The 8th Principle. How many of you have heard of it? Or know what it’s about? That’s what we want to convey to you today, hopefully offering enough information to provide a good foundation for a number of congregational Zoom gatherings over the coming weeks where you can ask questions or offer your feedback about adopting this as a principle for our own congregation. The 8th principle is an action principle with accountability, an important way that we can commit ourselves in earnest to doing the much-needed work of anti-racism and anti-oppression, both in this faith community and beyond our four walls.
CALL TO WORSHIP “Everybody Else” by Jabari S. Jones
On a spring day in Farmington, Maine, as I was walking downtown, I made my way through a line of cars that were waiting for the light. In front of me was a large Confederate flag flying from the back of a white pick-up. I crossed the street, not looking at who was driving the truck and went into the store. As I went about my business, I felt stunned; my mind stirred with thoughts and feelings, memories, and speculations. I felt fear, and anger, and curiosity; worry, and defiance, and humiliation.
As I stood at the register, I chatted with the older white woman behind the counter. “Hi, how are you today?”
“I’m good, how are you?” she replied. I paused, and then I told her about the truck with the flag.
She said something like, “Oh, yes, we have some of that around here, but don’t let it upset you. Don’t let it get to you.”
I appreciated her gesture, her attempt to comfort me. At the same time, her gesture made me more uncomfortable. She was asking me to respect that person’s right to fly that flag and shrug it off like everybody else. What she failed to see, or perhaps ignore in a gesture of “colorblindness” wrapped in the First Amendment, is that I am not like everybody else who walks in the shadow of that flag. I am from “away;” my hair is coarse; my skin is dark brown. I am a black man in Maine. In so many ways, I am not like everybody else around here. But I want to belong here. In so many ways, that flag represents the denial of my rights, my belonging.
It is impossible for me to blend in, to hide my black body, to “not let it get to me.” I don’t have the privilege of hiding from history. Because I am conscious, I know what it is; I know its name. It rides in the back of a pick-up truck, it proudly stalks around town like an alpha predator. It clings to me like a nightmare, while it seems like everyone else is walking through a dream. I point at the thing and say “Look!,” and the crowd replies, “Yes, but…”
When I hear “Yes,” I feel heard. When I hear “but,” I become invisible; my life doesn’t matter. It’s this “but—,” this disbelief in the truth of black bodies, this tolerance for something that is ugly and intolerant, that is the terror that “everybody else” allows to walk in their midst: a casual terror that I cannot escape any more than I can escape my own body, my own consciousness. A terror that makes all lives matter less. I struggle to wake up from the nightmare, and the dream that is its mirror image. I struggle to make my life matter, for black lives to matter, so that all lives will matter.
I invite all who are here to listen closely, with hearts and minds open to new ways of understanding. Let us worship together.
INTRODUCTION TO PRELUDE
The song, “Make Them Hear You,” from the musical Ragtime, is a song about justice denied. The story is a symbol of black justice denied at every turn, whether it is burning down the city of Tulsa or denying the American birth of Barack Obama. The theme of America is the systemic denial of dignity to African Americans, the knee on the neck for 400 years. Will we ever listen? Will we ever hear? Now is the time.
PRELUDE “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty Anna Kojovic-Frodl, Piano
KINDLING THE CHALICE FLAME by African-American minister, Rev. Rebekah Savage
We light our flaming chalice as a beloved people
united in love
and thirsting for restorative justice.
May it melt away the tethers that uphold whiteness in
May it spark in us a spirit of humility.
May it ignite in us radical love that transforms our
energy into purposeful action. This is a chalice of audacious hope.
This chalice shines a light on our shared past,
signaling our intention to listen deeply, reflect wisely,
and move boldly toward our highest ideals.
HYMN “There is More Love Somewhere” Sung by the First UU Brooklyn Choir
GESTURE OF FRIENDSHIP
MESSAGE FOR ALL AGES “The Undefeated” by Kwame Alexander, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
REFLECTION 1 “Listen. Here. Now” by Roseann Mason
Listen. Here. Now. Listen here now. Stories of injustice have been told over and over and over. How do we listen to those stories? How do we hear them? How do we feel when we hear those stories? How are we connected to those stories?
The UUA has asked congregations to engage in a study of its report on Institutional Change called Widening the Circle of Concern as a way to learn how to discover our connections to these stories of injustice that have been told over and over and over. A small group of us has been going through this study to assess how we at OBUUC can become better listeners, how we can make better connections, how we can become the Beloved Community.
Sometimes, when we think we are listening, we are distracted by thinking of how we are going to respond to what is being said. We might feel sympathetic. We might get defensive. We might make excuses. We might feel helpless. We might feel hopeless.
Or, we might try deep listening. We might take a deep breath to give space to someone’s story. We might look someone in the eye to show that we are not only listening to their story but hearing their story. We might be silent. The words listen and silent have the same letters. To truly listen, we must be silent. It’s like holding a bowl, leaving a space for the story to unfold in a safe space, a trusting space. It’s a sacred responsibility to listen and a sacred trust to hear someone’s story.
The song we heard “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime ends by saying, “When they hear you, I’ll be near you.” It is a plea to us who are willing to listen and to hear to go on the journey of transformative justice with those brave enough and trusting enough to tell us their stories.
However, there are other stories to be told if we are to achieve transformative justice. It might be said it’s the other side of the coin. Over the years, the UUA has moved from talking about racial bias to racism to white supremacy culture. When we hear all those painful stories of racism, white supremacy culture is the root cause. That is where our stories come into the picture.
In her book Emergent Strategy, Adrienne Maree Brown says that the first step to transformative justice is to acknowledge the reality of harm. That might be a more difficult task for us to consider. How does our NOT listening create harm? How do our assumptions damage dreams? How does our white privilege damage community?
Think of a time when you may have caused harm. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it when we do. The person to whom we caused harm may not have the courage to tell us we’ve caused harm or believe it would make a difference. And if the person were to have the courage to speak, we might say we did not intend to harm. So we must know that we are responsible not for the intentions of our words and deeds but for their impact. We must own our harm. That is really, really difficult. It takes courage. It takes humility. It is hard work. It is heart work. And it is necessary if we are to become the Beloved Community.
Adrienne Maree Brown also talks about radical honesty. When we hear those stories of injustice, we must ask ourselves honestly, yet with kindness and compassion, what role we play in those stories. How are we complicit in the injustice? Until we examine and tell the radical truth about our connection to the injustice, there will be no transformative justice, no Beloved Community. Adrienne Maree Brown also tells us that: “Liberated relationships are one of the ways we actually create abundant justice, the understanding that there is enough attention, care, resource, and connection for all of us to access belonging, to be in our dignity, and to be safe in community.”
Going forward, let us at OBUUC make a space to tell our stories of privilege, of assumption, of harm, with radical honesty and courage as a first step to repairing the harm of injustice. As a way to hold us accountable the UUA is proposing the eighth principle which you will hear more about in Suzanne’s reflection. It will guide us as a congregation to challenge ourselves in a deeper way so we can Widen Our Circle of Concern.
So what is your story? We invite you to “Go out and tell your story.” We are ready to listen, hear, now.
brown, adrienne maree. Emergent Strategy. AK Press: Chico, California, 2017.
CENTERING WORDS from “Privilege” by Shaun Ranft
As a white man, Shaun Ranft, has been reflecting on the recent protests and he asks other white people to do the same.
being able to say
all lives matter
while living out your day,
while being without fear.
while breathing without care
as another struggles for air.
those. three. words.
just a vicious reaction
to those who simply want
to be treated as human.
being able to wake up
without constant dread in the back of your head.
being able to write this
without ever knowing how dangerous it is
just to breathe; just to be.
isn’t an excuse for
isn’t an excuse for
being able to choose
to do nothing.
but yet, you tell yourself
those. three. words.
all lives matter…
because you don’t have to care.
because you don’t have to fear.
they serve as a blanket,
shielding you from the grim reality
that dares to alter your ideals.
disingenuous at best,
irreparably harmful at worst.
we see the faces,
we hear the voices,
but we choose silence
because it soothes.
and it’s long past time
to convert comfort
being able to decide
that you don’t have to decide.
and that’s power you can’t buy.
TIME OF STILLNESS AND REFLECTION
REFLECTION 2 “A Case for the 8th Principle” Suzanne Landis
The lyrics to our prelude, which were sung by a black man in the musical “Ragtime,” include the words: “Go out and tell our story, let it echo far and wide, make them hear you, make them hear you. How justice was our battle and how justice was denied. Make them hear you. Make them hear you.” The question is: Have we heard? And if we, indeed, have, what has been our response? And is that enough today, at this point in history, when racism and white supremacy and hatred have grown significantly, especially over the past few years?
Seven of us at OBUUC have just completed the initial study of “Widening the Circle of Concern,” a document put together by the UUA Commission on Institutional Change that was appointed in 2017 and given the charge to “conduct an audit of the power structures and analyze systemic racism and white supremacy culture within the Unitarian Universalist Association.” One of the guidelines was a charge to “center the voices that have been silenced or drowned out . . .” Their first effort was to put out a call to UU’s who are black, indigenous, and people of color for testimony. Many responded and were willing to tell their stories of exclusion and oppression. There were also those who didn’t want to respond, because they had already told their stories over and over again, reliving their pain and their traumatic experiences, and then, after an initial response, they saw little change. Some actually referred to sharing those stories as “trauma porn,” where people of color experienced deep and painful emotions in the telling, “but still the denomination failed to act in any systematic way” upon the hearing. Some religious professionals of color were reluctant to share because they were afraid of losing their jobs, as were some who considered themselves white allies. The commission had to create avatars, stories that would represent the themes coming out of oppressive experiences so often repeated, so they could lift up those themes without endangering the livelihoods of the individuals who spoke about them. The study said: “The vast majority of people of color and others from identities marginalized within UU had experienced discriminatory and oppressive incidents or cultures within UU circles.” And many of those experiences were shared. There were “more than 80 hours of audio and video recordings and more than 650 pages of documents from more than 1,100 participants” on which to base their final report, called “Widening the Circle of Concern.” The stories of those previously silenced voices are woven throughout its pages.
So how does this bring us to the 8th Principle? Bruce Pollack-Johnson, who is co-leading the 8th Principle Learning Community, along with Paula Cole-Jones, said in a video available on the uua.org website, that “the report of ‘Widening the Circle of Concern’ is our curriculum and the 8th Principle is our commitment to that . . . we’ve had aspects of knowing what we needed to do with GA resolutions and things, but we’ve never really made that commitment in a way that was visible to all of us and that we held ourselves accountable to.” He goes on to say that “Widening the Circle of Concern” and the 8th Principle are very powerful together as our denomination seeks to move ahead with dismantling white supremacy culture. You will hear more about opportunities to take part in a study of “Widening the Circle of Concern” in the coming weeks and months, but for now we will be focusing on learning about the 8th Principle. I will begin by reading the proposed principle for you now:
“We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant 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 first question people seem to ask when they read it is: Don’t the seven principles already in place cover doing anti-racism and anti-oppression work? I did an interesting search about the evolution of our seven principles and found that they did not exist in their present form until 1985. Before that time, though most of the ideas found in the current principles could be gleaned from previous ones, the 7th principle, about “the interdependent web of existence,” was entirely new, and was added because we had arrived at a new level of clarity about the environment and global climate change, and our very dynamic UU principles allowed us to acknowledge an issue of urgent importance for our denomination and for our work in the world. And, indeed, that 7th principle has been fleshed out over the years, resulting in the Green Sanctuary program and ongoing important work by the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth (UUMFE).
But back to the original question: Don’t the seven principles already in place cover doing anti-racism and anti-oppression work? It is worth taking a closer look. Our first principle says that “we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” The second talks about “justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” The third calls for acceptance of one another” and the sixth seeks “peace, liberty and justice for all.” Is there enough in these four principles to cover dismantling racism and white supremacy? And haven’t we, as UU’s, been doing this work all along? We do define ourselves as a justice-centered denomination, and we have done work in the area of racial justice over the years, including much during the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps many of us can recall that a UU minister and activist named James Reeb was murdered on March 11, 1965 in Selma, Alabama, as he marched for equal rights for blacks, along with other UU’s. We passed a resolution in 1997 at GA to become an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression Multi-Cultural Organization, though the funding for that effort waned in the 2000’s. In a document about the need for the 8th Principle, it says that “UU funding and focus in the last decade shifted toward . . . diversity rather than deep multicultural Beloved Community and structural changes.” The UUA itself has gone through several crises involving racism in our history, including one more recently that had to do with blatant non-inclusive hiring practices that resulted in the UUA president resigning, and which was a wake-up call to begin taking a much-needed look at who we are, what we need to change, and who we want to be as a denomination going forward. In response to the most recent crisis, two organizations of color, The Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, or BLUU and Diverse & Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries, or DRUUM, have both endorsed adopting the 8th Principle as a part of our ongoing work.
So why do a growing number of UU’s see the need for an 8th Principle? Because there comes a time when it is important to finally spell things out with absolute honesty, with crystal clarity, with radical words like “accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions, in ourselves and our institutions.” Many believe that the time is now, in a nation whose original sin is the racism and oppression that came out of chattel slavery; a nation whose history is scarred by the violence and the genocide against native people; a nation that continues to turn a blind eye to the ongoing discrimination, violence and systemic oppression toward black people, indigenous people and people of color; a nation that chooses to totally ignore the ongoing murder of black transgender women; a nation in which Asian-Americans are being targeted for violence and even death.
Black singer and activist, Whitney Parnell, says that after seeing incidences like the multiple killing of blacks by police or the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally, in which she took part as an ally for racial justice, she keeps hearing people claim that “this is not who we are.” She has openly called such words “dangerous and historically inaccurate,” and she has received much pushback for saying so. She says that she is not disrespecting our nation, as she has been accused of doing, but she is holding up the reality that “effective efforts to end racism will mean disrupting an entire societal oppressive system that seeps through every ceiling crack, from under every door, and through every wall. It will take diligent work, unwavering commitment and visible allies.” It is seeping through those cracks daily, in myriad ways. We can see it in the 250 bills in 43 states designed to suppress the black vote, the vote which helped to carry our last election. It is coming in under the doors in the form of blacks still being excessively targeted or killed by police, or in the case of Breonna Taylor, coming through her very real front door and killing her in her own bed. It is coming through every wall, everywhere, and even the walls of a royal palace, where there was concern over what the skin color of a royal baby might be, and taking him off the list of ever having any standing in the royal family, or any protection. Because of the color of his skin. There is open and continuing discrimination and oppression in every area of our culture against black people, Indigenous people and people of color; in education, in housing, in finance, and in healthcare, where far more black, latinx and indigenous people are dying of covid than whites, and who are finding it harder to get vaccines; in political ideologies, in corporate culture and in just being able to walk down the street, have a picnic in a park, drive a car, or even enter your own house as a non-white, safely.
The 8th Principle, unlike the others, intentionally and specifically names what is at issue, racism and oppression, and asks us to accountably do something about it. The 7th Principle was added in 1985, because we had arrived at a new level of clarity about the environment and global climate change and it was important to add that truth to what we believe, and more importantly, to who we are. We are now at a place, in 2021, where there is an urgent need for action, where the ugliness of racism and white supremacy has finally caused us, if it hasn’t before, to hear the voices of black, indigenous and people of color in a new way, and where an honest conversation is needed to consider the importance of adding this specific, intentional and urgent truth to the principles that spell out who we are as UU’s.
The 8th principle is not only a broad challenge to dismantle white supremacy in any way that we possibly can. It is also a challenge to define our own Beloved Community as one that will truly include all people, one where we will work intentionally to decenter whiteness and bring those previously silenced voices to the forefront in all areas of our church and community life, and where we will seek guidance about how we, as white allies, can work most meaningfully to bring about systemic change. The 8th Principle says that we can only truly move toward authentic Beloved Community “by our actions to accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions,” a clear and powerful statement and charge to us all.
And these are more than just words. They are a covenant, a promise, a commitment from the heart, that each one of us must make, not only to do the work in our church and in the greater community, but in ourselves as well. As Roseann said, we need to have the courage to tell our stories of privilege, of the assumptions we have made and lived by, and of the harm we might have done, as well. We can ask ourselves: Where were we before this time in regard to racism and white privilege, the sea in which we have all been swimming since our birth? How have we grown to where we find ourselves right now? And how will we continue that growth, so that we can truly begin to make a difference in the structures that continue to promote, uphold and support white supremacy in this country? We UU’s are, after all, a people of justice and of love. Rev. McKinley Sims, whose church was the first to adopt the 8th Principle, said, but “Love isn’t always safe and comfy . . . it calls us into spaces of discomfort . . . to be rebels” in times like this. It summons us to be UU’s of courage, who choose to embark upon meaningful change in our attitudes, our priorities and our commitment to needed anti-racism and anti-oppression work.
We will be talking in the coming weeks about making this promise, this covenant found in the 8th Principle, and about the importance of looking at our own lives and our denominational and local church structures in order to clear the way for doing the crucial work of accountably dismantling racism and oppression wherever it is found. Ministers from some UU churches who have adopted the 8th Principle have talked about the incredible difference it has made to every facet of their congregational life. One of those ministers, the Rev. Dr. Robin Tanner, says “there is a theological deepening, there is a “there, there” theologically, and we need to talk more about the joy and the healing that is possible. Those churches invite us to share in that work, in the sometimes discomfort, in the joy, in the healing, by first centering “the voices that have too often been silenced or drowned out,” and then by listening to those voices carefully, so that we might learn how we can most effectively engage in the kind of solidarity that will lead to the dismantling of an oppressive and racist system that has been in place for far too long. May it be so. Amen.
Widening the Circle of Concern: Report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change Unitarian Universalist Association: Boston, 2020
Video: “Ministry and the 8th Principle,” from The 8th Principle Leader Lab, the words of Bruce Pollack-Johnson, co-leader of the 8th Principle Learning Community, the Rev. McKinley Sims and the Rev. Dr. Robin Tanner.
Sojourners, September 1, 2017: “To Our White Friends: Empathy is Not Enough” by Whitney Parnell
MUSICAL RESPONSE “The Talk” by Whitney Parnell
QUESTION: To my white friends: Was there ever a time when you felt compelled to give “the talk” to your sons or your daughters? . . . We do, indeed, have much work to do.
OFFERING The Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church is a community of generosity and abundance. Especially now, in this challenging and anxious time, your generosity is what keeps this community as vital as it is.
Each month we share the generosity of our collection with a local partner. This month’s partner is Racine Friendship Clubhouse, Inc.
Last week we saw a very informative video about the work that they do. As a review, their website says: The Racine Friendship Clubhouse, Inc. has been empowering adults living with mental illness in the Racine community for 25 years. It is one of over 300 clubhouses worldwide modeled on the Clubhouse Rehabilitation Model and is one of only five clubhouses in Wisconsin. The program is centered around the “work-ordered day” which allows us to provide an environment much like one would find in a typical workplace. The clubhouse model is based on the belief that our members are partners in their own recovery, rather than merely the passive recipients of treatment, and that meaningful work and relationships are integral parts of their recovery.
OFFERTORY SPECIAL MUSIC UU the Vote: “We Shall be Known” by the “How We Thrive” Virtual Choir
BENEDICTION Sojourners “To Our White Friends: Empathy is Not Enough” by Whitney Parnell
As we prepare to extinguish the chalice flame, I offer you these words, written by black millennial activist, singer and founder of Service Never Sleeps. Whitney Parnell. She says:
“Love must win, and that requires dedication from allies who are willing to continue fighting for that outcome. It makes all the difference in the world when I know that a white colleague not only acknowledges the pain of communities of color, but also commits to standing up for efforts to end it. We need to see those numbers. We need to see your solidarity. Please step out of the crowds and show yourselves.
Our chalice flame extinguished, let us now go forth, committing ourselves actively and accountably to the work of dismantling racism and other oppressions, both in ourselves and in the structures of our institutions.
POSTLUDE “We Shall Overcome: Love Will Rise Again” by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod, Empty Hands Music