New book helps in talking about class

We don’t talk much about class in UU circles, says the Rev. Mark W. Harris.

Is that because the stereotypes are true––that we are only educated suburbanites? Or intellectual urbanites? When we look around on Sunday morning, do we see people who are “not like us”?

Not often, says Harris, who has written a book, Elite: Uncovering Classism in Unitarian Universalist History, that will be useful in creating discussions of classism in lifespan religious education classes, small group ministry sessions, book groups, and sermons. The book is available for $10 at the UUA Bookstore.

Harris, minister of the First Parish of Watertown, Mass., takes us on a historical tour of classist behavior by Unitarians and Universalists. One of his first stops is around the time of the American Revolution when Unitarians preached that God had given everyone the gift of reason––but given it in differing amounts. Then there was the “Boston Brahmin” period of the late 1870s when Unitarian “elites” controlled pretty much everything and didn’t consider the “lower classes” qualified to help make the rules or sit beside them in church.

Harris also devotes much of a chapter to eugenics, the belief, supported by many Unitarians in the early 1900s, that some people’s genetics were superior to others and should be managed accordingly. Universalists, says Harris, have generally been more welcoming throughout history, consisting as they did of a broader range of classes, including tradespeople, textile and mill workers, and farmers, as well as ship captains and merchants.

We carry assumptions, says Harris, “that a liberal thinking person’s faith will not appeal to those who are not college-educated, work with their hands, drive pick-up trucks, or live more than twenty miles from an art museum.” He notes that many of us seem more comfortable with gender, race, and sexual differences than with “working class” people. Perhaps, he says, “we are too quick to dismiss the truth that all classes have folks who are smart inquisitive people with inquiring minds and hearts open to all kinds of people. We should not sell our faith short when it comes to what we have to offer and why we want others to join us.”