This month in RE, our theme is Practicing Kindness, and we’re taking a look at the 6th Principle: the Goal of World Community with Peace, Liberty, and Justice for All.
It’s perhaps the Principle that gets the least airtime — we love to talk about our spiritual growth and the inherent worth and dignity of every person and the interdependent web, and personal kindness gets covered in the Second Principle, and we talk about the democratic process, but… number six kind of gets skipped over a lot. But when our association set up its values, it actually named World Peace as one of the seven things we just can’t let go. Not just peace, but peace and justice.
I have to wonder whether we minimize the Sixth Principle because it is so huge. I mean, world peace, right? How do you even start? This is like saying “clean your room” to a toddler. The room is huge and messy and “clean” is too big a verb. You might help a toddler out by saying “Pick up all the blue toys and put them in this bin,” which is a manageable task. So what are the World Peace toys? What bin do we put them in?
Our congregations are the bins, almost certainly. At least, they’re the first set of bins: the ones we can take care of ourselves. What metaphorical World Peace and Justice for All toys can we put in our congregational bin? We start with saying that we welcome everyone. We hang a rainbow flag (or perhaps we hang Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the rainbow flag which says we consciously welcome trans folk and people of color). We hang a Black Lives Matter banner for the world to see. We add gender-inclusive signage to our bathrooms. We make sure our buildings are accessible to everyone – wide enough doors, elevators, hearing assistive devices, vision assistive devices. We carefully label or eliminate food allergens and we provide plenty of hand sanitizer to protect those whose immune systems are compromised.
But we don’t stop there. Because once our facilities say they’re welcoming, we then have to actually welcome people. The next step is making sure our hearts and our congregations are places where every single person feels safe and welcome as they are. Not tolerated: welcomed intentionally and by design. Not ‘as long as they conform to look like the majority:’ as they are. This means changing the way we think; it means changing some of our customs. It means we cannot assume that the way we do things will meet the needs of every person who walks through the door – and it means we need to do everything we can to anticipate what those needs will be. It means we who are already inside must make ourselves uncomfortable in order to provide comfort to those who come seeking refuge.
As a religion, Unitarian Universalists have not done everything in our power to hold this in our sights. If we had actively held up the Sixth Principle as the most important goal for our faith, we would not have a history of our religious professionals of color and our queer and trans professionals being shunted sideways and passed over, and we would have more people of color in our congregations because they would be at home here. The practice of kindness – intentionally choosing actions that help our members and visitors feel safe and welcome – is the first step on a long, muddy, winding road.
This is something I commit myself to daily, and when I fall short (as I do frequently because I am human) I pick myself up and put myself back on the road. I hope to see you all there.