But, as the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Peter Morales describes as reported in the UUA World, the growing diversity of the leadership of even this remarkably open and accepting faith masks a deeper barrier to true diversity
When we look more closely at the change in our professional ministry, we see that the vast majority of women, gays, and lesbians admitted were middle class, well-educated people of European descent.The barriers of race and sexual orientation, while challenging, are as nothing compared to the fortress-like walls presented by interconnected differences of culture, education, and social class.
The UUA can be justifiably proud that its two most recent leaders are not from white Anglo backgrounds. Morales is of Mexican descent. His predecessor, Bill Sinkford, is black. But these steps forward hide the fact that class and culture barriers remain intact. Morales again:
We have seen this in our nation with the election of Barack Obama and in our UU movement with the election of the Rev. William G. Sinkford and myself to the presidency. Each of us is less threatening to the dominant culture because we are the products of elite educations and have spent our lives in the dominant culture. If Barack Obama sounded like a poor urban African American he could not have been elected. If I sounded like San Antonio’s West Side barrio, I would not [be] president of our Association.The barriers of race, gender, and sexual orientation are challenging - make no mistake about it. These differences activate strong hard-wired fears of difference. Those who look or love differently from us make us fearful and wary. But, with honest and courageous effort, we can enter into open dialogue. We begin to understand that they are like us - we have so much in common beneath the superficial differences.
But this moment of conversion happens because more basic, more essential, facilitators of dialogue are present - they are based on other similarities. If class and culture match, we have the tools we need to cut through other differences. Yet we have not connected simply on the basis of being human. We have connected because we share similar struggles, like similar writing, speak in similar vernacular, and have similar goals. We have a common 'language' to allow us to see beyond our differences.
It is when cultural and educational differences between people directly frustrates attempts and deep communication - when common ground can not be found because we approach life with different stories, with deeply different perspectives based on educational background, and deeply different interests - that we fail to connect.
This is the continuing problem of our world. The divide between rich and poor grows larger in Britain and elsewhere and the divides are not necessarily around skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. The divides are based on class and culture which translate into the presence or absence of opportunity. This is a justice issue - perhaps the single greatest justice issue of the developed nations. As long as class and cultural differences continue to define who we can understand and who has a chance to get ahead, there will not be true equality.
But as Peter Morales adds, this is not so much a practical or political issue, but rather a deeper question of who we choose to be as human beings and to what vision we are dedicated:
This great challenge of culture and class is ultimately a religious, moral, and spiritual issue rather than a social justice issue. Perhaps the great challenge for us [...] is whether we can learn to understand, accept, include, and ultimately love our neighbors who are different from us.The work is enormous and may never be completed. That is no reason not to begin it. The first step - as always - is the vision. Can we imagine a society where class advantages disappear? Can we imagine a society where our cultural background does not define our opportunities? I hope that we can commit to that kind of a future and begin the work today of trying to understand across the great barriers that would divide the human family.