To Be Aware of a Problem is to Own a Part of It

I let this sit a couple of days so that I could try to edit it with more calm, but it hasn’t been completely successful. I wrote this in the hours after the most recent mass shooting in the United States; the most deadly ever, a record that stood for just over 14 months. This is a tragedy, but not one that is unthinkable anymore. It is the largest of a long line of similar tragedies, and already I have seen the claims that this is not the time to talk about solving the problem.

There is a mass shooting, where 4 or more people are shot and wounded or killed by civilians, for every day of this year. Most of them aren’t even reported outside of local news anymore. If we can’t have this discussion within 48 hours of such an event, then it is essentially a prohibited subject in America. I am not willing to let that stand.

Unitarian Universalism is often portrayed by outsiders as being an easy faith. There is no creed or set of dictates on how to be part of our community. Some see this as permission to believe anything or nothing and that we have a hollow faith. I find this could not be further from the truth.

Sure, there are UUs who seem to come only for coffee hour socializing, but that was true of the Presbyterian church I grew up in. What I find different about Unitarian Universalism is that we are not asked to put the problems of the world on some divine entity separated from the universe we inhabit. While not required for fellowship, we ask you to take on the pain and the troubles of the world and make them your own; we ask you to work to heal them.

There is an ethical principle that says that once you are aware of a problem, you have ownership of it. If you see the trash on the ground, you own some responsibility if it remains there. If you see the mistreatment of people by the society you live in, you assume part of the responsibility for that mistreatment. If it is wrong, you must take part in solving that problem. This is one of the hard things about being a UU: we are a humanist faith that teaches human responsibility for the problems of the world. We, as a faith, know that we must do the work, whatever that entails, because there is no evidence that it will be done for us by the gods.

There is no wrong time to work on solving a known problem. While everyone is allowed to take time to grieve or to come to terms with the reality of the situation, there is no wrong time for us to say, “This is a problem that requires a response.” Indeed, until that response is implemented, there is no time when we should not call for it.

Many people claim that the problem we have is cultural, and that there are no solutions we can enact as a society. They say that you cannot regulate what is in a man’s heart (and I use the gendered term here intentionally). The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King once said,to the General Assembly of the young UUA:

“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless. The law cannot make a man love me, but it can restrain him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also. And so while the law may not change the hearts of men, it does change the habits of men.”

Dr. King was speaking of civil rights, but it is simple and proper to change his next sentence to fit a wide range of topics. He said, “So it is necessary for the church to support strong, meaningful civil rights legislation.” And so it is with the church and climate change. So it is with the church and income inequality. So it is with the church and the easy access to, transport and even public display of firearms. The church must care, our church must care, because these are moral issues where we can change behavior.

It is obvious that there is a problem, and it is right to take time to deal with the emotional fallout if you must. Me? I am mad, and the most productive way for me to deal with that is to demand change. Not because it is easy or because it is my first instinct; I demand change because my faith tells me that I must not give in to that anger, but channel it into something productive. I must take responsibility for the fact that this is a problem I have known about for years; I must not ignore my responsibility to be part of the solution.

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