Rev. Rob MacPherson of the Unitarian Church of South Australia speaks at the protest.
Members of the Unitarian Church of South Australia protest outside the Adelaide offices of the federal Department of Immigration and Multicultural affairs.
Protestors’ message to the Adelaide offices of the federal Department of Immigration and Multicultural affairs.
Rev. Rob MacPherson, minister of the Unitarian Church of South Australia (UCSA), and his congregation are advocating on behalf of the rights of Australia’s asylum-seekers.
At a recent street protest outside the Adelaide offices of the federal Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, UCSA members witnessed on the side of love in demand of human rights. He writes:
Recent Australian governments (of both major parties) have orchestrated and conducted a cruel and illegal policy of mandatory offshore detention of vulnerable people fleeing persecution in the region.
Those detained are often held for years in squalid camps in nearby countries who are themselves unable to resist the coercion of this larger more powerful nation.
The conditions in these camps have been confirmed as squalid and dehumanizing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many other international bodies.
There have been deaths, riots, hunger strikes, and physical violence visited upon asylum-seekers by locally hired agents of private security firms. Children in these camps (yes, children are incarcerated too) are suffering from acute anxiety and depression and other psychological developmental issues.
Cognizant of our UU first principle, many in our church find we cannot be silent about this. Hence, our fund-raising and sponsoring of the Refugee Portrait Exhibition, which has traveled the state. Hence also, our on-going direct action at rallies, such as the one depicted (in the photos above).
Last April, Rev. MacPherson gave a talk at the congregation related to this ongoing issue, which you can hear below:
Good evening. I want to offer a thought that might kindle some light for us in this dark time.
Just last Sunday, a beautiful thing happened at our church—I wish you all could have seen it. We held a service in which Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Ba’hai, Unitarians, and Muslims came together to worship as one body–an interfaith service. This service was followed by a shared meal, during which people of these different faiths broke bread together and shared fellowship.
Guess what happened? No one died. No one made threats or was threatened. No one feared for their safety. No voices were raised, except in laughter. The peaceful fellowship we enjoyed that day was more than cordiality, more than the politeness that goes with the religious practice of welcoming the stranger at your table. It had more to do with really seeing that, as the poet Rumi said, ‘our lamps may be different, but light is the same’. And so we could let the diversity of our faiths just be, together knowing that abundant plurality is how God actually expresses itself in this infinite, expanding, and varied creation. And for a brief time, we looked at the light, and we saw that it was good. (more…)
UU Basel’s Social Action program is still young in the making, yet strong in its conviction in supporting causes that align with our UU Principles. OnePeople, a new Swiss Verein (Association) with a global reach, is proving to be a good fit. Their global initiative of making our connection as One Human Race a tangible, lived experience – by creating human-chains spanning the world – is a celebration of a one world community that’s dear to our beliefs.
UU Basel members, aged from 7 to 70+ turned out on 20th September to participate in OnePeople-Day 2014. We joined hands & hearts, together with hundreds of people encircling the beautiful Schützenmatt park proclaiming OnePeople’s message, ‘We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin – and we all belong to ONE human race.’
It was a grand opportunity to debut our Standing on the Side of Love yellow t-shirts, and to share UU publications while speaking to people about our UU Basel fellowship as an open, inclusive and welcoming faith community. We invite you to save the date 20th September 2015, as this annual event definitely deserves a growing global following. UU Basel plans to be there!
On Sunday, July 6th, Ebenezer, an active HIV patient, AIDS orphan, and one of the students in the Mayne Krobo Region of Ghana whom the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office assists through the Every Child is Our Child program, passed away. He was admitted to the local hospital at around 6:20 pm and died soon after. While active and happy as usual at school on Friday and playing football, one of his favorite pastimes, on Sunday morning with friends, he complained of severe headaches and was quickly rushed to the hospital on Sunday afternoon. We have been informed that no autopsy will be administered, but that the cause of death has been officially declared as AIDS.
This news comes as a shock to us all, as Ebenezer had been very healthy in the past, had supportive foster parents, and was successfully taking anti-retroviral medication for several years. Ebenezer is the second child of the Every Child is Our Child program to pass on, both of whom tested positive for HIV.
The UU-UNO wishes to convey its deepest sympathies for all of Ebenezer family and friends, many of whom have shown deep admiration and love for him. The Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, expressed that during his trips to the ECOC schools, the Queen Mothers of Ghana always put Ebenezer on the itinerary of house visits, and as a result, Mr. Knotts got to know Ebenezer and made sure to visit him. This fact makes his passing all the more painful for all of us at the UU-UNO as we mourn this dear child.
To learn more about the ECOC program and how you can donate, please visit our website here.
During our February 7-14 visit to the Every Child is Our Child Project in Ghana, we were saddened to learn of the passing of the Paramount Queen Mother of the Manya Krobo People. Over the years, many of us have met this beautiful woman who radiated love and kindness. Everyone who met her remarked that they felt a sense of peace and tranquility while in her presence. Our largest delegation met her in 2012 (See the photos below). On the last day of our visit this year, we learned that the Paramount Queen Mother had passed away after a brief illness at the age of 93. Her funeral Ceremony will take place in Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, West Africa and will commence Friday the 28th of March and will end with a church thanks giving service on Sunday the 30th.
Our program administrator, Joseph will attend the thanks giving service on Sunday and the UU-UNO has invited Marti Johnson Demos, a UU working at the American Embassy in Accra to represent us at the memorial services.
Our deepest condolences to her family, friends and community.
The bill, as passed, does not call for the death penalty; instead, it mandates life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” However, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed the bill and much remains unclear about what has transpired today, and more importantly, what will happen in the days to come.
Followers of this story, which began in 2009, will remember that the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament had promised to pass the bill as a Christmas present last year; though delayed, it seems the Speaker made good on his promise, to the dismay of LGBTQ activists all around the world.
There remains much that we don’t know. We have yet to get a copy of the bill to know exactly what it says. There have also been questions as to whether the Ugandan Parliament actually had a quorum today, which is necessary to pass any legislation.
President Museveni has long been against the passage of this bill, knowing the international consequences and stating that Uganda already has sufficient anti-homosexuality legislation to fully criminalize homosexuality in Uganda. However, on his visit to Nigeria two weeks ago, Museveni’s tune began to change; he called on Nigeria to support his stand against Western governments, imploring the nation to follow his lead to “preserve African culture.” During this same visit, Museveni was quoted as wondering why the west is “not concerned about the development of my country, they are only concerned about gays.”
Nigeria also passed an anti-same sex marriage bill this week. Both the Ugandan and Nigerian bills call for lengthy prison terms (life imprisonment in the former and 15 years in the latter). Groups combating HIV/AIDS are urging both nations not to sign into effect their respective anti-homosexual policies as doing so compromises efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in both countries.
SMUG has learnt that the Bill as passed by Parliament maintains the prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for so-called repeat offenders. It also requires “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority to report offences under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.” Furthermore, the Bill maintains the offence of “Promotion of Homosexuality” against anyone who acts as an accomplice or in any way abets homosexuality and “related practices.”
“I’m outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director, SMUG. “We shall fight this legislation TO THE END.” he asserts.
A UU-UNO former intern Russell Hathaway, now a student at the University of Chicago, has prepared a detailed history of LGBTI issues in Uganda. To read this, please click here: LGBT Rights Uganda.
The UU United Nations Office is in touch with all of our partners in Uganda, seeking to better understand what the bill says, how that will manifest, and if it has even legally passed. We’ll be following up with actions UU’s can take to stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTQ community once our partners advise us on how best to support them at this difficult time.
In the meantime, your support in our ongoing efforts to combat global homophobia is needed now more than ever: Please donate to the UU-UNO today.
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…)