Social Justice

Reflections on Pluralism and Theologies of Justice

Like Adam, I am lucky enough to be able to attend the Convocation on Theology of Justice and Ministry currently being held just outside of Baltimore. It is late Wednesday night, almost Thursday morning, but I am just posting about Tuesday because it’s taking me that long to digest the rich diet of ideas being offered.

We started the Convocation by devoting the first session to our UU theological and historical background in social justice – our religious grounding. We heard from three provocative panelists – Rebbecca Parker, Dan McKannan, and Jill Schwendemn. One theme that emerged was to recognize the rich history that we have coming out of two liberal Christian traditions – the Unitarians and the Universalists, and the importance to ritual to reaffirm our values. This being a UU convocation, those of us in the audience were asked to engage in these questions for ourselves – to think about how our own faith impacts our social justice work. I thought about how both the Christian tradition of the culture in which I grew up and the Buddhist tradition of my ancestral culture were equally important to me. The Judeo-Christian stories are so familiar and emotionally powerful. Yet at the same time, I do not want those traditions to be privileged over others such as Buddhism and Hinduism. The need to recognize the religious pluralism within our UU congregations mirrors the need to recognize and celebrate diversity in all its forms in our society.

The second session took up the problem of suffering, brokenness, and evil in the world, and our appropriate response. If the earlier session celebrated our UU and American heritage, then the evening’s panelists – Taquiena Boston, Victoria Safford, and Sharon Welch – all gave beautiful, painful testimonies as to where we have been unable to fully address the challenges that arise in an imperfect world. The room struggled with the concept of evil and wondered whether it was necessary to confess complicity by making the statement “I am evil.” Dr. Welch stressed a non-dualistic approach, recognizing and addressing acts of oppression while at the same time not labeling others as “evil” in a way that evokes animosity towards them and thus perpetuates the cycle. And Rev. Safford talked about how the choices that we make to no longer do harm are not one-time events. The choice must be made over and over again. What I understood from her was that we have been conditioned to be inclined to make the choices that we make. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for our choices but it recognizes that simply choosing once would not be enough.

As I listened to the conversations from both the afternoon and evening – discussions of “sin” and the means to “reconciliation” – I felt that it would be helpful if we UUs became conversant in other faith traditions – if we truly understood the concept of karma.

I do not mean the Westernized understanding of karma as a punishment and reward system. That comes from imposing the concepts of “good” and “evil” and a “divine judge” on an Eastern concept. Karma is not based on judgment. It is merely the consequences of one’s actions. Harmful acts have harmful consequences. Understanding this allows us to name and admit to oppressive acts without the debilitating judgment of “evil doer.” It tells us that the need to choose to end oppression is urgent for every moment that we allow it to continue (which is a choice), we generate more bad karma, the consequences of our actions (or inaction). What’s more karma reminds us that even when we choose the loving act, our work is not done. We will have to choose over and over again because the consequences of past harmful choices are still with us. It reminds us that there are no easy fixes to repair the world and build Beloved Community. But it also follows that if we act in love, steadily, that reconciliation and wholeness are inevitable.

Responsibility

By Eric Burch

Delivered at First UU Congregation of Second Life

On Nov 13, 2008

 >> Chalice Lighting.

Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veteran's Day:
National holidays to recall the cease-fire that started on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918;
the end of the Great War, the World War, the War to End All Wars.
In the USA, it is a remembrance of those who died and those who lived serving our country.

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.
 -- Zell Miller

>> Reading

Two readings, from new, young Democrats:

The first, from John Kennedy's inaugural address in January 1961:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.
I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it.
I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country
and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world,
ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.
With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds,
let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help,
but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

 ----

The second reading, from Barrack Obama's victory speech, last Tuesday night:

I know you didn't do this just to win an election and I know you didn't do it for me.
You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest
of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq
and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.
There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage,
or pay their doctors bills, or save enough for college.
There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created;
new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long.
Our climb will be steep.
We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.
I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts.
There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem.
But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.
I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.
And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America
for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night.
This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change.
And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.
It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where
each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.
Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything,
its that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party
to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.
Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination
to heal the divides that have held back our progress.
As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours,
We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote,
but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores,
from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular,
but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.
To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you.
To those who seek peace and security - we support you.
And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once
more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth,
but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.


>> Homily "Responsibility"

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
 -- John F. Kennedy

In 1960, John Kennedy was a young, idealistic man running for President.
The nation thought that a Catholic could not be elected president, after all, conventional wisdom said he would be beholden to the pope.
We see that during his inagural address in 1961 he call for Americans, indeed the entire world, to work to improve our world.
During these years we saw the nation wake up from the lull of the 1950's. 

Our country, and our world, has gone through nearly 30 years of "supply side" economics, or "trickle down", or whatever
the theory was called; where we send money to the better off and they will send economic activity to those less better off.
"Noblesse oblige" was the model the conservatives reached for, but applying this model to the indivdually-oriented "me first" tradition
in the USA only practially resulted in "the rich getting richer."

Over this time, and especially in the last few years, our government's moral standing in the world and among its citizens has fallen.
My nation has become cynical or fearful.

Obama won the election last week, and what a difference that has made.
My facebook page has a lot of pro-Obama notes on the wall, and about half of my non-USA facebook friends have sent me email
saying how happy they are to see that my candidate has won.
Obama ran with a vision:

  It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican,
  black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight,
  disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been
  a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
    -- Barack Obama

We are all in this together.
In Wednesday's Washington Post, a business commentary column was titled "Pressure is on for Obama,
but this rescue relies on all of us."
All of us have something to do. 
We've known this before, but now is the time to act upon what we know we must do.

Now, more than ever in recent history, we have an opportunity to individually make a difference.
This last election showed that individual, one-on-one interactions were especially effective in bringing about
a change in the direction of our government; not only on a national level, but also at the local and state level.
And these same efforts can bring about other changes, making our government even more accountable for the
conditions that individuals or small groups find themselves in.
We have also discovered that some of our problems are larger than the government or any organization can handle,
and collectively we must all help to move our society to a more perfect union.

It doesn't have to be a lot of effort; even a little bit is more than many of us have done in the past.
Many churches have service projects that they run all year, and can always use a few more hands to help.
There are people in this little virtual UU community who are working with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans helping
build housing--and there is still a lot of work to go in Louisiana.
If you have a week or two where you can get away, there are a dozens of places you can go and help on a large project to improve
someone's life.

National service, which we remember with our veterans this week, is another option.
It is more of a commitment than most are able to give, but it is invariably an experience that will last a lifetime.
Our military is not the only national service corps; one well known option is the Peace Corp, and
my next-door neighbor is a uniformed officer in the Public Health Service, led by the Surgeon General of the United States.
President Kennedy made working for the government "cool" and many people came to Washington to work on federal programs.
There is talk around the National Capital area, my home, where people are thinking Obama might make it cool again; indeed many
people who once worked as government contractors are now making the leap to full government service, especially since the
administration is changing.

With the economy slowing down, a lot of us are cutting back on the frivolous things in life, freeing up time.
You don't always have to give money; every charity can also use hands to help, or even someone to just answer the phone.
My church has a program where we tutor at-risk children, and several people in my church help out.
One project I used to work with still goes to the National Capital Food Bank to sort contributions a few times a year.
Time can be just as precious.

>> Discussion.



>> Closing Words.

Go in peace. Live simply, at home in yourself.
Be just in your word, just in deed.
Remember the depth of your own compassion.
Do not forget your power in the days of your powerlessness.
Do not desire with desire to be wealthier than your peers, and never stint your hand of charity.
Practice forbearance in all you do. Speak the truth or speak not.
Take care of your body, be good to it, it is a good gift.
Crave peace for all peoples in this world, beginning with yourselves, and go as you go with the dream of that peace set firm in your heart.
Amen.
 -- Mark Belletini

May every sunrise hold more promise, every moonrise hold more peace.

Be well, the service is over.

When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we'd been saying they were.
-- John F. Kennedy

<< douse chalice >>

Let justice roll down like waters

 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream

 Amos 5:24

 

What does the Lord require of you?

 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 Micah 6:8

 

Gulf Coast Anniversary

Three years ago, on August 24th, a tropical depression became a storm in the Atlantic ocean. Meteorologists named it Katrina. It would become the sixth-strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. When it made landfall for a second time in Louisiana on August 29th (after pummeling Florida), it was the third-strongest recorded hurricane to reach the United States, and became one of our five deadliest. It laid waste to large swaths of both Louisiana and Mississippi.

Natural disasters cause wide-spread misery by definition, but the tragedy following hurricanes Katrina and Rita was largely human-caused, and revealed the devastating impact of systemic racism and classism. The levees protecting New Orleans had already been flagged as dangerously unsafe, yet these warnings were ignored. The flooding from broken levees caused more deaths than the storm itself.

Before Katrina’s arrival, evacuation plans relied on individuals to make their own way out of the hurricane’s path, ignoring the fact that many did not have access to private transportation. Fleets of buses lay unused, and then submerged. And in the hours and days following Katrina, our government failed to respond to the disaster. The lack of clean water, food, and shelter, and the violence that ensued from this chaos, claimed many more lives.

The media showed us images of white Americans and told us they were “searching for food.” The same media showed us images of black Americans doing the same thing and told us they were “looting.” We saw members of communities that were less hard hit forcibly preventing desperate people from entering their towns. For almost two days, American citizens were referred to as “refugees” in their own country. And in the analysis afterwards, it was starkly clear that the areas most affected corresponded to neighborhoods that were predominantly poor and of color.

Three years later, the misery wreaked by Katrina and Rita continues, as government bureaucracy and apathy slow the rebuilding process. Casinos and luxury hotels were rebuilt relatively quickly, but much of the old neighborhoods where the tourists seldom venture are still waiting. The Gulf Coast disaster is at least as much human-created as it was “natural.”

March for Women’s Lives Remembered

Four years ago, when I was still relatively new to DC and All Souls Church Unitarian, an amazing thing happened. UUs from all over the country converged on Washington DC to participate in the March for Women’s Lives, a demonstration in support of women’s rights. I mean literally – almost every state was represented. Many important events have happened in DC and at All Souls since then, but still nothing like that. After a Sunday worship service with Dr. Rebecca Parker giving the sermon, we spilled out on to the streets and made our way to the National Mall to join other demonstrators. Estimates vary but anywhere between 800,000 and 1.15 million people participated. I can’t count that high. All I know is that I have been in many protests in my life but had never experienced anything like that peaceful, joyous, yet determined sea of humanity. A multitude of women, men, and children all together.

The other thing that I remember quite vividly about that march is that it was the first time I had ever protested as an identifiable part of a faith tradition. I had been a UU. I had gone to protests. I had never protested as a UU, as a person of faith. And it was extremely empowering.

Don't Forget to Save the World

I used to have in my email signature:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

followed by a link to some form of online activism. For example, the Hunger Site, where the click of a mouse can donate a cup of grain.

Occasionally I would get comments from people about my signature. Perhaps they thought it was too glib. Or they thought that donating a cup of rice was not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps they thought the challenge of "saving the world" was just too daunting a task to ponder, let alone as an afterthought in an email.

I added that signature to remind myself as much as remind anyone else.  Busy with my own life activities, it becomes easy to forget about helping others. In fact, the reason why I joined a UU congregation in the first place was because of our strong commitment to social justice.  I realized that just left up to myself, I would put things off "until I had more time," which would be never. So I know for myself that I need little reminders.

As to the smallness of the action - a click of a mouse, a small donation here and there, volunteering in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, writing a letter to the editor or your congressperson... - I never meant to imply they were enough to solve all the world's problems. Just that it's a start. And if it's all one can do at this moment then it is good enough for this moment. Anything other than inaction.

Whoever saves a life, saves the world.
- Jewish proverb

Also from Judaism, "Tikkun Olam" - to repair the world.

I don't remember why I thought of my old email sig this morning as I waited on the metro platform, but I do remember what I wanted to say:

P.S. Don't forget to save the world.

Ching Ming and King - part II

continued from Ching Ming and King - part I.

Today was Ching Ming, or Grave-Sweeping Day - the day one pays homage to one's ancestors by tending to their graves (hence the sweeping) and making offerings. Today is also the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I occurred to me today, because of the coincidence, that ancestors can be more than just those who shared the same blood. Certainly, as an American, Dr. King is one of my ancestors. I have been to King's grave in Atlanta, GA to pay homage. But since I can't be there today, consider this blog post my offering:

Some people think that a prophet predicts the future, like some carnival fortune teller.  Others think that a prophet is chosen by God in some dramatic fashion like a talking burning bush.  As Unitarian Universalists we agree with the poet Carl Dennis, who said a prophet doesn't predict the future; he (or she) redeems it. Unitarian Universalism stands in the prophetic tradition, where prophets bear witness to injustice and call society to its better self.  We know that what makes a person a prophet isn't that he or she is called by God in some dramatic fashion. Everyone is called by God to do good every day. But not everyone responds. For UUs, the making of a prophet begins with the fact that he or she responds to the call of justice.

But that's not all.  Many a person has dedicated her or his life to a social cause, and made a meaningful difference. Yet while they have our respect, maybe even admiration, they do have not our reverence. That is reserved for the prophet.  For the person who seems to see more than others see. Who can make connections between things that others view as separate.  A prophet sees the whole picture instead of in parts. A prophet sees interdependency.

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a prophet. No need for burning bushes. When he saw the injustice of legalized segregation and racism, he responded to the call, organizing bus boycotts, lunch-counter sit-ins, freedom rides, marches, and rallies. And he didn't confine it to just his location.  When King was criticized in Alabama for being an "outsider" and told to mind his own business, he responded with "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he stated:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

King bore witness to the injustice of racism, firmly but with love, until the nation remembered its conscience and began to reform.  But King didn't stop there. As he said in Birmingham, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So even as he continued the struggle for racial equality, he expanded his message of love to include criticism of the Vietnam war that was killing so many people. Again he was urged to stick to his own cause.  And again King responded by transcending borders. In a speech given on April 4th, 1967 - exactly a year before he was assassinated - King said:

Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood... We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

In the last year of his too brief life, recognizing that the greatest barrier to equality in the U.S. was economic disparity, King began the "Poor People's Campaign," focusing on worker justice for the poor of all races.  That's what he was working for when he was killed.

MLK was a prophet, who called his society to heed its better nature. To resist the fear of "Other" that creates boundaries and embrace the expansive power of love. Like Moses, King delivered his people - all of his people - out of the bonds of legalized, overt racism. But also like Moses, King did not live to see the promised land.  Since we lost him 40 years ago we have been wandering in the desert, delivered from legalized bondage but still struggling with systemic oppressions. But at least we are freer to wander.  It's undeniable that our lives are the better because of his.

Dr. King, I tip a glass for you. Would you prefer Chinese liquor or diet 7-Up?

Litany of Resistance

With governments that kill… …we will not comply. With the theology of empire… …we will not comply. With the business of militarism… …we will not comply. With the hoarding of riches …we will not comply. With the dissemination of fear …we will not comply. But today we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God… …we pledge allegiance. To the peace that is not like Rome’s… …we pledge allegiance. To the Gospel of enemy love …we pledge allegiance. To the poor and the broken… …we pledge allegiance….

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

By: Kat Liu

Delivered at: Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, in Finksburg, MD

On: March 9th, 2008

Reading:

by Wangari Maathai, from her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. This will happen if we see the need to revive our sense of belonging to a larger family of life, with which we have shared our evolutionary process.

In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other.

That time is now.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has challenged the world to broaden the understanding of peace: there can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space. This shift is an idea whose time has come.

Sermon:

Putting the Justice in Environmentalism

First, let me thank you all for inviting me into your congregation this Sunday to worship with the Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists. I am honored. I’m here today, first as a fellow Unitarian Universalist, and second as the Assistant Director of the Washington Office for Advocacy of the UUA. Our office exists to represent your voice on Capitol Hill, and also to provide support and resources to UU congregations and individuals in your advocacy work.

I didn’t start off thinking this is what I’d be doing now, living in Washington DC, working for a religious lobbying group. Long before I’d ever heard of Unitarian Universalism, I grew up in the San Francisco bay area wanting to be a scientist. Not that political activism was that far a stretch. I was a good, Northern California liberal, attending my first political protests in high school, many of them having to do with environmental concerns. Every Friday at noon we had a “die-in,” where everyone in the courtyard would drop to the ground to “simulate” what would happen in the event of nuclear war. College at UC Berkeley in the early 80’s meant campus protests for divestment from South Africa and also against nuclear proliferation. Those of you who came into adulthood later may find this hard to believe but for young adults at THAT time, the threat of mass extinction from thermonuclear annihilation was a pressing fear on many people’s minds.

In addition to nukes, there was save the whales. Save the rain forests. And by the time I got to graduate school at Caltech, it was save the spotted owls. By then, I had at various times been a member of Green Peace, Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. I recycled, fretted over paper or plastic, bought Seventh Generation cleaning products. And there was also the camping, communing with nature. From Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Anza Borego in California to the beautiful national parks in Utah – Arches, Bryce, and Zion. If you haven’t been to these places, you really should.

And in all of this, there was almost a hostility to humankind. If I was enjoying the scenic beauty, experiencing the spirituality of being one with nature, the last thing that I wanted to see was humans, other than the ones I had come with. If there were too many of them, well, we just had to move, to go some place more remote, more pristine.

Indeed, my view of “nature” was that it was pristine, virginal, having not been touched by man.

And one could have seen the same thing in my approach to environmental issues. I never went so far as to say, “If only humans weren’t around then the whole world could live in peace.” Well, ok, maybe I said that once or twice. But in general my misanthropy was more subtle. The rain forests were being destroyed. It was all the fault of those greedy people who were cutting them down for money. The spotted owls were endangered. It was all the fault of those loggers.

Sure…. I had vague misgivings when I actually thought of the loggers as people, trying to earn a living and feed their families…. But surely they should be able to see that saving a species is more important. That they would just have to find other jobs, and if that was an inconvenience for them, well, that’s unfortunate but it couldn’t be helped. Vaguely… I understood that a truly just approach to environmentalism would involve helping those affected to find new jobs – training, assistance, economic development – instead of just vilifying them. But that kind of work was for someone else to figure out. What was most pressing was to save the owls. Still, it left me feeling uncomfortable. Something was not quite right.

Social activism aside, I went on in science, earning my Ph.D. in biology and moving to New York for a postdoctoral position. It was on Long Island that I found UU. Away from the social activism structures that I knew in California, I realized that if I didn’t join a group of some kind that would help remind me of the larger community, I was in danger of just working in the lab and not caring about the rest of the world. So I joined UU. A bit later, I decided to leave science, moved to DC to study religion at Georgetown, became very involved at All Souls in DC, and then involved in the workings of our denomination as a whole.

General Assembly of 2006 was my second GA, and while I was aware that we had been working for two years on a Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change, I hadn’t bothered to look at the text. Surely, I thought, we UUs know environmentalism and we’ll craft a worthy Statement. Pam Sparr, who is a fellow member of All Souls and a member of the UU Ministry for Earth was one of the people that I was thinking of when I figured we UUs knew what we were doing. Well, Pam and others at the UUMFE do know their stuff on the environment, but that didn’t mean that all UUs did. When she showed me the text, I was stunned. On the eve of General Assembly, when we were supposed to ratify this Statement of Conscience on Global Warming/Climate Change that was to represent us as Unitarian Universalists to the wider world, there were some serious flaws with the penultimate draft.

I’ll tell you about the most glaring problem. As part of our efforts to combat Global Warming/Climate Change, our Statement of Conscience called on developing countries to limit their population growth…. Some of you may be wondering what’s wrong with that. After all, over population is a serious concern, taxing our earth’s resources and keeping families in poverty. Wouldn’t we want to promote responsible family planning? Yes. Yes, we would. But not as part of our Statement on Global Warming. Here’s why. The United States constitutes 5% of the world’s population, yet it creates 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We are 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources. Per capita, we use five times more resources than the average human and we belch out five times more pollution. And yet our Statement of Conscience was saying, yeah, global climate change is a really serious problem and we want you all out there to fix it for us. You all who use less than we do, and pollute less than we do are gonna fix this problem, even though we’re the main culprits.

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

That was when the concept of Environmental Justice really hit home. Our Statement of Conscience had the right goal in mind. Yes, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that global warming/climate change is a pressing reality, and we really need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But environmental justice says that how we get to that goal is as important as getting there. Who is being most affected? Who is most responsible for the problem? Who bears the brunt of the “solution”? And who gets to decide what happens? These were the questions that were missing from our Statement of Conscience. Missing from our general awareness. As a result, despite the best intentions of the environmentalist communities, more often than not it is the poor and communities of color who are made to suffer the most from both the environmental problems and their solutions, even though they have less access to the benefits and little control over how resources are used. This is true both internationally and within our country.

Some other examples of environmental injustice:
In relatively affluent and thus shielded, middle America, people are still debating whether global climate change is even real. It’s discussed on a theoretical level, like whether life on Mars could have existed at some time. Meanwhile, within our own borders in Alaska, the Inupiak and Yup’ik peoples are losing their land and way of life due to the melting permafrost. Over 180 villages are expected to slip into the sea within the next ten years.[1] In the South Pacific, low-lying island nations are going under the waves as well, creating a tidal wave of climate refugees. Tens of thousands of islanders have applied for residence in New Zealand.[2] Entire cultures will have to be transplanted. The irony is that these people contribute the least to global warming, and yet they are the first to suffer.

Even more than loss of land, loss of fresh drinkable water is the greatest concern. All over South and Southeast Asia, sources of fresh drinking water are drying up or being contaminated by rising salt waters, ruining agriculture, creating refugees and conflict. Global climate change is a peace and security issue.

And speaking of the coal-burning power plants that are responsible for much of the change, where are they located in this country? Where do our garbage dumps go? Usually, power plants and garbage dumps are near the poorer neighborhoods or communities of color, people who don’t have the power to say, “Not in my back yard.” This is where the highest levels of lead and other toxins are located, and not surprisingly the highest incidences of children’s asthma.

To be honest, in all my years of trying to conserve and reduce, reuse, recycle, I never used to wonder where my electricity and clean water came from or where my waste went. I had wanted to reduce landfill waste for the sake of the “environment,” so that my beloved wildernesses would not one day be turned into garbage dumps. But I did not think of who already had to live down-wind of the land-fills we have right now.

To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means to look at the picture as a whole, not just focusing on the immediate causes and effects. If people living near rain forests are clear cutting them to graze cows, we have to look at why a they doing this. And when we do, we see people being pressured into plundering their own natural resources in order to supply us with the cheap goods that drive our consumer-based economy. Given that we too depend on healthy rain forests as much as they do, to keep carbon gas levels lower and maintain biodiversity, perhaps we too need to take responsibility for their preservation. Perhaps we need to help them find ways to preserve the forests and feed their families, in partnership with them. To look at environmentalism through a social justice lens means that everyone involved has a voice in the decisions, at every level. It is a holistic and democratic approach to the environment.

My studies in biology taught me well that we humans are no better than other species. We share our DNA and a common origin, and from the standpoint of evolutionary theory are no “better” than the cockroach. But if I had really been paying attention, I would have understood this meant we humans are no worse than other species. Indeed, we are natural. Not separate from nature. And our Seventh Principle says the same thing. It calls us to affirm and promote the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. We cannot think in terms of either or. It cannot be either the spotted owls or the loggers; it must be both/and. Thus, any truly comprehensive view of environmentalism must incorporate the needs of our fellow humans into the picture. Our Seventh Principle calls us to come into right relationship with our mother Earth, with our fellow humans, and with other species.

For those of you who don’t know how things turned out with our 2006 Statement of Conscience on Global Warming, I am very proud to report that when the injustice of the population control provision was pointed out to them, the UUs at General Assembly of 2006 were reasonable and fair enough to take it out. In the end, after much debate, which is de rigueur with UUs, we ratified a Statement of which UUs can be proud. It was another positive step in our prophetic tradition of witnessing for social justice. I believe that we UUs, with our long histories in the racial and economic justice movements and the environmentalist movement and the peace movement, (and the feminist movement for that matter,) can make the connections. To see the interdependency of all these things and realize they must be approached as one unified, organic movement. Now is the time.

Now is the time, as Wangari Maathai said in our opening reading, making the connections between all these things for us. She said, “There can be no peace without equitable development; and there can be no development without sustainable management of the environment in a democratic and peaceful space.” We are called to heal the earth and in the process heal ourselves, for as long as we see ourselves as separate from the earth and from each other, we cannot be whole. Now is the time for us to “shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.”

Amen.

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