Open Letter to Black Lives of Unitarian Universalists

Response to BLUU Statement Regarding UU Response to Recent Killings

As members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland and the UUCF Dismantling Racism Team, we support the demands spelled out in the Statement. We specifically wish to lift up the request to “not equate the system-wide killing of Black people by police with the killing of police by people unaffiliated with the Movement for Black Lives. Doing so makes life more dangerous for Black people who are already at great risk.” This is a critical point, which must be emphasized. However, it seems to be equally important for Movement representatives to avoid painting UU congregations and ministers as having “unquestioned alliance with law enforcement,” which equates Whites with “purveyors of state-sanctioned Black death and Black pain whom we protest.” Police are often part of a systematically racist society and the problem is that they reflect what undergirds that system. Two changes are needed: the “undergirding” and policing.

When our Dismantling Racism Team was formed, we agreed to contact our local City of Frederick Police Department and make an appointment with the Chief to discuss how the Chief views what is known as “community policing” and his approach to law enforcement in minority neighborhoods. We deliberately chose not to start the dialogue with a protest against the police (which is what the BLM was calling for), but to first discern what is so about police-community relationships. We found that – contrary to expectation – the City of Frederick is one of a handful of communities nationwide that is experiencing some success with peaceful and supportive community-police relations. (See http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36797980 )

In the publication, Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2015), we find a clear call for dismantling the “undergirding” of systems of oppression and injustice (adapted from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [Number 149]):

“This is where we are.
Where do we go from here?
First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth.
We must stand up amidst a system that still oppresses
and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values . . .
What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive
and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice,
and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
And this is what we must see as we move on.”

Unfortunately, UUA President, Peter Morales, is not convinced that Unitarian Universalists have reached the requisite level of understanding and commitment, specifically to antiracism, antioppression, multicultural work. In his “Hand in Hand” column in the Fall 2016 issue of UU World, Dr. Morales writes:

“[At GA 2016] I heard a number of people . . . express the feeling that we had reached a new level of understanding and commitment. Clearly we are involving a new generation of UU activists. A new level of hope is palpable. [But] . . . my hope is tempered . . . [W]e tend to confuse catharsis with progress. . . . I desperately don’t want this GA to join the list of frustrating disappointments…

“I worry that we will lose steam. I worry that we will fall victim to the progressive habit of declaring victory too early. This will be a long, long struggle. Fear and ignorance abound and are deep-seated. People are still dying. We need to be relentless. We need to nurture work at the grass-roots. We on the UUA staff must partner rather than impose our views.

“Catharsis is not progress. But we have made an important beginning. We have a historic opportunity. Let’s not blow it.”

This is an extraordinary and prophetic example of leadership; a necessary caution to privileged Whites, who may be dismayed and defensive about the fact that “many Black UUs are not finding resonance in their local congregations.” Indeed, not only is resonance lacking, but “indifference and an inability to identify with Black people’s pain,” can go so far as to be perceived as“the unquestioned alliance of UU congregations and ministers with law enforcement . . .” to the detriment of Black lives.

While we the undersigned consider ourselves to be White allies with the Black Lives Matter Movement, we cannot speak for the Dismantling Racism Team as a whole, nor for the entire UU Congregation of Frederick. It is up to those of us who do ally with the Movement to work to change White hearts & minds (including sometimes recalcitrant community members, as well as police leadership).
Mary Bowman-Kruhm
Rev. M. Michael Morse
Sea Raven, D.Min.

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