Why We March
Prelude Video: Burn, Ellie Goulding

This morning, I’m playing with fire. We lit the chalice this morning as a sacred symbol of our highest aspirations—as a reminder that we are not isolated beings but connected to each other. The opening video this morning celebrated the fire of commitment to peace and justice that has been the bedrock of Unitarian theology since the Reformation. And the theology of universal love and inclusion has joined this long movement ever since the early days of this country in the form of Universalism. Fire, after all, requires both fuel and oxygen. The fuel that drives us forward is the quest for justice. And universal love is the oxygen that keeps it blazing.

Fire is beautiful, bringing heat in winter and light in the darkness. It is also a destructive force, capable of consuming everything in its path. It is at the same time the creative power of the universe at work, opening up overgrown forests to new growth, releasing the life force in all those seeds lying dormant on the forest floor waiting to burst forth with new life.

Even Truckie knows the life-sustaining power of the sacred flame. Do you know Truckie? She is an important part of our quest for social justice here in St. Louis. She’s a 2001 Ford F150 who, in her retirement years, is on a mission to serve as a community truck. First Church member Sidney Watson, Truckie’s caretaker, had enthusiastically agreed to lend her to us for the Pride Parade. After recently returning home from an event to promote rights and dignity for immigrant families, Truckie was ready for her next mission: to be decked out with rainbow ribbon and make her debut as the St Louis UU “Love Truck”—spelled L – “UU” – V – E. She carried proudly upon her slightly faded red rooftop the flaming chalice of the St. Louis Unitarian-Universalist marchers.

I wasn’t able to fit Truckie into the sanctuary today, but at least I was able to bring her flaming chalice … so you can share in that experience. And you’ll see Truckie and her flaming chalice in the closing video later. ☺

Perhaps more important than Truckie herself, were the people riding in her bed and marching alongside her, throwing rainbow beads and lots of love to the throngs of onlookers lining Market Street downtown. We UUs were a moral force to be reckoned with—nearly 100 people strong—and such a colorful sight to behold! We marched proudly with our banners, celebrating love and inclusion, and we knew that Truckie with her flaming tiara had our back (and also some nice cold water riding on her tailgate).

We were united in our love and propelled forward, as Theodore Parker describes, by our desire to be a living part of the revolution for justice in our time. Some of us were celebrating the four same-sex marriages that had been recently performed in the City of St. Louis as a test case to move the issue forward in the courts. “It’s justice we want to organize,” Parker wrote. “Justice for all.”

We can be proud of the fact that ours is a faith that never stands still. We recall the words of Milton in our responsive reading: “The light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it, to discover onward, things more remote from our knowledge.” So our movement, then, is first and foremost about doing the difficult work of seeking new truth and using it to make our world more just and beautiful. Not reciting creeds, but doing deeds.

Theodore Parker, in a sermon from the 1870s, posits that there is an innate desire in humankind throughout history to right the wrongs of the previous generation. And that we must have faith in this unfolding process, driven forward by conscience, even when the next goal may yet be unseen. This quotation was adapted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it comes from Parker in 1879: ”Look at the facts of the world,” Parker wrote. “You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long.”

Jane Addams, whom my wife Betsy has been enthusiastically researching lately, is a case in point. Addams, as you heard in the reading, invented the field of sociology in her zeal to bring alienated populations in the Chicago slums into community—with the ultimate goal of making immigrant populations human in the eyes of mainstream society. In 1889, long before modern-day corporate diversity programs and UU General Assembly resolutions, she was driven by the dictates of her conscience to raise her voice for the value of diversity as a necessary precursor to a fully functioning democracy.

Some deeds have been large, such as putting our lives on the line marching for civil rights in Alabama in 1965, defying deadly forces of hate. Unitarian minister and civil rights martyr James Reeb knew this instinctively, citing it is a principal reason that he converted to Unitarianism in 1958: “I want to be a Unitarian minister because the church does not prescribe for people what the ultimate outcome of their religious quest must be; rather it attempts to create fellowship that will strengthen and encourage each member in [their] desire and determination to live the truth as [they] see it.” He and fellow UU Viola Liuzzo, murdered by the Klu Klux Klan, gave their lives to advance the cause of voting rights for African Americans in Alabama.

Ralph Krog, of Starr King School for the Ministry, wrote in 2009 that “World changing movements are not inevitable, but consist of the collective decisions and actions of individuals. Unless the forces are very nearly balanced the impact of individual actions are hard to see, hard to measure. Occasionally the actions of a few people move the center of balance past a tipping point, and everything changes.”

Krog’s statement describes well the commitment to individual and collective action among Unitarians and Univeralists from religious reformer Francis David in 16th Century Transylvania… to immigrants rights activist Jane Adams in the 19th Century… to 20th Century civil rights martyrs James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo. Not all actions for social progress are as grand as this. Many are small, everyday steps toward justice and inclusion, like sandwich making, mentoring a troubled youth, or cleaning up a struggling neighborhood north of Delmar.

The beauty of our UU Pride march last month is that we are a unity of diversity. As Krog implies, we are a collection of individuals, making our own individual commitments, living out our own moral convictions, each following the dictates of our own conscience. There were as many different reasons for marching as there were marchers. We were a collection of straight allies, of gay, lesbian and bisexual UUs—not to mention a Mini Cooper convertible. the LUUve Truck and about 50 pounds of rainbow beads.

One UU said she marched for love: “I marched for unity, community and the Universal Love that lives within us all that knows no limits and no judgments”, she said. Echoing the words of Francis David, she added “Love that reminds us that we are all one and calls us to express that love in the way that our hearts lead us.”

Another UU wrote that she marched as a witness for inclusion: “I march as an ally,” she said “to show support for friends and strangers alike, to make a statement in favor of diversity and inclusion and equality, to let everyone know that our denomination is truly welcoming…” She put herself intentionally in the position of an outsider. She added, “It's a way to give away power, to negate at least for a while the unearned privilege that comes with being straight and cisgender. Pride is not for me or about me - I'm a witness, a guest almost.”

A third UU said she marched for solidarity: “The reason why I marched was to show visible support of the LGBT community—to show I stand on the side of love along with other UU's. No matter whom a person loves,” she added, “each person should be free to do so without persecution or denial of their civil rights. Sadly there are still too many lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people not allowed have their loving relationship recognized and honored through legal marriage.”

One gay man said he marched for change: “I march because it lets me know I am doing something that maybe will change the minds of those
that see us as a second class society, and then maybe they will see us for what we really are, just people!”

Another said he marched for family: To walk with his mom and brothers and celebrate his freedom.

Finally, one UU wrote that she marched for wholeness and integration: “I marched in the parade with pride in my heart to be a part of the LGBTQ communities of St Louis. The richness of these communities is so visibly on display this day—a diversity of interwoven strands in a community tapestry unified by many creative tensions! I love that to be LBTGQ identified means to be me, in all of my complexity. In seeking wholeness and integration, I land within this alphabet soup. I dearly love being in community with so many creative, truthful, and challenging and people of integrity.”

This UU concluded with a thought that sums up well the feeling that most of us marchers had that day: “I enjoy taking a stand, loving courageously, making some noise, and questing for justice!”

UUs are still questing for justice at this very moment, showing no signs of stopping. On June 28, the day of the St. Louis Pride march, our denomination at General Assembly took a step forward to broaden our commitment to non-discrimination rule based on gender, affectional or sexual orientation, to now include a broader perspective, now affirming our commitment to non-discrimination based on “gender expression, gender identity, sex, and family and relationship structures.” Yes, it’s only a statement on paper, but it conveys the larger message that ours is a faith that does not stand still.

And most important, we can celebrate that fact that we are often leading from the front, not getting pushed from behind or as some religious movements, being swept along by a current that is proving hard to resist. While some faith traditions are just now grappling with inclusion for LGBTQ people, the UU General Assembly passed the first resolution on LGBTQ non-discrimination as early as 1970, and in 1973 established what is now called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Ministries. Do UU resolutions change the world? In and of themselves, no. But it’s one more step along the arc of the moral universe, and I, for one, am proud of that progressive legacy.

Parker, and so many others, who fought for the abolition of slavery in the 19th Century, could not have foreseen the future battles that Unitarians and Universalists would wage against a stream of injustices the 20th and now the 21st centuries. But that was precisely his point: that there is a long arc of justice that is longer and farther into the future than any of us today can perceive. As we journey, we stand, sometimes triumphant from the hilltops, or sometimes exhausted from the dusty road, and we gaze at the horizon. We may not able to see what lies beyond it, but we know that the journey can and must go on…that our perspectives will change…that as more and more disenfranchised people join the movement for justice and inclusion, we will slowly and inexorably shift the perspective of society toward that new horizon.

May we, as a community of seekers, always move forward along that long arc of the moral universe…with our banner of love going before us…and with Truckie and her flaming chalice pointing skyward. May we continue to have faith in our quest and strength for the next leg of the journey.


Prelude Video: Marching On, One Republic

George Grimm-Howell
July 13, 2014
St. Louis, Missouri