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Message from UU Association

Unitarian Universalists pay attention to justice issues and we are known for speaking out. The ideal of “Beloved Community” motivates many of us, and we sometimes use this phrase as shorthand for our most cherished shared beliefs. Well, what are our beliefs? Why do they turn Unitarian Universalism toward justice? How do they call us to prison abolition and the creation of a new public safety system? The 2021-22 UU Common Read invites us to explore these questions of justice in the context of our individual and shared UU theologies. The book we'll dive into is Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment (Beacon, 2021) by Zach Norris.

Prison separates someone from their family and community. With connections severed, there’s no chance for accountability or reconciliation.

In Defund Fear, Norris documents the rippling effects of harm—the opposite of safety—that the system creates, supports, and feeds on. For example, prison separates someone from their family and community. With connections severed, there’s no chance for accountability or reconciliation. The rupture that led to someone’s incarceration leads to further disconnection, leaving individuals diminished and communities fractured. Norris puts forth—and as Unitarian Universalists, we can agree—that we are all much more than our “worst mistake.” Yet, society systematically deprives individuals and communities based on their race, then sits in judgment of the same people for falling afoul of the same system. We are being manipulated to fear one another, even as we know in our hearts we’re obligated to care for one another. Norris posits that as a society we are capable of replacing prisons, policing, and punishment with communities of care. As UUs, members of a covenanted faith, many of us are inspired by this call. We value relationship. While our first Principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, our seventh Principle reminds us that we need others to be whole. Our Principles point us toward Beloved Community; our humanist, universalist selves know it is possible. In Unitarian Universalist terms, Defund Fear calls us to challenge our existing system at every level—personal, community, systemic—and make Beloved Community real. Gather with others to dive into this book and discern how it calls to you: Where do you “live” in our current system? What’s your experience of safety? What can be your role in rejecting the manipulations of fear and helping to build communities of care? Find deep guidance online for reading Defund Fear thoughtfully, with your own social location in mind. Also available now is a 70-minute recorded conversation between the book’s author and a panel of UU religious professionals. Discussion guides are coming this spring for congregational groups, BIPOC UU groups, and activist groups to consider Defund Fear through a faith lens. With blessings, Susan Dana Lawrence

Susan Dana Lawrence is managing editor in the UUA Lifespan Faith Engagement office. She identifies as European Jewish and belongs to the Unitarian Universalist congregation at First Parish in Malden, MA. In her home community, Susan is a mom, a racial equity activist, a dog owner, and a good neighbor.

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