This morning the nation must look squarely at images of people marching through Virginia with hateful slogans, confederate flags, and Nazi swastikas, who proudly proclaim that White Lives Matter and scream hateful epithets about Jews and gays and immigrants, who believe that slavery reflected a natural order. Some will say, in coffee hours in Unitarian Universalist congregations, that THOSE people are the white supremacists and people like Unitarian Universalists should not call ourselves that because it is confusing, people might think we are like them. I dearly hope those words will not be spoken from our pulpits.
Because when we hear the Charlottesville Mayor tell those marchers to “go home” and the Virginia Governor declare that they aren’t ‘real’ patriots, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, we see that, for white people, including Unitarian Universalists, these people are our families, and for all Americans, this IS our country, this white supremacy.
These are our children. I watched an interview of a young blonde boy, probably 18 years old, saying he was there ‘for fun’ just the way I’ve heard it said my own grandfather described why he went, at 16, to the white militia’s massacre of black people and destruction of their businesses in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. “What’s fun about it?” the interviewer asks this young blonde man, and he says, “ I dunno. It just feels good to yell out that White Lives Matter.” And I wonder what else is going on in his life, and I want to sit down and talk to him the way I would to my own child about what got him to this place and where and how he might find a way to a different kind of fun and mattering in the world. These are our children.
These are our heroes—read the beautiful words Thomas Jefferson wrote about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and lift it up against his treatment of some 600 human beings whom he claimed as his property, even people who were his biological children. He knew that these were human beings; he even used some of his eloquent words to claim his love for them. It’s just that he loved his plantation more. A year ago I sat in the beautiful gardens at Monticello and wept, having heard his words of love for those enslaved people. Liberal people, me included, were completely indicted by his hypocisy, so implicated in the separation between his words and his actions, reflected in the foundational governance of our nation and in all the insidious ways these beliefs work their ways through our very beings.
This is our history, our inheritance. This is the history which profoundly shaped Unitarian Universalism and every other religion. Unless we do our own equivalence of taking down old statues, it will continue to do so. I remember meeting up with an old friend after years not seeing each other—he had gone ahead to get a Ph.D. in American Social History. When he learned I’d become a Unitarian Universalist minister, he lit up. “I am so bewildered by and curious about the Unitarians in history!” he said. “There they were, in almost every social issue, both the upholders of privilege and oppressive social orders, and the organizers against injustice! How does that work?” I looked at him. “You’ve just described the crux of the struggle of my life,” I responded. Yes. That’s who we are, that’s who we’ve been. Despite the justice warriors – Theodore Parker and Whitney Young and all those names we love to lift up—there are the much more influential, generally unmentioned, vehemently racist Unitarians John C. Calhoun or Millard Fillmore, folks we generally keep mum about. Folks who took their practice of our religious values and wielded them against Native Americans, Black people, immigrants, and everyone else they felt superior to.
These are our children. These are our heroes. This is our history. Accepting that is necessary in order to move forward. As Dr. Bill Jones used to tell us year after year at General Assembly, “Diagnosis determines treatment!” As much as I’d like to tell white supremacy to “go home,” and have it mean something, I accept that it lives inside of me in ways I will never be able to completely undo in my lifetime. There’s no door in my house I can open where white supremacy hasn’t already settled right in.
That’s why I’m so proud to see my Unitarian Universalist colleagues –Christina Rivera, Carlton Eliot Smith, Jeanne Pupke and our new President Susan Frederick Gray, standing linked arm-in-arm with other clergy, singing hymns and resisting the hateful words and actions of the right wing groups. Because it is only in active resistance to the overt hatefulness of white supremacy that any of us can even begin to make our way to anything close to a home which is truly welcoming to all. Daily, active, resistance, in every small way that we can, as well as strategic, channeled, public resistance.
Acceptance and resistance. A two-step waltz., an inhale and an exhale, both sides of the coin. This is who we are, this is who we want to be. This is who we are, this is who we want to be. Until that becomes home.
Also published on Medium.