Fifty-nine years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King cried out the “fierce urgency of now” in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Fifty-nine years ago! Recent news illustrates that this fierce urgency of now is as real today as it was six decades ago:
- Two years ago today, George Floyd, a Black man was tortured and murdered by a police officer, as seen by millions of people viewing a live stream,
- Last month’s horrible Racist slaughter of Black people by a white man in Buffalo,
- The ongoing movement to pass local ordinances and state laws blocking the teaching of accurate American History,
- The continued police executions of Black American men,
- The racist Charlottesville torch march for white supremacy,
- The racist slaughter of Black parishioners at prayer at Mother Immanuel Church,
- The recent survey showing that one-third of Americans support so-called “Replacement Theory.”
It is time!! It is past time! It is time for us to proudly and publicly declare which side we’re on! It is time for the Fellowship to declare that we are an anti-racist organization pledged to do the hard work of accountably dismantling systemic racism. As National Book Award winner, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi pointed out, “the opposite of racism isn’t, ‘not racist.’ It’s ‘anti-racist’”! Both our UU BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other People of Color) organizations BLUU and DRUUM urge UUs to adopt the 8th Principle. Our UU organization, Allies for Racial Justice (A.R.E.) declares, “We are all called to take bold steps to undo white supremacy in our Unitarian Universalist faith communities.” Our own UUFP members who participated in the “Widening the Circle of Concern” Study/Action Workshop series voted adopting the 8th Principle a top priority after completing the workshop. It is one of the priorities of our UUFP Racial Justice Team.
In 1997, all of the congregations of the UUA voted to adopt a resolution that called for all UU individuals, congregations and the UUA itself to enter into accountability relationships with people of color and multicultural institutions in order to dismantle racism—it hasn’t worked! The current UU Principles have been in place for many decades, and we still haven’t eliminated racism within UU itself, let alone in our wider communities. Unitarian Universalism is a transformational religion, always moving and changing as the times change and more is learned. We are not chained to a creed or canon cast in brass or handed down on stone tablets from a mountain top. Let’s be bold and be leaders in this transformation towards a Beloved Community that is accountably committed to working to dismantle racism within ourselves and others. Joining this exciting grassroots 8th Principle movement would add our beloved Fellowship to the prophetic group of about one fifth of all UU Congregations (so far) leading the way forward to face dismantling systemic racism. I want us to be counted among those churches, like Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists in Virginia Beach (CVUU), First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond and the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Glen Allen, who are brave enough to lead during this fraught time. The fierce urgency of now is now!
Why do we need another Principle, one devoted to anti-racism? Despite our beloved Seven Principles, UU has not used them to accountably end systemic racism within UU or in our wider communities. The “Widening the Circle of Concern” report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change clearly details that failure—within our own walls. Pervasive systemic racism is a profound problem in America and within UU institutions and every other institution. As Rev. Andrew Millard stated in his sermon on the 8th Principle, quibbling over the exact wording of the 8th Principle is a red herring which diverts us from addressing the issue head on. Each of us could write something different covering the same or similar points. But these are the words that the founders of this grassroots movement wrote nine years ago. Adoption of these words has spread throughout the UU, from coast to coast, from the north to the south—all over the country at an ever-accelerating rate, up to 184 adoptions as I write this. The movement would lose its collective transformational power if each church wrote its own different statement. The point is that UU institutions and our larger communities are suffering from chronic systemic racism and have been for centuries despite lots of pretty sounding verbiage and lofty speeches. It’s time, way past time, “to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” The fierce urgency of now! Adopting the 8th Principle is like becoming a Welcoming Congregation for our LGBTQ+ community. We adopted that in a landslide. Likewise, adopting the 8th Principle should be the same!
The argument that centering dismantling racism would stop us from working on the existential crisis of human caused Climate Change is specious. I believe that members of UUFP can both walk and chew gum at the same time! And, the two vital issues are inextricably linked—minorities and marginalized communities, usually communities of color, are currently and will in the future be the most devastated by the ongoing and accelerating effects of Global Climate Change! This is the work of Environmental Justice: sustainability plus equity!
So, why bother to adopt the 8th Principle, since the 2nd Article Commission is in the midst of revising all the principles, sources, purposes, and the entire 2nd Article? Here’s why: to add momentum to the importance of dismantling racism within ourselves and our institutions, now! Why wait years until the UUA votes on the recommendations twice? The Fierce Urgency of Now—means now, not sometime in the future, especially on the Peninsula where our population is so very diverse! Let’s publicly state the UUFP is working to end systemic racism—now!!
As UU Minister, Rev. Sara LaWall stated when reflecting on the adoption of the 8th Principle in her church, Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, “What would we think about ourselves if we didn’t pass it” (https://youtu.be/WKvym76E-9M)? I ask the same question about our Fellowship! What would we, the members of UUFP, think about ourselves if we fail to adopt the 8th Principle? What would we tell our Fellowship children if we didn’t pass it? How would we explain that to them? What message would we be sending to our Black, Brown and Indigenous congregants if we didn’t pass it? What would it say about our commitment to Widen the Circle of Concern and become welcoming to all who come through our doors? What would we tell our sister UU congregations who have already passed it—CVUU, First UU of Richmond, UU of Glenn Allen, and all the other 184 UU churches around the country who have adopted it? After all, the proposed principle was an invitation by Unitarian Universalist leaders of color, who have been marginalized repeatedly over the decades and centuries by our denomination. They created this language to invite us to re-evaluate our UU commitment to become a truly anti-racist religious tradition. Do we White UU’s want to edit their words, thus marginalizing them again?
So, in conclusion, let us lead; let us be bold; let us stand up for what is right; let us walk our talk; let us publicly declare that we are an anti-racist congregation working to accountably dismantle systemic racism within ourselves, our congregation, and our larger community. Let us truly, and actually, take the bold steps necessary to create Beloved Community together. The time is now for us to answer Martin Luther King’s 60-year-old cry, finally…The Fierce Urgency of Now can no longer be ignored. Or as Eldridge Cleaver and others often declared, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”