General Assembly 2015, June 24-28 in Portland, Oregon, was an amazing experience. It was my first GA, my first time being with 4500 other UUs in one place – learning together, worshiping together, witnessing together, and conducting the messy democratic business of the UUA, including amending the UUA bylaws and debating social justice/witness statements.
Theology. It was UU theologian Dr. Paul Rasor who inspired me to attend this GA. He is the author of this year’s UUA common read, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness, Liberal Religion in the Public Square, an inspiring and accessible book. I had emailed him for advice in crafting our church statement of conscience on Black Lives Matter, and he mentioned he would be leading a workshop at GA. That was it! I was going. His session was stimulating, and from it I learned of another book, Fluent in Faith, A Unitarian Universalist Embrace of Religious Language, by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar. Nieuwejaar’s thesis (and Rasor’s as well) is that we UUs do have a common theology (in spite of what we think), and if we can learn to articulate it clearly and simply, it will help us – as individuals, as a congregation, and as a faith. Theology, in spite of its etymology, is not just about God. In fact, it doesn’t have to be about God at all. It’s about what’s important to us, what constitutes a good life, what gives us courage or hope or healing balm when we’re stricken, what role love plays in our lives, and so on. I recommend both these books very highly.
Reproductive Justice. I’d heard of reproductive justice for years and naively assumed I knew what it meant – that it was just a jazzed up name for reproductive rights, freedom of choice. But reading the Statement of Conscience on Reproductive Justice showed how little I knew. Reproductive justice is about far more than reproductive rights. It encompasses “a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on [women’s] power.” It advocates universal human reproductive rights, including “the human right to have children, not to have children, to parent the children one has in healthy environments and to safeguard bodily autonomy and to express one’s sexuality freely. ” But it also focuses “the experience of the most vulnerable, and [bridges] the gap between reproductive rights and other social justice movements.” The term reproductive justice was coined in 1994 by women of color to address “the unique range of issues faced by women of color [that] were not addressed by the predominantly white middle class women’s rights and reproductive rights movements nor the predominantly male civil rights movement.” Please read the entire statement.
Black Lives Matter. I had a transformative moment in the exhibit hall, in a booth selling merchandise. There were “Black Lives Matter” buttons and bumper stickers for sale, and I stood there thinking “I should get one of these, but then I’d have to be serious, put more energy into it, and what if someone attacked the car because of it?” I finally took the plunge, bought both the button and the bumper sticker, and attached the button to my GA badge. Immediately I started receiving positive comments, mainly from people of color on the food service staff. One young man commented on it, and several days later, in a different food outlet, greeted me by name and recalled our earlier connection. He asked if I was going to the Black Lives Matter rally taking place right then in the plaza and intersection outside the convention center. I confess I had decided to blow it off, thinking I’d already missed the beginning and it would make me miss part of the closing ceremony, but with this gentle sincere young man holding me accountable to my button, I couldn’t say no – and I was so glad I went. It was a peaceful demonstration (watched quietly by several Portland police officers) by a group of committed people. We stopped traffic (including a trolley) for about 10 minutes, including a 4.5 minute “die in” to witness the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body lay in a Ferguson street on August 9, 2014. The young African American man who ran the demonstration managed it beautifully, including interrupting the “die in” and clearing the intersection to let an ambulance through, then quietly resuming the demonstration. When a man started shouting at us – a man carrying a placard that said “Ex-gay” on one side and “Sin = Death” on the other – and one of ours shouted back, the organizer quietly said “Ignore him. He doesn’t matter. Just continue our silent witness.” And so we did.
This was after the Sunday afternoon general session voted to approve an Action of Immediate Witness to Support the Black Lives Matter Movement. Please read it! We will be tying this into our proposed congregational statement of conscience in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.