"Ethical Agenda Setters"

Rev. Nate Walker of 1st U Philadelphia offers this sermon this week.

Unitarian Universalists have made historic contributions to society by playing the role of first responders to oppressive agendas. Historically, first responders have taken bold stances against a wide range of controversial social issues: slavery, segregation, sexism, homophobia, you name it. For generations Unitarian Universalists have effective responded to oppressive agendas. Now is the time for Unitarian Universalists to align our collective assets to become the ethical agenda setters of our time.
Play with that distinction for a while in your mind:  "first responders to oppressive agendas" vs. "ethical agenda setters".  That's very provocative and inspiring, and points the way to a rethinking of UU public theology.  I look forward to reading/seeing/hearing the sermon once it is available. 

I've got a pound of bacon here that tells me that Rev. Nate and I would probably disagree about what is next on ethical agenda of the 21st Century.  That's OK, and best left for another day.

But I wonder about the issues on which Religious Liberals and UU's in particular have not been first responders.  

It is not hard to imagine the present economic situation as a long-running, slowly unfolding mugging, in wealthy thugs are systematically ripping off working people.  (A recent study shows that 121% of the income gains since 2009 have gone to the wealthiest people -- poor, working and middle class people actually losing income).  

UU's have not been first responders to exploitative and oppressive system that is the finance-driven economy.  We're standing in the back of the crowd of onlookers watching a mugging, saying that it's probably true that both are at fault and that the victim probably asked for it.  UU's have historically been diffident about issues economics, class, and labor.  

We still need to put those issues on our agenda, and by doing so, put them on the agenda of those who look to us for ethical leadership.


  1. I like the concept and I'd like to think its true. Sadly, in many, if not most, the cases the Nate Walker cites we were really on both sides of the issues. Example: everybody remembers Theodore Parker, few people remember Ezra Stiles Gannett. Parker was a militant abolitionist. Gannet was a denominational leader. The two almost came to blows at a clergy meeting, where Gannet had the majority of support, because of Gannet's support of the Fugitive Slave Law. Douglas Stange puts it well:

    "As the Unitarian denomination should be ashamed of its antislavery conduct as a religious body, so it should be justly proud of the men and women who as individuals chose love of freedom over thoughts of expediency. The brilliance of their example makes the patterns of antislavery attitudes framed by the Unitarian denomination beautiful to behold.”

    This is probably true of all of the things listed above.


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