Progressive people of faith can be a powerful political force

Unitarian Universalists are pushing for change across the country

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS are very outspoken regarding our beliefs and we consider ourselves a vital, progressive spiritual and religious movement. As a faith that centers on covenant – our promises to each other and the world – we are compelled not only to be vocal, but to put actions behind our beliefs. We see this commitment in the Black Lives Matter signs and rainbow and trans flags in support of LGBTQIA+ communities proudly hanging from our churches around Massachusetts, or our regular attendance at coalition meetings and social justice actions. This national practice reflects our deeply held spiritual principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people – and our commitment to working for justice.

The headquartering of the denomination after the merger of Unitarian and Universalist churches in 1961 made Boston a hub for UU churches and social action. New England is still a center for liberal thought and action, and UUs often join our counterparts from other faith communities in support of social justice.

For instance, in recent weeks, the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network has focused on promoting climate justice legislation as part of our work with the Mass Power Forward coalition, an initiative that brings us in alignment with the Bodhisara Dharma Community, the Boston Catholic Climate Movement, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, and the Jewish Climate Action Network, among others. With this advocacy work, UU Mass Action prompts UUs to consider how their faith urges them to make change, to push for legislation that not only corresponds to their political views, but also to their belief systems and faith principles.

But in other parts of the country, media and elected officials are not used to even seeing progressive people of faith, let alone listening to us. And this needs to change. It’s time for more liberal believers to become comfortable in speaking about – and acting from – their moral and religious beliefs when it comes to crafting radical community that protects Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, LGBTQIA+ families and individuals, and people living with disabilities. And it’s long past time for decision makers to recognize that progressive individuals of faith exist – and cannot be ignored as a social and political force.

To be clear, the growth of the movement of progressive people of faith as a potent societal force has been a long time coming. A 2020 study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that “since 2012 the political mobilization of congregations on the left has increased more than on the right,” according to the study’s co-author, Mark Chaves, a sociology professor from Duke University. The authors point out Black congregations have led the way when it comes to political mobilization, driven in particular by the Trump administration, and that a critical need to respond to police violence against Black people also likely played a role.

UUs are motivated by the covenants we make to each other to transform the world we live in now. We draw our beliefs from sources as diverse as science, poetry, scripture, and personal experience, and we are guided by seven Principles, the first of which, referenced above, promotes the worth of every person.  Our fifth Principle calls for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. That’s right – Unitarian Universalists value democracy as a part of our theological principles. This tenet has prompted our increased social and political mobilization over the last several years.

What does this mean practically? On the ground, it is often UU ministers speaking out in places like Alabama and Ohio about reproductive justice. And it is UU families and leaders seeking to support trans youth and their families in states like Texas.

As importantly, we are mobilizing our faith tradition to support the very underpinnings of American democracy. In April, we launched UU the Vote 2022, a nonpartisan civic engagement initiative focused on strengthening democracy and organizing for justice, accountability, and healing. This follows our successful UU the Vote effort in 2020, in which more than 450 UU congregations and 5,000 volunteers participated in voter mobilization, get out the vote, and election defense efforts in all 50 states. In total, UU the Vote volunteers contacted more than 3 million voters across the country. We know that the stakes are equally important in this upcoming election.

It’s time for influencers in the media and elsewhere to recognize that voices of faith don’t only come from the right but also from the middle – and the left. As UUs, we have hope – and a moral obligation – to fight for a more just world.  We know this requires persistence and a calling to dismantle systems of hatred and greed. We are committed to this work.

The Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray is the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Rev. Jo Murphy is the executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Massachusetts Action Network.