A Study Tour with the Rev. Dr. John A. Buehrens and the Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson
July 1 to 13, 2014
Join two leaders and leading historians of Unitarianism on a visit to Poland and Prague. Born of Czechoslovak heritage, Dr. Buehrens as a seminarian helped to research the Eastern European history of early Unitarianism as assistant to the late Prof. Geo. Hunston Williams, author of The Radical Reformation. John visited Poland in 1985, to meet people in the Solidarity movement. Dr. Atkinson last visited Poland in 2004 and has written on the history and social ethics of early Polish Unitarians, and their Italian-born leader, Faustus Socinus.
Perhaps the first real “process theologian,” Socinus had a transformative effect not only in Poland – before being suppressed in the Counter-Reformation – but also in Western European religious thought through Milton, Locke, and others, and thence to America. Denied basic rights along with Jews, as non-believers in the Trinity, the last of the Polish Unitarians may have died at Auschwitz, which will be visited during the tour. Since 1989, Polish Unitarianism has risen from the dead. Hosts for this study tour will include leaders of today’s Polish Unitarians who are reviving our heritage there; several Transylvanian Unitarian ministers may join the study tour as well. (more…)
In over 76 countries, religion is used as a rationale to oppress people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now is the time for people of faith to respond to faith-based intolerance and, on June 12, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and other organizations joined together to do just that. Over 100 people gathered in the United Nations Church Center for a screening of the film God Loves Uganda, a new documentary by filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about the importation of Western evangelical values into Uganda. Following the film, attendees listened to
testimony from a Ugandan refugee and engaged in a discussion about the film with five interfaith clergy members. The evening concluded with a message from Ugandan UU Minister Mark Kiyimba, urging everyone to support Ugandan faith leaders in their work for LGBTI equality. Click here to watch the video. The evening was greatly informative for all, and left everyone inspired to support Ugandan work for equality and to strive for change in their own countries.
The documentary God Loves Uganda premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013, and has won numerous awards at film festivals. It tells the story of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), an evangelical Christian organization that sends missionaries around the world to spread the word of God. IHOP’s leaders have focused many of
their missionary efforts on Uganda, a place they believe is ripe with the possibility for spiritual renewal—in part because half of the population is under 15. IHOP sends young Americans to communities throughout Uganda, to build churches and minister to people and even provide social services, but the IHOP missionaries also spread their evangelical values, including homophobia. Widespread persecution of LGBTI people has forced many to flee the country and led to the murder of others, including gay activist David Kato, and has culminated in an American-influenced Anti-Homosexuality bill being introduced into the Ugandan parliament. The bill, often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, would make homosexual behavior punishable by life imprisonment or even death. God Loves Uganda seeks to raise
awareness of what is happening not just in Uganda, but around the world, and is a powerful call for international support for LGBTI rights.
The evening opened with an introduction by Bruce Knotts, Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who spoke about the importance of the film and of faith support for LGBTI rights. After the screening of God Loves Uganda, a refugee from Uganda gave a powerful testimony affirming the accuracy of the film and spoke about his experiences and the importance of international advocacy. A panel of clergy members—Rev. Eric Cherry from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Imam Daaiyee Abdullah from Muslims for Progressive Values, Pastor Joseph Tolton from Rehoboth Church, Rabbi Deborah Hirsch from Congregation Shaaray Tefila, and Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer from United Church of Christ—then answered questions posed by Mordechai Levovitz, event organizer and Co-Director of Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, about the film and faith-based advocacy. Although the clergy members came from different religious traditions, their values and beliefs in equality were remarkably similar, and they all expressed the importance of supporting and getting involved in work for LGBTI equality.
After the event, many attendees expressed how much they appreciated the speakers’ testimonies, and how powerful they found the film. The evening truly brought together a community of faith and faith allies to support equality and interfaith activism, and showed that, if we join together, we can change the world. No Longer in My Name was cosponsored by the United Nations NGO Committee for Human Rights, the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, Muslims for Progressive Values, American Jewish World Service, Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish Orthodox Queer Youth, GLAAD, Bronx LGBTQ Center, and Love Beyond Borders.
This year the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office sent three office members, UU-UNO Envoy Coordinator Kamila Jacob, New York University Social Work Intern Jacklyn Booth, and Fordham University Social Work Intern Anida Fregjaj to Ghana for the annual Every Child is Our Child Program Site Visit. This site visit was a unique opportunity for staff and interns to engage the community at different levels, to learn from the experiences of community leaders, families and children, and to bring these stories home. Following is the beginning of a collaboratively written diary of the experience. Read more about the relationships strengthened and built, the challenges that exist in the communities and the lessons brought back to share by clicking on each day below.
The car ride from Accra to Odumase, where the Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) program is located, provided the first opportunity for us to observe our surroundings. As we moved from the urban region to more rural spaces, the potholes began to act as streetlights. Slowly, the poverty became more apparent and we were struck by the socio-economic disparity surrounding us as we drove through the landscape. A huge walled-in mansion on one-side of the road, what seemed to be a pile of aluminum and clay rubbish (but was actually a home) on the other. And yet, the marketing and display of the shops alongside the roads was impressive; it was easily accessible, organized, and aesthetically pleasing. Again our eyes traveled to the half completed construction sites, some looking abandoned (with plant life starting to take over) while others sheltered families. We couldn’t wait to start our journey in Odumase.
The Unitarians of Indonesia are an inspiring part of our global faith with tremendous commitment, good organization, an evangelical attitude, and a strong focus on ministry with youth and young adults. It was a pleasure to visit with them for 4 days in April 2013.
Gereja Jemaat Allah Global Indonesia (JAGI) - the Unitarian Christian Church of Indonesia, was founded in the mid-1990’s by Rev. Aryanto Nugroho and currently has around 500 members. Rev. Nugroho has published highly regarded theological books, and is very well connected in interfaith circles and with national leaders.
JAGI is headquartered in Semarang, where the church owns and operates a large building that houses the sanctuary, classrooms, offices, a library, and space for a future NGO. A maternity clinic – Bhaki Ibu – operated by the wife of the founder of the church sits across the street from the church building; Mrs. Nugroho estimates that she has been a midwife at more than 200,000 births.
JAGI is administered by a National Leaders Board that includes a Council which supervises a Board of Elders and an Executive Board (responsible for daily operations). JAGI has 8 ordained ministers and an executive director. It consists of 4 Churches (Semarang, Jakarta, Solo and Sukorejo-Pasuruan) and 3 Mission Areas/Fellowships (Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Klaten). Semarang is the most established congregation and at the center of JAGI. (more…)
Currently located in Dublin, Ireland, Ron Campbell and his partner Vicky have been members of the UU Congregation of Princeton for over 34 years. Below, Ron shares their moving experiences with the Dublin Unitarian Church.
I have thought of myself as a Unitarian Universalist (“UU”) ever since my college days over 50 years ago. In fact, I entered through the Unitarian door prior to our 1961 merger with Universalism. My wife Vicky and I were married in a Unitarian Church over 48 years ago in Detroit, MI.
Thus it was that, when I was offered an assignment from my company to work in Dublin, Ireland, we were delighted to discover the Dublin Unitarian Church (“DUC”) on St. Stephen’s Green in the City Centre of Dublin. We were warmly welcomed when we went there the first time last November. Especially inspiring was witnessing the DUC’s strong and active leadership in the greater Dublin community, working to heal the wounds and scars of the decades-long religious and political difficulties, commonly referred to as “The Troubles.”
Not only were we welcomed, we immediately had the opportunity to attend a seminar recognizing Francis Hutcheson, a long overlooked native son of Ireland, who had spent several influential years in Dublin at the start of his prominent early 18th century career. This seminar was organized in large part by members of the DUC and involved the unveiling of a plaque honoring Hutcheson on a historic old church. Hutcheson seems to have been overlooked as one of our key pre-Unitarian forbearers, who had espoused and strongly influenced the free thinking egalitarian principles of our 18th century Unitarian founders and spiritual ancestors. (more…)
On January 27th a devastating market fire razed thousands of businesses in Bujumbura, Burundi, effectively straining the country’s economy for weeks, if not months to come. The minister of the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura, Rev. Fulgence Ndagijamana, shared the following information. People’s Church in Kalamazoo, MI is coordinating contributions to the church to support its response to the devastation: Update: The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) is now coordinating contributions. Contributions sent to the Kalamazoo church will be delivered to Burundi via ICUU. Online you can donate with credit cards or from your bank account via PayPal to email@example.com or checks may be sent to the ICUU Finance Department, att: Susan Greeberg, PO BOx 300, Hastings on Hudson, NY 10706 USA.
It’s 7 Am on Sunday morning (January 27, 2013). Many people are still sleeping and others are getting ready to go to different churches. I get a text message from Nepo, one of our church members. The text is very short “Pastor, the central market is burning”! Under chock, I made a few phone calls to check on the people I know who work in the market or who have relatives or parents working there. Some were not aware and others were already in town hoping against hope to save something!I kept working on the last details of my sermon and I left for church at 9am. As I was driving outside the gate, I could see a huge black cloud and people say it was over 20 meters high. I met neighbours who under chock were just watching the fire 6,5 kms away. (more…)
Great news from Rev. Khlur Mukhim! May the music be a blessing.
Being a member of the standing Hymnal Revision Committee (HRC), I feel lucky I could attend yesterday the special meeting of UUNEI officials and some other church members at Jowai. Graced by the President and the General Secretary of the Union, the occasion was led by Mr R Pariat and Mr L.Laloo (the Chairman & the Secretary of the HRC respectively) in which Rev Carleywell Lyngdoh, Seniormost Minister of the Union released the newly edited Khasi Unitarian Hymnal. I cannot think of any better time to have this much awaited edition completed and released now before we wind up our Quasquicentennial celebrations next month during our Annual General Conference. This edition has come after a long time and only few old copies are available in most churches. Our organizers should take note and be careful to avoid stampede in our hymnal counters when all our churches and fellowships meet at Jowai next month! (more…)
Last week in Uganda the piece of legislation known to the world as the “Kill the Gays Bill” passed in Ugandan parliamentary committee. The bill can be voted into law any day and the Ugandan House Speaker has promised to pass the bill as a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people. Since 2008 when Uganda was inundated by high profile western Christian fundamentalists who preached against homosexuality in large conferences, a growing homophobic sentiment has taken hold in Uganda. Harsher punishments for homosexuals have overwhelming majority support in both Ugandan public opinion and government. This bill would represent a barbaric regression for Uganda’s human rights record. Besides directly punishing homosexuals, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocates and LGBT allies, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance warns that the bill would have a disastrous impact on the country’s HIV response.
The bill proposes harsher punishments for homosexual acts, advocacy and even allies. The original bill calls for the death penalty or life prison sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” –defined as when one of the participants is HIV-Positive, or considered a “serial offender”. The bill also prohibits any public support for LGBT rights. Concepts like pride, anti-gay bullying, gay safe sex initiatives or LGBT outreach would all be illegal. The bill also criminalizes those who do not report homosexuals. Parents, teachers and even priests would be punished if they don’t report someone who tells them that they are gay. Landlords who rent to gay people would face up to three years in prison. Finally, and most insidiously, the bill exonerates those who kill gay people if they feel threatened; promoting the kind of mob killings and lynchings that lead to the death of Ugandan Gay Activist David Kato last year. (more…)
The following post was written by Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s International Office. Cherry was one of the leaders of the UUSC-UUA Supporter Journey to Tanzania and Burundi.
Service-Learning trips through the UUSCJ are a terrific way for UUs to get to know the social justice strategies and methods of partners around the world. Many of the partners that UUCSJ interacts with through S-L trips are secular in their approach. But, some of them are faith-based – and even Unitarian/Universalist. In those cases, the experience for trip participants offers a unique opportunity to connect spiritual practice and faith with outreach ministries. And, introducing the team of UUCSJ service-learners in East Africa to the leaders and members of the Unitarian Church of Burundi was a great example of that connection.. Together we explored the ways that Unitarianism is pursuing social justice work in Burundi.
The Unitarian Church in Burundi was established by Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana in 2002 as a liberal religious alternative to the dominant Roman Catholic presence in Burundi. Rev. Fulgence is, in fact, a former Dominican novitiate who discovered Unitarianism while studying in seminary. After leaving seminary and pursuing a correspondence with a Unitarian minister in the UK he was inspired to start the church in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.
Since then the congregation has grown in strength, numbers, and outreach ministries. In 2011 the congregation dedicated the first Unitarian church building constructed in an African country in decades. And it serves as a home for their church services, as well as a meeting place for activists.
The outreach work of the church has taken many forms including:
Capacity Building and Advocacy work with Burundi’s Batwa community
Domestic Violence prevention through workshops and other intervention
Supporting Micro-finance initiatives
Partnering with a local School
Establishing scholarship programs for University students
Leading a coalition of Unitarian churches in development in Francophone African Countries
All of the congregation’s work is done in the context of the slow recovery – and the struggle for truth and reconciliation – taking place in Burundi following its Civil War. Burundi needs liberal religious leaders, and the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura is serving that role.
During the visit we were inspired by meetings with a former combatant who now operates a small restaurant, and a team of women who are operating a vegetable stall at the women’s market in the city – all beneficiaries of the church’s micro-finance initiative.
We also visited the local school that the church is partnering with. Here, nearly 2000 primary school students have found a secure place to begin their educational journeys. Through assistance from its partners, the Unitarian Church has helped the school bring electricity to its classrooms – and will now attempt to set up a water system for the school.
Participants in the University scholarship program also met with us. They explained how nearly all of them were the first people in their family to attend University, and that completing a degree is the fastest way to escape poverty in Burundi. We were inspired by the path they have chosen.
And, on Sunday, we gathered for church with 60-70 Burundian Unitarians. The singing was fantastic, the prayers were social-justice centered, and the sermon by Rev. Fulgence was prophetic. He took a text from Jeremiah which advised those surrounded by devastation to build up their cities, and display show signs of hope. The members of the Unitarian church clearly appreciated and embrace his message. We visiting friends are challenged to do the same as we return to our homes.
The Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP) is hosting a UUSC-UUA delegation of supporters in Dar es Salaam this week. Participants will join TGNP in their work on the constitutional process in the country. Tanzania’s political parties passed a very controversial law in 2012 that sounded the starting bell for the country to adopt a new constitution by the end of 2014. You may think three years is enough time. TGNP and civil society do not.
Yesterday we met with the founding members of TGNP and learned about their groundbreaking programs to raise awareness, mobilize grassroots constituents to demand their rights, and change law and policy to make the rights of women and men more real. The current constitution was adopted in 1977 and amended during the years since, but it contradicts itself, especially concerning the equality of men and women. In Tanzania, women may not inherit property, and marriage age for girls is 14 and for boys is 18 — but the constitution provides that all Tanzanian children have the right to education to the fullest of their potential. These “gaps,” as the Tanzanians call them, are just some of the issues TGNP is working to change. They want to see the human rights of the people — including the right to water, to health, and to education — more clearly expressed.
But they first had to reform the law that guides the process. In Tanzania, the constitution, all the laws, and the court decisions are in English. English is taught in secondary school, so Tanzanians who complete primary school only (to age 14) do not learn English. TGNP and their coalition partners at the Civil Society Constitutional Forum (CSCF) worked to require that the constitutional process be conducted in Swahili, the language the vast majority of Tanzanians use in daily life.
TGNP and CSCF are conducting civic education on the constitutional process. However, that is another “gap,” as they point out. The law passed by both ruling and opposition parties limits and regulates civic education. TGNP and CSCF must apply to conduct civic education on the constitution, disclose their funding for the program, and have the content authorized by the Constitutional Review Commission. If they violate this process, they could be fined 5 million Tanzanian shillings or be jailed for 3 years. This while the political parties are openly passing out talking points during the “open forums,” the first step in the constitutional process.
During our delegation visit, we saw boxes of the current constitution in Swahili at the CSCF offices we visited. They had printed them and are now distributing them. TGNP and CSCF want the time table changed; they want to slow the process down so people can learn about their constitution and what is at stake, and then be able to form their own opinions. The parties want to have the constitution wrapped before the 2015 elections.
Who knows what other surprises are waiting in the wings. Possibly land reform that would give away large parts of Tanzania to major foreign farming firms? That would privatize water rights? Diana, the director of CSCF, assured us they will include the human right to water. She had been without water in her home for the past week.
The delegation was inspired by the dedication, insightful analysis, persistence, and what cofounding member Subari termed the “love” that they express through their work. I agree, Subari, it is one of the highest expressions of love to dedicate your time and heart to changing the highest law of the land, the constitution.