recognize that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.  

No matter who you are, black lives matter, and a system of fair, transformative, and restorative justice that is accountable to communities is something to which each of us has a right. Unitarian Universalists and our greater society have the power to make this happen. We are Unitarian Universalists for whom every person is a person of interest. Regardless of race, color or background, everyone has inherent worth and dignity we must cherish and protect.  The very center and soul of our faith revolves around the affirmation of the irreducible worth and beauty of every human being, no matter how different from us they might at first seem. 

What a week it has been.  I leave you with the words of Audette Fulbright Fulson:

  • Do not think we are finished — oh no we will never be finished, never just done until the light of justice is lit behind every eye. Do not think we will be silent— no there will not be silence until the world has sung the names of the dead with full throats, and still we will sing on.  Do not think fear is the end of us — oh you are broken in mind and heart if you even imagine that our fear is the end of this story. We are braver than you have ever conceived and you will not be the end of us. We have come to take back the world, the world that is the inheritance of better children, better lovers, better days. There will be love again, but justice is our demand now. You will not take us down.  We are endless, firelit, and determined.
May it be so.

Text of a sermon entitled Black Lives Matter, delivered by the Rev CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Sep 6, 2015.