U.U. Race Relations Compared to Pagan Race Relations

March 5, 2015 at 4:49 am Leave a comment

As I’ve discussed before, I was raised in the United Methodist Church, with parents who were involved in racial/social justice organizing both within the UMC and in broader society. Most Protestant denominations in the United States broke apart over the question of slavery or of integration. Many of them have made official apologies, acknowledgements of wrongdoing to African-Americans and sometimes American Indians depending on their history. Unitarian Universalists are a largely white denomination and we too have been working at racial reconciliation. Some congregations have made apologies to the family members of Black ministers that they didn’t call, there is at least one U.U. church that has a plaque in honor of the slaves who built the building. We have a long way to go, and are far from perfect, but we are committed to this journey. Recently I read “The Selma Awakening” by Mark Morrison-Reed, a book about U.U. involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Before the march to Selma, U.U.s had made various proclamations against racism, and made some attempts at integrating the ministry, with very mixed results. When Martin Luther King Jr. called upon clergy of all faiths to come march to Selma, many U.U.s heeded the call, and this was a turning point in the U.U. commitment to racial and economic justice.

I am trying to take what I am learning about U.U. racial history and apply it to a Pagan community context, but in some ways I find the situations are not very comparable, probably no more so than if I were to compare to the history of the United Methodist Church.

  • Though considered heretics and persecuted at times in Europe, in the U.S. for the most part, Unitarians and Universalists could practice their faiths openly and freely with formally recognized churches and clergy
  • Wicca came “out of the broom closet” in the 1950’s, and Paganism more broadly in the 1970’s. There were earlier groups, the Church of Aphrodite was formed & legally recognized in 1939 in New York, but they are outliers.
  • While tending to be mostly white, and sometimes insular, people of color could technically join both U churches, though they were not always accepted.
  • Covens and esoteric orders, being initiatory and secretive, tended to stick to a mostly white middle-class social network.
  • Public, celebratory groups and festivals opened up Paganism to a broader spectrum of people, book publishing and the internet even more so.
  • The Unitarian Universalist Association is one organization, albeit a loose structure, that congregations belong to as members.
  • Pagan groups are mostly small and local, with a minority having a larger organizational affiliation. Most Pagans are solitary. (There’s one similarity- there are many U.U.s that do not have a local congregation or fellowship)
  • Unitarian Universalism affirms social justice oriented values- while some Pagan traditions (like Reclaiming Witchcraft) may affirm commitments to peace, environmentalism, gender equality, etc. and individual Pagans might connect activism with their personal beliefs and practices, Paganism in general is not united under any set of principles, and even Wicca specifically does not require any socio-political commitments. (Which is fine, by the way- I’m certainly not proposing a platform for all of Pagandom!)

I think we need to delve into our history in order to understand where we are now. I am going to start by talking about Wicca and related ceremonial magic groups and esoteric orders in Britain and the United States. This is partly because I simply know more about this history, not because other traditions don’t matter, and also because of the influences they have had on other forms of Paganism. American Asatru arose as a separate movement, with different socio-political and cultural influences, so it makes sense to discuss it separately. If you have information about the history of inclusion and exclusion of various ethnic and other groups from your tradition of Paganism, polytheism (or insert preferred label) that you would like to share, please link, I’d be interested in hearing about it. (Also please let me know if I get anything wrong!)

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Entry filed under: Pagan Communities, Race/Ethnicity, Unitarian Universalism. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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