Unitarian Universalism recognizes each individual life as part of an intricate web of existence. The practice of contemplating how and why that web might have come to be is considered secondary to our obligation to strengthen it.
Justice exists when each strand is equally rooted to those around it, imparting beauty and purpose to the whole. Furthering this metaphor, justice-work (activism) is a matter of tending simultaneously to the individual strands (local level) and to the web itself (global level).
Our embedded-ness within the web means that we are never alone in this work; that each person’s efforts make a difference! The fact of our embedded-ness is inextricably linked with our responsibility and empowerment to participate in healing that, which is broken.
Recognizing and responding to this dynamic is at the heart of Unitarian Universalist spirituality and identity. It is also an essential component of many of the world’s wisdom traditions, whose prophets draw attention to changes needed in order to be in alignment with God’s will.
Religious communities have long been recognized as having an important role in Justice-making through: social service (charity), social education (consciousness raising), social witness (speaking “truth to power”), and social action (organized efforts on behalf of institutional/policy change).
While all are important, Unitarian Universalist activist Richard Gilbert calls social witness the “prophetic imperative” to which our religious communities are called and are uniquely suited. Religious communities provide not only the moral framework, but also the organizational framework through which individuals can meaningfully impact the shape and texture of life as a whole.
The diversity within our congregations (theologically, politically, economically, age-based, etc.) means that finding causes around which to rally as a community, in a unified fashion, might be challenging. But it is essential to share a commitment to the prophetic imperative, lifting up each person’s ability to contribute meaningfully, and regularly providing opportunities to do so.
One way to do this is to openly and regularly celebrate how members manifest their moral convictions outside of congregational life. It is greatly encouraging for people to discover shared passions, such as for economic justice, environmental responsibility, and marriage equality – and to hear about different ways folks are already involved. Among other things, this affirms the fact that there are many different ways to contribute, large and small, public and private, short-term, long-term. There’s no one way to be an activist.
Another way to get folks connected with the prophetic imperative and their own ability to make a difference is by making use of resources and organizational structures that are already in place or are currently forming (for example, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, and the newly formed Southern California Justice Team). Connecting with and supporting these organizations, which are grounded in Unitarian Universalist values, means individual congregations don’t have to “reinvent the wheel”.
Likewise, it helps to build relationships with other local congregations, whether they be Unitarian Universalist (for example, with the five congregations in the San Fernando Valley Cluster) or of another faith tradition. In either case there is so much to be gained!