Justice must be Intentional and Institutional

The Principles of Unitarian Universalism dedicate us to building a world that is just, compassionate, and equitable. That will never come about by accident or even charity. People have fought their whole lives to see the world get better on any one of those points. They come together and build movements and organizations to do the work better. They knew what some still deny: If we want that world, we must create it collectively and if we want it to last, we must do it in a way that is designed to last.

Bill Moyers once said,“Charity is commendable; everyone should be charitable. But justice aims to create a social order in which, if individuals choose not to be charitable, people still don’t go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance.”

Similarly, Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams, taught that “The decisive forms of goodness in society are institutional forms. No one can properly put faith in merely individual virtue, even though that is a prerequisite for societal virtues. The faith of the liberal must express itself in societal forms, in the forms of education, in economic and social organization, in political organization.”

These quotes both call us to be more than simply good, and demand that we create institutions for goodness that are bigger, more effective, and longer lived than any of us. If we want good for the future, we need institutions that protect justice, rooted in compassion. If we want goodness in the world beyond what we can do in a single day, we must create, maintain, and strengthen those organizations that pool resources, empower talent and skill with capital, and which utilize people in what each one can do best, allowing them to focus where they are most effective.

“The triumph of anything is a matter of organization” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

This is how the world gets better, year by year: we let people specialize (or not) as suits their skills and we make the most of what resources are available by putting them to use in effective ways. This is what it means to be a liberal; to acknowledge the limitations of the individual and rise above them as a group to do the greatest good possible. Liberal religion is not different. Liberal Religion must be an embodiment of this notion.

We pool our talents and resources for mutual benefit and betterment of the world. In our Congregations, some of us are called to help design or run worship, some to care for our shared facilities and tools, and others to give their time to teaching or organizing events. Some have more time, others more money, and some have special skills or talents that support the mission. Working together, we build on the foundation left to us by centuries of heretics, philosophers, and liberal theologians. That legacy demands that we continue building up organizations to more effectively create good in this world.

In the larger community, some of us are artists, some teachers, and some accountants. We need lawyers and bus drivers and people making food equally, and so they must all be treated fairly and with respect. Thus, we need a system that ensures their dignity under the law and supports their worth in the minds of of their peers. We need organizations that keep the government on track, but ultimately we need a government that does the right thing. We need a department that ensures that everyone gets all the education they seek and a department of labor that ensures they are not only safe at work but have a quality to life in their downtime. We need a government that cares about being just and compassionate. And we need organizations that ensure that it stays that way. For our gains to outlive us, we need organizations that will outlive us that are built to uphold our Principles.

The decisive forms of good come from such organizations; educating, healing, nurturing, and crafting laws and policies that help people be their best. We cannot leave such things to the whims of charity or the uncertainty of fate; justice depends on commitment.

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