Religious Terrorism meets Religious Liberalism

This past Sunday, something pretty scary happened at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (First UUNO).  Operation Save America, a fundamentalist anti-abortion organization that is known for descending upon abortion clinics and making life a living hell for anyone coming or going, chose to land in one of our congregations.  Several members of OSA showed up at First UUNO as if there to attend worship, and during the service stood up and began verbally accosting the worshippers and pushing anti-abortion pamphlets into their hands.

I don’t think they were prepared for what followed.  That Sunday, First UUNO was commissioning the College of Social Justice youth leaders who had been gathering all week.  The youth leaders immediately circled in and began singing.  Rev. De Vandiver, a New Orleans-based Community Minister who was leading worship that morning, asked the protesters to please respect the worship space and if they couldn’t, to relocate to the front steps of the church.  As she spoke, church leaders began to carefully guide the protesters towards the front door.  Some protesters respected her request and remained silently behind.  At the same time. Rev. Jim VanderWeele of Community  Church Unitarian Universalist called the police who gathered a block away in case things got violent.  The Director of Religious Education did a sweep of all points of entry, ensured they were locked, and discerned that OSA had indeed surrounded the church.  OSA had identified the rooms where the children met for Religious Education and were pressing disturbing pictures against the windows.  The children were moved to an interior room, with a note left on their classroom doors to inform parents of where they had been moved to.  Back in the sanctuary, Rev. Vandiver preached about how fundamentalism offers only one path of truth, whereas liberal religion recognizes a diversity of paths, and that this offers us a significant way to engage the challenges of our world.  After the service, Rev. Vandiver called Planned Parenthood and within ten minutes escorts arrived at the church to help parishioners return safely to their vehicles.

First, let me say that I’m extremely disturbed that this has happened.  This protest was a violation of our sacred space, and when I say “our” I mean it.  We Unitarian Universalists are in sacred covenantal relationships of mutuality.  When one congregation is violated in this way, we are all violated.

But unfortunately, I’m not surprised.  I have been active in the reproductive justice movement in the United States for the last nine years.  The anti-abortion movement has become increasingly radicalized, willing to use violence to achieve its goals, from intimidating women as they enter clinics to murdering the doctors that serve them.  I’ve stood outside the entrance to Hope Clinic in Granite City IL, allowing anti-abortion protesters to hurl insults at me hoping to deflect some of their venom away from the patients on their way in.  They hate clergy who are pro-choice.  We drive them crazy because we use the same scriptures they do and pray to the same God.   They take pictures of us and our vehicle license plates and post them online.  We get hate letters in the mail.  It’s very intimidating.  But heh, we aren’t the ones trying to get an abortion.  So if just by standing there in a clergy collar, holding a sign that proclaims a love bigger than their hate, we drive the protesters a little crazy? Crazy enough to direct their venom at us?  May it make one woman’s day just a bit easier.

But we don’t take chances either.  We always register with the clinic so they know we’re there, and escorts always take us back to our cars.

This summer, anti-abortionists got a big pass from the Supreme Court to escalate the level of bullying they can legally get away with.  They no longer have to respect the buffer zone that used to keep them away from the entrances of abortion clinics.  This gives anti-abortion protesters the right to get up close and personal.  Just like the protesters who took their place at First UUNO, they can shout their judgments and push their pamphlets into the eyes and hands of women who just need a break, who need some respect and some space to access the health care that they have decided is best for them and their families.

It makes my blood run cold…..

I am incredibly relieved that there was no physical violence or bloodshed at First UUNO.

But let’s reflect a bit about how First UUNO responded.  First, they responded with respect.  No one yelled back at the protesters.  No one pushed back.    The response was non-violent.  This did not mean that the good people at First UUNO simply took it on the chin.  They claimed their sacred space back from those filling it with hateful words and pictures by responding with music.  They claimed it by establishing the expectations for those who wished to occupy it.  They then enforced the expectation by gently and respectfully removing those who refused to meet the expectations they had set.  They also didn’t take any chances.  Doors were locked.  Kids were relocated.  Police were called.  Planned Parenthood was contacted for help.

The ministers, the youth leaders, the Director of Religious Education, and all the good people attending that morning lived into their faith in every action that was taken that morning.  They witnessed to our values of respect and diversity every step of the way.   We can learn a lot from them.

Actually, we have to learn from them because what happened to First UUNO could happen in any of our churches.  I’m not saying we should expect it.  Most of our churches will never face this kind of sacred violation, thank the spirit, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.  In fact, given the increasing legal challenges to reproductive justice, and the fact that many Unitarian Universalist leaders are publicly active in the women’s reproductive justice movement, we need to be ready.  Radical anti-abortionists don’t play fair.  Rev. De Vandiver called it right.  These are religious terrorists.  These are strong words, but let’s call a spade a spade.  By standing up for freedom, for respect, for the true complexity and diversity of life, we could be made targets.  This means we have to have safety procedures in place and practice using them.  It also means becoming skilled in non-violent passive resistance when others would violate us for the purpose of furthering their political goals.  We can turn that violation on its head and proclaim our values, healing values that we believe will usher in true justice and peace.

OSA crossed a big line on Sunday and I think it could turn around and bite them.  Americans have a deep respect for religious freedom and for the sanctity of religious houses of worship.  No matter what you may think about what goes on inside any specific house of worship, violating sacred space is a big deal.   Sunday’s violation is a direct mirror of the kind of violation that religious fundamentalist terrorists would like to enact legally in this country against all women.

New Orleans Unitarian Universalists are now planning a media outreach to respond to what has happened to them, to use this awful experience as a tool to continue changing the hearts of this nation, to show that religious people have diverse ways of being pro-child and pro-family, and that religious liberalism might just be where we see the clearest embodiment of what it means to be, dare I say, pro-life in its truest sense.

Thank you New Orleans Unitarian Universalists for your proud witness.  May the rest of us be worthy of it.

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Moving Physically, Moving Spiritually

Our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition assures us that we are not alone, that we are connected to everything that is, and that in this crazy life, there are no points of no return. You always get another chance to be in right relationship with yourself and others. We don’t promise you paradise. We don’t promise you eternal life, although some Unitarians Universalists believe in that. We don’t promise you a life free of suffering either, because even in suffering, sometimes especially in suffering, there is wisdom and truth. What we do offer, if you are open to it, is a life that is deeper and wider and filled with compassion and understanding, and that means being both very brave and very humble about our human fragility. In that kind of vulnerable honesty lies a great deal of power, power that we can use to make a real difference in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world.

This sermon was delivered to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel on July 13th,  the first Sunday that it met in its new worshipping space at 17815 Wild Horse Creek Rd. Chesterfield MO.


We live in a highly mobile society.  Americans seem to move more than anyone else.   When I moved here from Canada, it seemed like everyone I met had lived in 2,3, 4 or more different states.  It amazed me, and I wondered, “What is that about?”  Is it about the restless American culture?  Is it about a frontier mentality?  Is it just about the size of this country?  Maybe it’s just about the economy.  Probably.  And much more.

1)   How many of you have moved 1-5 times in your life?

2)   How many of you have moved 6-10 times in your life?

3)   How many of you have moved more than 10 times in your life?

I’ve moved 15 times as an adult and spent seven years living between two cities. When you have to be that mobile, you learn how to be ready.   I knew how to descend on a new city with cash in my pocket and find a place to live in a day. I could pack everything I owned into a little compact car in 4 hours and be ready to go. Once I arrived, I’d roll out my bed, get out my blankets and pillows, and hang up my posters, the same posters I had taken down just the day before, and then I was home.

I’m glad I don’t live like that anymore. It became very exhausting. By now it would take me a month and a moving van! But, you learn something about the transitory nature of life, and you learn what stays the same, and what doesn’t, and you learn how to reinvent who you are and how to find your new people, because you always need to find your people.   Living a life on the move means always looking past the horizon to where you hope to land.

Moving is much more than about packing things and unpacking them when you get there. Moving is a state of readiness, and it has its own wisdom that applies whether you’ve lived in the same place for 50 years, or if you’ve just recently unpacked the boxes.

I want to tell you a story about moving, and at first it might not feel like it’s about moving, but it really is about moving.

Back in 1992, Nick Hanauer’s family business sold pillows to retail stores across the country. And it was a pretty successful business. Nick was really good at selling pillows.   But in 1992 he learned about something new that was coming over the horizon.

It was called the internet. In 1992 it was a slow and clunky thing, beloved by geeks, barely understood by anyone else. Nick could see that that once the internet worked out its kinks, and realized its potential, once an ordinary joe could use it and have confidence in it, the way he was running his pillow business would no longer work, because people were going to shop online like no one’ business.   Nick has always been the kind of guy who can see just over the horizon, and he saw that companies like his would have to radically restructure to make it. He probably also saw that many other businessmen and women had their heads in the sand. They just couldn’t imagine doing business any other way than bricks and mortar. He didn’t want to be one of those businessmen who got caught behind the curve ball playing catch up. So, he kept his eye out for an opportunity to step into the game. He wanted to be there, ready to cash in, when things got going.

Then one day he met Jeff Bezos and Jeff Tauber, other businessmen like him that seemed to have the ability to see just over the horizon, and they saw the same thing he did. They were planning for the dot com boom.   Nick told both Jeffs that he was ready to invest. Jeff Tauber never called him back. But Jeff Bezos, the Jeff Bezos who founded Amazon, did. Amazon started out selling half price books, and unlike to many other of the early dot com companies, it survived the dot com bust of 2000 and went on to become the online shopping giant that we know today.

Whatever you may think about the impact of Amazon on the book industry, or the bricks and mortar stores that have gone under because they can’t compete, you have to admit that Amazon has changed our lives. How many of us have purchased something on Amazon in the recent past? Because of us, Nick Hanauer no longer needs to be into pillows and Jeff Bezos no longer has to beg for investors.

Now, I don’t know Nick Hanauer personally. I don’t know how his mind works. I don’t know how fast his heart beats when faced with a challenge. But, I know that people like Nick Hanauer have dramatically shaped my life and yours, and not just because he invested in Amazon, but because he is the kind of person who looks over the horizon.

This is the thing about moving. We humans are creatures of habit. We like patterns and we like to know where we belong.   This is why I hung up the same posters for ten years, because then I knew where I was. But we’re also creatures of invention. We’re restless, always yearning for just a bit more, for that place beyond the horizon where earth and sky meet. We are not made to stand still. If we were, Nick Hanauer would still be traipsing from store to store marketing his pillows.

If you are with us for the first time today, what you couldn’t possibly know is that there is something very important missing from this sanctuary. There are two quilts that hung in our old sanctuary, the one we just sold. Two beautiful quilts. They were made by members of the congregation, so many people, young and old, each making a block of the quilt, and then sewn together into two beautiful quilts – one with spring colors, the other with fall colors to symbolize the constant turning of the seasons and the circle of life. They hung in our old sanctuary for 12 years.   Last month, in anticipation of the move, they were carefully taken down and are now in the process of being cleaned and framed so that we can bring them here. There are many wonderful people sitting here this morning that will be so pleased when those quilts will hang once again, because it will be a symbol that we’re home. Just like me hanging my beloved posters in my new bedroom.

However, if all we needed is to be home, we wouldn’t be sitting in this sanctuary today. None of us would be, even those of you who are with us for the first time. Every one of us is here because part of our human nature is to always be looking over the horizon and searching for the place where sky and land become one. That’s why we are here. We want more out of life than selling pillows.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but for me, the decision to sell our old property and move into this space is because I had a vision of what lay beyond the horizon.

I know that Unitarian Universalism saves lives. This is a religion that asks us to think for ourselves, to ask questions, to open our eyes to the injustices right in front us and to see our part in the problem and commit to being part of the solution. Unitarian Universalism asks us to walk with open eyes into the complexity of life and let it teach us everything it can. It asks us to trust our intuitions while being humble about our ability to deceive ourselves through pride and ignorance and fear. Our progressive faith tradition assures us that we are not alone, that we are connected to everything that is, and that in this crazy life, there are no points of no return. You always get another chance to be in right relationship with yourself and others.   We don’t promise you paradise. We don’t promise you eternal life, although some Unitarians Universalists believe in that. We don’t promise you a life free of suffering either, because even in suffering, sometimes especially in suffering, there is wisdom and truth. What we do offer, if you are open to it, is a life that is deeper and wider and filled with compassion and understanding, and that means being both very brave and very humble about our human fragility. In that kind of vulnerable honesty lies a great deal of power, power that we can use to make a real difference in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world.

So what does this have to do with moving here, to Chesterfield, and meeting for worship in this private Catholic high school that has been so generous in hosting us? It’s about looking over the horizon, like Nick Hanauer did when he knew that his pillow business was going to need to change, and being willing to take advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, the opportunity to sell our former property and move here was like Nick Hanauer meeting Jeff Bezos and saying, “I want to invest in you.” We are no longer located on a quiet residential street far from the interstates.   We have so much room now for our children’s programs. We aren’t asking our kids to tuck themselves away into small musty cramped rooms. We have lots of room now for coffee hour, which is pretty much like communion for Unitarian Universalists! Our beloved St. Charles County members and friends can now get here easily. And, all of this means that we can better fulfill the calling of our progressive religious tradition, which is to share the blessing of what we have received from it, share the blessing of how it has transformed us.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t value the 24 years we spent in Ellisville. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t deeply appreciative of those of us who dedicated time and money and vision to the building and property we used to own.   In fact, that blessing brought us to where we are today, and we as a covenantal community need to carry with us what that home and the people who loved it gave us. That’s what it means to live truthfully and faithfully within the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

And that’s why this sanctuary will not be complete until those quilts hang on both sides of the chancel, just like my move was never complete until the bed was made and the posters hung on the walls. Just like Nick Hanauer got where he did because of his family’s pillow business.

I want you to think of all the places you have lived in your life. You may have lived here in St. Louis your whole life, maybe even in the same house. Or, you’ve come from somewhere else, maybe many somewhere elses. Whenever we arrive somewhere new, it’s never completely a new beginning. We always carry with us the legacies that make us who we are, just like I carried those posters from city to city, and that becomes the blessing that we use to continue the journey of transformation, transformation of ourselves, our community and our world.

Think of all the ways the places you’ve lived have shaped you. I’m sure you have your own posters and your own quilts, those things unique to you that tell you’re home, that tell you who you are. They may even simply rest in your heart. And when you have that, and can trust in that foundation, what horizon is out of reach? Once you have that, there is no turning back. You have exactly what you need to keep on moving forward.

So in the weeks and months to come, we’ll put up our posters, and hang our quilts, and we’ll make adjustments and figure things out and find our way in this new reality. So have faith, have patience in yourself and in others, let’s embody the spirit of Unitarian Universalism, which is mutuality and trust and compassion, a deep willingness to learn from each other, to live in gratitude for what we have been given, and for the opportunity to see over the horizon to that fine line where heaven meets earth. May the spirit be with you and yours, amen and blessed be.

N.B. – These sermons are made available with a request: that the reader appreciate that, ideally, a sermon is an oral/aural experience that takes place in the context of worship – supported and reinforced by readings, contemplative music, rousing hymns, silence, and prayer – and that it is but one part of an extended

conversation that occurs over time between a minister and a covenanted congregation. This sermon may be freely shared and reproduced, provided that credit is given to the author.




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Birth Control and the American Revolution

The struggle for liberty can no longer be fought only in the courts, for the courts have proven themselves to be untrustworthy. The struggle has to be fought in the heart. We are called to change hearts and minds. That is why the gay rights movement is succeeding while the reproductive justice movement faces blow after blow. The gay rights movement focused on changing hearts along with laws. The reproductive justice movement is called to do the same.

This sermon was delivered to the good people of Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel on Sunday July 6, 2014.  

Reading.  “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Song.   “This Land is My Land”  Woody Guthrie.


It may or may surprise you to know that Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere is not very accurate! He took a lot of poetic license. Paul Revere did not work alone. He was in a large network of resistance. There were two other men who worked with him that night to alert the people of the incoming British army. And, there was also a woman who went knocking door to door. The men just rode through town yelling that the British were coming! She made sure everyone actually heard the message. Furthermore, Revere was actually arrested that night! Longfellow doesn’t mention any of this. In his poem, Revere singlehandedly is responsible for helping the colonies avoid complete surrender to the British.

Longfellow’s goal in writing the poem was not to preserve history. He knew he was massaging the facts to suit his poem, but that’s because poems aren’t history. Longfellow wrote this legendary poem because he had an ulterior motive, and to understand that motive, you have to understand a bit about Longfellow’s story.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born to a Unitarian family in 1807, 30 years after the American Revolution, just about the time that Unitarianism was becoming its own denomination. His father attended Harvard, which is where he met William Ellery Channing, often considered the first leader of the fledging Unitarian church. Henry’s brother, Samuel, became an influential Unitarian minister. There are 7 hymns written by Rev. Samuel Longfellow in our hymnal. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife was also from a Unitarian family.

Unitarianism in its earliest days was about cultivating virtue. This liberal Christian denomination proclaimed that all of humanity could become what Jesus was with the right intention. This was mostly accomplished through study of the arts and sciences – philosophy, literature, poetry, biblical criticism, theology, geology, biology. As you honed your mind and deepened your understanding, you developed the virtues of patience, open-mindedness, reverence, a respect for science, generosity, reason, and rationality. You would attain that godliness that Jesus represented.

For many of the early Unitarians, this honing was not just about becoming a better human being, but about becoming an American in the fullest sense. In these early years of nationhood, and there was a real sense, especially among the educated upper class (and that’s where Unitarianism emerged from) that America needed the same kind of honing that the individual did.

For Longfellow, his contribution to this honing was poetry. He yearned for an American culture that could match the immensity and vastness of its geography.   He wanted a refined American culture that could hold its own against Europe. His poems were about holding up the ideas that he felt were uniquely American, ideas that were also, not surprisingly, very Unitarian. The early Unitarians felt certain that their values were the embodiment of America’s values.

But, there was one big problem that came to consume more and more of their energy, and that was the problem of slavery. Many Unitarians became convinced that the presence of slavery in the United States was a national shame. It didn’t help that many Unitarians were also businessmen who struggled to compete with Southern slave labor. The institution of slavery turned Unitarianism away from its singular focus on study and internal introspection, and out into the world. It kept Unitarianism from being an intellectual exercise.

Being Unitarian, at least in the North, came to mean being against slavery. This resistance cemented in many Unitarian minds the conviction that Unitarian virtues were synonymous with the virtues of the American nation.

In 1860, Longfellow was asked by an abolitionist friend to write a poem. It seemed like the nation was heading to civil war. By this time Longfellow was seen as the quintessential American poet, he was famous and influential and identified with the heart of the nation. Could he write a poem that would inspire Americans to understand what was at stake?

Longfellow dug into America’s past and looked for a hero, and he found that hero in Paul Revere. He crafted a poem about a lone man who loved his nation, who lit the lanterns and galloped through the night, warning the good people of America of the impending threat. So this poem isn’t really about the American Revolution. It’s really about the looming Civil War.

Longfellow’s intention was to sound the alarm, to rally around the best virtues of the American nation and to be ready to stand for truth and justice. But this time, unlike the American Revolution, the threat came not from an outside enemy, but from within.

Longfellow urged the American people to never forget what the American Revolution was about – paving the way for liberty. It was time to enlarge that freedom once again, to forge a more perfect union. As long as some were kept out of the dream, the aims of the Revolution had not yet been realized. The end of slavery would bring America closer to its noble endeavor.

So what did it matter that he twisted the facts and made a few changes? He had a nation to save from itself.

At every turn in this nation’s history, there have been critical points where this country has moved towards the greater realization of liberty. The American Revolution was about the right of self-determination. The Civil War was about ending slavery. The Union Movement that Woody Guthrie was part of was about ensuring that working people, common people, had the ability to share in the promises of the American Dream. The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement. Each of these movements were about fulfilling the vision of what this country has said it is – a land of liberty, where each person has the right of self-determination.

If there was a mythical Paul Revere, riding through the streets of modern America in the dark of night, what would he be warning us about today?

I’m imagine I am not the only one who was devastated on Monday because of the Supreme Court Ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby’s right to decline insurance coverage of birth control for its female employees. I have a hard time imagining that Paul Revere or Longfellow or Guthrie would, in their day, have understood the right to affordable birth control as a civil rights issue, but times have changed, and we, like Longfellow, have the moral responsibility to use poetic license to take the icons of American liberty and find in them a path into our modern sense of justice and fairness. On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can have religious beliefs, and that the religious beliefs of an employer are more important than the basic health care needs of their workers. Longfellow and Guthrie both held up the right of self-determination as an anchor of American identity. So I imagine that if Woody Guthrie was standing amidst the protests this week with his guitar, and if Paul Revere was wondering which lantern to light and which roads to race through in the dead of night, and if Longfellow was to choose to write another timely poem, I imagine that they might choose this moment as a moment when our nation has fallen short of the aims of the Revolution.

In our day, birth control has become a form of self-determination. We no longer ask women and their families to bear child after child after child. We no longer make abstinence the only option to stop that cycle. We have achieved the ability, more than ever before, to determine for ourselves when our bodies will bear children and when they will not. And what is this, if not the exercise of our liberty, that we should be enslaved by nothing, especially our bodies?

But that’s not what the Supreme Court decided on Monday. The Supreme Court decided that our employers have the right to withhold a benefit that we have earned. In this ruling, our nation took a step away from the aims of the American Revolution.

For me, this has reinforced the sad conclusion that there are still those in our society who are as deeply threatened by a woman’s right to self-determination as there were those in Longfellow’s time who were threatened by the thought that human beings of all races could be free citizens of their nation. It offends their sensibilities, and obviously they still have the power to impose their fear on the rest of the nation. This ruling was not about freedom of religion. It was about the fear of women’s self-determination.

Like many of you, I have been wondering, what now? How do we move forward from this blow to freedom and liberty?

I turn to our history, the history where Unitarianism and American identity are so closely intertwined. They still inform each other. Self-determination is the cornerstone of both, and that right is as much about standing up for our own freedom as it is about getting out of the way for others to live theirs.   We cannot impose our version of morality on others.

This struggle for liberty can no longer be fought only in the courts, for the courts have proven themselves to be untrustworthy. This struggle has to be fought in the heart. We are called to change hearts and minds.   That is why the gay rights movement is succeeding while the reproductive justice movement faces blow after blow. The gay rights movement focused on changing hearts along with laws. The reproductive justice movement is called to the same.

Longfellow got that. He sought to sway the heart of a nation through poetry. We are now called to sway the heart of a nation in a similar way, knowing that there are no guarantees, that we have no way of knowing exactly how our actions will be perceived or the impact they have.   But Longfellow didn’t have that guarantee either, nor did Revere, nor did Guthrie. But, this is the moment to sound the alarm, to sing the songs, to the ride through the streets and to knock on the doors, embracing the challenge of this time with courage, faith and hope.

May the spirit of this nation, a spirit of liberty and justice for all, be with all of us for now and forever more.


This sermon is copyright of Rev. Krista Taves.  



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Bearers of Dangerous Memory

Bearers of Dangerous Memory.

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Unitarian Universalists and Veterans Day

Unitarian Universalism and Veterans Day

Our progressive religious faith has had a conflicted relationship with Veterans Day.  Some UU churches will not mention the observance.  Others will give it passing recognition.  Others will dedicate their entire worship service to it.  This conflicted relationship is the result of the struggles in our religious tradition over the rightful place of military force.

In the early days of Unitarianism and Universalism in the United States, there was little question about the necessity of military force.  The impact of the American Revolution was strong and the ideals that were lifted from that struggle became pivotal to the emerging American identity.  When the Civil War erupted in the 1860s, northern Unitarian and Universalist churches dutifully supported the Union Army.  Many had been in the forefront of the abolitionist movement and hoped the war would end slavery.  Southern Unitarians and Universalists had more of a struggle.  Many had supported abolitionism, although cautiously, because the implications of that stance were more risky.  But ultimately the South was their home and these were their people.  Many southern congregations actually disappeared during this time.

When the United States entered World War I, the majority of Unitarians and Universalists supported doing so.  There were a few pacifists and they were treated like pariahs and questioned about their patriotism.  There were also few dissenters during World War II.  Those that spoke up often found themselves receiving a chilly welcome in our congregations.

This changed dramatically with the onset of the Cold War.  Many Unitarians and Universalists questioned the reason for American involvement in the Korean War in the 1950s.  And then came the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a war that changed the face of  America.   Strong anti-establishment and anti-military sentiments emerged in our congregations.   Many Unitarian Universalists joined the anti-war protests and wanted their congregations to join them.  Many UU congregations experienced a deep factionalism between those who supported the Vietnam War and those who did not.  Some congregations divided over the issue.  When the nuclear disarmament movement emerged, many Unitarian Universalist played pivotal roles in the protest.  By the 1980s, it was not unusual to hear Unitarian Universalists express the sentiment that being UU and being in the military were antithetical to one another.  The majority of UUs did not support the first invasion of Iraq or the second.  It became more and more difficult for UUs in the military to feel at home in our congregations.

This is why Veterans Day is approached with some trepidation.  However, despite this sea change in attitudes, there have always been Unitarian Universalists who have proudly served and there always will be.  This is certainly true in our congregation.   There are also many committed members and friends in our ranks, strong Unitarian Universalists who generously support our congregations with their time and money, who earn their livelihood serving the military needs of our nation.

I will admit I have struggled with this day all my life.  I was raised in the Mennonite church, which is a peace church.  I struggled with wearing a poppy, which is how Canadians recognize this day.  I was raised to be a committed pacifist, and I still am.  But I have also developed a strong regard for those I have come to know and care about who serve their nation.  I have seen their families’ struggles, I have seen their commitment, I have seen the sacrifice.  I have also seen a nation that has largely resorted to supporting our troops in parades and bumper stickers and turned its back when our veterans most need support.   I cannot understand how our nation can tolerate veterans who live in poverty or in homelessness because of the impact of war on their health and ability to work.


The congregation I serve, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (, has restored the recognition of Veterans Day into our worshipping calendar for several years now.  Regardless of our stance on war, we will recognize those who made the choice to serve, whether we agree with that choice or not, because that choice does include the possibility of losing your life.  If we are truly committed to honoring and respecting the diversity of our fellow spiritual journeyers, it means actually honoring and respecting it.  I have found many veterans, especially those who have seen active combat, who are as strongly committed to peace as I am.  They have seen the scourge of war.  They know what it can do.  They know its power and they also know its limits.  I would never have known this if we silenced their voice or their experience in this congregation.  Knowing them has changed me profoundly.

This Sunday, our Affiliate Minister and Acting Minister of Religious Education, Rev. Julie Taylor, will lead us in honoring the recognition of our veterans.  There will be a roll call.  Julie will speak about how we engage our third principle, that we covenant to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and spiritual growth in our congregations, on this day.   Julie is speaking from experience as Julie is currently preparing to serve as a military chaplain.

You are welcome to join us in worship this Sunday, regardless of your position on the military and your sentiments on the use of force.  We can be united in our commitment to peace without agreeing on the tools that create it.

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Waiting for SCOTUS marriage equality ruling…

I haven’t been in a very good mood about marriage equality since March 26th.   You’d think I should be.  When the Supreme Court of the United States heard two cases – The Windsor DOMA case and the Prop 8 case – Facebook turned red, it seemed like the world turned warm and gooey.  There was so much love and care and support.  You would think it would be an awesome week.  And in so many ways it was.

But it was also a gut wrenching week.  You see, the stakes are really high for us.  Really high.

I attended the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Annual Meeting in Louisville KY this week.  Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, met us for his annual Q&A with the ministers, and one of the things he said was, “In terms of equal marriage, this fight is over because we know how this is going to end.” (my words based on my memory of what he said…. probably not his exact words.)   The room erupted in loud cheering and applause.

But I didn’t feel like applauding.  I’m wondering if I was the only one.  Instead, what I wanted to say was, “Don’t be too quick to say the train has left the station.  Hold on.”

And this is why.  My gut instinct is that the Supreme Court is going to strike down DOMA.  This is going to be great.  But I also think they are going to vote as narrowly as they can on Prop 8.  Rather than ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional (which would strike down every DOMA act and every constitutional amendment in every state that has one and make marriage equality a reality throughout the country), I predict it is going to strike it down on a technicality, which means that it will confirm marriage equality only in California.  The cumulative effect of these decisions will mean that marriage will become legal in California and same-sex married couples in states which already practice equal marriage will now be able to enjoy the federal benefits extended to married couples.  If SCOTUS does NOT rule that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, it will mean absolutely nothing to those of us who live in the more than two dozen states that have explicitly banned same-sex marriage.

During the proceedings, Justice Kennedy mentioned the children of the same-sex couples in California, and that they deserved to have parents who are married, which I thought was rather big of him.  But what about the children in Mississippi and Alabama and Oklahoma and Missouri.  What about those children?  And what about their parents?

So I’m a nervous nelly.  And I’m not optimistic.  I feel like I can’t afford the risk of being optimistic and being disappointed.

Three years ago the congregation I serve completed the Welcoming Congregation.  This is a process developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association to support congregations in being intentionally welcoming of sexual and gender  minorities.  It took our congregation ten years to build up the courage to do this program.  There was a lot of nervousness when we started the program, but it didn’t come from the usual suspects.  It did not come from older heterosexual people at all!   You know who was most nervous?  People who identified as sexual minorities and were over the age of 50.  It was our older LGBTQ folks who felt the most apprehension, and I think I know why.

This generation has experienced explicit  homophobia in ways that I  can’t even imagine.  They were there when the cops busted up their bars and the courts took away their children and they landed in jail and out of a job for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And no one stood up for them.  They took it on the chin, and even though times have changed, many have never completely let down their guard.  They still test the waters.  They are reasonably wary of supposedly welcome places, like churches with little rainbows on their orders of service, and will often look for signs that it’s not as welcoming as they have been led to believe, because you never know when someone could stab you in the back with a smile on their face.  Will the church still be welcoming of you when you hold your partner’s hand in church, or land a peck on their cheek?    Will they still be welcoming of you when you talk about the great date you had on Saturday night?

This generation feared that the Welcoming Congregation process would unearth the kind of homophobia that slyly hides under the surface until it’s pricked, the kind of homophobia that masks as something else even though it really still is homophobia.  Maybe they would learn that our congregation that really wasn’t as welcoming as it thought it was, and if that was the case, then they might lose their beloved church community.   What if  doing the Welcoming Congregation program opened Pandora’s box and a place they thought was safe wasn’t?  So as much as they really wanted to do the Welcoming Congregation, it scared a lot of them.  The stakes felt really high.

This is how I feel right now.   For all the expressions of acceptance in mainstream culture, for sea of red that happened on Facebook and Twitter and almost every website I regularly frequent, the fate of my marriage rests with 9 justices, some of whom really don’t like us all that much.  And if one liberal-leaning justice gets cold feet and the resulting ruling is as narrow as possible, they are placing our equality, the equality of those like me who live in Missouri, in the hands of a citizenship that is still deeply ambivalent about our right to exist.  If the justices leave the definition of marriage in the hands of the states, same-sex marriage is not coming to Missouri for a long time.  The only way Missouri will arrive at equal marriage is by being forced into it through the courts.

This is why minorities need mechanisms outside of elected leadership to secure our equality.  The majority cannot be trusted to rally for the equal rights of the minorities.  We see it time and again.  God/dess bless states like Massachusetts and New York and Minnesota.  But Missouri is no Minnesota.

So this is why I am a nervous nelly.  This is why I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach when Rev. Peter Morales said, “This battle has been won.  We know how it’s going to end.”

When SCOTUS rules next week, and if it turns out as I predict, don’t forget those of us in the remaining DOMA wastelands.  Keep fighting for us.  Because the battle will be far from over.

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Why you aren’t reaching young adults and families with children


Thanks Kelly for your thoughtful post. We have a lot to learn from your observations.

Originally posted on UU Planet:

The following guest post is by Kelly Mahler, a former 3D artist, SAHM (stay-at-home mother), Unitarian Universalist since 2007, and member of the UU Growth Lab on Facebook.  Thanks for sharing your experience and suggestions, Kelly!   I totally relate as a parent of a young child.  11am? Uh, that’s lunch time!  ~ Peter

Kelly MahlerWhile reading the UU Growth lab on Facebook, I came across a post that caught my attention. The question asked was, “How can we more effectively reach out to and involve young adults and families with children as fully participating congregants?”

I don’t often participate in these online discussions, but this topic was something near and dear to me, considering I’m one of those young parents many UU churches refer to. Having been a former board member in my twenties, and now quickly closing in on my thirties (with a toddler in tow)…

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