Social Justice

Environmental Justice Curricula

Our Place in the Web of Life: An Introduction To Environmental Justice, a five-week course from the UU Ministry for Earth

The Right to Water, a five-week covenant group gathering, from the UU Service Committee

Immigration Justice

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of migrant and immigrant justice.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

UU Theology of Social Justice

At the heart of a Unitarian Universalist theology of social justice is our First Principle.  We affirm and promote "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." From this it goes without saying that every person has the right to be free from oppressions that violate his or her dignity and worth - torture, wrongful incarceration, discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, orientation, age, and ability.  It also follows from our First Principle that Unitarian Universalists support what we think of as our civil liberties - freedom of speech and religion.

But a Unitarian Universalist theology of social justice does not stop there. If it did, all UUs would be libertarians. Our First Principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every person, is based upon something older - what William Ellery Channing called our "Likeness to God."  In traditional Judeo-Christian terms, we are made in God's image.  Generally speaking, we do not take this to mean that God is a humanoid, but rather that humans have the innate ability to discern right from wrong, to recognize the Divine, and an innate tendency to reflect/create Divine Goodness.  This doesn't mean, of course, that what we do is always right/good.  Obviously not.  But embedded in our theology is the belief that if humans are given the right, nurturing conditions, our natural tendency is to express those qualities we generally think of as goodness - love, empathy, kindness, creativity, genius...  To put it in UU terms, each of us has a divine spark with a potential to grow if given the proper environment.

The social justice implications of this are that we owe more to each other than mere libertarianism, to each his own, live and let live.  We owe it to each other to create a community where the environment is as positive and nurturing as it can be, where every person is given the chance to reach their full divine potential. To do any less is to stunt Divinity itself.

Another way to approach a UU theology of social justice is through our Seventh Principle.  UUs often use the Seventh Principle to justify our pro-environmental stances, and indeed it does.  But affirming and promoting "the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part" reminds us that we are an integral part of existence. We are as connected to each other as we are to the rest of creation. If we could really see how what happens to our sisters and brothers affects us as well as them, then the biblical injunction to love our neighbors as we love ourselves takes on a whole new meaning.  Far from a commandment handed down by a sovereign deity, it is common sense analysis of our situation. As we are interconnected, anything done to "someone else" is done to us, and vice versa.

Again, as Channing said in The Father's Love for Persons:

I am a living member of the great Family of All Souls; and I cannot improve or suffer myself, without diffusing good or evil around me through an ever-enlarging sphere.

Unitarian Universalist theology traditinally comes out of liberal Christianity. From nearly the beginning there were Eastern influences. Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other Transcendentalists were clearly familiar with Hinduism. And the guy who coined our Seventh Principle is a practicing Buddhist. In recent years, particularly with respect to social justice, we've been heavily influenced by liberation theology. Coming out of but transcending the Catholic tradition, liberation theology recognizes that the oppressed have different viewpoints than those in power and that too often those viewpoints are ignored while the viewpoint of those in power are made normative. Liberation theology seeks to express the viewpoints of the oppressed.

The social justice implications of this are that work is done in cooperation with groups in need, in relationship with and kept accountable to them, as opposed to doing things because we think we know what others need.

UU History of Social Justice

Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have had a long, proud tradition of upholding the principles of social justice as a direct consequence of our faith.

Before the U.S. was even a country, Unitarian ministers in the Northeast preached against monarchy from their pulpits, favoring independence and democracy. Believing that all humans were made in the "likeness of God," Unitarians believed that humans had the inherent/God-given right to be allowed the opportunities to flourish to their full potential.

In the struggle for the abolition of slavery, Unitarians were again at the fore. John Quincy Adams successfully defended the rebels of the slave ship, Amistad, and won their freedom. Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic reflecting her belief in the righteousness of the fight against slavery. And Colonel Robert Shaw led one of the first official all-black regiments of the U.S. army, which fought in the Civil War (as depicted in the movie Glory).

At the beginning of the 20th century, Unitarian women were at the front of the suffrage movement. Famous feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were both Unitarians.

Universalists were equally busy in social justice. While Unitarians came mostly from the upper-middle class elite, Universalists attracted a broader range and their justice work reflected it. Believing that everyone was "saved" Universalists challenged society to embrace those who were historically marginalized. If we're all ending up in the same place, then we might as well learn to get along WITH EVERYONE now.

Universalism also has a long history of strong and inspiring female leaders. It was the first denomination in the U.S. to ordain female ministers, starting with Olympia Brown. In addition, Carrie Clinton Lane Chapman Catt founded the League of Women Voters, and Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross.

Our work has been done not only in North America but also abroad. When news of Nazi concentration camps reached Unitarians in the U.S., Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp left safety and their children to help smuggle Jews and others out of Nazi-occupied territories. The success of their mission inspired the founding of what is now the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp are only the second and third Americans to be honored by Yad Vashem as "Righteous Among the Nations."

Since the joining of Unitarians and Universalists into one denomination in 1961, UUs have continued in this tradition. When Dr. King called for allies to join him in Selma, AL, UU ministers from all over the country converged to march for civil rights. It was in that stuggle that Rev. James Reeb was murdered.

Today, UUs continue to work for social justice on issues as diverse as environmental justice to immigration to religious pluralism/Muslim-rights to BGLT rights/marriage equality. The unifying theme behind all of our work is that UUs identify and work with those who are most oppressed/marginalized.

LGBTQ Equality

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of LGBTQ equality.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

Gender Equality

We're going to talk about what in church?

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of reproductive justice and gender equality.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

Civil Liberties

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of civil rights and liberties.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.


Peace & Human Rights

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of peace and human rights.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

Economic & Racial Justice

Affirming the inherent dignity and worth of every person, Unitarian Universalists work to break down the barriers that divide us, including those of race and class.  We recognize that racism is not just personal animous based on race.  More destructive and insipid are the institutionalized inequities embedded in our laws and social norms that perpetuate economic and social disparity based on race and class.

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of racial and economoic justice.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative