Sharing Global Faith: Reflections on Justice
In an attempt to appease divine wrath, the Hebrew Bible prophet Micah asks Yahweh whether extreme sacrifices will secure atonement for the nation of Israel’s many sins. Unexpectedly, Yahweh responds with an insistence not on increased ritualism but on inward transformation: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Echoing this sentiment, the late Unitarian minister Rev. A. Powell Davies once opined that “if we turn away from justice, injustice decrees our dissolution. The moral and spiritual are not optional, mere ornaments of life; they are essential, mandatory, the very nature of humanity” (Without Apology, 17). Whether in eighth century BCE Judea or twentieth century CE America, the call for justice rings with urgency of necessity.
But how does this injunction manifest itself in contemporary U/Uism? In the July issue of Sharing Global Faith, three international U/U leaders articulate compelling visions of how and why justice matters. Drawing on the Khasi concept of ‘Ka Hok,’ Rev. Helpme Mohrmen (Unitarian Union of Northeast India) investigates the interplay between justice, truth and righteousness for a tribal-influenced liberal religious community. Dr. Lilian Burlando (Paz y Harmonia, UU Fellowship in Argentina) discusses the work of the Centro in light of its commitment to education, compassion and justice. Recalling her childhood memory of revolting to what she deemed unfair, Rev. Cynthia A. Snavely (Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice) insists that only words and actions bring justice in the end. These three reflections advance a nuanced and multi-valent account of what a justice-driven global U/Uism looks like on the ground. Enjoy!
Rev. Helpme Mohrmen
Unitarian Union of Northeast India
The Khasis- Pnar is one of the many tribal groups of the North Eastern Part of India and the majority of the tribe lives in the state of Meghalaya, which is adjacent to Assam. Like any tribe, the Khasi-Pnar has a unique culture, tradition and language. The Khasi way of life is still governed to some extent by a Tribal way of life.
The Khasi word for Justice is “Ka Hok.” Ka hok also means Truth and Righteousness. So when the Khasi use the word Ka Hok it means Justice, Truth and Righteousness. The Khasi Justice system is based on truth and nothing but the truth; it also means delivering Justice righteously. Even before any battle or a duel, the Khasi people will always swear by Ka Hok. Ka Hok in the Khasi-Pnar context is a sacred word; it is something that one will keep in high esteem. Ka Hok governs the day to day life of the Khasi people and they try to live by it. One of the cardinal rules of the Khasi Pnar is known as “Kamai ia ka hok”, which literarily means to earn righteousness, so a Khasi Pnar is expected to try live righteously throughout one’s life.
The Unitarian Union North East India or the Khasi Unitarian as it is commonly known, is a church which has it roots in the Khasi-Pnar thoughts and culture and also, being a liberal a religion, it spreads its wings to absorb truth and meaning from the wider world.
–Dr. Lilian Burlando
Paz y Harmonia, UU Fellowship in Argentina
When I moved here, to Ushuaia, ( Tierra del Fuego, Argentina ), some years ago, I asked myself this question:
What are the needs, related to Justice, of the people in this community, which are not yet met through public or private organizations? What can I do to advance this cause?
Out of this questioning Centro de Estudio, Meditación y Acción “Paz y Armonía” was born. An innovative place and unique offering in the region, in tune with UU Principles, opened its doors with the collaboration of a small group of people.
The main purpose of our group is to integrate the intellectual, spiritual and social aspects that are always present in all human beings. Thus, people come not only to increase their intellectual knowledge, but also to strengthen their spiritual life and to exercise their human values.
We trust that if our understanding of the divine makes us more empathetic, and if it impels us to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving kindness and justice, then it is a good theology. What our world needs is not belief, not certainty, but respect expressed in practical and concrete ways for those who do not think the same, even for our enemies.
One of the ways the Center works for justice is through the study of other people’s religious beliefs and life styles. This knowledge is no longer merely desirable, but necessary for our own understanding of the world.
The theme of compassion keeps surfacing, because it is pivotal to all the great religious traditions and the surest means of attaining justice.
To this end, the Center offers Seminars about “World Religions” and “Race, religion, economic and sexual Discrimination.” We consider that it is mostly through our testimonies that we transmit our values, specifically: how we handle life’s problems, how we face crises and support one another.
Working for Justice is to follow Isaiah 61 words :
“…To bind up the brokenhearted,
To comfort all who mourn,….”
Thus, we offer workshops focusing on “Grief and Loss”, “Burnout”, “Simple Living”, etc.
Since we are aware that service is an integral part of spiritual development, our program includes the training of volunteers to accompany survivors through bereavement process.
In order to be inclusive, most of our events and services are offered free of charge.
There are infinite ways to Work for Justice, but this is our little drop in the ocean.
Rev. Cynthia A. Snavely
Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice
Only once in the entirety of my school career was I sent to the principal’s office. It was first grade. Another little girl and I had both been called up to the teacher’s desk. Our spelling tests were exactly the same—mistakes and all. The teacher said that obviously one of us had cheated. She wanted to hear a confession. I cried and would not stop crying, and so I was sent to the principal’s office. I cried, because I was angry. I had been accused of cheating. I had not cheated. It wasn’t fair, and so, I cried.
I do not know of anyone who can recall their childhood without some memory of revolting in some way to what he or she thought was not fair. As children we believe the world should be fair, and, if we cry enough or protest enough perhaps it will be. Unfortunately, many of us lose that sense that the world can be made fair before we hit adulthood. By the time we are teenagers someone has told us, “Life’s not fair. Get used to it. Suck it up.” And for the most part, we do. But, the world is not going to be made any fairer by our “getting used to it” any more than it is by our tears. And, I do want the world to be fairer.
In part because of that desire, today I am a Unitarian Universalist minister of a congregation and an administrator for a regional group of Unitarian Universalists in the Baltimore Washington Northern Virginia region— Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. Through these positions I have been asked to and have lobbied in Annapolis and in Washington DC. I have been emboldened by other Unitarian Universalists and those of other faiths to speak out for changes in the law to protect the environment, to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, for health care reform, against torture of American prisoners, for a more equitable funding of our education system. I hope that my actions also have emboldened others to act.
Without others who acted before me and who encouraged me to speak up, even as an adult, I might have responded to much that is wrong with this world simply by crying. But, those who wring their hands and say, “The world is going to hell in a hand basket,” make no difference for the better. Tears do not bring justice. Sucking it up does not bring justice. Words and actions do. Not the words or the action of one, but the words and actions of a community speaking and acting together, this is what brings more justice to our world. This is why being part of a congregation and part of a regional UU group has been important for my own actions. As Margaret Mead put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”