Friday, December 23, 2005

Not A Perfect People - standard disclaimer

Not A Perfect People - standard disclaimer

At some point, this was going to come up....

there is an old story about Jesus talking to some folks, and a couple guys come up to him, point out a woman, and say "Jesus, that woman broke the law and needs to be put to death. Here's a couple of stones here, since you're righteous, you get first dibs". Jesus, turned to them and said"let he who is without sin, cast the first stone." At this point, a couple of Unitarian-Universalists said "that would be us", and picked up all the stones.

Nasty joke, right? How better to get some attention? Im always surprised when UUs (and yes, other folks too, but I get mostly UUs reading this, so why mention anybody else?) believe that since we have never done wrong, therefore we are shocked shocked shocked to discover others in the past have done wrong. In this case, I am going to talk briefly about slavery.

First of all, it's perfectly clear to me and you and most intellegent people, that slavery is wrong.
However we didnt grow up in a society where most people thought slavery was fine - indeed many if not most people didnt even give slavery much thought untill the 1700s, which is when the anti-slavery thoughts begain to be discussed (especially in the United Kingdom.) There was political and religious thought starting at that time - that begain to make it clearier that slavery was wrong, and this was gathering speed up to around 1800.
A couple of things happened then, one: the cotton gin made cotton easier to produce, making large farms (plantations) possible away from the low country lands. One could possibly get wealthy planting cotton... however the only way to do that was acess to labor. That same time (1800), slave laws begain to get more restrictive -- Virginia passes a law that basicaly makes it illegeal to free slaves.
A couple of religious bodies in the south, begain to realize that they could no longer live in slave states - and communties pack up and leave South Carolina in 1804-1806 settling in Ohio. Among these are Quakers and German Baptists. Good for them. Those remaining behind become Universalists. ((actually some of the Qs and GBs in Ohio became Universalists too)).
If the old belief that Universalists were poor dirt farmers was true, then we dont have to worry about slaves, because slavery was too expensive for the poor. However the South Carolina Universalists were rather typical middle and upper middle class folks struggling to be upper class - like their neighbors. Southern Unitarians were typical Upper Middle and Upper Class southerns.
So, translated and simplified: southern Universalists and southern Unitarians had plenty in common with their southern neighbors - the saints all moved to Ohio . In the pre-war era, some had and most lived easily with the idea of slavery. Some southern Universalists in the 1890s-1960s opposed intergration - same as their neighbors did (the same as many northerns did).

To hide this and pretend it didnt exist, is to ignore history.
To make all these people to be full monsters, is to throw that first stone.
They are not a perfect people - and in our struggle to be better and to learn, we can still learn from those who arent perfect.

I grew up in the days of segregation, I saw "seperate but equal" restrooms, schools, water fountains. waiting rooms. As an adult now, I still hear stories of when you were allowed to go to town, and when you couldnt go, what stores you could never go in, where you could have a buisness and where you could not. As an adult now, I still hear the N word, I still hear and see racism ..... However, I hear less - I see different things that would have been unimaginable 15 years ago, much less 40 --- there remains hope.
-- who would have thought back in 1968, that I would have a job where Martin Luther King ("that tool of Moscow" as i heard him called) birthday would result in a paid holiday!
this is what people lived in, its not surprising they werent perfect.

so the standard disclaimer is going to be that perfect people didnt exist and never will,
and even though one Universalist minister owned a slave (it was his wife's slave, really!), and too many had wrong views on race, we can still learn from them and their imperfect brethren.

2 comments:

fausto said...

It's not just Universalists. The Unitarian side of our house has equally unclean hands.

For example, one of the founders of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington was John C. Calhoun. There's a fellow who doesn't appear on top of many "Famous UU" lists, but he deserves to be there.

Even the first settled minister of my Unitarian church (he was settled in 1680) here in oh-so-abolitionist Massachusetts had two slaves and noted how much he beat them in his diary.

Paul said...

We all do wrong at aometime, but some of us have a problem owning up to it !