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UUA Commission on Appraisal to Study Class and Classism

A blog response by the Rev. Dr. Dorothy Emerson, UU Class Conversations

Rev. Dorothy Emerson
Rev. Dorothy Emerson

Class and Classism were among the topics chosen for study by the UUA Commission on Appraisal at GA 2014. This is a big deal because the Commission is in a unique position to lift up issues that are central to the future of Unitarian Universalism. Here’s how the COA states its mission:

Grounded in the living tradition of our free and responsible faith, yet charged with acting independently, the Commission’s mission is to provoke deep reflection and to evoke timely, creative transformation of Unitarian Universalism, our congregations, and the Unitarian Universalist Association.

To learn more about their work in the past, check out www.uua.org/coa

As delighted as I am that these topics were chosen, I can imagine that some UUs may be shocked and fearful about this. I can almost hear the comments: “What a downer! Why do we have to focus on the negative?” “Why can’t we talk about how to reach out to other people without getting into sticky issues? I don’t like talking about oppressions.” “Talking about class is going to make us feel guilty. I’m tired of being blamed because I’m successful.”

If only people who fear this topic could experience one of the UU Class Conversations workshops. The reality is that most people we have worked with discover that talking about class is enlightening and freeing. Even ministers and lay people who have been around UU circles for many years and are experienced workshop leaders and participants have felt they learned something new about themselves and about the generally hidden but very present dynamics of class. No one has indicated they felt the workshop was a waste of time or depressing. In fact, most people have been grateful to finally have an opportunity to share their class stories and learn more about people from other classes. And the congregations where we have offered workshops have indicated a desire to learn more so they can become less classist and more class-inclusive.

I suspect our fears have prevented us from addressing something that has the potential to open us up in new ways to a broader range of people who appreciate our values and principles but may express them or relate to them in different ways, through different lenses.

In the process we have discovered in all our workshops that we UUs come from a broader range of class backgrounds than we previously thought. There is no “us” and “them” because virtually all class backgrounds are represented in our congregations, except that those at the lower end of the scale tend to hide who they are in order to fit in. Talking openly about class in a context of mutual respect where we are committed to listening to each other allows us to better understand who we UUs already are and hints at who we could become.

I just read an article in the new Yes! Magazine about “Intersectionality.” This is an emerging way to look beyond systemic oppression at issues that are interconnected. Take climate change, for instance. Looking at the problem by itself does not necessarily move us toward solutions, but looking at it in terms of related race, class, gender, economic, etc. issues not only leads closer to solutions but involves different constituencies in working together to face and address the challenges of our times. This approach is what millennials are tending towards, as they support multiple causes and institutions rather than joining only one.

Perhaps the COA will focus on intersectionality, with a sub-section on class/classism as the one issue of “oppression” we UUs have failed to address in the past – an understanding of which is essential for thinking holistically about issues. This approach could bring in several of the other concerns the COA is considering studying – new models of ministry, justice/mission, Beloved Community, and money and the use of capital.

While thrilled about the actual topic selection, the fact that class and classism were even on the list means we are making progress. The time is right for this discussion to finally emerge in a major way in our UU movement — and we will be transformed in the process.

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