I am pleased to welcome as a guest to this blog, Rabbi Rob Cabelli, who, incidentally, will also be in our pulpit March 18. If you are not yet aware of the ongoing discussion regarding Buncombe County Board of Education Policy 652AR and Policy 653, Rabbi Cabelli shares his thoughts. I plan to attend the next BoE meeting on April 12 and stand in support of this important community issue. The letter is entirely written by Rabbi Cabelli, the bold sections are my emphasis.
I know that all of you strive in your lives to further the cause of justice, of encouraging others directly and through the example you present to truly appreciate the value of every human being, every sacred life. I know that you all “walk the talk.” We have all lived through the on-going waves of “liberation” movements in America, movements whose eternal goal is to broaden and deepen the concept of liberty so as to make freedom a right and reality for all, rather than a privilege for some. Racial equality, women’s rights, and equality for our GLBT brothers and sisters are all aspects of human rights, and we have all participated in and remain engaged in that seemingly never-ending struggle.
Equally important – and perhaps the other side of the same coin – in this struggle, is the challenge of tyranny, of what we might call the imposition of beliefs and practices by one on another. In fact, the tyranny of belief underlies or is often used to justify the taking away of civil rights on the grounds of race or gender. But perhaps you thought that tyranny on the basis of faith, religion or spiritual beliefs, at least, was no longer an issue, 220 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights with its explicit first amendment rights. Think again.
The foremost challenge that we, as members of the collective human race, face in the world for the foreseeable future, is conflict driven by those who feel compelled to impose on others their visions of life and their ideologies and beliefs. War on the basis of religion and belief is a mantra for millions, and probably billions around the globe. A virtual religious war is consuming our attentions in the 2012 Presidential elections. We are struggling with the challenge of change, as previously homogenous societies experience a multi-cultural reality, and all the old shibboleths, all the assumptions that in reality contradict the theory of American Liberty, are now challenged. We cannot remain on the sideline. However well-intentioned the prosyletizing and fundamentalist zealot may be in his or her notion of concern for others, there is a very basic contradiction between the claim of liberty for all and the imposition of one’s beliefs and practices on others. We all know the truth about “freedom”: if your freedom limits my freedom, or mine limits yours, then together we are not free. Freedom is a negotiation, a reciprocation of respect, illuminated by empathy, self-restraint, and just law.
Our schools represent our greatest challenge and greatest glory in this realm of balance and freedom. Our public schools represent our nation’s values and, as such, the imperative placed up the protection of our rights. They can be a sanctuary, a place of safety, in which education in the ways of a complex world takes place, nurturing the growth of the human spirit, intellect, and body, or they can be a zone of quiet terror and discontent. I grew up as the only student openly practicing my non-Christian faith in a high school of 2000 students. The dedication of my teachers and school administrators, from first grade on, to creating a space in which we would all be free of coercion or bullying on the basis of religion, in which we could learn about each others’ faiths with respect, still amazes me to this day. Of course, I grew up in Rhode Island, which, regardless of anything else, then celebrated its founder, Roger Williams, as the father of religious freedom in America.
But we live in a country in which the idea that the faith of a majority or a vocal minority and its beliefs and practices can and should be imposed on others is, despite the gains of the various human rights struggles of the 20th century, now gaining more, not less, currency. Perhaps this comes, as many have suggested, as a reaction to the threat of change to the established order and its ways, the instinctive reaction of those who feel backed against a wall by a new incomprehensible world. This is true in parts of the country, including our own, in which multiculturalism is being felt like a sudden shock to the system, as well as in places where we might have thought the issue was long since put to rest. The balance between freedom to practice one’s religion and freedom from the imposition of religion by others has always been a necessary challenge in a democratic, multicultural society. The twin clauses of the First Amendment were intended to create a zone of neutrality, with protection for all, in the public space, allowing complete freedom of religious expression to flourish in the only space in which it truly can for all: in private.
Even as we go about our other tasks, our other visions of ways to make this world a better, fairer and more just place, please, I beg you, understand that we have a duty and obligation before us, that we dare not let go of, assuming the battle already won. There are a great, great many human beings, people of dignity and good-will, who feel very much threatened by multi-culturalism, who are conditioned to view our schools and our freedom through a lens that almost unknowingly disregards the rights and humanity of those who differ from their own particular view of what is normal. We must speak out. We must try every means at our disposal to speak on behalf of equality and freedom for all, and to find ways to engage, to the very best of our ability, in communication with those who struggle to empathize with the stranger, the “other.”
The struggle for equality and civil rights is one struggle, with many different facets.
At the Buncombe County Board of Education monthly meeting on March 1, double the normal space was used, and yet there were people standing in the back and outside the door, because a newly crafted policy on religion on the public schools was on the docket. A very large majority of the crowd present appeared to be in fervent opposition to a policy that sought to do nothing more than express the legally bound separation of church and state, balancing freedom of religion with freedom from the imposition of religion, embedded in our nation’s constitution.
A small group of us were vocal in the public comment phase of the proceedings, but some of the language and themes presented by others were extremely disturbing. The vote by the Board was delayed yet another month, due to changes in the draft of the policy since its first presentation. We know that the pressure on the members of the Board is severe, including personally directed threats to the re-election of board members voiced with anger in the public meeting
The proposed rules, Policy 652AR and Policy 653, establish for the first time that the Buncombe County Schools will operate in compliance with the Federally-mandated Separation of Church and State, that every employee in the entire system will be actively trained in this issue and in the means to achieve neutrality with respect to religion, that there will be an established process for communication between people at every level of the system in identifying difficult situations and making sure that proper assessment and decision-making is carried out, and there will be a clear policy, pursuant to the above, regulating what forms of materials can be brought into classrooms and onto school campuses and buildings.
We support these policies – they may not be perfect, but the vocal opposition to them underscores that their essential thrust is on target. But we know that the pressure on the Board is strong, and we need to be sure that our voices are heard. And, frankly, that means in quantity as well as in quality.
We will be inviting Superintendent Baldwin and Chairman of the Board of Education Rhinehart to address an interfaith group, as the Superintendent did about a month ago. But – unlike a month ago and unlike March 1 – we need your presence. We need you to be present, constructively, in speaking on behalf of our values and the values of those who look to us for leadership. And we need you to be engaged in communication, to every extent possible, with those who take a different view on this subject of religious freedom.
In a very real way, this is the first official attempt to directly face the issue of First Amendments religious rights in this place in which we live and call home. It comes at a time when the underlying issues are of renewed and critical importance to our country and the future of the world. It is, at its core, the same issue as those civil rights issues for which we all struggle.
Please be with us, when this meeting time is announced, and again next month, when the Board meets again, on April 12.
Exciting news on the General Assembly front!
The Executive Team of the Social Justice Council has pledged to fund TWO youth registrations and TWO adult registrations for members of our congregation to attend the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in June.
A generous Anonymous Donor has pledged $1500.00 in matching funds to assist with travel and lodging for members of our congregation.
A Scholarship Task force is being convened to field requests for funds. Stay tuned for more information.
BUT FIRST, we need to know how much there is to disburse! If you are interested in donating to raise the funds to match our generous donation, contact Rev. Lisa Bovee Kemper or send a check payable to UUCA; memo line “GA Scholarship” to the church.
As we can all see, immigration is a controversial and complex issue, and there is no single easy solution for it. But we are convinced that the problems with our immigration policy can be solved, and a solution can be found that is better for everyone. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly this year is focused on immigration reform, presenting a way for us to get involved with the issue. What will your role be in creating a new story?
These were the closing words from yesterday’s YRUU service, an exploration of some of the many sides of the immigration issue in the United States. The service was engaging and thoughtful, and I am grateful to the youth for all of their hard work in putting together an inspiring and thought-provoking worship experience.
You may have heard already about this year’s General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ. If not, you can find more information here. As we prepare to send members of this congregation to Phoenix, we have a great opportunity to explore ways our congregation might get involved in supporting immigrants in our community.
Some of you have already approached me with ideas for things we could do here in Asheville — and I’m interested to hear more. Please leave your comments here on the blog, or send me an email (email@example.com) if you are interested in this issue.
Stay tuned for opportunities to contribute to or benefit from scholarship assistance for this year’s General Assembly.
You may have heard the following quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” You may also know that King was quoting 19th century Unitarian Theodore Parker. Or at least that’s what I used to think. It turns out that he was paraphrasing Parker, not quoting him.
Parker spoke the following words in 1853, three years after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act—which he would later openly defy. He was deeply ensconced in the abolitionist movement. He said, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” I have always loved King’s words, but I find a different depth of meaning and nuance in Parker’s version.
They both suggest that we must have faith—we must trust that although we cannot see the complete picture, we can see enough to believe that the trend is to the good. It’s not an easy thing to see sometimes. And yet, we trust that arc! King said it a different way, the night before he was killed, “I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary, a martyr and a standard bearer for the American Civil Rights movement. His rousing speeches and rhetoric continue to inspire generations of the world’s citizens. We honor his memory today, and we carry forward his vision of a better world. But King did not work alone. Countless people, some who heard his message, and some who came before his time—held the hope of a better world and dedicated their lives to working for justice.
Countless people, like Unitarian writer, suffragist and pacifist Mary White Ovington, who was inspired by Frederick Douglass and went on to co-found the NAACP.
Countless people, like Unitarian novelist and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, who believed that women’s rights and the abolition of slavery were linked and dedicated her life to both causes.
Countless people, like Fairfax Unitarian Universalist lawyer and school board member Bill Perlik, who fought tirelessly for the desegregation of Fairfax County schools, which was finally achieved in 1960.
And there are so many more people, named and unnamed, who populate the historical record of that “moral arc.” Countless people, some in this very room, perhaps, who have contributed to the common good, or who will grow up to be a new visionary leader.
How are you working to bend the arc?
Who will be the next visionary leader?
One of the goals of this blog is to include reflections from within the congregation on how your Unitarian Universalist faith and values inform your work for social justice. If you are interested in contributing, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the following post, UUCA member Dane Barrager talks about his experience with taking action as a Unitarian Universalist:
My wife, Cyn, and I had a very meaningful exposure to the value of working for social justice in January, 2009. It taught us that a few dedicated people can make a difference, even on a national basis.
We had worked on the Obama campaign through the summer and fall in 2008, along with many other Unitarian Universalists, so we felt we had made a contribution to social justice by helping to elect the first black president in American history. North Carolina was considered one of the battleground states where the election would be decided. Obama made two trips to Asheville during the election, and Cyn and I were at the Grove Park Inn when he came to speak there impromptu.
In fact, Asheville was particularly important in that campaign. North Carolina is not historically a very liberal state, but the night of the election we joined about a thousand supporters at the Renaissance hotel in West Asheville. It was getting late in the evening, and it appeared that Obama was going to lose North Carolina, but Buncombe County still had not reported in due to some problems at the polls.
It was neck and neck, and as each county reported in, it still looked like we were going to lose. Obama was down about 3,000 votes overall in the state. When Buncombe county finally reported in, we voted for Obama by an excess of 17,000 votes, so Buncombe county actually swung the state of North Carolina in Obama’s favor!
This was an historic win for North Carolina, but it really hit home a couple of months later at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, which is held every year at the Grove Park Inn in January. It was in the same ballroom where we had seen Obama during the campaign, so were pretty fired up about our success.
Many UUers attend this breakfast to show solidarity with racial justice. This particular breakfast was especially meaningful, however. Obama had just been inaugurated a few days previously, and the Reverend Ward gave the benediction. Terrie Bellamy, Asheville’s first female Black mayor presided.
There was a feeling of euphoria in the air at this breakfast because we all felt we had made progress toward social justice: we fought for what we believed in, and here was proof that we could succeed.
A very happy new year to all! Just wanted to make a little update to the schedule for the Virtual Book Group… We will begin with the Preface and Chapters 1 & 2, with our first discussion posted on January 19. This will give those of you who have not had a chance to purchase your books (available for pick up–please call or email first–from my office during the week, or on Sundays between now and then) to do so, and also make sure we all have a chance to read before the discussion begins.
I’m getting excited, are you?!
Beginning in January, you are invited and encouraged to join in an exciting new opportunity—A virtual book group. Assistant Minister Rev. Lisa Bovee Kemper will lead this “no real-time attendance necessary” discussion centering on the book, The Prophetic Imperative by Richard S. Gilbert. This is an important part of our congregational conversation about who we are and how we work for justice as a community.
From the Preface:
This is not a how-to-save-the-world book, but a challenge to mind and conscience in the context of a church community. We have perhaps learned that true self-actualization, salvation and fulfillment have to do with both personal meaning and social responsibility. We are in the process of learning that church social action is not a small band of marginal activists in the church decrying church inaction or seeking to represent the whole church. Rather, it is a congregational process of coming to terms with the mission of the religious community in a society that sometimes confuses the separation of church and state with the divorce of religion and public policy.
Here’s how it will work:
Books are available for purchase from Lisa for $18. All discussions will take place here at the UUCA “Shape of Justice” blog, (If you haven’t already, consider clicking on the “Follow” button at the top left hand corner of the screen, and you will receive email notifications whenever there is a new post.)
Each month, Lisa will post discussion questions and personal reflections on the book to the blog and participants will post responses in the comments.
Tentative Sc hedule:
January – Preface, Chapters 1 & 2
February—Chapters 3 & 4
March—Chapters 5 & 6
April—Chapters 7, 8 & 9
I look forward to joining in this exciting book discussion!
Now’s a good time to practice… try posting a comment below!
A few days ago, there was a raid at the Shogun Buffet in Asheville, in which twelve people were arrested by Immigration & Customs Enforcement. The original Citizen Times article is here.
Immigration is a complex issue, full of many social and legal nuances. People in our community and in our congregation do not necessarily hold the same beliefs about what is “right” when it comes to immigration. For better or for worse, it is a new issue for Unitarian Universalists as a whole, and for our congregation as well. By a “new issue” I mean that though we may as individuals support and work with organizations that assist immigrants, we have just recently begun to engage in the conversation about what it means to us as a community. At the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis, “Immigration as a Moral Issue” was voted the 2010-2014 Study Action Issue. This means that we are, across the board, invited and encouraged to study and reflect upon this issue.
I am already in the process of working with representatives from the UU Relations Committee and the Social Justice Council to discuss how the UU Congregation of Asheville will begin engaging in this conversation. It all seems very abstract, until you read the news of this week’s raid, and realize that it isn’t abstract at all, it’s about human beings, right in our backyard, who are bearing a heavy load every day, and for these 12 families, the load just got unbearable, and right in the middle of the winter holidays.
Immigration is not a simple issue, and I do not yet know where we stand as a congregation. I was in Phoenix, AZ in July 2010 with the delegation of UUs protesting SB1070, and I have some reflections on that experience that I will share with you in the months to come. For now, what I know is that the US immigration system is broken, and the immigrant community is suffering. It’s a humanitarian crisis, and it is heartbreaking. The question of how we will respond as a community is a conversation we must engage together.
For now, if you are interested in helping the local families affected by this raid, here is some more information that might be helpful. A Mountain Xpress article here. And information from COLA about the assistance that is needed right now is here.