Today’s topic is the sixth principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I’ve been preaching a sermon a month on these principles, and doing this has helped me to understand them better. I hope it has helped you too.
The sixth principle is: The goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Wow! What a tall order! Or you might say, “But of course – who could argue with that?” I’ve heard it called the “Superman Principle.” For me it evokes the pledge of allegiance, with its ending – “with liberty and justice for all.” It almost sounds hokey. Or at least cliché. But it is totally serious.
So what does it mean to “affirm and promote” the goal of the world community? First of all, it is important to realize that it is a ‘goal.’ A goal isn’t necessarily something we think we can achieve—in our lifetime, if ever. A goal is something to shoot for, something that gives us direction. The well-known late Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, says, “If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.” (Being Peace, p. 98) It is important to have a vision of the ideal, so that we know what direction we are headed in.
What would this world community look like?
It would be characterized by peace, liberty and justice for all. If we were to spell it out further, it might sound very much like the United Nations Charter, that Mark read earlier. The United Nations is the closest we have come so far to creating a world community. Not surprisingly, Unitarian Universalists have a lot to do with it. Our past UUA president, John Buehrens writes, “Just as the drafters and signers of the original Declaration of Independence included many early Unitarians (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson) and Universalists (Dr. Benjamin Rush), twentieth-century work on behalf of the United Nations and other efforts toward a world community with peace, liberty, and justice has had strong Unitarian Universalist support.” He continues, “Only twice has a UUA General Assembly gone beyond passing a simple resolution and promulgated a so-called ‘consensus statement.’ One was on racial equality and justice, passed in 1966. The second was a ‘Statement of Consensus on the United Nations,’ passed in June 1969.
“From the beginning of the association’s existence there has been a Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. . . . It has broad voluntary membership, a network of ‘UN envoys,’ funding from special UN Sunday collections, and programs that both represent us among Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) at the United Nations and help to keep us informed.” (With Purpose and Principle, p. 80-81)
When I served the congregation in Croton-on-Hudson, NY, I went with the youth group and their advisors to visit the United Nations and the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the UN. The UU office is right across the street from the UN in New York City. Of the many things this office accomplishes, each year it recognizes congregations that have demonstrated their commitment to the UU Sixth Principle “goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all” through the Sixth Principle Congregation Award. And they raise funds through congregations holding a UN Sunday service that they provide resources for. Something for us to think about for the coming year.
What is spelled out in the UN Charter is summarized by our phrase: “Peace, liberty, and justice for all.” The Charter uses phrases like: “Determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,. . . To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small,. . . To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,. . . And for these ends to practice tolerance and to live together in peace as good neighbors,. . . To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.” The charter was created in 1945 in response to WWII, and 50 nations signed in initially.
The goal of peace, liberty, and justice seems to be a universal value, at least until it comes into conflict with what a leader of a powerful nation desires.
In 2018, on the opening day of the Assembly’s annual General Debate, the United States president said, “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” His “America First” policy was a direct threat to US participation in the United Nations.
An online article from September 2020 says “the Trump administration has withdrawn from participation in the Human Rights Council, refused to fund for Palestinian refugees, and is $3.6 billion behind on its financial contributions to the organization. The United States has chafed for decades at its U.N. dues—one-fifth of the body’s total budget—but under the Trump administration, U.S. animosity toward the U.N. has hit new highs.” (By Sarah Nakasone and Kori Schake, Foreignpolicy.com)
The new threat to worldwide peace, liberty, and justice and the other goals of the UN Charter comes, of course, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its invasion of Ukraine.
In February of this year, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have demanded that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops, a move several Council members said was deplorable but inevitable.
A UN News online article reports that the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine compels the Member States of the United Nations to unite in “cooperation and solidarity” to support all those impacted “and to overcome this violation of international law. He told UN delegates that a multi-faceted war was now “raging in the heart of Europe, in violation of the United Nations Charter. We need a serious effort to improve global governance, manage risks and safeguard the global commons and global public goods.”
While there are many recognized problems with the United Nations organization, it is still the best forum for international cooperation we have. As we are seeing, however, the concept of the world community is perhaps not something everyone agrees is desirable.
Being in Community
Being in the community has costs as well as benefits. Community is a balance between the interests of individuals and the interests of the group. Community is a balancing act that takes into account the fact that there will always be conflict, but also goodwill and means for managing conflict. Being in the community can mean giving up some of our individualism, some of our interests, in the interest of the group. A powerful person, or a powerful nation, is able to be more self-sufficient and so has less need to belong to a larger group, and has more to lose, at least in terms of material self-interest. The gains are not as easily seen, but when we all work together to realize universal values of peace, liberty and justice in the world, we all win.
The Olympics, including those that recently ended in China, actively create a world community. Even though these games are not without conflict, the net result is increased understanding and goodwill.
Who makes up the world community? Nations? Corporations? Ethnic groups? Individuals? The world community needs to include everybody. People of every race, gender, and economic circumstance. And there is nothing in the statement of the principle to limit our concern to strictly human community. Animals, plants, rivers, mountains – they all belong to the world community. They are all deserving of peace, liberty, and justice.
Globalization – the good, the bad, and the ugly
On the economic front, globalization is increasingly homogenizing the global community. My concern is that in creating a world community, much of the diversity of languages and cultures that exist in the world are disappearing. It is already happening, as less populous or poorer cultures get assimilated into the larger populations around them. Local dialects and entire languages are becoming extinct, and their cultures along with them, as English and other languages become necessary for global commerce.
UU minister Ricky Hoyt, says, “There are elements of globalization that are extraordinarily positive. The standard of living worldwide steadily increases. Democracy flourishes. Rule of law within countries is supported. People have access to worldwide information that makes it difficult for a totalitarian government to deceive its people. Global citizens are not limited economically to the natural resources of their physical location but can invest in and communicate instantly with economic resources anywhere in the world. We’re developing a single global community. Instead of setting nation against nation, often expressing itself in violent conflict, now we are forming real links among nations that force us into cooperative modes.” Yet Hoyt also notes that “Globalization has taken away good jobs, created a lot of bad jobs, and drastically degraded the environment.” (“Globalization,” 2000)
Globalization may help build a world community, by giving people an incentive to work together. But globalization is not characterized by peace, liberty, and justice for all. Its reason for existence is economic gain, and it doesn’t even spread that economic gain equally. Far from it. Rev. Hoyt also points out that:
“World trade laws make it easy for capital to move around the world, but labor doesn’t move as easily so those with money have an advantage over those who have only their own work to invest. Poor countries without capital scramble for something else to invest and that usually means consuming their natural resources, destroying the environment, or as Thomas Friedman puts it, “eating the rain forest.” Technological advances in agriculture make it possible for fewer and fewer people to produce food more and more cheaply. That’s good for the price of corn but the farmers thus put out of work cannot be expected to instantly learn the skills necessary to work in another industry. Multi-national companies locate factories where labor is cheap, which forces the countries offering cheap labor to compete with each other to provide the cheapest labor. Cheap labor means low wages, no benefits, and deplorable working conditions for those who are already the poorest of the world.” (“Globalization,” 2000)
Globalization is not something that can be stopped and not something we would want to stop. To the extent that it respects the universal values we affirm, we can applaud it. Where it fails to respect those values, we need to work to see that it does.
So what can we work toward the goal of a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all?
I think it helps to remember the maxim: “Think globally, act locally.” Envisioning the goal on a global level can direct our local efforts. But global change will occur only by the accumulated efforts of many people working locally to achieve change. What can we do locally? We can be in touch with our representatives in government. We can make our voices heard through letters to the editor in the local paper. We can partner with organizations locally that are making a difference—something we as a congregation are already doing. We can support the UU United Nations office and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee if we wish to expand our reach beyond the local sphere.
Creating World Community
Creating a world community is religious work, it is spiritual work. Ultimately, it depends on a movement within individual hearts. After the 1993 Centennial Parliament of the World’s Religions, a document was produced by interfaith dialogue among religious leaders representing nearly every religious tradition in the world. The document is called “Towards a Global Ethic,” and describes what they consider “a fundamental consensus on binding values.” The values are essentially what we call peace, liberty, and justice. This document states that “A better global order cannot be created or enforced by laws alone. . . . Both the minds and hearts of women and men must be addressed. . . . .Earth cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is changed also.” (Buehrens, With Purpose and Principle, p. 84)
Long, long ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse said it best when he wrote the words we heard in the Time for All Ages:
If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.
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