Our Eighth Principle

Sarah Richards
October 8, 2017

Our Eighth Principle

Educate – Empathize – Eighth Principle – I got the idea for the 3 E’s from African American minister, sociologist, and prolific author Michael Eric Dyson. In his book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, Benediction includes practical suggestions about how to make things better. The acronym is R.E.S.P.O.N.S.I.V.E., the R is for reparation, E is for educate (yourself), S is school (others), P – participation (showing up), and so on. I’m focusing on the 3 E’s not only because of time limitations, but because they are both basic and apply specifically in the UU context.

We UUs are good at educating ourselves, in fact Religious Education is one of the things we do best. There is a lot many white UU’s have done and are doing to educate themselves about the histories of people of color in our living tradition, by reading books and articles as well as attending workshops at General Assembly, Regional Assembly and on-line. There is a lot of information out there, easily accessible. The latest issue of the UU World magazine, (which all CUF members get mailed to their homes and non-members can access from computers) contains articles on the White Supremacy Teach-Ins, personal reflections and poems, and an outstanding historical analysis by Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed, quoted earlier, “The Black Hole in the White UU Psyche.” Some of us are active in the weekly Conversations on Race, the monthly Racial Justice Coalition, some of us are in the Racial Justice Book Group here at CUF, really the list of learning opportunities is quite long, I’ve only mentioned a tiny fraction. Let’s keep it up. Now, educating ourselves about race in our country and our consciousness is part of RE, part of our life-long learning, but it is not sufficient. We UUs, especially we white UUs, are in our element when we’re reading, gaining information and understanding in our heads. What takes courage is opening to listening, feeling, going deep to make an emotional connection.

Here is what Michael Eric Dyson tells his readers – White America—about that last E in his acronym R.E.S.P.O.N.S.I.V.E.

Beloved, all of what I have said should lead you to empathy. It sounds simple, but its benefits are profound. Whiteness must shed its posture of competence, its will to omniscience, its belief in its goodness and purity, and then walk a mile or two in the boots of blackness. The siege of hate will not end until white folk imagine themselves as black folk—vulnerable despite our virtues. If enough of you, one by one, exercises your civic imagination, and puts yourself in the shoes of your black brothers and sisters, you might develop a democratic impatience for injustice, for the cruel disregard of black life, for the careless indifference to our plight.

Empathy must be cultivated. The practice of empathy means taking a moment to imagine how you might behave if you were in our positions. Do not tell us how we should act if we were you; imagine how you would act if you were us. Imagine living in a society where your white skin marks you for disgust, hate, and fear. Imagine that for many moments. Only when you see black folk as we are, and imagine yourselves as we have to live our lives, only then will the suffering stop, the hurt cease, the pain go away.[i]

Dyson is asking white people to have the courage of vulnerability, as Jon Luopa put it, “the courage to be imaginative and to be imaginative in a moral way.”[ii] To that end, I invite you now into an exercise in empathy, a body-centered meditation by Anne Bethea, one of our UU White Supremacy Teach In 2 leaders. She says,

There is a body of work that focuses on the implicit associations we make in our bodies tied to emotional response.  These associations are our “gut” reactions, and take precedent over and are often more powerful than our rational intellect.  If we are to change the way we perceive ourselves or others, it’s helpful to come to terms with what our bodies are telling us about our beliefs and narratives.  This is helpful for both people of color and white folks, as there are often oppressions and messages we’ve internalized from the dominant culture all our lives.

How does your body feel when another person who looks like you or looks like your brother is gunned down, a spectacle commissioned by the people who swear an oath to protect your community?

Does your mouth go dry, your throat close up, when you come face to face with a realization of your own perpetuation of white cultural norms or an ignorance of other worthy ways of being?

Perhaps you are numb all over b/c your body has decided this is too much for you to bear?  Your mind says go, your body says no.

Does your stomach churn when tu familia is hunted down and expelled from the places they risked to go to carve out a better life?

How does your body feel when you feel helpless to do anything to console, to mend, to fix the injustices you see all around you?

Perhaps your whole body aches, telling you to close into yourself, to cut ties with a world that is just… too much?

These are the effects of white supremacy on our bodies.  Yours and the others in this room.

There is a place where these can be healed – in a beloved community which sees, hears, and experiences these ills alongside you and chooses to care, to get involved, to connect.

This beloved community is the place where you can reclaim your time to process the horror and the disconnect the rest of the world would rather sweep under the rug.

This is where you can belong because you are loved, not loved because you belong.

In a beloved community, you’ll be reminded of some truths that transcend the chaos and the oppression that the dominant culture denies:

That your body is… free.

Your mind is… free.

And your love is … a gift, ready for the giving in every moment.

You are the one we’ve been waiting for to take part, build, and bolster this community for any who seek refuge.[iii]


And so we come to the third E, our proposed eighth principle, “We the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote Journeying toward spiritual wholeness by building a diverse, multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

Some people say that our work to dismantle white supremacy really comes down to our first principle, our foundational belief that each person has inherent worth and dignity, and I certainly agree that if we are not working to free ourselves and our institutions of white supremacy, we are not true to our faith, and to our first principle. But the proposed 8th principle has something the others do not, and that is the word, accountably, and the moral power it carries. We are called to be accountable to each other, and we are accountable for our actions past, present and future. The proposed 8th principle also has the goal of Beloved Community—something that may be hard to picture these days. But let us start here—no, we have already started here, our spiritual ancestors who founded and nurtured this Fellow-ship started that journey toward spiritual wholeness, we are building from their foundations. And when we think of all of the congregations, of very diverse denominations, and all of the secular and civic organizations that are working to dismantle white supremacy, we are seeing glimpses of the Beloved Community. I leave you with an exhortation from the end of Michael Eric Dyson’s Sermon to White America:

Beloved, if the enslaved could nurture, on the vine of their desperate deficiency of democracy, the spiritual and moral fruit that fed our civilization, then surely we can name and resist demagoguery; we can protest, and somehow defeat, the forces that threaten the soul of our nation. To not try, to give up on the possibility that we can make a difference, can make the difference, is to give up on our past, on our complicated, difficult, but victorious past. Donald Trump is not our final, or ultimate, problem. The problem is, instead, allowing hopelessness to steal our joyful triumph before we work hard enough to achieve it.[iv]

Can I get an amen?




[i] Dyson, Michael Eric. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017, p. 211

[ii] Luopa, John. “The Many Faces of White Supremacy” sermon delivered at University Unitarian Church, Seattle, WA http://www.uuchurch.org/2017/many-faces-white-supremacy-rev-jon-m-luopa-april-30-2017/ accessed September 29, 2017.

[iii] https://www.uuteachin.org/teachin2worshiptrack, accessed October 2, 2017.

[iv] Dyson., p. 222.