A recent meeting of a few congregational social justice leaders led to a discussion of “church-wide” engagement. We talked about the board’s function, the minister’s role, and the mission of the social justice coordinating team. We wondered about the 80-20 rule: Is 80% of the social justice work being done by 20% of the members? We questioned the influence of affluence on our congregation’s willingness to engage in direct action.

What’s realistic? What’s aspirational? What’s just insane? Who and what can we directly impact within our church’s local reach, and what systemic issues deserve strategic advocacy?

Why do some folks steer clear of conversations at social justice tables in the social hall? Do they worry they’ll get roped into time-sucking commitments or made to feel guilty? Is it a feeling of inferiority about not knowing enough about certain issues? Is it avoidance in hopes of preventing despair or overwhelm? Perhaps most concerning: is it indifference?

What motivates some folks to sign up, show up, and act up in solidarity with other members? How do others choose their “issues,” and is it OK if they switch out their activism playlists from time to time? Can social justice work be creative, fun, and inspiring? Does anything a church group does make a real difference anymore?

Let’s allow the question marks to cool down for a minute. Big questions deserve space to linger and graze. There’s no need to sprint toward convenient answers because they too often ignore the complexity of human psychology, motivation, and behavior. An analysis of the church’s history, demographics, mission, and structures would be a logical left-brain approach to addressing some of these questions. It might also miss the point.

I believe what all of UUCA’s social justice leaders want is for each of us to realize the profound implications of our core principles: the inherent worth and dignity or every person; the living out of justice, equity, and compassion when we relate to others; the magical power of acceptance; the individual search for meaning; the central role of conscience; the quest for peace and liberating justice; and the sacred respect for the interbeing of all.

Proclaiming these principles compels us to participate whole-heartedly in social justice, even if the influence of late-stage capitalism still tries to hold us firmly in the “me and mine” consumer mindset. What constitutes “whole-hearted” is certainly a personal, emotion-guided choice. We share and protect our hearts in different ways. Although our capacities and responses may vary, we all recognize and hold suffering.

We can address the needs of others and protect the planet through our daily choices, our financial generosity, and our willingness to show up as often as our energy permits. We can focus on the ripple effect of empowering small actions and offer encouragement to the risk-takers, the innovators, the organizers, the creatives, and the healers. We can accept that the comfort and conveniences many of us enjoy enable us to focus not on survival, but on compassionate responses and imaginative solutions to the challenges we simply can not ignore.

What do I  – and I believe other social justice leaders – want? The synergy of a motivated congregation that’s serious about living its mission: to transform lives through courageous action and soulful connection. As a member of the UUCA community, you are contributing to social justice work. The Climate Action Team and other small-and-inspired groups are eager to help you find your place. Answer the question of what you can do by letting your heart lead you to respond as only you can.

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team extends a radical welcome to activists, contemplatives, readers, meditators, questioners, tree hugging hippies, scientists, policy wonks, radicals, pacifists, nature enthusiasts, and all who seek community as we navigate our changing times together. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT, and plan to join us on Zoom for our Aug. 21 meeting.