Welcome to the holiday shopping season!
Unitarian Universalists do celebrate Christmas, generally, and in this culture that usually involves giving gifts. However, it is interesting and worthwhile to examine how we can meld our faith lives and our “outside of church” lives when it comes to issues of consumption.
In 2001, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly adopted a Statement of Conscience entitled “Responsible Consumption Is Our Moral Imperative.” The process for generating these statements has changed recently (PDF), but at the time this one was written, a study-action issue on some kind of social witness was selected each year by congregational delegates at the General Assembly, sending it out to the individual congregations for study and discussion over a two-year period under the guidance of the Commision on Social Witness. Each year at General Assembly, a drafted statement resulting from those two years of study would be presented to the delegates to be revised and approved. So, this study-action issue was chosen at the 1999 General Assembly in Salt Lake City, and the statement was drafted and approved in 2001.
The ideas presented in the statement are not unfamiliar in Unitarian Universalist circles, but are very thought-provoking in the context of the holiday shopping rush.
For consideration: What, if anything, has changed in this consumer-based culture since this statement was adopted? With what do you agree or disagree in this statement? How do these ideas inform individual choices in how we spend our money and other resources, particularly around the holidays? What is the nature of gift-giving in a religious context?
From “Responsible Consumption Is Our Moral Imperative”
the 2001 General Assembly Statement of Conscience
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls upon us to approach the ethic of responsible consumption with a passion for seeking truth, a thirst for making justice, a vision of interdependence, and a willingness to re-examine our individual actions and beliefs. Becoming responsible consumers means putting into action our religious Principles of the inherent worth and dignity of all people and the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.
We each begin a personal journey toward responsible consumption from a different place. Wherever we start, we must be mindful of our behavior, attentive to the voices and needs of others, and conscious of the natural rhythms of the world. Our journey continues through education. Through secular and religious education programs, we must challenge ourselves to rethink the underlying assumptions that guide our choices. Through dialogue in small groups, we nurture each other’s environmental consciousness and examine competing claims of what individual responsibility actually means. Our journey is fulfilled through activism. We will work together for legislative changes that will reduce over-consumption, environmental degradation, and the unjust distribution of resources.
This journey will change our lives. As we talk with our children about advertising and peer pressure, we will discover with them innovative ways to adjust our consumption levels, to conserve the earth’s finite resources, and to simplify our lives. We will learn more about the hidden costs of the foods we choose to eat and the clothing we choose to wear. We will stretch the lifespans of our appliances, computers, and cars. Before buying, we will ask ourselves if we really need to make the purchase. When purchasing something new, we will buy the most energy-efficient model. We will extend the recycling circle by buying items already made of recycled materials. We will avoid purchasing products that are wastefully packaged or produced through the exploitation of animals or human labor. We will consider living closer to work or to public transportation. We will ensure that our individual and congregational pension funds are invested in socially responsible enterprises. We will pursue designation of our congregations as “green sanctuaries.”
As more of us become responsible consumers, we pave the way for systemic change. Individual actions are not enough to reverse the relentless tide of reckless societal consumption. Government efforts are needed to ensure the equitable balance of private interest with the public good. Recycling, environmental and fair labor standards, reduction of suburban sprawl, accessible and affordable mass transportation, and reduction of the causes of global warming—all these require the cooperation of public and private authorities.
We need to acknowledge the discomfort of accepting limitations on individual freedom—whether voluntary or statutory. A responsible consumption ethic requires personal as well as collective sacrifices. Many people have already simplified their lives. They confirm that it has been a liberating process, that their lives are more intentional, more meaningful, and happier. Prices, subsidies, and incentives may change as a consequence of this ethic. Entire industries may develop to utilize alternative natural resources such as wind energy, geothermal power, and solar power. We need to lobby government officials to end subsidies that promote the conversion of open spaces to housing subdivisions and to increase funding to rejuvenate inner-city neighborhoods. We need to advocate zoning that promotes a mix of retail business and residential land use.
By modeling the change in behavior that we wish to see in other people, we not only reinforce our own enduring commitment to this ethic but also help others to see the value of thinking and acting together. People can learn to relish simplicity. They can learn to rely less on possessions for filling the void in their lives. They can come to understand that socially responsible consumption depends upon hearts, minds, and hands.
The Unitarian Universalist Association hereby urges member congregations, affiliate organizations, individual Unitarian Universalists, and the wider communities in which we live to embark on this noble journey. We are called to act courageously and to tread more lightly upon the earth.
Source: “Responsible Consumption Is Our Moral Imperative,” Statement of Conscience adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in 2001.Tags: consumerism, gifts, holidays, justice, Statement of Conscience, witness