Many Paths To Justice

The tradition of Unitarian Universalism is filled with actions of extraordinary individuals who shaped the justice events of their era. Upon closer inspection, however, we note that not all change is effected in the same way. Even the most individualistic leader owes a debt to other people, communities, and ways of thinking. There is more than a single way to resist injustice, and more than one way to work for the transformation of our world.

One possibility for identifying different (and often complementary) ways to work for change is to consider three overarching strategies commonly found in social justice leadership and organization: the prophetic, parallel, and institutional approaches:

  • The prophetic approach involves “speaking truth to power” against the conventions of the era, naming injustice explicitly while framing and articulating a vision of how we can live in the world that honors human dignity.
  • The parallel approach involves advocating for alternative structures and processes to what currently exists to support those being oppressed and to replace that which is deemed broken.
  • The institutional approach seeks to work within established power structures to change them from within and build new systems that provide a remedy to the status quo. Often it will involve the other two areas — naming injustice, collaborating to build new social practices — plus creating inspiring new systems and networks to sustain the new vision.

An individual, a group, or a movement may voice any of the three approaches described above or may employ different approaches at different times. All three strategic approaches are grounded in the shared Unitarian Universalist conviction that a free faith demands critical engagement with the world.


Reflect on the service and social justice work you have done in your lifetime so far.

Make a list of the different ways in which you have taken a prophetic, parallel, or institutional approach to advancing justice and peace in the world. As you consider your list, ask yourself why, in each circumstance, you chose one approach over another.

What factors did you weigh in making your decisions? Are there causes which inspired you to try multiple approaches? As you examine your own history of work on behalf of social justice, are there conclusions you draw or observations you make about your own preferred style and approach? About effective strategy?

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