White Anti-Racist Heroes: Sermon for February 19, 2012

Posted by admin on March 7, 2012 under Sermons | Comments are off for this article

©The Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

Let’s begin this morning with a spiritual practice. I want you to take a moment and call to mind the name or face of an anti-racist hero in our country’s past. Go ahead and take a minute to do this.

Who are some people you thought of? I know when I do this, and I bet when you do it, you call to mind the name or face of an African American person. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Challenging myself to think of people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, I call to mind Sitting Bull or Cesar Chavez. These are all great people, and we do well to remember, admire and emulate them.

But suppose I challenge you to think of a white anti-racist heroes. This is much harder. While you think about it, let’s think for a minute about why it’s even important to be able to name white anti-racist heroes. Most of us here identify as white people, as do most people in northern New England. Still, even though we are mostly white and live in a mostly white community, we may have a desire to live in and work toward a less racist world. We want to know what we can do to fight racism in our everyday lives. We want to be ready the next time we’re at a party with white friends and someone tells a racist joke. As in the fight against so many big problems, we need concrete steps we can take here and now to try to make a difference. Being able to identify white anti-racist heroes from our present and our past–having some people in mind whom we can look up to and try to emulate–is one small step which we can take.

As inspiring as the people of color we easily think of are, they are hard for us (as white people) to emulate in fighting racism. Rosa Parks was able to combat racism by refusing to give up her seat because she was the victim of Jim Crow laws in the south. A white woman would not have been asked to give up her seat at the front of the bus. There were plenty of white people on Parks’s bus in Montgomery on that day in 1955; the reason she was asked to move to the back was because the bus was getting full. As far as history knows, none of them offered to go sit in the back or argued with the bus driver on Parks’s behalf. Parks knew what she could do, as an African American woman, to challenge Jim Crow; white people facing racism also need tools at their disposal. There is much contemporary writing and thinking about how all race is culturally constructed and society would do better to learn to treat race in that way, instead of as an essential characteristic. But essential or cultural, our society views people through a lens of race. Those of us who are white benefit from that lens a great deal. The more we can do to use our privilege to help build a more equal society, the better.

All right, so have you thought of any white anti-racist heroes?

I find this exercise harder. The Civil War ended slavery, true, but so many of the white leaders of our country at the time were pretty oppressive in their racial ideas. In addition, the Civil War was 150 years ago. A lot has happened since then. We know the secret to life, just like the governor in our story this morning. Do what is good, and don’t do what is bad. Every three-year-old knows it, and every eighty-year-old (and everyone between) finds it hard to follow. What can we actually do about the big problems of our society, like racism? To prepare ourselves to fight racism in all its forms, big and small, when we encounter them, we need some heroes to look up to. We need to know the stories of white people who have taken up the cause. It is as much a part of our education as knowing the stories of heroes of color. So this morning, I’d like to introduce you to two white anti-racist heroes, who lived and worked since the Civil War, to help us know whom in our history we can look up to.

You may know, in a sort of intellectual way, that our country treated American Indians like a defeated enemy in the nineteenth century, constantly abrogating treaties and forcibly moving Indian tribes around the country. To hear a particular story makes the wrongdoing much more real. The Ponca are a tribe in the Sioux language group, who trace their history back to what is now the eastern United States, and who were living in Nebraska when they first met the descendants of European settlers. They signed a peace treaty with the United States in 1817, and continued to work under an 1825 treaty to regulate inter-tribal trade and promote peace. In 1868, when the United States signed a treaty with the Sioux (or Lakota) Federation, the U.S. mistakenly included Ponca land in the Sioux settlement. The Sioux, believing the land had been granted to them, began to fight the Ponca for rights to the land.

In 1876, the United States decided to move the Ponca and other tribes from the northern plains to Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma. The Ponca chiefs examined the land and determined they would not be able to farm there. When they refused to move, the U.S. forcibly moved them. The chief, Standing Bear, moved with his people under duress.

In the first year in the Indian Territory, twenty-five percent of the Ponca died. After the death of his son, Standing Bear and other Ponca leaders decided to protest their forcible move and carry out their tribal traditions. They carried Standing Bear’s son’s body back to their ancestral lands for burial. Standing Bear was arrested for leaving the Indian Territory without permission. His case became an important civil rights case of its day. White lawyers took his case on pro bono, and the Supreme Court ultimately found in his favor, finding for the first time that American Indians were “persons under the law (“Ponca” 4).” Eventually, in 1881, the United States granted land in Nebraska back to the Ponca, and about half the tribe returned. Their health and vitality as a community continued to decline, however, under the weight of their forced wanderings.

After his acquittal, Chief Standing Bear took his story to white America on a speaking tour in the East. One person who heard him was a Boston activist named Helen Hunt Jackson. Her life was changed by hearing Chief Standing Bear speak. As soon as Jackson heard the story of the Ponca, she realized that the way our country was treating American Indians was wrong. She wrote to her friend, Unitarian minister Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “I think I feel as you must have felt in the old abolition days. I cannot think of anything else from morning to night (Mathes 21).” She used the force of her personality and her connections to people of means to raise money for Indian causes, and she used her work as a journalist to publish articles in American newspapers informing the white public about the mistreatment of American Indians. She wrote her book A Century of Dishonor to highlight the United States’ injustices toward American Indian tribes.

Jackson’s greatest work with American Indians started when she visited the Mission Indians of southern California. Franciscan monks had established missions to the Indian communities in southern and central California, in what is now Mexico and the United States. Spanish Franciscans established these missions to forcibly baptize Indians and to make them work for the good of the mission, in theory as they became fully integrated into a Christian way of life. In practice, the missions often amounted to little more than slavery, with Indians forced out of their tribal cultures and religions to work for missions whose efforts they had no reason truly to support. In the early 19th century, these missions came under the control of the government of Mexico. They were secularized and the Indians were freed from the missions, but many remained in the area and entered low-paying agricultural jobs. The tribal structure and population of California was decimated by the practice of corralling Indians into missions.

Jackson spent the latter decades of her life visiting the mission Indians and writing about them. She is best known for her novel Ramona, which is treated like a romance, but was written to highlight the plight of Indians in southern California. Jackson lobbied Congress and the Department of the Interior for better legal protections and treatment of these communities. Although Jackson did not live to see the justice she wanted for America’s Indian communities, her life was an inspiration to other reformers and allies after her. And unlike some later activists, Jackson had no desire to convert Indians to Christianity or to integrate them into the European culture of the United States. She worked for Indian rights simply because she believed that Indians were people with rights, too.

Another white anti-racist hero I have come to admire is the woman whose words we heard in the offering music, Anne Braden. Braden was a white woman born in Kentucky in 1924. Although her parents were traditional white southerners who did not challenge the racial politics of their day, Braden began to explore and embrace liberal humanist values as a teenager. She carried these values with her into college, and they deepened as she began to work as a journalist and marry fellow liberal activist Carl Braden. In 1954, the Bradens bought a house in a whites-only suburb of Louisville on behalf of black associates of theirs. They bought the house in May, and in June it was dynamited. No one was hurt. The perpetrator of the explosion was never arrested, but the Bradens were arrested for sedition, on the grounds that they were members of the Communist party and had bought the house in order to stir up trouble (Fox).

Carl Braden was convicted of sedition and served seven months in prison before his case was overturned. Anne Braden’s case never went to trial. The Bradens were arrested for sedition again in 1967, for organizing opposition to strip mining in Kentucky. After that arrest, a federal court found Kentucky’s anti-sedition law unconstitutional. In 1985, Anne Braden helped found the Rainbow Coalition. She is mentioned as a white ally to the cause of African American civil rights in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (Fox).

There were millions of southern whites who accepted Jim Crow, and thousands who championed it. But there were thousands more who thought it was wrong and didn’t know what they could do to change it. Anne Braden provides an example of concrete actions white people can take to help overturn an unjust system. Buying a house in a segregated neighborhood for African American associates was a brilliant idea. Most of us may never have an opportunity like the Bradens to disrupt racism in a big way. But Anne Braden’s actions inspire us to think of creative ways we, as white people, can combat the racism we encounter in our everyday lives.

Tim Wise, a white anti-racist writer and speaker, describes one of those situations which happened to him. He was out for a drink with a white student at a college where he had been invited to speak. Other young white people, who did not know who Wise was, joined them at the bar. In the midst of this group of white people in their early twenties, who did not know that Wise is a well-known writer and speaker on the topic of anti-racism, one man told a racist joke. As several people were laughing and others were looking on uncomfortably, Wise looked right at the joker, and said to him, deadpan, “You know, I don’t think that joke is funny, [pause] because my mother is black.”

Now here is this man who looks absolutely white, telling another white man his mother is black. The joker immediately began to backpedal and apologize. This opened up the space for Wise to tell him he was just kidding, both his parents were white, but to ask the young man why he thought it was all right to tell a racist joke. He was able to convey to the joker that not all white people will accept racism, but to throw him off enough to keep him in a conversation about the issue. Wise wasn’t confrontational, he was tricky. The joker could have gone away from an interaction like that angry; instead, I bet he went away thoughtful.

Whatever opportunities are presented to us as white people to combat racism, we need to be ready to act on them. We need whatever tools we can muster–humor, trickiness, and the admiration of heroes in our past. We need education about the dangers and difficulties faced by communities of color both in our past in and in our present. We need all these tools of power to build the world we dream of.

Please join me in prayer, adapted from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Good and gracious Spirit of Life,
Which is love and which is the delight of all people,
we stand in awe the vast diversity of being,
in awe at the incredible spark of life within each person on earth.

Differences among cultures and races are multicolored manifestations of this Light.

May our hearts and minds be open to celebrate similarities and differences among our sisters and brothers.

We place our hopes for racial harmony in our committed action and in the presence of the Spirit in our Neighbor.

May all peoples live in Peace.


Flobots. “Anne Braden.” Fight With Tools. CD. Universal Republic, B0017PE9I6, 2007.

Fox, Margalit. “Anne Braden, 81, Activist in Civil Rights and Other Causes, Dies.” New York Times 17 Mar. 2006, nat. ed. Nytimes.com. Accessed 17 Feb. 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/17/national/17braden.html.

Mathes, Valerie Sherer. Helen Hunt Jackson and Her Indian Reform Legacy. Austin: U of Texas P, 1990.

“Ponca.” Wikipedia. 5 Nov. 2011. 1-11. Accessed 17 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponca.

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. “Closing Prayer.” Prayer Service: The Elimination of Racism. 2006. Accessed 17 Feb. 2012. http://www.sistersofmercy.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=345&Itemid=221.

Wise, Tim. White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. Rev. and updated ed. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2008.

Is There Room at the Table for the People Who Grow Our Food?: Sermon for October 16, 2011

Posted by admin on October 26, 2011 under Sermons | Comments are off for this article

©The Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

If I can start with a little plug for the Fundraising Committee, which has just been doing an excellent job for our fellowship, one of the things you will be able to bid on in our spring service auction will be a sermon topic of your choice. I offer this item every year. Last spring, Joe Kelaghan won the sermon topic. He knew right away what he wanted me to preach on. Joe is a man who puts his values into action.

Joe asked me to preach a sermon which the Rev. Rob Hardies, minister of All Souls UU Church in Washington, had suggested but never had the chance to preach, and it had the same title as this sermon: Is There Room at the Table for the People Who Grow Our Food? Joe takes ethical eating seriously as a vegan, and he is also concerned with the human workers who grow, harvest and process the food we eat.

He tells a story about being in Traverse City, Michigan with his spouse Thad at a family wedding in a vineyard. It was late in the season; the grapes had all been harvested from the vines. No workers were in sight. But for all the homage paid to the beauty of nature and the setting, and all the enjoyment of the food afterward, no mention was made of the human laborers who must have harvested the grapes for the wine and all the food the party enjoyed that day.

The workers who grow and harvest our food are largely invisible. Up here in rural New Hampshire, we are fortunate to have easy access to family farms where we can (if we are willing to pay a premium) buy food grown and harvested by our neighbors. However, even if we choose that option (and we recognize that not everyone can pay the higher prices), we can’t eat New Hampshire-grown vegetables year round. At some point all of us participate in an unfair labor market for getting the food we eat.

How unfair? Take the example of tomatoes. Most of the tomatoes eaten in America are grown in south Florida, on the border of the Everglades, in a climate and location completely unsuited to the growing of tomatoes. The environmental and food safety travesties aren’t our focus here, though, so let’s just consider the workers. Tomatoes, unlike many crops, must be picked by hand. In the name of keeping tomato costs low, some growers have actually enslaved their Central American pickers to force them to pick tomatoes. By 2010, nine slavery cases had been brought against Florida tomato growers for the way they treated their laborers, including forcing them, on pain of physical punishment, to work all day for very little pay, and not allowing escape (Coalition).

The Florida tomato pickers, through a collective bargaining and rights organization called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, named after the region of Florida which is the hub of tomato production, has recently won rights for tomato pickers. The tomato buyers, such as Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell and KFC restaurants; Burger King; Subway; McDonald’s; and food service providers such as Sodexho and Aramark; have agreed to support an additional penny per pound in the cost of tomatoes, which is to be passed on to the workers. They have also agreed to buy only from growers which promise to afford their workers basic human dignities like taking breaks twice a day in the shade,  a time clock to ensure they are paid for all the hours they work, and being allowed to use the toilet.

However, one major sector of tomato buyers has refused to sign on to the Immokalee agreement: grocery stores. Wal-Mart, Kroger, Publix and even Trader Joe’s have all refused to sign. In a statement, Trader Joe’s said that its refusal to sign stemmed from the technical language of the agreement and not from the substance of more rights for tomato pickers. Of course, that technical language did not stand in the way for major fast food chains and food service providers. Trader Joe’s is a haven for liberal, urban grocery shoppers, but here they are, taking a hard line on fair practices in labor in order to protect their prices and their competitive edge. When it comes to tomatoes, shoppers would be doing more to support workers’ rights by eating at Burger King or McDonald’s than by shopping at Trader Joe’s. The tomato example shows how hard it is, as individuals, to use our purchasing power to influence the greater good. The path from the food in the ground, through the grocery store, to our table is circuitous and far-removed from us. So are the lives of those who grow and harvest it.

Migrant workers are laborers who travel from state to state following the harvest, picking fruits and vegetables for our grocery stores and restaurants. The readings we heard this morning, one a prayer by Cesar Chavez and one an essay by an 11-year-old migrant worker, date from the 1970s, when Chavez’s United Farmworkers Unoin successfully protested the terrible working conditions on California’s large farms. Yet thee conditions persist today, partly because of a surplus of labor owing to immigration, both legal and illegal. According to a 2000 survey by the Department of Labor, among migrant workers today:

  • 88 percent are men, many of them in the U.S. on their own so that they can send money back to families in their home countries.
  • 55 percent are married. Of those, 71 percent are not living with their spouses.
  • Their mean age is 31. Many start the migrant life in their early 20s and return to their home countries within a few years to live in the homes that were built with U.S. money. “They may return to the United States several more times before they are too old to work such hard jobs.
  • They have a sixth-grade education, on average.
  • 93 percent are foreign-born, up from 88 percent 10 years ago.
  • 65 percent are here illegally, up from 62 percent 10 years ago (“Migrant”).

Migrant workers used to be Americans–think of the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. But when hiring Americans came to mean  dealing with a unionized labor force in the 1970s and 1980s, employers and owners were happy to turn to illegal immigrants desperate for a better way of life.

One of the arguments against mass deportation of illegal immigrants is that such a move would cripple our economy, depriving many industries of the labor they rely on. Arizona businesses have pushed back against that state’s efforts to pass ever stricter immigration laws which would imprison undocumented workers. It’s why immigration laws like the one Alabama has just enacted are so insidious, laws which make it illegal for undocumented workers to seek basic services, and which even pressure children who are American citizens to out their parents as undocumented immigrants to the schools. Laws like these threaten to create a permanent underclass of workers here outside the law, not forced to leave, not welcomed in, and not allowed to participate in the basic goods and right of our society.

Or perhaps this underclass already exists. Although the people occupying it have changed, the existence of a group of poorly treated people who pick our agriculture has always been with us. In the colonial era they were indentured servants. In the early decades of our nation they were African American slaves. Then they were sharecroppers like the Joads, strapped to the land by crushing debt. Now they are illegal immigrants. We have never wanted to create the society necessary to pay agricultural workers a living wage.

Joe Kelaghan, in talking to me about this sermon, told the story of getting pizza at a pizzeria in Norway during a vacation once. The restaurant wasn’t fancy, just a place to grab a pizza and a beer. It wasn’t that much different from Pizza Hut. The big difference was that the pizza cost $40 and the beer $15. Norway has organized its economy so that the workers all along the line of the pizza’s creation are paid a living wage. And they’ve put social safety nets into place to help those in need buy food–even if those in need can’t go out to eat pizza. In such a system, local farms would be more competitive, and home gardening might become more attractive. Our economic system, in which food subsidies for the poor are meager and the gap between the rich and the poor is vast, relies upon labor so cheap it is almost free to tend, pick and often serve our food.

We sing a hymn which begins, “Earth was given as a garden…” In the ancient myth of the garden of Eden, told two ways in the Hebrew Bible, the first humans are given the earth to tend and work. God gives them instructions: in one version of the story, God says, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food (Gen. 1:29).” Even after Adam and Eve have been expelled from the garden, God cures Adam with working the land by the sweat of his brow. Neither in paradise or out of it, in this founding myth of Judaism and Christianity, are people given the fruits of the earth by the labor of other hands. Buddhism exhorts us to recognize the sacred nature in all living things, and certainly in other people. Islam demands fair treatment of members of the community, one of the most sacred concepts of that faith. All the world’s major religions demand fair treatment of one another and stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

These are hard questions, but our commitments as Unitarian Universalists require us to grapple with them. Part of what we affirm as Unitarian Universalists is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Having inherent worth and dignity means that a person should not be condemned because of the honest work which occupies her days. The right of the democratic process means workers should have the right to organize and work together for greater justice in the workplace. Honoring the interdependent web of all existence means that we acknowledge how we are tied to migrant workers in American fields, even if we have never done that work; even if we never know them; even if they are Central American; even if they have come to this country illegally. Our Unitarian Universalism requires us to see in these workers a common humanity with us, a common human spirit and dignity which cannot be bartered away. May we work toward a social system where the labor of all is given fair value.

Please join me in a Blessing Prayer, used by the National Farm Worker Ministry.

Bless the hands of the people of the earth,
The hands that plant the seed,
The hands that bind the harvest,
The hands that carry the burden of life.

Soften the hands of the oppressor and
Strengthen the hands of the oppressed.

Bless the hands of the workers,
Bless the hands of those in power above them
That the measure they deal will be tempered
With justice and compassion. Amen.


All Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

“Blessing Prayer.” National Farm Worker Ministry. Accessed 15 Oct. 2011. http://nfwm.org/education-center/worship-resources/prayers/.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “CIW Anti-Slavery Campaign.” Accessed 14 Oct. 2011. http://www.ciw-online.org/slavery.html.

“Migrant Labor in the United States.” Politics and Economy: On the Border. Now. 28 May 2004. Public Broadcasting System. Accessed 14 Oct. 2011. http://www.pbs.org/now/politics/migrants.html.

Immigration Reform: Sermon from Sunday, October 24, 2010

Posted by admin on November 2, 2010 under Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

By the Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

This summer, Unitarian Universalists from all over the country, including friends of mine among lay leaders and ministers, traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to protest Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, commonly known as Arizona SB1070.  They arrived in late July, planning for a day of resistance to Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s planned enforcement of the new law.  SB1070, as written, would require Arizona state and local police to ask after the legal status of people they suspected of being in the United States illegally.  If police had any legal encounter with a person in Arizona, and then suspected that person might not have proper documentation, they were to ask for identification and proof of legal status.  Citizens were empowered to sue police departments if officers did not enforce the law.  Police were required to arrest anyone who could not produce proof of legal status.

In Phoenix, where Sheriff Arpaio has taken on enforcing illegal immigration as a personal mission, he and his department planned a day of rigorous enforcement of the new law when it came into effect on July 29.  Immigrants’ rights groups, Latino and Latina rights groups and progressive allies came together to coordinate a Day of Noncompliance in response.  This is what Unitarian Universalists traveled to Arizona to join.  They received training in non-violent resistance.  They had planned to be allies and witnesses with brown-skinned Arizonans, challenging the authority of the police to question them.

As it happened, a United States federal court stayed many of SB1070’s most controversial components on July 28.  The police could no longer demand documentation from anyone on the street, and citizens could not take the police to court if they failed to do this.  Still, the coalition of progressive groups went ahead with their protest.  Some friends of mine, joining others including the Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, joined hands outside the Phoenix jail, blocking the door.  They sang songs of protest and peace.  They were arrested.  Another friend of mine, the Rev. Colin Bossen, who is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, occupied a busy corner in Phoenix with other protestors committing civil disobedience.  He, too, was arrested, and has written about his experiences in Sheriff Arpaio’s jail.

Colin writes that the arresting officer, from the Phoenix Police Department, apologized to him for his arrest.  The officer gave Colin time to hand his personal belongings to a friend and did not cuff him tightly.  Colin wonders how much of his “good” treatment was because he is a white member of the clergy (he was wearing a clerical collar to identify himself) and that the media were present (Bossen).

Another friend, the Rev. Melissa Carville-Ziemer, who serves the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent, Ohio, writes about the brutality she saw the Sheriff’s department show to a Latino protestor (a man who was protesting, but not committing any act of civil disobedience).  This man was standing in on a sidewalk, chanting, when police ordered the area cleared.  Melissa saw that before he had a chance to comply with the deputies’ orders, they grabbed him and moved him toward the jail.  He yelled, “I am not resisting arrest!”  The deputies insisted he was.  Once they had him inside the jail, Melissa writes, “they threw him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the ribs while one of the officers yelled racial epithets at him (Carville-Ziemer).”  Perhaps Colin’s suspicion that he was treated well because he is white and holds a position of privilege as a member of the clergy was correct.  Melissa also reports that she was treated very respectfully by the Phoenix Police Department.  Both they and others reported that the local police were much more considerate, professional, polite and–most importantly–law-abiding than the Sheriff’s department officers.

Once in the jail, the protestors were processed with the general population, most of whom were in jail for being drunk and disorderly.  Colin writes that there were no windows and no clocks in the jail, so prisoners never knew what time it was.  There were benches in the holding cells, but they were divided every two feet by metal bars, so it was impossible to lie down except on the floor.  Each cell had a toilet in the middle of the cell; there was no privacy while using it.  Dinner consisted of sugary peanut butter, two smooth white rolls, Kool-Aid, cookies and an old orange.  When Sheriff Arpaio came to meet the prisoners, Colin writes,

He was able to engage one of the older Unitarian Universalist men in some polite political banter. The subtext of that conversation was clear enough. It was, “Hey, white dude why are you in jail here for all these Mexicans? Can’t you see that you and I have more in common than you have in common with those Mexicans?”…Arpaio is one of these people whose ego fills whatever room he enters. It is sickening feeling to be in his presence and it was clear that he came to us to gloat. It made him feel powerful to have us in his grasp. It was an opportunity for him to try and intimidate us (Bossen).

Colin spent that night in the jail, sharing a small cell with a Latino activist named Tupac Enrique, the coordinator for Tonnatiera.  Enrique made the point that the current dispute over illegal immigrants at the Mexico-Arizona border is just the latest battle in a long war between the authority of the United States and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  During the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848, Mexico was ultimately forced to cede what is now New Mexico and California to the United States.  It also accepted the loss of Texas, which the U.S. had annexed in 1845, and accepted the Rio Grande as its north-western border (“Mexican-American”).  At this same time, the United States was fighting wars against the Indian throughout the west of the North American continent, seeking to expand the United States’ influence and control all the way to the Pacific.

We tend to think of North American Indians and Mexicans as two separate groups, but they have only been separated by the artificial lines of war and colonization.  The native peoples of our continent, especially the native peoples living in what are now Arizona, New Mexico and California, are one people.  The Mexican War placed an artificial boundary in the midst of families and communities.  The attempted destruction of those families and communities is continuing today.

My friends, and all the other Unitarian Universalists who were arrested as they protested Arizona SB1070, were released from prison the following day.  They met with their lawyers and were able to return home.  Unless they contest the charges against them, they will likely only have to pay a fine.  Unlike them, the Latinos and Latinas living in the Southwest continue to live under the thumb of a frightened and xenophobic culture.

It’s ironic that during the recent recession, and current period of low employment, migration northward from Mexico has slowed dramatically.  In the early 2000s, an average of 850,000 migrants crossed the border illegally each year.  Between 2007 and 2009, the annual average was 300,000.  In addition, analysts believe many illegal aliens already in the United States may have returned to their countries of origin, although there is no way to quantify this perception (Olson).  Yet just at this moment of slowed migration, white America’s furor over illegal immigration has reached its highest pitch.

Just like our culture’s prejudice against Muslim-Americans or Middle Eastern men, we have a prejudice against people with brown skin, who may be of Mexican origin.  The Arizona law clearly assumes that any brown-skinned person may be an illegal immigrant.  Illegal immigrants die in the desert as they try to make their way north, and it is illegal in Arizona for anyone to help those immigrants in danger or to leave food or supplies for them.  The Obama administration deported more than 392,000 illegal aliens  last year, the majority of whom had broken some other law in addition to entering the U.S. illegally (Carroll).  The Obama administration deported more than 80,000 more illegal aliens than the Bush administration did during its last year in office.  Still, the cry goes up from some communities in the Southwest that the federal government is not enforcing its immigration laws.

Two and three generations ago, the government did not have to enforce immigration laws, because the borders of our country were open.  Of course, all Americans of European, Asian or African ancestry come from immigrant stock.  We are a nation of immigrants.  My own great-grandparents emigrated as children from northern Italy.  At the time they came, 1898, the borders were effectively open.  Immigration and a path to citizenship were open to all white Europeans.

Alarmed that the waves of new immigrants were mostly southern and eastern Europeans, whose cultures and languages were different from the northern Europeans who had made up most immigrant groups in the nineteenth century, the United States passed the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924.  These acts introduced quotas for all European immigrants and banned Asian immigrants altogether.  Quotas for immigrants from Germany, Great Britain and Ireland were higher than quotas for Italy and Eastern Europe.  In the decade from 1900 to 1910, 200,000 Italians immigrated annually.  After 1924, the number dropped to 4,000 (”Immigration“).  My great-great-grandparents actually came to the U.S., made some money, and then moved back to Italy.  Once back, my great-great-grandmother realized that she had lost her taste for village life, and the family emigrated once again, settling in Albany, New York.

I would guess that many of us here share a story like my great-grandfather’s.  Our families–perhaps even we ourselves–came to America to pursue a new life and new opportunities.  America provided work opportunities.  It provided education opportunities for one’s children.  My grandfather, the son of an Italian immigrant tailor, was able to go to college and eventually graduate school in chemistry, a life that would never have been available to him growing up in an Italian village.

Far from taking jobs from U.S. citizens, immigrants help grow our economy and our culture.  In fact, they are often the first victims of recession, fleeing–as we suspect hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have done–back to their home countries when work dries up.  Our country has become richer with immigration.  The birthrate in the United States is flat–we have babies at the replacement rate.  Our population has grown, and our economy has grown, because of immigrants.  Not just that, but our culture becomes richer, too.  In cities in the United States we can experience cuisine, culture and languages from all over the world.  We are better off for that diversity.

The truth is, it’s not just that we should oppose draconian and probably unconstitutional laws like Arizona’s.  SB1070 does everything it can to sink the teeth of local law enforcement into current U.S. immigration law.  The uproar over SB1070 leads to another truth: U.S. immigration law is unjust and unfair.  It is harder for brown-skinned immigrants to come to America than it is for white-skinned immigrants.  For people from certain countries, it is nearly impossible.  Enforcement of the current laws separates families and encourages deadly traverses across the desert bordering the Rio Grande.  It encourages illegal residents in America to avoid anything run by the government, from driving tests to parent-teacher conferences.  Having brown-skinned illegal immigrants as a scapegoat keeps the minds of working-class white Americans conveniently unfocused on their own loss of job opportunities and real income.  “Mexicans took our jobs” is an illusion which covers up the truth: “Rich white people took our jobs.”  If Arizona’s law looks ugly and racist, it is only reflecting certain directions in American life, directions which lead to a virulent nationalism and fear of the other.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are committed to push ourselves, always, to be more open, more loving and less fearful of the other.  We affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity, and we hope for the day when all the world’s peoples live as one.  Our attitude toward someone different from us is curiosity and respect, not fear and hate.  We remember that our families, too, were once wayfarers looking for a better life.  We ourselves have experienced the bitterness of exile, and the joy of finding home in a new land.  We stand ready to welcome all who seek honest work and a better life in our great country.


Bossen, Colin.  “An Arizona Chronology.”  The Latest Form of Infidelity.  2 Aug. 2010.  Accessed 22 Oct. 2010.  http://infidelity.blogsome.com/2010/08/02/an-arizona-chronology/#more-191

Carroll, Susan.  “Obama administration touts record-setting deportation figures.”  6 Oct. 2010.  The Houston Chronicle.  The Chron.  Accessed 23 Oct. 2010.  http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7235311.html.

Carville-Ziemer, Melissa.  “First Thoughts on Protest and Arrest in Arizona.”  Standing on the Side of Love.  4 Aug. 2010.  Unitarian Universalist Association.  Accessed 22 Oct. 2010.  http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/first-thoughts-on-protest-and-arrest-in-arizona-from-rev-melissa-carvill-ziemer-of-kent-ohio/

“Immigration Act of 1924.”  Wikipedia.  1-6.  20 Oct. 2010.  Accessed 23 Oct. 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Act_of_1924.

“Mexican-American War.”  Wikipedia.  1-11.  23 Oct. 2010.  Accessed 23 Oct. 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican%E2%80%93American_War.

Olson, David.  “Mexican Immigrants See Signs of Recovery in U.S.”  23 Oct. 2010.  The Chicago Sun-Times.  Accessed 23 Oct. 2010.  http://www.suntimes.com/news/nation/2829184,CST-NWS-mex24.article.

We’re All Strangers Here: Sermon for Sunday, October 3, 2010

Posted by admin on October 3, 2010 under Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

By The Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

Dr. Mansoor Mirza is a physician at a hospital in Wilson, Wisconsin, a town of 3,200 souls.  Dr. Mirza had lived in this small town for five years.  He knew many of the people at the planning commission meeting that Tuesday night.  He expected them, his patients and neighbors, to support him when he requested permission from the zoning board to build a mosque in a nearby village, on land he already owned.  Instead, one person after another stood up to say that Islam was a religion of violence, that Muslims were using rural America to train jihadi soldiers, and that a mosque didn’t belong in their community.  The board even asked Dr. Mirza if any military training would take place within the mosque.  Dr. Mirza could barely control his grief and anger during the meeting (Ghosh 1).
This story was reported in Time Magazine at the end of August in their cover story, “Is America Islamophobic?”  Now, I have been to planning board meetings and zoning board of adjustment meetings here in Plymouth where hateful things were said against erecting low-income housing in our town.  Town meetings about how to use other people’s land do not bring out the best in people.  But we seem to be at a point as a country where the worst is coming out in us.  Since 2002, the number of Americans who believe Islam is more violent than other religions has hovered around 40% (Dart 14).  Americans in general are too quick to conflate the terrorists who attacked New York, the Pentagon, and a flight of innocent people over Pennsylvania with all Muslims.

There is something in the human spirit that wants someone to hate.  Imagine a time in the future when a Muslim person is a viable candidate for president.  Imagine that this person, born in the United States, coming from a political family, gained his or her party’s nomination.  Now imagine if a coalition of dozens of ministers representing many branches of Christianity, came together to publish a statement expressing their concerns about a Muslim candidate for president in the United States.  Imagine they wrote something like this:

“We know that two-thirds of the area of [Afghanistan] has been “roped off” from [secular] activity and more than 200 [secular] schools in this territory have been closed by police.  What effect, we wonder, would the election of a [Muslim] as President have upon governments which practice such suppression with the knowledge and cooperation of [Islamic states]?  To ask Protestant and Jewish people to take a light view of this matter, or to disregard it entirely, is to be unrealistic.  For us this is a matter of self-preservation (Protestants).”

I have to place our imaginary scenario in the future because it’s hard to imagine a Muslim being a viable candidate for president now.  A statement like this, however–a statement like this feels like it fits right into America’s current political climate.

Well, this statement was published by the Protestants and Other Americans Untied for the Separation of Church and State–but it’s not contemporary.  This was published by a group of Protestant ministers and luminaries, including Norman Vincent Peale, when John F. Kennedy was running for office.  Replace “Afghanistan” with “Columbia”; replace “secular” with “Protestant”; replace “Muslim” with “Catholic” and replace “Islamic states” with “the Vatican,” and you would be hearing a quotation from the group’s statement issued in September of 1960.  We might have learned from this moment of anti-Catholic fervor in our country’s history that our fears were unfounded (since Kennedy did not, in fact, usher in Vatican control of the United States).  Instead, we are repeating our fears and hatred with a new enemy fifty years later.

There is something in the human spirit that wants someone to hate.  It was there in Jesus’ time.  When Jesus starts debating with a Torah scholar in Luke’s gospel, he is not, for once, arguing with or trying to upset another Jewish leader.  He and his companion are trying to understand what the Torah means.  In many Jewish traditions of the time, the Torah was understood to require thought, understanding and debate in order to truly come alive.  These traditions were the exact opposite of fundamentalism.  They believed that debate made the Torah relevant in contemporary life.  Jesus’ companion asks, “Who is my neighbor?”  This is a serious question.  At the time, the Hebrew word for “neighbor,” rea, was not widely understood to mean “anyone” and certainly not “someone different from me.”  “Neighbor” was understood to mean a close friend, a coworker or close companion.  Your neighbor was someone from your same ethnic and religious group (Young 100).

In response to this question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story.  A Jewish man is beaten, robbed and left by the side of the Jericho road.  Jewish religious leaders see him lying there and pass him by.  Finally, a Samaritan, technically still Jewish but so different that the two sects had nothing to do with each other, stops and helps the man.  Not only does he help, he goes over the top–taking the man to an inn, leaving money for his care, and seeing to it that he will recover.  Jesus asks, “Who is the good neighbor?”  The Torah scholar answers, “The man who helped.”

Martin Luther King gave more meaning to the story when he retold it in his last public address, “I See the Promised Land,” given the night before he was assassinated (King 284).  He reminds us that the Jericho road is steep, twisty and treacherous.  Thieves would wait around a bend and ambush travelers.  King shows sympathy for the two who passed by on the other side: they did not want to become victims themselves.  In fact, they may have thought that the man lying in the ditch was part of a con, that he was not actually hurt, and that his accomplices would attack them as soon as they stopped to help.  King says that these men asked themselves a very reasonable question: “What will happen to me if I help?”  The Samaritan, on the other hand, asked a different question: “What will happen to him if I don’t?”

There is a third question to ask: “What will happen to me if I don’t help?”  When we pass by human suffering on the other side, what happens to our own souls?  We allow a slow death to creep in, to harden our hearts and make us care less for our fellow human beings.  We must ask ourselves these questions about our Muslim neighbors in America today.  We must ask “What will happen to them if I don’t help?” and we must ask “What will happen to me if I don’t help?”  We are called upon to stand up for the right of Muslims in America to gather peaceably and worship in freedom, just like any other ethnic or religious group.

When we were just beginning the process of planning to raise the funds to expand our building–and this is a good time to remind everyone that we are dedicating our meetinghouse addition in a special service this afternoon at 3 p.m., and I hope you all can come–when we had our first meeting with a consultant from the Unitarian Universalist Association, she offered a way for us to think about the three sources of funding for our building.  We had some money from bequests left by members and friends who had passed away–these represented the past.  We had the money we would raise in pledges and gifts from current members and friends–these represented the present.  And we had the mortgage we would take to finance the rest of the addition–this represented the future.  Tamsin, our consultant, pointed out that the mortgage gave members and friends who would come to our fellowship in the future the chance to be part of supporting our larger space.

Tamsin’s words have come back to me again and again as I have seen this fellowship grow since that day.  We exist because of our past, we exist in our present, and we exist for our future.  We are not here just to make a comfortable spiritual home for ourselves.  We are here to create an institution for our future selves, our children, and all the people in our area who will, someday, need a liberal religious home.

It is the same with our country.  We should not be in the business of dragging our country backward to a less diverse, less tolerant past.  We should not be eager to repeat the wrongs of our European forbears, who exiled, converted or killed their Muslim populations.  We should not strive to return to a world where Muslims are a distant other, where we understand nothing about them, and where our cultures are at war.  We should be preparing our country for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow characterized by respect, tolerance and mutual understanding.

When our forefathers framed the United States Constitution, there were no Muslims living in our fledgling nation.  Today, Muslims deserve protection and inclusion under the First Amendment, just like every other religious group.  They should be able to build mosques anywhere public buildings may be built, including in lower Manhattan.  They should be free to worship in peace and security, not fearing for their or their children’s safety.  Muslims need these assurances and protections under our law now, because they are certainly not getting them from the American culture at large.  But in the future, I hope we have more than this.  I hope that if enough Americans consider Muslims their neighbors, that in the future Muslim-Americans will not just be tolerated, but respected; that they will not simply expect to be left alone in peace, but will be invited into conversation; that they will not be neighbors in name only but be the actual friends and playmates of non-Muslim Americans and their children.

There is some hope that in the future we will be more accepting of difference and diversity than we are today.  Just as with the majority’s increasing acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in America, demographics point to a future where the majority is more accepting of Muslims.  People who are more educated and people under fifty are more likely than others to have a favorable view of Islam (Dart 14).  I suspect both of these demographic trends are because younger people, and people with more exposure to university settings, have had more opportunity to meet and get to know Muslims.  In divinity school, I took a semester long survey course on Islam, the theme of which was that Islam is a diverse religion.  Just knowing a little bit about the different kinds of Islam practiced by the millions of Muslims worldwide helps me be more accepting and open to Muslims in America.  We can hope that as America becomes more ethnically diverse, and as our children play and learn alongside people of different ethnicities and religions, including Muslims, that the world will grow in its tolerance and kindness toward others.  Muslim-Americans are our neighbors in building the America we dream of.

Please join me in prayer.

Spirit of Love, bring us into a world of peace.  Release us from our fear.  Give us the courage to help those in need.  Give us the courage to stand up for what we believe is right.  Give us a spirit of curiosity and respect about beliefs and cultures different from our own.

Help us to remember those times in our own lives when we have felt hurt and abandoned by circumstance and ill-will.  Help us to recall with gratitude those who stopped by to help us in our times of trouble.  We ask the blessings of the spirit on those who came to our aid, and on those who, in the small habits of their lives, make helpfulness a part of their mission in the world.
Forgive us, loving Spirit, for those times when we have not had the personal resources or fortitude to help another person in need.  There are times when all of us have left undone something we could have done; times when we passed by on the other side.  Teach us through these moments how to come to our best selves again, and help us in the future to reach out to others in love, solidarity and strength.

Bring us ever closer to our fellow human beings.  Help us to celebrate our differences and learn from one another.  Help us to grow the human spirit which is common to us all.  Amen.


Dart, John.  “Conflicted Views on Islam.”  The Christian Century 21 Sep. 2010: 14.

Ghosh, Bobby.  “Does America Have a Muslim Problem?”  Time Magazine. 19 Aug. 2010.  Time.com. 1-4.  Accessed 1 Oct. 2010.  http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2011798-1,00.html.

King Jr., Martin Luther.  A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ed. James Melvin Washington.  San Francisco: Harper, 1991.

“Protestant Groups’ Statements.”  New York Times 8 Sep. 1960: 25.

Young, Brad.  The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation.  Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008.

Anti-Racism: Sermon for February 21, 2010

Posted by admin on February 23, 2010 under Uncategorized | Comments are off for this article

I went to the fifth grade in the most integrated elementary school in Michigan. It was located in the corner of one of Detroit’s northwest suburbs.

There were the kids, like me, whose ancestors had immigrated from Europe to the United States or Canada several generations ago–kids whose families had come from Poland, from France, from Italy, from Germany, from Scandinavia. There were first-generation immigrant kids from Russia and Eastern Europe, often Jews fleeing the Soviet regime. There were some Orthodox Jews, although most of those kids went to a hillel, or Jewish day school, associated with one of the three large synagogues within walking distance. There were African American kids, the children of Detroit’s African American middle class, who had moved out to the suburbs for the same quality of life and good school systems they offered white families. Most of the white Catholic kids, often from French Canadian families, lived in the next suburb over and went to the Catholic elementary school. I remember a few kids from southeast Asia, especially Vietnam. There were not many kids who spoke Spanish as a first language–it was much more common to hear Russian. I remember standing in the warm vestibule on winter days with my classmates, waiting for the doors to open in the morning, and trying to work out between us who celebrated what holidays, and why.

In fifth grade, students were randomly assigned to homerooms where we did our academic subjects, and then traveled as a group to things like music and art. When we moved over to the middle school next door in sixth grade, we began going to tracked academic classes: high, middle, and low. This continued in high school, which drew from that one square mile my elementary school had served plus two other suburbs.

By the time I was taking honors classes in high school, there were no African-American kids in my classes. More than ten percent of the population of Oakland County, Michigan is black, but not in my high school classes. I had one African-American teacher throughout my education–she taught advanced English at my middle school. In retrospect, I can see how much grief she had to put up with from the entitled white students in her classes. I remember one Russian immigrant student in the honors track, a year behind me in high school. He stood out from his compatriots because his English was so good, which seemed to be a prerequisite to study college prep material. I went from attending the most integrated school in the state in fifth grade to an almost entirely native-born, white cohort in high school in the same district seven years later.

Despite the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous statement that Sunday morning at eleven o’clock was the most segregated hour in America, my Unitarian Universalist church was one of the most integrated places I went every week. It was (and remains) nowhere near as black as the suburb where it makes its home. Southfield is more than half African American, and I would guess that around ten percent of the members of my home church are black. Still, that meant that I got to know African American adults and kids as equals, role models, teachers and companions in a way that was not available to me in other parts of my life.

I remember going to a Tigers game just a few years ago with my white friends, and seeing an African American member of my church standing outside Comerica Park, handing out flyers for his brother-in-law’s business. He gave me a bear hug and we talked for a few minutes. That experience of crossing a racial line, of seeing a black man as a friend in downtown Detroit–I could not have had that experience if it were not for my church.

I’m lucky my Unitarian Universalist church helped lower the barriers of race between me and my brothers and sisters of color. Unitarian Universalism has struggled with race relations for a long time. More than 200 Unitarian Universalist ministers answered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to join him in Selma in 1965, to march on Birmingham for civil rights. But by 1968, the racial unrest throughout the country had made such simple black and white alliances more difficult. Malcolm X was calling for black separatism. Riots in Detroit and Newark killed 66 people. Leaders of African American communities wanted white people to support them on their terms.

In the Unitarian Universalist Association, too, African Americans were beginning to assert their leadership in ways that made many people, both white and African American, uncomfortable–the way radical steps forward often do. In 1967, after the urban riots, a denominational official called an “Emergency Conference on [the] Unitarian Universalist Response to the Black Rebellion.” Participants were not democratically elected. As soon as the conference started, 30 of the 37 black participants withdrew to form the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus. The formed a list of demands, which they presented ultimately to the Association’s Board of Trustees. According to historian Warren R. Ross, “The core demand was that the board establish a Black Affairs Council…, to be appointed by the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus…and funded for four years at $250,000 a year. The funds would go for grants to fight political repression and economic exploitation in the black community and support black cultural expressions and community education (45).”

This may sound intransigent, but it was an attempt to make the Association live up to its antiracist goals. A group of African American leaders were demanding self-determination within the Unitarian Universalist movement, and the funds with which to do it. They were saying to the Association, which was integrated but still predominantly white, “If Unitarian Universalism wants to support rights for black people, then let black people be in charge. Moreover, let us be in charge of the money to make it happen, and trust that black leadership will live out the Association’s anti-racist goals.”

However, things weren’t so simple. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s board rejected the Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus’s demands. A rival group formed, Black and White Action, which espoused a less radical agenda. The General Assembly, the annual gathering of church delegates, voted to fund a Black Affairs Council for two years (with a total of $500,000)—against the Board’s wishes—but during the second year the allocation was reduced as part of massive budget cuts in the Association. All the groups involved argued about whether those cuts were the result of institutional racism, or a simple lack of funds. Many African Americans left Unitarian Universalism after this controversy: some because they felt excluded from the power structure of the Association, but others because the rancor and infighting alienated them. All the advocacy groups—the Black Affairs Council, its supporting groups, and Black And White Action—had ceased to exist by 1972.

In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association began to re-engage with issues of race in a purposeful and institutional way. Many churches went through the curriculum Journey Toward Wholeness. The Association began working with Crossroads Ministry, an organization dedicated to doing anti-racism training and work with organizations. They ran into difficulty, however, around theology. Crossroads is a Christian organization, and defines racism as a kind of original sin. Now, before that language turns you off, listen to what they mean.

Racism gets bound up in institutions–like hiring practices that disadvantage applicants of color, or whatever policies caused my high school to feed more white kids into honors classes and more African American kids elsewhere in the school–so that those racist practices outlive the intentions of any individual in the system. An individual white person’s conviction that they are not racist, and their intention not to be racist, doesn’t stand up against the power of racism in the institution. Racism is a pre-existing condition in the system, like original sin.

This is actually kind of an elegant way of thinking about racism in America, because it helps us white people confront the problem of racism and our place in a racist system without having to think that the problem is only our particular opinions and actions. It shows us that what we are called upon to do is to work together, and with allies of color, to transform the system we live in to be more just, and more equitable for people whose heritage is not white European.

However, this approach has not worked as well as the organizers hoped. Having to accept one’s own racism, even if what we mean by that is our place in institutional racism, has been hard to the point of refusal for many white allies. The word is too charged to be easily redefined. And the comparison to original sin hasn’t worked very well in a Unitarian Universalist environment. Also, perhaps most tellingly, this approach has not made Unitarian Universalism any more racially diverse.

When Mark Morrison-Reed entered the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 1979, he was the eighteenth black minister in our tradition since 1888 (198). Eighty-nine years; eighteen black ministers. That is a dismal track record. Even now, there are a mere handful of African American ministers, or ministers of any ethnicity other than European-American. Ministers of color face a harder time being settled in congregations, even today.

I think it was widely hoped that electing the Rev. Bill Sinkford, an African American man, to be the Association’s president in 2001 would help propel diversity in our congregations. Bill was elected because of his experience serving our denomination and his skills in public leadership. But I would suppose that even he hoped that he might be able to lead the Association toward a more diverse future. Instead, our movement has seen almost no racial change since 1997. We are still more than 90 percent white (Rasor).

I heard Mark Morrison-Reed speak about these problems at General Assembly, the annual national meeting of Unitarian Universalist congregations, this past June. He pointed out that the one thing that seems to have driven multiculturalism in our ministry, at any rate, is the rising rates of college education among people of color, and specifically among African Americans. Unitarian Universalists have an average of seventeen years of formal education. The percentage of African Americans in our ministry mirrors almost exactly the percentage of African Americans overall who receive bachelors’ degrees (Reed “Multiculturalism”). Reed thinks the lack of racial diversity in our congregations is a function of the lack of class diversity in our congregations. I see this here in Plymouth. Sunday services at Starr King Fellowship are some of the most racially diverse events I attend in this area. But this area has a great deal more class diversity than racial diversity, and we don’t reflect that in our congregation. It’s something for us to think about as we plan for our future and future growth.

I also hear from Reed, both in the talk I heard him give in June and in the reading we heard today, that the division between the races is harming America. It is especially damaging to people of color, who face discrimination of all kinds, from the irritating to the catastrophic, everything from hearing white pop stars use the n-word to seeing ten percent of young black men in this country in prison. We need to find tools and pathways toward true multiculturalism that will allow us to live in peace and community with one another, embracing racial diversity as the gift it is.

The collection we’re going to take this morning will support strategic efforts within the Unitarian Universalist Association to support ministers and religious professionals of color. It will support development of the Building the World We Dream About curriculum, which will be available free and online to all Unitarian Universalist congregations. We could offer it here. The curriculum will address issues of class diversity as well as racial diversity. The money will also help support congregations in ministering to youth and young adults of color, to the very people we hope will live out the multicultural future we are dreaming of.

We may seem far away from this problem, here in this rural section of our largely white state. But our financial contributions will help work toward diversity at a national level. It will make sure that there are more opportunities to cross the class line, to meet each other as human beings whatever the color of our skin, to tear down barriers as thin as tissue instead of bricking up the walls between us. We can be proud that our contributions are supporting our Association to be the kind of religion we want to be a part of, and build the future we want for all our children, whatever the color of their skin.

Please pray with me.

Let us remember those who have gone before us in the service of the most holy.

Those who marched and protested for basic civil rights in Selma, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, and Montgomery; in South Africa and India; and in times and places forgotten where people have demanded fair treatment. Let us remember those who endured force without returning force; those who sat in jail to show that their incarceration was wrong; those who met physical force with soul force; those who hewed the stone of hope out of the mountain of despair.

Let us remember those who fought to end America’s most insidious of institutions, human slavery; those people of white and black skin who gave their energies and lives so that everyone might be free; those who believed that the horrors of war were preferable to the horrors of human bondage; those who let their love for humanity overcome their love for tribe, class or race.

Let us invite the spirit that animated these, our heroes and saints, into our hearts this morning. Let us call the same source of fervor and hope into our lives, that we might answer the call of duty and righteousness when we hear it. Let us remember that every small step we take toward the kingdom of God is a vital step in a long march toward freedom, equality and peace. Amen.


Morrison-Reed, Mark. In Between: A Memoir of an Integration Baby. Boston: Skinner House Books, 2008.

—. “Multiculturalism and Race.” General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Salt Lake City, 25 June 2009.

Rasor, Paul. “Berry Street Lecture.” Conference in Berry Street. Salt Lake City, 24 June 2009.

Ross, Warren R. “The UUA Meets Black Power: BAC vs. BAWA, 1967-1971.” World March/April 2000: 42-48.