Growing in Diversity is Living Our Principles

by Joyce Dowling

I have been the Growth and Public Relations Chair over the last decade in the congregation that is being recognized as a Breakthrough Congregation for growth in racial diversity. We went from less than 10% people of color to over 30% people of color in 5 yrs. My congregation was in a unique situation, but aren' t all of our congregations unique?

The answers to how to grow in diversity haven' t been realized in most UU congregations, so I see many are looking for a "how to". I wish it was easy. It can be as easy as saying "live our principles and reach out to share them with every possible searcher".

Who do our principles exclude? In my church we have a member who' s also an Episcopal priest - a Trinitarian & a Unitarian. Look at our principles - he' s not excluded there. We can' t live it if we don' t incorporate it into our thinking. Who might you be excluding? Who is living in your geographic area that you don' t see in your congregation?  Most people are un-churched, regardless of race or ethnicity or other category. How can we help our members move out of the mode of saying "they have their own churches" or whatever else they may be saying about "them"?

In a recent conference, I was asked "why are you anti-racist?" which I found is as hard a question to answer as "why are you a UU?" I don' t think any UU thinks of oneself as "a racist". It' s not just what we say we are or aren' t, it' s what we do that' s important and how we project who we are.

A. Powell Davies, who was a great leader in Unitarian growth in the U.S. capital area in the 1950's for whom my church is named, said, " simply is not true that one can believe anything and be a Unitarian. This is not what creedlessness means. One cannot be a racist and a Unitarian; be a Nazi and a Unitarian; a polygamist and a Unitarian; a bigot and a Unitarian. In our zeal for growth, we must not sacrifice the character of our movement as a rational, idealistic, ethical religion. Everybody is not, and cannot be a Unitarian regardless of their unethical behavior or prejudicial beliefs." Is this why we limit our outreach, because we don't want to "sacrifice our movement"? Have we really become more rational, idealistic, and ethical in the last 50 yrs.? I don' t think that' s what he meant. We need to strive to live by our principles and encourage others to do the same, but not limit our outreach.

Those who have studied the phenomena of racism have come to the realization that everyone has some racist thoughts or tendencies as we live in a racist society. As a result, our UU anti-racism programs have incorporated the affirmation that we're all racists. If we're all racists, then the above statement by Davies is not exactly true. It is the ideal that we not be racist and that we try to identify our racist tendencies and thoughts and eradicate them.

Davies also said, "What kind of religion is sufficient to this task [to save the world from oppression and tyranny]? Certainly not the religions of worn-out creeds; or religions that are themselves tyrannical and make exclusive claims to empire over the souls of men. Only the religion of freedom can do it, the religion with the circle that takes men in, not the religions that shut men out - the religion of the Universal Church from which no man is excluded who yearns for truth and righteousness and love." Except for the problem of the masculine-limiting language, I believe there's truth in this. If we can change from a culture of masculine language and masculine thinking to more inclusivity, why can't we learn to be more inclusive still? Who must we leave out? We are the religion for this task. As a faith community, we're closer than we've ever been.

Can racists and classists be in relation with people of different races and classes? Can theists and non-theists? Can white collar workers and blue collar workers? Can straight and gay? Most congregations already have some diversity. Racial diversity is more visible than most and has a deep history in our culture, but if we don' t reach out and become consciously welcoming, we can' t grow in diversity. We can do this.

"They drew a circle which kept me out, A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle which drew them in." wrote Unitarian Edwin Markham. Let's draw our circle wide.

Why we' re in this faith is personal and each of us has our own answers. Opportunities to find answers to why to become anti-racist are in a weekend Jubilee training and monthly ADORE (A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity) meetings. Davies Memorial UU Church wouldn' t be where it is now if it wasn' t for the support of the many programs and services provided by the UUA. Check out JUUST Change.

To reach out, use the UUA' s PR Manual and think "diversity". Picture diversity in photos that show your congregation and present a view of UUism to potential newcomers - anyone who might be searching. We can' t just use word of mouth to attract diversity. We need to be creative to reach populations that we are not used to interacting with. We have to be willing to put our financial resources into this effort. The internet, via our web site, is now the number one way people say they find us, but we need to remember the many who still don' t use it.

If you want to know the story of "how Davies church did it" (how we became a multicultural congregation and continue our work on this path), read Rev. John Crestwell's upcoming book "Charge of the Chalice". See

UUA anti-racism, anti-oppression, and identity-based ministry and other resources

PR Manual & other Growth Resources

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