Broadening My Horizons (part two)

For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard

Yesterday I posted that I am attending the 101st annual Hampton University Ministers’ Conference this week.

Rev. Dr. John W. Kinney speaking to a packed Convocation Center.

Rev. Dr. John W. Kinney, Dean of the School of Theology at Virginia Union in Richmond,
addresses the 101st Hampton University Ministers’ Conference.

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.

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About acmillard

Andrew serves as minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula in Newport News, Virginia.
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4 Responses to Broadening My Horizons (part two)

  1. Pingback: Broadening My Horizons (part three) | UU Fellowship of the Peninsula

  2. Lehni says:

    This sounds like a very powerful experience for you. Thank you for sharing some of what you are hearing. I have heard the phrase, “Politics of Respectability” frequently lately. I am not sure I understand it completely. I wonder if some of these thoughtful leaders would come talk with us, perhaps in forum or a special discussion. Again, thank you for sharing.

    • acmillard says:

      As I heard it named here, Lehni, it refers to the expectation that people coming to a community will fit in and conform. However, it also describes the expectation that African Americans and their leaders and their churches should behave in ways acceptable to white culture. Hence the disowning of Jeremiah Wright for what was otherwise valid criticism of white privilege and racism.

  3. smking1 says:

    These are really great! I thought I was open minded but found myself surprised to read your comments which are very insightful but seeing how I was thinking before I read your article. Too often I find myself being somewhat of a bigot. I know I’m not a BIGOT but I am a product of white culture. Thanks for helping me see this.

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