For the benefit of the non-Unitarian Universalist portion of my core readership (which by my count hovers at between 50 to 100% of the whole -- depending on whether my sister is checking her email), I should explain that I have spent the last week at the annual "General Assembly" of UUs, which meets in a different convention center each year around the country, is crawling with progressives of all stripes, and this year was proud to host Rev. William Barber II, the guiding spirit behind the "Moral Mondays" movement in North Carolina, who led a workshop and public witness event, and who is well worth listening to if you ever get a chance.
I trust, as usual, that the views expressed herein will not come as an inordinate surprise to the readers of this blog.
It was an incongruous experience this past week to be surrounded by so many people who share our values at General Assembly in Columbus, and yet to be living through a time when those values seem so much under threat in the world. We arrive at the end of a year that has brought with it many causes for sorrow – the global refugee crisis, terrorism, war, mass shootings, homophobia, Islamophobia – and many of us were really feeling the need for a spot of good news. It didn’t come – not last week, at least.Since mid-April, many of us have been wondering whether the Supreme Court would decide in favor of two executive programs that would have provided limited relief to undocumented people. On June 23rd, they decided against them. As a result, 5 million immigrants and their families have been returned to the daily fear of deportation and family separation. The only thing that could make this day worse is if Britain votes to leave the EU, I thought at the time. It did. While this so-called “Brexit” means many things – increasing economic uncertainty, the loss of EU protections for British workers – I am most disturbed by the climate of xenophobia and scapegoating that undergirded the “Leave” campaign. All year long, we have been wondering whether wealthy countries would manage to pull together to fulfill their moral obligations to refugees (many of whom are fleeing conflicts that the Western powers themselves helped to create or fuel). And on June 23rd, the U.K. effectively washed its hands of responsibility in this regard. How many other countries will follow suit?Then there were events at G.A. itself. Many of us were disappointed by the results of a vote on a business resolution to reinforce the UUA’s divestment from companies who are complicit in human rights abuses in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The silver lining here is that by the time it came up for a vote, the UUA had already withdrawn investment from these companies, following the proposal’s lead. However, it is my personal opinion that by voting the way we did, we missed out on an important opportunity to reaffirm this divestment and make a strong collective statement against human rights abuses associated with the occupation.Then too, we learned that in the midst of Pride month, and a bare two weeks after the ghastly shooting in Orlando, members of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) had decided to descend on Columbus with a message of homophobic hatred -- targeting both the local gay community and all of us as members of a welcoming denomination.One can feel so lonely at such times, even when one is surrounded by other caring people. I was in a pretty gloomy state. But then, on my way to the plenary hall, I ran into a woman who looked confused about where she was supposed to be. “I’m not a UU,” she said, “I’m just trying to find the counter-protest.” She held a sign with a message of peace and love. It turned out that she had driven in from out of town, without any prior connection to UUism or to Columbus, just to stand in solidarity with us and with the LGBT+ community in the face of WBC’s hatred.It was a reminder to me that the problems of the world are complex, but the good things in life – hope, compassion, love – are simple. This gives them an advantage that is not always visible at times of great set-backs, but that ultimately conspires to ensure their victory. As Rev. Barber reminded us, in his talk at GA, “Prophets will always win. If they are not victorious today, then they merely sow the seeds for victory tomorrow.” I am reminded too of what the British poet A.H. Clough (a Unitarian... -ish) once wrote: “If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars; […] In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,/ But westward, look, the land is bright.”