“What do Unitarian Universalists believe?” I imagine many of us have been asked this question at some point in our lives. And I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had that internal flutter of panic or mental scrambling as we search for the best four-sentence description that almost always works in the words “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Rev. Peter Morales while attending a conference in Boston, and he gave those of us who were there that weekend a catchy response to that dread-inducing question. His memorable answer? “What we love is more important than what we believe.”
But wait, you might say, doesn’t that lead to the inevitable follow-up question of “Ok, well what do you love?” Absolutely. But I find that question to be more exciting (and informative) to answer than the original one. As Unitarian Universalists, we love whatever is in need of love. Such a response may seem overly simplified or trite at first, but its full complexity is realized when we look at what we mean by “love.” To borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., love in our tradition is not limited to “a sentimental or affectionate sense.” Love is a powerful force that goes beyond acceptance or admiration, to a proactive effort to cultivate necessary understanding and change. Love is the strength to stay in relationship with people whose words or deeds are laced with ignorance, hatred, or pain, because doing so is the only way to reignite their spark of inherent good. Love is not simply the willingness to say yes to the oppressed; it is the ability to say yes to the oppressor…by saying no. Despite initial impressions, that is not a paradox. When we say “no” we are not rejecting the person. We are rejecting the actions or words that have caused pain and humiliation; we are rejecting the violation of their goodness. Our “no” is a “yes” because it acknowledges the capacity for change. Our “no” is a “yes” because it demonstrates our refusal to settle for anything less than unity, and our commitment to ignite their spark of good. So it stands that when we love whatever is need of love, we endeavor to do what must be done to save our world from the destructive and divisive attitudes that breed fear, discrimination, inequality, and violence.
It is this love that drives our commitment to social justice, not only by coming to the aid of those who are most aggrieved by injustice, but by challenging those who are responsible for creating it. In the words of Rev. Richard Gilbert, we “live under a prophetic imperative to act in love for justice,” and “need to be equally skilled in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Our love of whatever is in need of love calls us to engage in social action that creates systemic change. It may be a difficult and seemingly endless task to work for institutional transformation, but that is precisely why such work is where our love is needed the most. Social action shifts us away from treating the effects of injustice and towards removing its root causes. It is a focus on policy reforms that will bring an end to the inexcusable deprivation in our culture of abundance. That is where the strength to stay in relationship, the “yes” behind our “no” will have the greatest impact. Social action is the recognition of our power to bring genuine change at a universal level, to love what needs love the most.