This week marks my one year anniversary working for the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Program Associate for Peacemaking. Working with amazing theologians, peace activists and dedicated Unitarian Universalists, I have learned a lot about what UU peacemaking looks like. In the next few days, I will be sharing just a few of the many realizations I have made when it comes to UU Peacemaking.
• Monday: No Creed, No Peace Testament
• Tuesday: Unitarian*Universalists’ long and difficult relationship with peace
• Wednesday: Just War and Pacifism—A tight dichotomy
• Thursday: Theology of Conflict
• Friday: No Justice, No Peace
Unitarian*Universalists’ Long and Difficult Relationship With Peace-
When we look to our Unitarian and Universalist forebears, it is easy to think that we have a historical monopoly on peace activities. That we, as a movement, have always stood on the side of peace and justice. And while it is easy, it is not always accurate.
As we look for inspiration in our UU peace movement, the names are plentiful. Our history is rich with abolitionists, pacifists, social movement leaders, progressive theologians and artists.
However, without adequately addressing all sides of the issues on European and American Unitarian*Universalist histories, we are missing a lot of infamous names. And by ignoring these names, it does not fully recognize our movement’s long and sometimes difficult relationship with peace.
We often point to President John Q. Adams, an outspoken abolitionist who defended the slaves in the famous Amistad Case as one of our forefathers. And rightly so. He helped create the First Unitarian Church of Washington, now known as All Souls Church, Unitarian. But, we tend to forget that John Q. Adams cofounder of First Unitarian was John C. Calhoun, noted defender of Slavery and States’ Rights. Similarly, while there were many other Unitarian and Universalist abolitionists there were others who owned slaves or defended the practice.
And while we point to the people who worked as allies in the fight for human and civil rights, people like James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and Waitstill and Martha Sharp, we tend to gloss over some of our less savory members who profited from oppression of people and the land. People like James Drummond Dole, who started Dole Pineapple Company after the overthrow of the native Hawaiian government by his first cousin.
And while we claim many peace activists–including several Nobel Peace Prize winners–as our own, we forget that two Secretaries of Defense under the Clinton Administration, William Perry and William Cohen were Unitarian Universalists. Both of whom oversaw American bombings in Bosnia and Iraq. We also tend to ignore that Neville Chamberlin was an outspoken Unitarian his whole life; possibly because of his general diplomatic failure in the years leading up to World War II.
Then there is the often difficult relationship we have with historic figures who have done both things we approve of and things we disapprove of. For instance, we uphold Julia Ward Howe as an abolitionist, peace activist and suffragette. We, however, we tend to ignore the fact that she wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song that is hardly pacifist in nature.
Or take Margaret Sanger. Sanger, who began Planned Parenthood, was until recently, proudly named as one of our foremothers for her work on reproductive justice and feminist ideals. However, we have abandoned her because of her racist, pro-eugenics stance for birth control. Some people go as far as to discredit any claim of her as a Unitarian.
There are literally hundreds more names we could pull out who make us embarrassed or ashamed of our history. But they are difficult to find. We tend to bury them in our obscured past. Or creatively rewrite history. And in whispered voices, we sometimes admit to ourselves that we do not actually have a monopoly on peace and social reform. But it is OK not to have that monopoly.
We should not demand perfection of our past. We cannot always expect a historical figure with whom we can claim the moral high ground. To actually admit our past mistakes and learn how to be more accountable is more radical than always claiming that our past gives us the foresight to move ahead.
This is why the Unitarian Universalist Association is participating in its Truth, Repair and Reconciliation Process. Part of a true peacemaking is uncovering misdeeds, admitting mistakes, and working in an accountable way to make sure those mistakes do not happen again. Or conversely, recognizing that as diverse and complicated people, mistakes and misdeeds are bound to happen once again, but committing to work in a spirit of compassion to heal and grow from them.