What Do Unitarian Universalists Do?
In a religious culture dominated by right belief as the door to salvation, Unitarian Universalists are often asked, “If you don’t share a common belief in God or Jesus, what do you believe?” There are many answers that can be given to that question, some of them summarized by UUs who’ve developed their own “elevator speech.” Because we tend to emphasize a faith that promotes right action, it seems the better question to ask is: “What do Unitarian Universalists do?”
In his Berry Street Essay of 2012, Fred Muir, a Unitarian Universalist minister, listed four areas of special concern where Unitarian Universalists have been active living out their beliefs:
- Environmental justice
- Sexual and family values
- Right relationship
What have we been doing about multiculturalism? For decades Unitarian Universalists have supported the rights of people of all races and ethnicities to enjoy the same freedoms, privileges, and access to opportunity. During the civil rights era, we stood on the side of equality. In Tallahassee, the small Unitarian Universalist church building was the only place where whites and blacks could safely gather together. The number of Unitarian Universalist ministers involved in freedom marches outstripped the size of our relatively small denomination. Today, congregations and clergy continue to work for immigration laws that protect family integrity as well as the individual right to freedom and the “pursuit of happiness.”
What may be our “growing edge” in multiculturalism is a dawning awareness that as Unitarian Universalists we have allowed some societal attitudes about people with disabilities to color our attitudes and actions within our congregations. We are becoming more aware of how barriers to inclusivity create patterns of injustice, and we are working to be ever more inclusive.
Unitarian Universalists defend the environment in numerous ways. We are committed to caring for the “interdependent web of life.” The earth and her creatures of every species have received careful attention from individuals and congregations. Congregations evaluate and support their commitment to sustainability and conservation by pursuing and maintaining a status as a Green Sanctuary.
The struggle for environmental justice can’t end when we “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Justice demands that we look for and support actions that protect every environment, not just the land we happen to occupy. It asks that we look for ways to change the economy to create “green collar” jobs for people who might otherwise be unemployed. It requires us to acknowledge that living simply in the U.S. promotes a rate of consumption many times that available to other people in many areas of the world.
Sexual and Family Values
Unitarian Universalists have supported sexual values in two generations of outstanding sex education materials. Before Our Whole Lives (OWL) was written, we dominated the field of sex education for adolescents with a program called About Your Sexuality. Building on the successes of that program, OWL was developed as a curriculum spanning all ages and offering opportunities to think about self care in age-appropriate lessons.
We have insisted that families arise in the presence of love, and that gender identities don’t dictate love. Our support for gay families and gay marriage rights continues in the present. Here in Tallahassee, we pursued and received a designation as a Welcoming Congregation, affirming that we not only accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people into the congregation but that we will actively promote rights and freedoms for all LGBTQ people.
We have been active in supporting all families as they define themselves in loving, respectful relationships. Right relationships are founded in respect. We support equality for both partners in a couple, affirming that women who find themselves in abusive relationships should have access to life affirming support for change. Even when abuse isn’t a part of a relationship, pursuing right relationships is important. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations, including our church, have adopted covenants for right relationship that value direct, caring communication within the congregation, even in times of conflict.
The principles of right relationship call us to speak to differences in love while promoting peaceful resolution of conflict. We hope to live up to those principles, not only in our congregations, but in all our relationships.
These are some of the ways we “do Unitarian Universalism.” By what we do, we hope to bring justice and loving kindness to bear in ever increasing circles of inclusion and caring.
Rev. Robin Gray
Minister Emeritus, Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee