The Need for Institutional Goodness

One of the foundational ideas for the I Am UU project is that all of us have to make good things happen in this world. Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams told us to “deny the immaculate conception of virtue and affirm the necessity of social incarnation”; goodness doesn’t exist in the world separately from our work to do and create good things.

More importantly, though, Adams points out that “The decisive forms of goodness in society are institutional forms… The faith of the liberal must express itself in societal forms, in the forms of education, in economic and social organization, in political organization. Without these, freedom and justice in community are impossible.

What he is saying is that for goodness to be more than an occasional drop in the bucket, creating a few ripples and then disappearing, we need to create institutions to do on-going good works on a large scale. We need to build schools; then to keep investing in them with our best teachers, our most inspiring community leaders, and all of the funding we can give. We need to build social justice organizations; to pool the resources of many and the skills of those best suited to doing that work: lawyers and writers and administrators with an understanding of how to create the kind of change we need and protecting the work we’ve already done.

And the same thing goes for the institutions that support our mental, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being. Just as we need quality schools to support the intellectual health of our culture, we need churches, societies, and fellowships that foster community and spiritual growth. We need liberal religion. And the only way we can keep it is to do what is necessary to build, maintain, and evolve those institutions. We need to invest more of our time, our skills, and, yes, more money in liberal religion. Without the backbone of spiritual renewal, all of the other institutions will suffer.

We cannot say that we support art but not museums; say that we respect medicine but not hospitals. It is irrational to claim to value either of those things but fail to support the educational institutions that allow people to pursue those fields. Similarly, we cannot say that we value Unitarian Universalism without also committing to investing in the health and long-term security of our congregations, our association, and the education and training of religious professionals. Investing more than just our money, but also our time, energy, and love. In an ever more connected world, we must see ourselves as part of a movement, not just of a congregation. We have to think bigger if we want to see our liberal faith through the next 60 years.

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