“Taking Note” by the Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker, Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church

Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker
Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker, Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church, Alexandria, VA

This is adapted from my February newsletter column looking at how to be in covenantal relationship in a time of strong emotions around the new President of the U.S.

It is easy to assume Unitarian Universalists did not vote for Donald Trump. After all, UU progressive values: immigration issues, equality for GLBTQAI, women’s rights, diversity of race, ethnicity and religion, accessible and affordable health insurance, and support for people of different physically abilities (to name some), do not align well with many things that Trump has said and policies he proposes. But the assumption is wrong.

While no one has come to me at Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church, I am aware there are some UUs across the country that voted for Donald Trump. This leaves a gap of understanding for the majority of UUs, which needs to be explored person to person. And, it presents a challenge to the practice of our Unitarian Universalist theology. Our theology is grounded in the belief that there is a unity that makes us one, therefore we are responsible to one another in our interdependent web; and all souls are sacred and worth, and therefore each should be treated thusly. If we truly believe this, then we must welcome everyone at the table, even if their political (and social) values appear to be in direct conflict with UU social (and political) values.

There have been some difficult and yet deeply compassionate conversations amongst Unitarian Universalists clergy about this very topic. How do we minister to those who voted for someone so contrary to our beliefs, and indeed appears to contradict everything we preach about? How do we create a safe space in our sanctuaries for everyone, even if the most vulnerable are frightened of their fellow UUs? How do we preach about hope when most UUs feel hope waning, while a few feel hope growing? Some clergy have compared a welcome and open door to being soft on identity and having poor boundaries around our values and principles. I do not believe this is true. We can be both open and welcoming while being absolutely clear on where we stand on commitment to the poor and marginalized, bearing witness to those in pain, and advocating for civility and peace.

While it is easy to make broad statements about those who voted for Trump (they’re all racist, sexist, ignorant/stupid, isolationist, ablest … etc.), particularly if one is feeling frightened and angry, it is important to step back and look to see if Trump supporters are actually behaving and speaking in disrespectful and harmful ways. If yes, then we hold them in strong covenant and ask them to stop, and review their behavior in light of our covenant. If there is disagreement about that behavior, then we speak to healthy boundaries, as we do with anyone who is misbehaving, and state they need to step away from our community until they are able to be in covenant again.

There is some concern that a vote for Trump is equal to a vote for oppression, abuse and a government system headed toward hegemony or oligarchy. Certainly some voted for Trump because they don’t like our current government system. Perhaps they’re angry, frightened, hopeless, or they found something hopeful in Trump.

There are many reasons why someone voted for Donald Trump. In all honesty, it is hard for me to imagine why a UU would, but I accept some have. I am confident that I can minister to everyone in our community, no matter for whom they voted. I offer my full respect and honor their dignity as a full human being. However, in no way will I back off my commitment to speak up and out for those most harmed by words and deeds of those in leadership of our beloved country. In no way will I moderate or minimize my words and actions in order to not offend those who feel uncomfortable or object. I will continue to welcome everyone at the table, as long as they hold to our covenant.

In addition, outside of my religious home, I can apply my UU theology by welcoming all into my life, as long as they behave with respect and dignity toward me, even while we may discuss how best to achieve a caring, fair and just world.

I hope you will do the same.