UU speaker deplores oppression
Erika Hewitt grew up as a “PK” as she calls it, a Midwest “preacher’s kid” who diligently attended services at her father’s Methodist church and attended Catholic schools.
Hewitt is now a divinity student at the University of California at Berkeley’s Starr King School for the Ministry; intern minister at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and a spiritually changed person from her youth.
At a recent appearance at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of the Mountains in Grass Valley and in an interview and correspondence with The Union, she explained her philosophy and work.
Hewitt’s upbringing was not unlike many in the traditional church, where she belonged to her high school youth group. But a burgeoning interest in social justice and the expansion of her mind in college brought her to a different view of the traditional church, and she left it in 1989.
“I was troubled by its male-centered God language and its exclusion of gays and lesbians,” Hewitt said. She came to believe that both were “at odds with the true message of inclusive love embodied by Jesus.”
But it wasn’t until 1995 that she “accidentally stumbled upon a local UU church and felt as if I had come to a spiritual haven where I could think freely, and where my values were embraced and reflected back to me by a vibrant community.”
That was in New Orleans, where she was getting a master’s degree in anthropology at Tulane University, specializing in Latin American studies. She then entered a Ph.D. program at Tulane, but found herself immersed in her new Unitarian Universalist congregation as a leader and in a Sierra Club program as a reading tutor for inner-city children.
“I was spending more time on volunteer activities than I was on my Ph.D. I enjoyed the volunteer work more than my research. The ivory tower (of academia) wasn’t what I’d expected or wanted, and I felt called to follow my life’s passion and my new spiritual path of UUism by entering the ministry.” She left for Berkeley in 1998.
She will graduate in May and stay there with her partner, Martin Hunke. He is German, and they “both consider the Pacific Coast our true home, our ‘spiritual geography,’ as writer Kathleen Norris calls it.”
She has been busy for three years traveling between Berkeley and Chapel Hill while also working on UU projects and preaching in Northern California and Nevada. She found time to visit Transylvania in Romania, one of the 16th century birthplaces of Unitarianism, to help with Project Harvest Hope, a nonprofit group that supports economic development in the region.
Hewitt chose to become a lightning rod when she began teaching a course she created and developed at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, “Abortion and Spirituality.”
The course came about because “the intersection of these two areas is largely ignored by liberal religious communities, and yet there is a deep hunger for it.”
The course gives Hewitt a platform for pastoral work and public speaking. To take it a step farther, “I’m currently researching grants that would allow me to conduct interviews and research women’s spiritual and religious experiences following abortion.”
Hewitt was guest preacher at the Grass Valley UU for the first time in December 1998. “Their energy, open hearts and welcoming spirits struck a chord in me,” making her eager to return.
At the recent Grass Valley service, Hewitt’s sermon was titled “I My Loving Vigil Keeping,” a line from the old Welsh lullaby, “All Through the Night.”
She used the title “because that’s the image of the holy that I used when in difficult times, or in pain. The divine protects and loves us as a mother singing a lullaby to her child. The presence that holds us loves us fiercely and without exception.”
Hewitt believes “God is always loving and always whole. I can’t believe that God makes us suffer.”
As we approach Good Friday and Easter, people should be aware “it’s horrible when you tell the oppressed to just bear it,” the oppressed meaning gays, battered women and others subjected to abuse, she said.
“God does not ask us to suffer,” Hewitt said. “We should comfort victims of oppression.”
Some pastors will turn to a battered wife “and will say, ‘Your husband is a good man, just bear it,'” Hewitt said. “That says be obedient, but this oppression shouldn’t be happening in the first place. You say to a woman, ‘You don’t deserve that, you don’t need to take it.'”
“There’s a lot that keeps people down,” Hewitt said. “If all we say is ‘Take it and your reward will be great in the future,'” that is not enough. “We say do it now, let’s make it God’s world right now, don’t wait. … We’re all connected, all the people are my people.”
Hewitt said Unitarian Universalism tells individuals, “We’re making space for you,” not just, “It’s OK for you to be here.
“I believe Jesus died because he was trying to protect the poor and the sick, and it got him into trouble. I don’t think he died for me.”
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