Yesterday the Unitarian Universliast Association’s President, Rev. Peter Morales, was arrested “along with 200 other faith leaders, members of Congress, union leaders, and immigration activists." This is big news for Unitarian Universalists - we tend to exalt people who get arrested. Just look at some articles from our national magazine: UUWorld. I was going to list some individually, but a search for the term “arrested” is pretty telling.
I have a concern that this attention is sensationalist and detrimental to the principles of our faith rather than beneficial and informative.
Civil disobedience is a useful way to increase public awareness of issues and call attention to legal activities which we do not agree with. The problem is not with the action, but the sensational way in which these issues are often talked about via social media, in person and reported on. The focus of the articles and Facebook postings remains on the arrest or sentencing with very little - if any - discussion of the issues at hand.
The slant of our reporting and discussion takes focus away from the issue. The focus has been shifted away from immigration rights or a proposed oil pipeline and centered on the people being arrested. I find myself knowing more about which Unitarian Universalist leaders were arrested than what I can do to help the issues.
Do I need to have a criminal record in order to have my voice heard? Is the goal of social justice activity to be handcuffed and carted away? Is this the sort of activity we want to promote to our congregations, members and religious leaders? We are not helping others grow in their faith and live it out in the world unless the most effective activity we can do for social justice is be arrested. Our focus is dangerously skewed toward the negative and sensational.
Let us instead focus on the positive of the civil disobedience and what others can do to make a difference. Just looking at some coverage we can see the differences. Standing on the Side of Love has only this to say in its Facebook post:
Our own UUA President Rev. Peter Morales just got arrested, along with 200 other faith leaders, members of Congress, union leaders, and immigration activists, to call for compassionate immigration reform!
Where does that leave readers? Knowing that many people where arrested. It sounds like we should be proud of them, but for what?
Two other places this incident was covered framed it a bit differently. Our Young Adult and Youth Blog (which is a fantastic resource, by the way) titles the article, “Arrested on the Side of Love”. And the Huffington Post says this, “While Government Shuts Down, Immigration Reform Steps Up”. Thank you Huffington Post for not making being arrested the focus of the title!!
I agree with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King when he says, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” But getting arrested isn’t the goal; nor should it be the focus before or after the civil disobedience.
In both articles, Rev. Morales has these words to say:
I went to Washington and participated in peaceful civil disobedience to tell Congress that now is the time for compassionate immigration reform; now is the time to heal these broken families; now is the time to restore their hopes and dreams and to give them the respect and dignity they deserve. Please join me in sending this message to Congress. Contact your senators and representative today and tell them you want compassionate immigration reform now.
That’s what our focus should be on! Rev. Morales gets arrested and it makes news, so that we can see the message of contacting our senators and representatives, not so we can exalt those who were arrested.
Having the president of my faith arrested does not make me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. Seeing that he is working to create a better world with justice, equality and love makes me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist.
As a minister, I know that those of us in the public eye must be ever aware of the impact of our words. Working mindfully in cooperation, we can help make the world a place filled with people focused on love and justice.