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Raise Class Awareness

Rev Amy Shaw
Rev. Amy Shaw

Seven Questions for Congregations – to Help Raise Class Awareness

By Rev. Amy Shaw

Rev. Shaw is the settled minister at the Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, Wisconsin.

  1. Does your congregation, or do your committees, require leaders to spend their own money and then be reimbursed for things? This prohibits people without funds from rising to leadership.
  2. Do you charge low amounts for childcare/children’s events, but without family caps? $5 for one kid becomes $30 for six kids, out of reach for a low-income single mother.
  3. Are all of your meetings and events geared toward people with 9-5 jobs? How does someone on 3-11 shift get to participate in the life of your church?
  4. Are meetings and events held at the church, or is “hosting” things at peoples’ homes part of your culture? How does this feel for someone who can never host, because they live somewhere unsafe, or they feel they can’t afford even basic hospitality, or they are dealing with vermin?
  5. How much money do your social events require? Are there family caps? The default is never “Well, we can do scholarships.” The default must be “everyone can go – now how do we put the funds together?”
  6. How do you speak about ethical obligations? Are you making people who cannot afford ethical eating feel marginalized? Are you presenting things as ethical obligations which are financially impossible for many people – or laying on the guilt?
  7. Finally, rather than having conversations about how we as “haves” can invite “have-nots” to share our churches, can we instead have conversations which say “This is what we believe all in our church should be able to do – now how do we make it possible?” Scholarships and other “you ask us and we’ll let you do this thing for free that the rest of us are paying for ” approaches can taste like ashes. Forget charity, and embrace solidarity.

(Used with permission)

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for mentioning some of the problems in the “ethical eating” discussion for Unitarian Universalists. It’s one of the best examples of a class-related problem for today’s Unitarian Universalists.

    Background: The “ethical eating” discussion for the UUA started in 2008 with a call for a national conversation about the food economy and the problems experienced by low-income people. Economic justice and environmental justice are identified as major concerns in the “call for discussion” that was approved by the 2008 General Assembly. (The text is available.)

    Keep in mind that 2008 was the year when the Great Recession started. Millions of people were unemployed by the end of the year and dependent on food assistance. Political conservatives were horrified when they saw the number of “food stamps” (SNAP benefits) cases increase. They responded by trying to restrict the programs. It was a terrible situation.

    The UUA didn’t understand the crisis, and, in fact, the UUA said surprisngly little about the Great Recession. The “ethical eating” conversation was dominated by people who focused most of their attention on animal rights and “lifestyle choices.” The problems of poverty were (mostly) ignored and it was assumed that it was only necessary for people to “make better choices.”

    The UUA’s final’ “ethical eating” statement produced a floor fight at the General Assembly. Delegates complained that the final statement ignored the original “call for discussion.” Despite the Great Recession, the statement had little to say about anti-poverty programs, access to healthy food, the special needs of young people and older people, the needs of food indusry workers, support for small-scale farming, Fair Trade programs, etc., etc. “Environmental Justice” was included in the statement title but the UUA staff couldn’t explain why “environmental justice” was relevant.

    The “ethical eating” discussion started with a lot of class awareness. It ended in a disaster.

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