So I read ‘Enough of this F*%ery Already White UUs’ and followed the links to the post that provoked it and this response video (on FB), which I actually listened to, and I have a particular thought to express.
And one thing struck me, and it struck me really hard: this sentiment of “my religion isn’t safe to me anymore”. Presented as an objection to which I should be sympathetic.
I find myself marveling – and not at all in a good way – by the idea that a religion should be safe. That this is a desirable goal for it, that this is normal and accepted and acceptable.
I’m not even talking about the fact that right now, a climate of persecution of religious minorities is rolling through my nation, bursting out from underneath its skin like a case of festering boils. I’m not talking about ripping clothes off Muslim women and bomb threats to Jewish community centers, I’m not talking about the history of destroying indigenous peoples by attempting to wipe out their spiritual practices, I’m not talking about any of those things which might lead one to scoff, saying, “Hah, of course you can think of religion as safe, when you’re part of the dominant sect-groups.”
I’m thinking more of the part where there’s that old saw, about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. The idea of an ethos, which is always, always aspirational, always a model to strive for rather than something attained and rested upon. (For even if today one is a perfect model of one’s religious ethos, one’s attainment pitch-perfect, there is always tomorrow, and there are always yesterday’s imperfections to work on correcting. That moral arc of the universe which bends towards justice only bends insofar as people adopt increasingly just ways.)
I mean, one can imagine religions – especially congregational ones – as being safe places. There is a community, and at times that community is a place of sanctuary, or a place of solidarity, a place where one can come together with people with whom one has commonalities. But those commonalities, themselves, are often challenges, are often calls to take up and become more, and when one ignores the challenge, one can rapidly become, not the best of oneself, but something much lesser. It is the community, the church, that is the safe place, not the religion, at least in the best of worlds – the community becomes the crucible from which its members can securely confront the risks and challenges set forth by ethos.
What does it mean to promote “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” in a world where some people are not treated with dignity, not seen as having worth, where their lives can be spent without consequence? What does it mean to affirm that worth, that dignity, in a nation which has just dropped a giant fucking bomb as an act of terror and act of war, when the lives Over There are not treated as having dignity or worth? These are not safe questions, and someone who lives in the world and feels that that principle is satisfied by merely saying the words is entirely too safe.
How does one affirm “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations” when racial disparities run rampant in leadership both of the UUA and of, well, everything else, when there is a world in which sexual crimes have their evidence misplaced as not worth pursuing, when there are people marked out as the official targets of appropriate hate? Is religion a safe place to say the words “justice” and “equity” and “compassion” and believe in one’s private heart that that is enough, and be safe? Then religion is a failure, at least in the hearts of the complacent.
These are not meant to be comfortable words. Comforting, perhaps, to the afflicted, but in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, “I have so much work to do.” (“…encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations….”) But one cannot look at those principles, the other principles, and be entirely safe, not if one is really wrestling with them and what they mean, not if one’s living them out; to be safe is to say, only, “This is fine.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association is currently wrestling with deeply embedded racism, something which is readily apparent from the sheer whiteness of UU congregations. (And I need to read more Mark Morrison-Reed.) There are so many things to wrestle with, because this is not fine, because the collective group of the UUA is not in fact living those principles as well as it could. (And, I would hold, again: it never will, there will always be ways in which institutions fail, and will need to be held accountable. Constant vigilance!)
… and I just had a conversation about this with Oldest, in which we came to the conclusion that it’s important for church to be safe, and she agrees that ours is, but that religion is not. She’s currently doing a study about climate change in her religious education classes, and she agreed that climate change is not safe, and that church is making sure we pay attention to the not-safeness of it. And our principles mean we can’t be lazy. And how it’s not enough to believe things if they don’t come out in how one treats people. Talking to kids: really very useful for sorting out the ranting.
I do wonder how much of my take on this, on the inherent unsafety of religion (even if religious communities are ideally supportive, secure places) comes about from the Craft work, where finding fears means poking them to get them to give up their power. But I can’t help but think of stuff like, you know, “sell all your stuff, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me” and note that that’s not exactly safe, either. But perhaps in the name of making religion safe, all those little niggling details can be… brushed aside. “Aspirational” becomes “not attainable without more effort than I want to go to” becomes “a nice idea that will never get implemented”. And so instead of being driven to better embody the ethos, laziness and complacency and “I’m a good person, so all I have to do is exist to make the world good” win out.
(Meanwhile I am really hoping the world survives the transition from the Season of Bureaucracy to the Season of the Aftermath.)