How far will Unitarian Universalists fall? Unitarians trace their roots back to the Pilgrims, and they once helped rescue refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Now they are preoccupied with boycotting Wendy’s over tomatoes and rethinking Thanksgiving.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) recently called for a boycott against the fast-food chain Wendy’s. On June 22, UUSC organized a picket line in front of a Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio. Approximately 50 Unitarians attended the protest, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
The efforts continue a year-long effort to lobby Wendy’s to sign onto the Fair Food Program, which would require the company to pay an additional $0.01 per pound of tomatoes. The extra money would go to farmworkers in Florida. The Unitarians joined with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ in throwing their collective weight behind the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which have organized protests, petitions, and boycotts for more than 20 years against restaurants, ostensibly on behalf of migrant workers.
Organizing picket lines in front of fast-food restaurants represents a far cry from UUSC’s earliest efforts. The nonprofit organization, “guided by the values of Unitarian Universalism,” dates its origins back to 1939. That’s when UUSC says that “Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp traveled to Europe under the sponsorship of the American Unitarian Association to help refugees escape Nazi persecution.”
The UUA is also busy confronting another pressing social justice issue. This one centers on Thanksgiving. On Sunday (June 26), delegates at the UUA’s General Assembly will vote whether the denomination should “enter a time of education, careful reflection, and healing” regarding the holiday. With the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims arriving in Plymouth approaching in 2020, the resolution focuses on the “suffering, indignity, and loss” allegedly inflicted on Native Americans by colonists. This issue is particularly linked to the UUA, since the resolution notes that “several of the New England congregations that were established during the 1600s continue today as Unitarian Universalist congregations…”
In addition, Washington Post reporter Julie Zauzmer observed in an article on July 23:
Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman whose 17-year campaign finally convinced Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday, was reportedly involved in Unitarian communities herself. Yet despite those deep roots, Unitarian Universalists aren’t feeling so sure nowadays about America’s national day of turkey and stuffing.
The Unitarians clearly fall short of their Pilgrim forefathers’ legacy. They don’t even match the spiritual vivacity of their brethren from the early twentieth century.
Indeed, UUA’s membership numbers only further demonstrate their irrelevance in American society and religious life. With fewer than 157,000 members, the denomination remains smaller than when its membership peaked in 1968.
The Unitarians sadly appear poised to remain confined to an insignificant corner of the cultural conversation. As long as Unitarians focus on advancing fringe social gospel platforms rather than the Christian Gospel, their witness will only distantly resemble their spiritually potent forbearers.
Update: Zauzemer reported on Sunday that the UUA officially passed the resolution to reconsider Thanksgiving:
It’s official: Unitarian Universalists, who helped create Thanksgiving, have now voted to rethink the holiday https://t.co/ozhUl5mPSw
— Julie Zauzmer (@JulieZauzmer) June 26, 2016