Institutional Goodness: Justice Depends on Commitment

Unitarian Universalism is dedicated to a world that is just, compassionate, and equitable. That has never come about by accident. People fight their whole lives to see the world get better on any one of those points. They come together and build movements and organizations to do the work better. They knew that if we want that world, we must create it and, if we want it to last, we must do it in a way that is bigger than any of us.

Bill Moyers once said,“Charity is commendable; everyone should be charitable. But justice aims to create a social order in which, if individuals choose not to be charitable, people still don’t go hungry, unschooled or sick without care. Charity depends on the vicissitudes of whim and personal wealth; justice depends on commitment instead of circumstance.”

Similarly, Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams, taught that “The decisive forms of goodness in society are institutional forms. No one can properly put faith in merely individual virtue, even though that is a prerequisite for societal virtues. The faith of the liberal must express itself in societal forms, in the forms of education, in economic and social organization, in political organization.”

Both of these quotes call us to go beyond simply being good, and demand that we create institutions for goodness that are bigger, more effective, and longer lived than any of us. If we want goodness in the world beyond what we can do in a single day. We must create, maintain, and strengthen those organizations that pool resources, empower talent and skill with capital, and which utilize people in what each one can do best, allowing them to focus where they are most effective.

“The triumph of anything is a matter of organization” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

This is how the world does better, year by year; we let people specialize (or not) as suits their skills and we make the most of what resources are available by putting them to use in effective ways. This is what it means to be a liberal; to acknowledge the limitations of the individual and rise above them as a group to do the greatest good possible. Liberal religion is no different.

We pool our talents and resources for mutual benefit and bettering the world. Some of us are called to help design or run worship, some to care for our shared facilities and tools, and others to give their time to teaching or organizing events. Some have more time, others more money, and some have special skills or talents that support the mission. Working together, we build on the foundation left to us by centuries of heretics, philosophers, and liberal theologians. That legacy demands that we continue building up organizations to more effectively create good in this world.

The decisive forms of good come from such organizations; educating, healing, nurturing, and crafting laws and policies that help people be their best. We cannot leave such things to the whims of charity or the uncertainty of fate; justice depends on commitment.

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