by Rev. Mary Gear
Among the Masai people, considered to be intelligent and fearsome among the tribes of Africa, a traditional greeting is “And how are the children?” The greeting acknowledges the high value that the Masai place on their children’s well-being. The traditional answer is “All the children are well” meaning that peace and safety prevail, affirming that protecting the young remains a priority.
If we were to ask this question in the United States this week, the answer would be that the children are not well, not at all.
This week began with news that an investigation into practices of the Southern Baptist Convention uncovered decades of lying and cover-up of clergy misconduct, including the abuse of children. Then, a young man, barely past childhood himself, killed 19 children and two adults in yet another school shooting. The children of the United States are not well.
Abuse by religious professionals is morally, physically, emotionally and spiritually wrong; it is an abuse of power. While we might like to think so, Unitarian Universalists are not immune to abuses of power. We have history in this area and in recent years all the organizations that support UU religious professionals have clarified their professional expectations and codes of conduct to make it clear that abuse of power is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This is the result of facing our history and changing what is needed to protect those most vulnerable, including children.
As a congregation, we put policies and practices in place to protect everyone, especially those most vulnerable. You can find OUUC’s Safer Congregations Policy here. In it we require practices like having two adults present with children, so no adult is alone with a child. We require background checks for anyone interacting with children. And we require that anything of concern be reported to and acted on by the staff, minister, and Board when needed.
We are also almost done updating the OUUC Employee handbook so that it clearly lays out the expectations for all staff regarding professional ethics and behavior. Abuse of power and position is never OK.
As a people of faith, we have long advocated for common sense measures to create communities where we can live without fear. You can find the UUA statement about this week’s violence here, and information about safer congregations here.
As my heart is broken open and I mourn with the nation, I wonder what might shift if we regularly asked, “And how are the children?” All the children.
This week we can add our prayers for the victims, their families and their communities. Then we can turn our grief into action. If we really want to protect life, we will enact policies and laws that protect children, such as reasonable gun control, paid family leave, and a generous child tax credit. If we really want to support families, we will recognize that care for children is up to all of us. If we really want to welcome young ones, we will allow a bit of noise and chaos in our lives and in our sanctuary.
My prayer is that one day soon we can say reply that, yes, the children are well.
Blessings on your week,