We’re in that lull between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, summertime holidays that focus our attention on “liberty and justice for all,” as the Pledge of Allegiance says. But while we deck our streets and store fronts in red, white and blue, we’ve become too well informed to believe our country provides the same opportunities for everyone.
When I think about religions working to create “liberty and justice for all,” Unitarian Universalism is the first that comes to mind. This faith tradition is well known for its social action. “In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart,” according to their national website. It’s a faith tradition I find welcoming, intellectually stimulating and actively working to create a better world. One of its guiding principles duplicates a line from the Pledge: “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.”
Rev. Julia McKay is the lead minister at High Plains Church Unitarian Universalist or “HiP Church,” as its members affectionately call it. A powerhouse of a woman, McKay is a former public-school educator, psychotherapist, nonprofit director and hospice chaplain who has served as a Unitarian Universalist minister for more than a decade. I asked Rev. McKay how a common line from the Pledge of Allegiance became a principle of her faith.
On our national website (uua.org), the people in our Unitarian Universalist congregations together affirm and promote seven Principles. Often, people are surprised to discover that we are a “creedless” tradition. Instead, it is through our Principles that we find a vibrant expression of our faith and ethical ideals.
I can’t possibly go into a detailed history of the Pledge of Allegiance here. Yet, it is worth noting that it was written by an ex-minister, Francis Bellamy, who had become an advertiser — the pledge was intended to promote public education on the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing on the territories of First Nations peoples. This seems ironic because Bellamy was also an activist who spoke out about many of the social, political and economic injustices during a time of mass immigration to the U.S. He had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens of all countries. In its original form it read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
And just like this strange bifurcation arrived in Bellamy’s singular body, the tension about what makes us patriotic remains at the core of our struggle in this bifurcated country. For 19th-century abolitionists and reformers like Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, freedom, liberty and justice were “worth nothing in a country that condoned slavery.” For others, the founding of our country has been grounded in some warped version of courage and “discovery” backed by religion.
It is clear that we all do not share the same history.
Because this split is embedded in our country’s foundation, we may never be without these tensions, and we may live forever with the traumatic wounds of conquest — one being over another. Yet, the Pledge is a statement of conscience in which we can continue to affirm one being with another. It is a way we can aspire to making a community of “others” until we do create collective liberation and salvation. It is a statement of the liberty that has not yet come to be, but a truth we are working toward.
That we adopted language from the Pledge as one of our Principles is not surprising. What’s notable is the intent: “with peace, liberty, and justice for all” — not just some.
Ever wanted straightforward answers to hard questions? Don’t we all?!
In Good Faith answers questions about spirituality, religion and the things that matter to us as human beings. Dr. Ahriana Platten is a speaker, author and business consultant who holds clergy credentials in several faith traditions.
Send your questions to Ahriana@Ahriana.com.