I led a dozen American Unitarian Universalists to Warsaw this summer. The banner identifies us as such, and as “heirs of the Polish Brethren.” That’s a reference to one of the earliest and most influential Unitarian movements. Few UUs today know about them, but all educated Poles do.
Between the 1560s and the 1640s the Polish Unitarians were associated with a “Golden Age” of freedom, reason, and tolerance in Poland.
Note the Rainbow sculpture. It was commissioned by the city. The artist chose the rainbow as a symbol of diversity and tolerance. It was denounced by homophobes as a “symbol of sodomy.” Then it was vandalized, and burned. When it was restored (and cordoned off for its protection), the US Ambassador to Poland tweeted that he was glad to see this “symbol of diversity” back.
One of our group had been a journalist in Poland. Hearing of the controversy, he suggested I thank the ambassador. Then he arranged for Warsaw’s leading newspaper to photograph us and interview me in front of the Rainbow. Since the destruction had been led by right-wing Catholics stirred up by a religious broadcaster, we wanted Poles to know that there are religious people who promote diversity and tolerance still.
We met with an openly gay politician. He gave us a personal tour of the Sejm (Parliament), in which he serves. We had a brief encounter with a former Prime Minister. A GLBT activist in Gdansk saw our photo and read the interview. A professor of American Studies, she was coming to the Bay Area. We met. She came to services at UUSF. She now wants to start a Unitarian group in her area. I put her in touch with people to help. Most recently, a Polish documentarian doing a whole film on the Rainbow controversy did a video interview with me by Skype.
When I first went to Poland, in 1985, the Communists were still in power. The Catholic Church was then supporting Solidarity and resistance to the police state. It was a force for civic unity. Ironically, since Poland has joined the European Union, with its human rights laws, homophobia has increased. Right-wing Catholicism has become divisive.
Poland could be entering a second “Golden Age.” The Unitarian heritage could be revived there. To help that happen, I am starting a group called “Friends of Polish Unitarianism.” Its purpose will be to further “the Rainbow connection.”