This was the wisdom of Francis David, spiritual advisor to King John Sigismund of Transylvania, the Unitarian king who pronounced the first edict of religious toleration in the year 1568.
You need not think alike to love alike.
At Unitarian Universalist gatherings, I sometimes hear “it is so nice to be with a group of like-minded people.” Beloveds, it is tempting, in the not-so-liberal parts of these United States, to take refuge in liberal religion. Here you are welcome. We often say in worship welcomes “no matter your gender, your race, your ethnicity, your sexuality, your age, your size, the color of your eyes – you are welcome here.”
Your politics, however…Your education level…these might matter …
Seeking sanctuary with like-minded people, while a deeply understandable and very human response, is not the basis of our faith. We are called to honor the inherent worth and dignity of all in our interdependent web of existence– no matter how people vote, what they believe, or where they went to school. Liberal religion is grounded in a theology of inclusion. As Rev. Marilyn Sewell states, “at the center of our faith is not belief, but love.” Love. We are a people of covenant, a people of promise. And we promise to love one another.
During a dialogue on race and class with a group of UU volunteers in New Orleans, one group member casually mentioned the “white trash-y” trailer park area across the tracks in his midwestern home town.
I felt the term sizzle across my skin, leaving a faint contrail of anger and shame… White trash. Trailer trash. Humans who have the skin color of privilege, but few other privileges. Who often live in generational cycles of poverty, who generally have few educational opportunities. Who have had nothing for generations but their pride and their whiteness, neither of which keeps the refrigerator full or pays rent, much less a mortgage.
I remember the day I received a copy of my birth certificate, ordered for the purpose of applying for my first passport. There, in black and white, and forever a part of my American identity: “Place of residence at time of birth: Fort Fredericka Trailer Park.”
I am often reminded in subtle and not so subtle ways that I am welcome in Unitarian Universalism because I am the exception, not the rule of my people. I left my home state after high school, struggled through a liberal arts college education that my public education had not quite prepared me for, got a passport and studied abroad in Central America on scholarship. Much of this was possible because my father joined the Navy at 19, put his body on the line for a chance to break the cycle of poverty and violence that he grew up in. Much of this was possible because my grandmother believed it was important to educate girls to and insisted that her daughter have the same chance to graduate from high school as her sons. It was not a question in my house whether I was going to college after high school. The only question was how I was gonna pay for it.
Without these breaks, these formational pattern changers, I would not be a Unitarian Universalist minister. The educational requirements alone for the training would have been barrier enough, let alone the cost of them…
Come, come whoever you are
We sing and we say these words from the 13th century Sufi Mystic Rumi:
Wander, worshiper, lover of leaving
Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times
Come, yet again come
Our Unitarian legacy is tolerance, our Universalist legacy is radical salvation for all souls. How then can we reconcile the promise of our faith with the practice of our faith?
It is not faithful to write off a group of people because they do not sound like you, do not think like you, do not have the same life experiences as you. We know this to be true in the marrow of our bones. We know it and so we work on radical hospitality, begin Welcoming Congregation programs, have A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity. And this is good, faithful work!
Please let us remember, in our stretching, that everyone means everyone. As we discern our internalized superiority and inferiority around race, gender, and sexuality, let us also remember to check our assumptions and oppressions around class and educational privilege.
We are not called to be a faith of like-minded people. We are called to worship and work together as like-hearted people – loving all of creation with compassion and curiosity.
“You need not think alike to love alike.”
Come, come, whoever you are. May you find yourself welcome here.