The following is an excerpted version of Rev. Taylor’s sermon to the Unity Temple Unitarian-Universalist congregation on Sunday, Jan. 29:
Forty years ago, Audre Lorde wrote prophetically: “Your silence will not protect you.” She wrote: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” And she asks, “What are the words you do not yet have? … We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”
We’ve been exploring what it means to be a Community of Prophecy. Prophecy doesn’t mean predicting the future as much as seeing what needs to be seen and naming what needs to be named, even though it can bring great pain to see and name what is really going on.
The Jewish prophets of old read the signs of their times and spoke clearly about what they learned, but as they spoke truth to power they often risked their own lives. As they compared the realities of their time with sacred teachings about justice, many tried to flee their assignments. Yet most responded with loyalty to something larger than their individual lives and fears, and larger than the systems of injustice.
The role of the prophet today is also no easy task. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for courageous language.
Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams wrote: “The prophetic liberal church is the church in which all members share the responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional) with the intention of making history — in place of merely being pushed around by it. Only through the prophet-hood of all believers can we together foresee doom and mend our common ways.”
There have always been a number of people who agree to an ample amount of risk-taking in the name truth and justice — drawing the curtain back on transgressions of power, oppression, knowing that one’s perishing or jailing may be the ultimate end. To what degree will we be claimed by our fears or by our loyalty to that which is greater than each of us? What are we willing to sacrifice for our own convictions? How shall we create a community that supports those drawn to the front lines?
A member here asked me, “How do you reconcile prophecy in a post-truth world?” When society turns postmodern, truth becomes relative and situated, and the claim to have legitimacy gets shattered. How do we pursue truth and justice when they become irrelevant and meaningless to those with economic and political power?
The new president of the United States of America claimed his inauguration was the most highly attended in history even though evidence showed it clearly was not. His spokeswoman defended what she called Mr. Trump’s “alternative facts.” Over the last several months, facts have become politicized, shadowy, relative suggestions. Last week, President Trump claimed that he lost the popular vote because of people voting illegally. He signed executive orders that will needlessly tear apart families, increase the suffering of refugees, profile and discriminate against Muslims, ignore the signs of climate change, and prevent many women and poor Americans from getting health care.
During the election, I spoke out against the rhetoric of hate and fear that filled the presidential campaign. When Donald Trump was elected, I quietly hoped he would move to a more unifying stance. I told myself, “Don’t be premature in getting upset. Judge the man on his actions when he becomes president.” Just over a week into his presidency, I feel compelled to urge you to consider whether our core values — including each of our seven Unitarian Universalist principles — are being violated.
Have we reached a post-fact, post-enlightenment world? No. We are not in a post-fact world, but we are living in an era where the post-fact constituency is in power. With faith in the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and a dark view of the rest of the world that justifies denying the humanity of those who they think are in the way of their vision, the current administration threatens the very ideals on which this country was founded. The question now: to what extent will we the people let the administration achieve their vision?
Our silence will not protect us or anyone else.
Unitarian Universalists, at our best, resist retreating to a reactionary stance where we view the world as “us versus them.” But not doing so is hard, especially when hordes of post-truthers respond to individuals who take issue with the president. At a campaign stop when Trump had only 5 million Twitter followers, 18-year-old Lauren Batchelder spoke up. “I might be wrong,” she said, “but it seems to me that you are no friend to women.” After Trump’s response, she said, “I want to get paid the same as a man, and I think you understand that, so if you become president, will a woman make the same as a man, and do I get to choose what to do with my body?” That night Trump tweeted his outrage that this 18-year-old challenged him. Batchelder received over 10,000 messages on her voicemail and social media, calling her the most vulgar names, many messages threatening her safety.
I can’t but wonder what rage will be poured on Judge Ann Donnelly who last night issued a temporary stay of President Trump’s executive order to prevent even green-card-carrying residents of this country from entering if they happen to be Muslim or come from certain countries. This kind of bullying must be highlighted for what it is: mean, cowardly, truly uncivil, and unpatriotic. This new cultural reality relies on a reality TV paradigm and technology to funnel rage and loathing anonymously.
There’s probably never been a veracity crisis as great as we’re facing now. If there is ever a call for the cultivation of prophetic community, it is now.
Rev. Alan Taylor is senior minister of the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation.