joys and concerns
by Kay Meyer
Just before the first attack of the war in Iraq, I thought I was going to walk out of the Sunday service and never again darken the door of my church. The lay-led service that week, recognizing the contributions of Unitarian, Universalist, and UU women throughout our history, sounded like a wonderful topic. The part that got me thoroughly steamed was that with one exception, the entire service was dedicated to the efforts of Unitarian Universalist women in peace movements. Each song was about striving for peace. We were even expected to participate in a reading that declared “we will no longer welcome home our husbands in blood-stained clothes.”
I have never felt so lonely in my life.
The Unitarian Universalist church is my refuge from a military world that feels increasingly evangelical Christian. The military world is the only place I feel understood and supported in my role as a military spouse with all the positive and negative things that can go along with it. My life is lived in this gray area.
As I sat with my loneliness and growing anger I realized that if I got up and walked out I might be justified, but no one would ever understand. No one would ever be moved by the injustice I was feeling. So although I’ve never taken a controversial stand within our congregation, I decided to stand up during our joys and concerns time to share my feelings about the service.
When the time came, I asked the congregation to remember some other unsung Unitarian Universalist heroines—the women who proudly serve in our armed forces and those women who are the proud spouses of UU military men. I told them that I was a very proud Air Force spouse and should my husband ever again be deployed to a war I would gladly welcome him home—bloodstained uniform and all.
I reminded my congregation that our military members are just as committed to the principles and purposes that we share in common—that they too feel deeply about religious freedom and justice. I also asked that those who oppose the war to please do so respectfully and with a mindful awareness of those women and men who are prepared to sacrifice to ensure the right of protesters to speak out.
I had placed my purse on the edge of the pew—ready to grab it and walk out. But instead of the deathly silence that I fully expected to withstand as I walked out the door, I got a standing ovation.
I sat down and finished the service. What else could I do in the face of support?
Afterward, many people came up to me and thanked me for expressing this viewpoint. Several were military vets who said it was about time that this was said in the church. The minister, who is opposed to this war (but supportive of the goals in Afghanistan), has been more mindful of those with thoughtful dissenting views and urged the congregation to do the same. He even helped me place information about the UU Military Ministries (www.uumm.org) in our church newsletter.
So is it enough? Unitarian Universalist military families need to stand up and be counted. We need to let those who are willing to help and support us do so. Let them into our world to educate them about what makes us tick. And those who aren’t willing to lend support? We need to be out there telling our story. Unitarian Universalism is not just for political liberals and the military is not just for religious conservatives. We need to be willing to be vulnerable—and willing to stand up to injustice in our own congregations.
I think we should also be aware of the freedom and release that many who oppose the war feel in our Unitarian Universalist congregations. They feel that this is the only place where they can freely speak up without fear of being called anti-American and the like. We need to protect freedom of speech in our congregations and work to ensure that people on both sides of an issue are willing to hear each other out nonjudgmentally. We need to remind those who disagree with us that we need not think alike to love alike.