For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
Listening to the conference’s morning lectures in Hampton University’s packed Convocation Center reminds me of attending the UUA’s General Assembly, so I’ve been thinking about some of the similarities and differences between being with a few thousand UUs and being with a few thousand African-American clergy. Certainly there are obvious differences in energy level and affective style, but for this post I’m going to comment on a few other points.
One the one hand, the conference is clearly rooted in Christianity. Whether or not the speakers explicitly name the Trinity (as does Rev. Dr. Gennifer Brooks, Director of the Styberg Preaching Institute at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), there are frequent invocations of — and expressions of gratitude to — God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. But far from being a passively accepted faith, there is clear engagement with what it means, particularly in terms of its implications for living a good life. More than once a speaker has questioned whether a given belief is merely the by-product of culture or human ego, and particular attention is paid to whether an article of faith truly serves African-American communities or whether it is an inherited tool of oppression instituted by Euro-Americans in prior generations.
On the other hand, many of the conversations concern questions frequently discussed at GA or other gatherings of UUs. How do we raise our children to be good people? How do we reach younger generations who have been turned off by “religion”? How do we care for one another without trying to fix one another? How do we recruit and train capable leaders? How do we live most authentically into the values we claim? How do we respond to injustice and work for justice? How do we move beyond the “politics of respectability” to be truly welcoming of all? How do we embrace new ideas that will further our living tradition even as they challenge the status quo of traditionalism?
Finally, for this post today, there are plenty of subjects that would lend themselves to tremendously fruitful interfaith discussion. Regarding the school-to-prison pipeline and ministering to ex-offenders, a couple of speakers have referred to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which was the UU Common Read a few years ago. One speaker raised the matter of distinguishing between what Jesus taught and what Paul (who never met Jesus) taught — what I have previously named as the difference between the religion of Jesus and a religion about Jesus. Another talked about the importance of doing more than charitable service which, as important as it is in meeting people’s needs, does little to change the system that requires those needs to be met through charity; as Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara put it, though, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.” And there was an enthusiastic discussion of the difference between success, which is often defined solely in terms of numerical measures such as Sunday attendance, and faithfulness, which may be understood in terms of qualities such as depth, warmth, meaning and mission.