Today, we celebrate the writing of a prophetic document; an aspirational work that we still could stand to live more fully into. Our culture has changed a lot since an educated white man who owned slaves wrote, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” It is a flawed document full of sexist and ablist language; its flaws grow more pronounced with every passing decade, as with the complaint against “merciless Indian Savages“. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to learn about how far we’ve come since 1776 or how we’ve failed to live up to the vision of this document.
“All people are created equal” would qualify as one worthy interpretation of the first Principle of the UUA; The inherent worth and dignity of every person. The document talks about the need for a democratic process and of course the right to life and liberty. This document is part of our Unitarian Universalist heritage as surely as anything written by Emerson. And we are still working to live up to its hopes for humanity.
2 weeks ago at General Assembly 2017, the UUA voted to change the language “women and men” to “people” in the Sources section of our bylaws to recognize all people regardless of their gender identity. We also increased our commitment to anti-racism and working to empower and really listen to People of Color within our movement.We do this in spite of objections and protests, and we were warned 241 years ago that “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” That is true of all systems of power, whether National or local, secular or religious.
We are still wrestling with the concept that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and how we make the democratic process as fair and as inclusive as is reasonable. Influence and authority have long been unequal even in the world’s oldest existent democracy, but we see growing inequality that goes unanswered in policy or action. Many argue that measures have been taken to prohibit many people from having their vote heard, and that is something that needs to be addressed seriously.
We have a lot of work to do still as a nation and a culture, but we are living more fully into those prophetic words than we were when they were written. I turn back to the idea that All men are created equal, even though the constitution, written 11 years later said that many of our residents not only were not citizens, but that slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of their white masters being represented in Congress. Masters, only, mind you, as women could not vote for another 150 years. We failed to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence almost as soon as the ink was dry, but we haven’t stopped working to fulfill its true promise.