Sunday, 14 November 2010

Social Justice for a small congregation

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one... I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
These are the words of 19th century abolitionist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. They were repeated again and again in a more concise and catchy form in the 20th century by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is an immensely hopeful and encouraging truth that both of these great, justice-seeking men offered. We must add, however the truth that the inclination toward justice does not take place on its own, but with the aid of the constant force of justice-seeking human hands.

The congregation I have the privilege of serving has been among those who have helped to shape that arc toward justice. Our resolute stance against the ban on civil partnership in religious premises was noticed. Although we may well have thought at the time that it was a symbolic act without impact, we most certainly contributed to the subsequent liberalization of the law. We made a difference.

We have proved that a small group of liberal religionists can have an impact on the rights of millions. Why? How? An essential factor is that our stance stood out. Had we been agreement with the vast majority of othe religions, the story would not have been covered by the press. Nothing would have come of that ‘dog bites man’ story. As a religious group that stood against the prevailing religious viewpoint though, it became a ‘man bites dog’ story. That makes all the difference in the world.

There are countless issues in need of attention. People are hungry, enslaved, imprisoned, and/or uneducated even in our own nation! In these sorts of issues, however, our voice would be as one tiny drop in an ocean of voices all saying the same thing. Everyone is against these particular scourges.

In order to really make a difference, we must speak - as we did with marriage equality - on issues where our voice is in conflict with the positions espoused by more traditional religious groups. These issues are the ones where we - by bring a radically inclusive religious perspective to the table - can inject encouragement and real strength to justice campaigns.

I wonder what my congregation will come up with next! I have tentatively arrived at two areas of interest in my own mind: assisted suicide and reform of drug laws. In both instances, traditional religious groups take a conservative view, opposing options for suffering individuals to obtain help in ending their lives and providing support for the maintenance of ineffective drug laws that actually create criminals and increase opportunities for criminal enterprises. 

The future awaits and the arc of the moral universe needs our help.

1 comment:

  1. One place to start our own conversation, or at least to inform our thinking, is at the Wellcome Collection's new exhibition High Society. I haven't been yet, but I rate highly everything they put on; I've never been disappointed.

    The website is here (preview won't embed link, sorry):
    and one particular event is a discussion on the evening of Thursday 2 December:
    "Drugs that alter consciousness can only be fully described by human subjects - often reporting wildly different experiences. Can science make sense of these subjective experiences, or are they better conveyed by artists or writers?"