Indian Independence Day for Khasi Unitarians

This guest post on our blog is by Dranwell Barishisha “Barri” Mukhim. Barri is a member of the Unitarian Union of North East India; here, she writes about what Indian Independence Day (August 15) means to her as a Khasi Unitarian.

India was freed from about 300 years of British Rule on the 15th August 1947. It is marked each year with a national festival celebrated with great splendour and joy in every nook and corner of India. On this day, we have different cultural programmes dedicated to all those freedom fighters who gave us this auspicious golden day: a free India. This tradition is patriotically celebrated all over the country regardless of religions, tribes, classes, cultures or geographical distinction. Together, we all love to show our respect to the great Indian nation.

Independence Day 3Indian Independence Day is coming. My heart longs to be there at the ground watching the parade mostly by the armed and paramilitary forces with music of various kinds to wake us all from our slumbering daily chores to the beating of the patriotic songs and drums. As we watch, the various performances from different government departments showcase their achievements and successes.  It is a heart-warming sight.

As a child growing up in a village, we used to participate in the Independence Day celebrations in our respective schools where the Indian flag was hoisted. We took part in the parade among the students within the school followed by our solemn singing of the national anthem. We also sang and danced and sometimes we even enjoyed watching a movie about the independence struggle.

Barri and other Khasi Unitarians live in Meghalaya, a state in Northeast India.
Barri and other Khasi Unitarians live in Meghalaya, a state in Northeast India.

Many citizens are passionate about Mother India, but there are some who have secessionist tendency. Some of us, as tribal people in Northeast India, are struggling with the idea of being neglected by the mainland in many ways. Patriotism is dying gradually from our hearts, especially with the rise of insurgency militants claiming that they fight for our rights and also trying to spread the ideology that we are not Indian by blood. For the last many years we were not allowed to participate in the Independence Day parade because certain insurgent groups imposed a Bandh (public curfew) on the people. Many years have passed with people staying indoors for fear of being targeted. This gradually has become a habit so that people do not have the same kind of enthusiasm anymore. But life has started to rejuvenate again after the Court banned the Bandhs and no newspapers are allowed to publish or write on Bandhs. So, Meghalaya is now officially a Bandh-free state. Patriotic people are seen again at the parade ground.

Unitarians do not celebrate Independence Day separately as a religious community, but the holiday means a lot to us as citizens. We know that we are all Indians in an Indian soil, irrespective of regions or religions. India is a secular country; we celebrate Independence Day as one people. No rituals but only festivities are to be seen on this national day.

Politically, Indian Independence Day means a lot to Khasi Unitarians.  Khasis are a microscopic tribe in the great Indian sea of over 1.3 billion people.  Moreover, Khasi Unitarians are still a tiny minority among the whole Khasi tribe (of about two million people in the whole world).  Under current circumstances, I think as a tribe we cannot survive politically if we stand alone when we are sandwiched between the growing Indian and Bangladeshi populations. Our niche is much better with the Indian side than with any other country. Genetic studies have shown that we migrated in pre-historic times to these hills from mainland India, carrying with us many traits typical of Indians.  Moreover, Hinduism is a major religion in India and I consider Khasi Unitarianism as an offshoot of Hinduism. Hindus are generally religious and tolerant people that inherently allow a tribal culture to grow. Hence, I am proud to be Indian and willingly honour and celebrate the Indian Independence Day.

Barri, on the left in the front row, marches in a 4th of July parade with UUs in Seattle.
Barri, on the left in the front row, marches in a 4th of July parade with Unitarians in Seattle.

I was in the US on July 4th recently. It was overwhelming for me to be part of the American Independence Day celebration along with Unitarian friends in and around Seattle. I joined the parade with the East Shore Unitarian group; it was a joy to be there. For the first time in my life, I read the American Declaration of Independence which part of it I would like to quote here:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Independence Day 1I have a reason to borrow these lines. Being a Khasi Unitarian, I can see the spirit of the people all over the world is still overflowing with passion and love endowed by the Creator. Our inner self (conscience) is full of that love that can be shown in many different ways, such as being patriotic, even if our religion does not specifically teach us to be patriotic. On this Independence Day, I will be running with my children and the people of Shillong for peace and goodwill not only as a Unitarian but as a faithful citizen of India. We will be there at the parade ground to celebrate our Indian Independence Day and to instill in my young children, how to be passionate and patriotic about their country; this too means a lot to them. Jai Hind! (Long Live India!)

Burundi Resolution at the United Nations

The violent atrocities and political impasse in Burundi that have threatened our Unitarian siblings there continue to be of great concern to the international community. On July 29, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution, UN Security Council Resolution 2303, requesting that the Secretary-General establish a police component to monitor the security situation in Burundi. In her remarks explaining the US’s vote to support the Resolution, Ambassador Samantha Power, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, expressed disappointment on behalf of the US that this resolution does not do more to protect the people of Burundi.

Ambroise Niyongabo, from the Unitarian Church of Burundi, is currently seeking asylum in the United States.
Ambroise Niyongabo, from the Unitarian Church of Burundi, is currently seeking asylum in the United States.

Ambroise Niyongabo, a leader of the Unitarian Church of Burundi, asked for Ambassador Power’s very important and potent remarks to be shared, to help Unitarian Universalists understand the situation facing Burundi. Ambroise is currently seeking asylum in the United States.

Since its beginning, the crisis in Burundi has had direct effects on members of the Unitarian Church of Burundi (l’Assemblée Unitarien Chrétien de Burundi) and their friends and families in Bujumbura and the surrounding areas. It has been nearly a year and a half since this situation emerged – stemming from political maneuvering by the Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza who aimed to extend his term in power. “During this period… some 270,000 people have been displaced; at least 348 people have reportedly been the victims of extrajudicial killings; and 651 reported cases of torture have been documented. These are just the crimes that we know about.”

The resolution was adopted with 11 votes in favor, none against, and four abstentions (Angola, China, Egypt, and Venezuela). The lack of consensus, especially from the African states, was distressing to Ambassador Power, who affirmed “as somebody who’s looked at the issue of mass atrocities over many years and studied it on many continents – we worry that our inability to unite even on this sends precisely the wrong message to parties that already feel a great sense of impunity.” In mid-2015, the African Union authorized 200 human rights and military observers to monitor the situation, but their deployment was delayed extensively by the Government of Burundi. To date, only 36 of the 200 have actually been deployed, still unable to exercise their AU mandate due to obstruction from Burundi. The Burundi government also has rejected the 5,000-strong peacekeeping force that the AU also authorized. Throughout the process, the Government of Burundi has been entirely uncooperative with efforts by the international community to work with them to establish peace and build a way forward.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power addresses the Security Council on Burundi
Ambassador Power addresses the Security Council on Burundi

Implementation of Resolution 2303 will require that the UN work collaboratively with the government in order for anything to be achieved.  Ambassador Power expressed support for action, but a lack of optimism in the success of the adopted Resolution: “Today was an occasion that we could have sent a clear, unified message to the Government of Burundi that we will not allow similar tactics to delay the police deployment authorized today, and that continued obstruction of the AU mission must stop.”

Ambassador Power noted: “we should not harbor any illusions that this will fix Burundi’s problems. It will only, at best, observe those problems. Police are not being deployed to protect civilians, even though civilians are in dire need of protection. That should embarrass us. Instead police are effectively being asked to be human rights monitors. That is the most that we as a Council were able to agree upon – and we couldn’t even secure consensus on this.”

As we stand in solidarity with our UU siblings in Burundi and those who have fled the country, we hold them in our hearts and pray for peace to be achieved in the near future. We also hold in our hopes the commitment of the Representative of New Zealand, who stressed that this resolution is not the end of the process but a small milestone in efforts by the Security Council to restore peace and stability in Burundi.

Watch the live stream of the Security Council’s meeting on Burundi on UN Web TV.

Donations are needed to support the ongoing needs of Burundians in exile. Please continue to support the ICUU Burundi Appeal. You can donate online via credit card or PayPal.

Checks in $ can be sent to Burundi Appeal, ICUU, PO Box 2575, Corvallis. OR 97339, USA

Donations from US taxpayers only are tax deductible.

Climate Call to Action: Lessons from Bhutan

When it comes to addressing climate change, we must draw from as many sources as possible to seek creative solutions. On July 13, I attended a side event at the United Nations Headquarters titled “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.” In this event, representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Finland shared their countries’ experiences of how they were implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to achieve zero extreme poverty, zero net greenhouse emissions, and zero net loss of natural capital. This new policy framework titled “Getting to Zero” from the Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) focuses on empowerment, institutional and finance reforms, and new metrics. While I listened to the reports countries made, I was particularly struck and inspired by Bhutan’s case described by Karma Tshoar, representative of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

He discussed actions being taken towards poverty reduction intervention in his country such as the rural advancement program, the targeted household program, and the national rehabilitation program. The approach is to reduce not only traditional income-based poverty, but also multidimensional poverty. Multidimensional poverty, measured by the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), is a concept developed by the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and the United Nations Development Programme six years ago in 2010. This measure takes into account factors beyond just income and captures the severe deprivations that each person faces with respect to education, health and living standards. The MPI is useful in creating a more comprehensive picture of people living in poverty and allows comparisons across countries, different ethnic groups, and urban and rural regions. Most importantly, the MPI prevents vulnerable communities living in intense poverty from being overlooked and ignored by money metric measures.

Panel at “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals" at the UN Headquarters in NYC
Panel at “Getting to Zero: A Poverty, Environment, and Climate Call to Action for the Sustainable Development Goals” at the UN Headquarters in NYC.

Tshoar also detailed Bhutan’s environmental protection efforts and engagement to end climate change. The Constitution of Bhutan mandates that the portion of land cover should increase rather than decrease over the years. The Constitution states, “…a minimum of 60 percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained as forest for all time.” Bhutan has also submitted ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), signed the Paris Climate Agreement, and is currently in the process of ratification. Furthermore, Tshoar reported that Bhutan offsets carbon emissions by exporting clean hydropower electricity. If Bhutan continues its progress, it will offset 25 million tons of CO2 by 2025.

While Bhutan aims to keep its efforts in line with the SDGs, Bhutan is also committed to building an economy that serves Bhutan’s socio-cultural and spiritual values. Instead of measuring material development gauged by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Bhutan has introduced and coined the concept of “Gross National Happiness” or GNH. Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, gave a TED talk earlier this year in March titled “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative.” He discussed how Bhutan is transforming itself while maintaining its Gross National Happiness. He explained, “Back in the 1970s, our fourth king famously pronounced that for Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Economic growth is important, but that economic growth must not come from undermining our unique culture or our pristine environment.”

While Bhutan’s economy is small, it is unique in several ways. First, all citizens are guaranteed free school education, and those that work hard are given free college education. In addition, healthcare is completely free; medical consultation, treatment, medicines are all provided by the state. Tobgay explains, “We manage this because we use our limited resources very carefully, and because we stay faithful to the core mission of GNH, which is development with values.”

Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, presenting his TED Talk titled "This country isn't just carbon neutral- it's carbon negative."
Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, presenting his TED Talk titled “This country isn’t just carbon neutral – it’s carbon negative.”

In regards to environmental efforts, Tobgay supported Tshoar’s explanation of how Bhutan has been offsetting carbon emissions by describing the strategy of protecting areas. He explained, “It is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. But the beauty is that we’ve connected them all with one another through a network of biological corridors. Now, what this means is that our animals are free to roam throughout our country. Take this tiger, for example. It was spotted at 250 meters above sea level in the hot, subtropical jungles. Two years later, that same tiger was spotted near 4,000 meters in our cold alpine mountains. Isn’t that awesome?”

Bhutan’s holistic approach to development has achieved impressive results; it has adopted a progressive poverty reduction plan, remains carbon negative, maintains a set land cover ratio, and provides free access to education and health care – while simultaneously preserving its culture, values, and history. Bhutan leads and governs its people with values that align with Unitarian Universalist Principles. Their commitment to preserving the Earth’s environment and caring for its human and non-human creatures displays their respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Bhutan demonstrates that every nation, big or small, not only plays an important role in addressing climate change, but also possesses the ability to lead and teach by example.

By Christina Hui, UU-UNO Climate Justice Program Intern

Joint Activism: Working Together for Human Rights and Dignity

Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.
Left to right: Moderator: Bruce Knotts; Panelists: Tanya Hernandez, Rashima Kwatra, Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Fabrice Houdart, Dr. Monica Motley; Event organizers: Seble Alemu, Kelly Diaz.

At the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), we work to ensure that all people’s human rights are upheld and respected, no matter who they are or what their circumstances. Although advocacy areas are often separated, with some organizations and people working to combat discrimination based on race and others focused on sexual orientation, separate identity-based advocacy may not be the most effective way. On Thursday, July 21st, 2016, the UU-UNO hosted a panel event titled “At the Intersection of Racism and Homophobia: Joint Activism for Human Rights & Dignity.” The esteemed panelists held a wide variety of professional, academic, and personal backgrounds and areas of expertise, and complemented each other perfectly to produce a simulating and dynamic conversation. This powerful event left audience members inspired to get to work for intersectional justice.

Panelists included: Tanya Hernandez, professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law; Fabrice Houdart, Human Rights Officer at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York; Rashima Kwatra, Communications Officer at OutRight Action International; Dr. Monica Motley, Health and social justice advocate for racial, gender, and sexual minorities; and Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Interim Program Director at the Unitarian Church of All Souls, NYC. These panelists, with their diverse backgrounds, touched on the issue of racism and homophobia in a number of contexts, from Thailand and Iran to the U.S.’s rural south, to the United Nations’ Free & Equal campaign and Unitarian Universalist congregations. They emphasized that no one can be truly free from discrimination unless discrimination is abolished in all its forms.

In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.
In activities following the panel, participants explored identity, privilege, and how to be effective activists.

The panelists shed light on the magnitude of this problem, highlighting instances of racism and misogyny in LGBTQI campaigns, the failure of courts to address discrimination based on multiple identity factors, and security concerns for LGBTQI people worldwide. Following the panel discussion, audience members had the opportunity to explore different aspects of their identities and consider the integral nature of each, reinforcing Audre Lorde’s idea, echoed by Dr. Motley, that there is no “hierarchy to oppression.” An African American lesbian woman who experiences discrimination cannot say that she was oppressed because of her race, or because of her sexual orientation, or because of her gender to the exclusion of the others, just as she cannot choose to prioritize different aspects of her identity. Her identity as a woman is not stronger than her identity as an African American, or as a lesbian. Examining intersecting identities in this way helped participants to understand the importance of unifying LGBTQI and Racial Justice campaigns.

As Unitarian Universalists and as activists, there is a lot that we can learn from this conversation. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, reflecting on her own experience as a UU activist, pointed out that even campaigns with good intentions can get so narrow in focus that they miss opportunities for joint activism. They fail to acknowledge other injustices that are threatening or disadvantaging the very community members that they are trying to support. Many people focus on the scarcity of resources, and do not open their minds to consider the opportunities that are possible if those volunteers expanded their scope. It is inspiring to see some UU congregations marching with Black Lives Matter banners in their local Pride parades – expanding this kind of integrated advocacy is key to opening up possibilities for collaboration with more groups and achieving more together.

The panelists also addressed why it is so important to take immediate action. In scores of countries worldwide, people face brutal punishment and even death as a result of strict anti-LGBT laws. Additionally, as Dr. Motley observed, there is a lot of racism, homophobia, and transphobia in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, which can lead to major medical problems because those oppressed communities’ needs are never addressed. Professor Hernandez stressed that even systems designed to protect people from discrimination, are themselves discriminatory, as exemplified by the unwillingness of legal courts to consider intersecting and overlapping identities.

When it comes to the role of faith in activism, religion was cited both as perpetuating oppression and as a champion of justice. As UUs, we have the ability to drive progressive faith-based social justice campaigns. We can bridge the gap between other religious communities and create cooperative initiatives. Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward addressed how her work is guided by the Unitarian Universalist Principles promoting “the inherent worth & dignity of every person” and “respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part.” Her understanding and internalization of these ideas have driven her to social justice work, as they motivate and empower UUs across the globe to find empathy for those directly affected by homophobia and racism, and to recognize that directly or indirectly we are all harmed by discrimination and hate. In this interconnected world, only by working together for the benefit of those who are oppressed can we all be achieve peace, liberty, and justice for all.

by Kelly Diaz, UU-UNO LGBTQ Rights Program Intern

To watch video coverage of the panel, visit:

Global Unitarian and Universalist community gathers in the Netherlands

From July 17-23, 2016 the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists held its biennial Council Meeting and Conference in the Netherlands.  Nearly 150 people, including a large delegation of Young Adults U/Us from around the world, gathered for planning, study, worship, celebration, and fun.  British Unitarian, John Hewerdine, shared some wonderful photos of the event.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Program highlights included:

  • ‘Chalice Circles’ which brought U/Us from diverse cultures into conversation and relationship building throughout the week.
  • Presentations and reflection on the Conference Theme: Sustainability and Climate Change.
  • A participatory process to map out ICUU’s mission and programmatic goals.
  • Workshops that centered on Racial Justice work, Lay-Chaplaincy training, Developments in Liberal/Progressive Theology, Accessibility Adaptations for Religious Communities, Resources for the Defying the Nazis film, and much more.

And, the gathered community took an important next step in designing the future of ICUU by designing and unanimously adopting a new Identity and Mission statement:

Inspired by the Spirit of Life and with a commitment to the ideals of freedom and reason in religion. 

We, the member groups of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, affirming our belief in religious community based on

liberty of conscience and individual thought in matters of faith
the inherent worth and dignity of every person
justice and compassion in human relations
responsible stewardship of the earth’s living system
and our commitment to democratic principles,

Declare the mission of the ICUU is to empower existing and emerging member groups to sustain and grow our global faith community.

An especially poignant moment was the recognition of the service of outgoing ICUU Executive Director, Rev. Steve Dick.  Steve, who has served in this role since 2009, was honored and celebrated.  And Rev. Sara Ascher was welcomed as ICUU’s new Interim Executive Director.

ICUU President Dávid Gyero recognizes outgoing ED Rev. Steve Dick
ICUU President Dávid Gyero recognizes outgoing ED Rev. Steve Dick


On the governance front, a new Executive Committee was elected with broad global representation:

  • President: Rev. Gyero Dávid (Hungarian Unitarian Church)
  • Vice-President: Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana (Unitarian Church of Burundi)
  • Treasurer: John (Mich) Michell (Canadian Unitarian Council)
  • Secretary: Lara Fuchs (European Unitarian Universalists)
  • At Large: Rev. Darihun Khriam (Unitarian Union of NE India)
  • At Large: Inga Brandes (German Unitarians)
  • At Large: Rev. Eric Cherry (UUA)

To close the event, the Unitarian Union of North East India invited the global community to the next ICUU Council meeting, which will be held in Shillong, Meghalaya, India in 2018. All are welcome!


Donate to ICUU by credit card or PayPal:


Financing for Women, Peace, and Security

Sixteen years ago, a landmark resolution on Women, Peace, and Security passed in the Security Council of the United Nations. That resolution, UNSCR 1325, laid the foundation for a new approach to global security, and alongside the Beijing Declaration, the global community committed to ensuring that the impact of conflict on women and girls would not go unaddressed. Since that resolution, the global feminist civil society community has worked to counter the increasing presence of militarism while simultaneously advancing the agenda of women’s role in making a more peaceful, just, and equitable world.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was founded in 1915 and since then has worked around the world to unite women in the fight for demilitarization, disarmament, and a more equal world – causes that UUs have worked tirelessly for as well. Here at the UN, WILPF has created a project called PeaceWomen, who monitor the implementation of UNSCR 1325, advance inter-agency cooperation on Women, Peace and Security, and organize information sharing through their website and events, like the one I was lucky enough to attend this month. This workshop invited guest speakers from the civil society community, academia, UN agencies, and governments to share their knowledge on a variety of topics, from illicit financial flows to gender responsive budgeting and National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security.

Photo from PeaceWomen
Experts, civil society representatives, and other WPS players participate in the workshop

Militarization and the Protector-Protected Relationship

Our day started with comments from Cynthia Enloe, an expert on gender and militarism and someone recognized globally for her insights on women’s role in the changing paradigm of international relations. Her comments, focusing on the protector-protected relationship in militarization and how gender roles are reaffirmed by this dichotomy, allowed those participating in the workshop to better understand how an increasingly nationalistic and gendered world leads us away from equality and hurts feminism. One concept that I found particularly significant from Dr. Enloe’s presentation was how in the protector-protected relationship a so-called “natural” (male) protector emerges, reinforcing traditional gender norms and further militarizing societies.

In the UN’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration work (DDR), we find that even in a post-UNSCR 1325 world, women are being under-served and underrepresented, leading to post-conflict scenarios that may be even more gendered than before. Nela Porobic is someone who has seen first hand how DDR has failed to protect, serve, and advance women in Bosnia. Ms. Porobic has worked extensively as a WILPF coordinator in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and she commented on the issues facing that country 20 years after the end of the Bosnian war. From the lack of any women being present at the Dayton Agreement to the post-war policy of the EU only looking at women “in the broader context”, the economic and social rights of women have been generally ignored, hindering peace and development in that country. As someone who works on the ground, Porobic issued some recommendations for future peace agreements and ensuring that women are represented in post-war scenarios:

  • Peace agreements must introduce measures for redress of victims of war
  • Peace agreements must ensure protection and effective implementation of economic, social and cultural rights for all.
  • Peace agreements must move financing into a framework for building sustainable and gender just peace.


Interfaith and International Engagement at UUA General Assembly

PrintAt the end of June, Unitarian Universalists gathered in Columbus, OH for a week of learning, worship, and activism. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly this year brought a special perspective to UU social justice work. The theme for GA 2016 was “Heartland: Where Faiths Connect” and throughout the week emerged a thread urging us all to bring love, compassion, and a listening ear to interfaith partnerships and collaboration. This year’s General Assembly presented a unique opportunity for participants to engage with the Global U/U Story, with many occasions to learn about and get to know Unitarian Universalist and other liberal religious people from around the country and the world actively participating in social justice movements.

GA gladly welcomed many international and interfaith guests who joined participants in Columbus from all areas of the globe. Actively participating in workshops and events, they shared their perspectives and experiences, while hearing about actions being taken in the United States, allowing all to learn and grow together. Amongst others, we were joined by:

  • Masahiro Nemoto, Ikuyo Kase, and Kyoko Hirota – Rissho Kosei-kai, Japan
  • Gui Yamamoto and Rev. Tetsuji Ochia – Tsubaki Grand Shrine, Japan
  • David Gyero, President of International Council of Unitarians and Universalists and Deputy Bishop, Hungarian Unitarian Church
  • Blaise Ntakarutimana, Lay-leader, Unitarian Christian Church of Burundi
  • Laszlo Major – Parish Minister, Hungarian Unitarian Church, Balzs Scholar, Starr King School for the Ministry
  • Bela Fekete – Parish Minister, Hungarian Unitarian Church
  • Petr Samojsky – Parish Minister, Prague Unitarian Church
  • Týna Kolajová Ledererová – President, Religious Society of Czech Unitarians
  • Mahesh Uphadyaya – Community Minister, India and Holdeen India Program partner
  • Arman Pedro – Seminarian and Lay Minister, UU Church of the Philippines
  • Lara Fuchs – Seminarian, Switzerland
  • Barishisha Mukhim – Leader, Unitarian Union of North East India
  • Brother Albert Xavier – IARF Human Rights Resource Center, India
  • Matt Gilsenan – President, European Unitarian Universalists
GA Workshop #339 FAITH AND INTERFAITH ENCOUNTERS IN INDIA Speaking is Mahesh Upadhyaya Photo © 2016 Nancy Pierce/UUA
Speaking is Mahesh Upadhyaya
Photo © 2016 Nancy Pierce/UUA

Hearing directly from Unitarian Universalist and interfaith activists from around the world about their work brought an important dimension to the many events and workshops at GA. Within the framework of faiths connecting, there were 11 workshops, 6 special events, and 1 worship service dedicated to celebrating international connections and nourishing our global Unitarian Universalist movement. Topics ranged from remembering Unitarian history in Japan, interfaith action to combat global climate change, and building connections to fight islamophobia, among many more. Building upon the focus on the movement for Black lives that permeated many aspects of this General Assembly, the UU United Nations Office and UU Service Committee co-sponsored a workshop called “Black Lives Matter Outside Our Borders.” It addressed the structural, often unconscious discrimination faced by people of African descent around the world, and what UU organizations are doing to address it. A complete list and overview of all the international events at GA is available at the website for the Coalition of International UU Organizations.

Rev. Karen Tse in discussion with Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana at reception.

In the evening on Friday, June 24th, the UUA International Office hosted a reception to celebrate engagement with the Global U/U Story. Attendees learned about some of the highlights of the work being done at the International Office, in the Holdeen India program, and at the United Nations Office. Highlights included presentation of the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon Congregation Awards to those congregations who actively support the UU United Nations Office, as well as an excerpt of the winning sermon from the 2015 Dana McLean Greeley Sermon Competition.  You can watch a video of the winning sermon, by Douglas Harrell, which addressed the topic of International Criminal Justice: From Punitive to Restorative. The reception concluded with a conversation between UU Minister, Rev. Karen Tse and Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana who joined by video conference from Toronto. Rev. Fulgence discussed the political situation in Burundi which caused him and other members of the Unitarian Church there to flee the country due to violence.

Attendees at the Interfaith Networking event discuss community organizing.
Attendees at the Interfaith Networking event discuss community organizing.

The following evening, interfaith activists gathered for a networking event. Presenters shared information about the International Association for Religious Freedom, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Religions for Peace-USA. Carey McDonald from the UUA also shared details about a joint initiative of the UUA, UUSC, and the Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard encouraging Unitarian Universalists to engage ‘interfaithfully’ to welcome Syrian refugees and combat islamophobia in their communities. This UU Action Project is in connection with a documentary coming to PBS this September about Unitarian minister Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha who stood up against injustice to defy the Nazis and rescue dissidents, Jews, and other refugees during World War II. The documentary film by Ken Burns, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War” will be accompanied by a book of the same title by Artemis Joukowsky III, grandson of the Sharps. Resources to engage your congregation in dialogue and action in conjunction with this film and book are available at This project will allow UUs to connect deeply with the Sharps’ important chapter in the Global U/U Story while continuing to shape that Story and bend its arc towards justice.

For those who were at GA and all who were not, there are many opportunities to stay involved with international UU work. Follow the UUA International Blog for information about recent programming, and consider hosting a United Nations Sunday service or a Defying the Nazis event at your congregation this fall!


Your gifts put our faith into action. Please consider making a generous donation to the work of the UUA International Resources Office.

Tracing the origins of Racism

Unitarian Universalists have a long history of engaging in racial justice advocacy individually and as congregations. As people of faith who believe in the inherent worth of every person, UUs strive for justice, equity and compassion in relationships and work for systemic change through advocacy.

At the end of May, I attended an event called “Understanding the Origins of Racism, Afrophobia & Colorism and the Movement for Reparations.” Hosted at Baha’i Center and organized by the United Nations NGO Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Afrophobia and Colorism  (CERAC), this event was part of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015- 2024 event series.

Manbo Dowoti Desir, Chairperson of CERAC

Founded in 2000, CERAC grew from Subcommittee for the Elimination of Racism status in the NGO committee for Human Rights at the United Nations. As the standalone committee it is now, CERAC takes bold stance against the invisible respect, insufficient recognition, and grievous injustices that people of African descent face globally through advocacy, development of global policy and dissemination of educational information.  The UU-UNO’s Director Bruce Knotts once served as co-chair of the subcommittee.

There are many shared values between Unitarian Universalists’ social justice ideals and CERAC’s mission and vision. Both are dedicated to ending racial discrimination and injustice holistically: starting within ourselves and moving out into the world around them. Aware of the renewed attention and energy toward racial justice work in recent years, UUs and CERAC take steps putting faith in action, engaging at the grassroots level fostering collaboration to learn, grow and celebrate multi-ethnic and multicultural communities. Through advocacy, education and activism the Unitarian Universalist Association and CERAC are making progress in breaking down divisions, healing isolation and promoting the interconnectedness of all justice issues.

A similar deep and multidimensional approach to social justice was reflected CERAC’s event – as the origin of racial intolerance and social control in the United States was traced through economic, social and political analysis. Of course this event would not have been what it was without the intelligent and inspiring speakers: Dr. Jeffery B. Perry, Dr. Bilan Bashi Treiler and Dr. Kwasi Konadu, and the attentively engaged audience. Presenters related theoretical and objective substance on the invention of the white race and white supremacy as well as ‘the ethnic projects’ that racism survives and thrives on. They followed the footprints of racial identification based on skin color all the way back to the 8th Century CE, and the origins the reparations movement back to the Belinda petition to the Massachusetts court in 1783.

Takeaway Lessons

Dr. Jeffery Perry 

The take away from Dr. Perry’s talk was that race is beyond a social construct. It is invented for the purpose of making profit and maintaining social control against the interest of Blacks and working class Europeans. Because race and class are intertwined to sustain white supremacy, efforts taken to revive economic crisis such as the Great Depression actually set back the economic progress of blacks. For example the New Deal, which was nationwide economic relief, recovery and reform tactic, did not work in favor of People of Color.  The black to white unemployment ratio that was 1:1 in 1929 was 2:1 by the end of the New Deal. The connection between racial and economic justice is inextricably linked in all aspects of society, a relationship addressed in the UU-UNO’s 2016 Intergenerational Spring Seminar.

On the other hand, politically People of Color are “the touchstone” of all contemporary human rights struggles in the United States. Blacks’ struggle for rights and dignity led to the suffragist efforts, the labor movement, and even the LGBTQ rights advocacy. Dr. Perry’s presentation concluded insisting that white supremacy is historically a principal retardant to social change efforts, and that struggle against white supremacy should be central to efforts against racism. Racism is always an obstacle to creating fair and loving communities.

Dr. Vilna Treitler

Building off the topic of white supremacy, Dr. Treitler introduced the concept of “ethnic projects,” in which racism survives and thrives in the United States. The term “ethnic projects” refers to the racialization of new migrants – an iterative incorporation process guided by white supremacy. This phenomenon can be best understood with clothing and drawer analogy. If the racial hierarchy is bureau, the racial categories are the drawers, and ethnicities are found inside.

The history of America can be summarized by various migrants groups’ struggles to leave the bottom drawer without disrupting white supremacy, which is the top drawer. Once new groups learn the language, the practice of the race and the struggle against their own position – they exert pressure to change the paradigm in which they participate. At the bottom drawer there are large numbers of African Americans systematically barred from leaving while various immigrant groups i.e. the Italian, the Irish, and the Chinese became “white.” Racialization is legitimized by a racial paradigm that is made of categories and hierarchy, as well as racial “commonsense” and racial sanctions. The ethic projects are a racialization cycle that sustain racism and allow intolerance to thrive.

Dr. Kwasi Konadu

Getting the story on the origins of racism correct is particularly important when considering reparations. Dr. Konadu advised that reparation is an idea we have to prepare for in constructing what would satisfy and benefit people of African descent, but also build infrastructure and modes of delivering the amends. Historically, requests for reparations have been proposed at the government, courts, and civic groups in the form of economic benefit/monetary gains for blacks. The first request for reparation was granted to Belinda by the State of Massachusetts; Belinda was an eighty-year-old slave whose owner passed away. The Pension Movement led by Isaiah Dickerson and Callie House was successful in petitioning Congress and  providing tax reliefs and monetary assistance to ex-slaves. In 1969 James Forman demanded reparations from white churches and synagogues government and won three million dollars, which he put towards education.

Reparations can vary from verbal apologies or tangible benefits. Although in the past reparation was defined by monetary compensations, reparations can be done per each sector of society: health, education, housing etc. The conclusion about reparations is unclear, as the concept of reparation itself, reflecting the need for further discussion of the topic.

Attendees of the event engaged in Q&A

My main take away from this event is that as individuals, as society, and congregations we have to constantly engage ourselves in learning about the realities of racial inequality and injustice. As Unitarian Universalists define their social justice legacy as a policy of “deeds not creeds,” we have to connect with, embrace, and support social justice movements through contributions of our money, skills, time and more. I am convinced that doing so will empower and grow our love and belief in the inherent worth of every person, which are fundamental gears to harness to stop oppression against people of African decent and all others.

By Seble Alemu, UU-UNO Racial Justice Program Intern