“I became a minister out of a call that is rooted in anti-racism and gender justice. [Two events] that inspired me to finally go to seminary were the killing of Trayvon Martin and Wendy Davis’ filibuster for abortion rights. I just thought, ‘in different ways, one person’s life can really make a difference, and I’m going to devote my life to this work.’ ” – Reverend Erin Walter
I first met Reverend Erin Walter in early March of this year– just weeks after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott directed DFPS (Department of Family and Protective Services) to begin investigating the families of transgender children for child abuse if they are providing their kids with medically necessary care.
It was a marathon day– beginning with a press conference in the chilling 50-degree wind. Reverend Walter wore a rainbow-colored stole as she stood stoically behind members of the Equality Coalition– smiles at this moment were sparse. Her presence there as a faith leader while our partners spoke on the cruelty of the directive and the persistent failures of Texas’ child welfare system felt like a statement in itself, but when we traveled across the street, to the DFPS building where community members were addressing the committee of DFPS commissioners, Reverend Walter gave more than her presence to the fight for LGBTQIA+ equality.
She stood in front of the committee, a commanding vibrato in her voice, as she spoke about the love and care we’re called to have for everyone in our communities, as well as the children in need of real help who were neglected by the state in favor of harassing affirming families.
Walter called on the agency to do their jobs– and take the side of love and justice.
When we spoke recently about her role as a faith leader, “justice” was a recurring theme for Reverend Walter– the constant thread that drives her work as a community minister, activist, and musician in Austin, TX.
“We certainly have a lot of work as we bend Texas towards justice,” says Walter. This edict is her focus as the Minister and Executive Director of the Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry (TXUUJM), the state action network for UUs.
“I recently heard my friend and colleague Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford of Live Oak UU Church in Cedar Park talk about how scripture tells us the clergy’s job is to equip the saints. That means everyone in the church are the saints, and everyone’s job as a person of faith is to be living that faith every day. It is essential as people of faith that we say what our values are publically. Our community needs to hear that people of faith care about reproductive justice, care about anti-racism, care about immigrants’ rights, and that we deeply care about the rights of transgender kids and non-binary people.”
“I think progressive people of faith have a big role to play in the public square when it comes to fighting for democracy,” Rev. Erin Walter adds.
Walter grew up at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin and comes from “a diverse family in terms of religious background,” she notes. “Some folks in my wider family are Christian and Jewish, atheist, or agnostic. So I’m really passionate about interfaith work, and how different religious and spiritual traditions influence my own life. That’s something I really appreciate about the work of Just Texas.”
Reverend Walter began her career as a journalist– first attending school at Northwestern and then later writing for the Austin American-Statesman. She still folds journalistic ethics into her clergy work, stating that “people’s stories are at the heart of any message that I’m going to give.”
But two pivotal events were the catalyst for Erin’s decision to attend seminary: The killing of Trayvon Martin and former Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster fighting a 2013 restriction on abortion in Texas.
“Those things were the last straw for me that caused me to say, ‘I’m going to devote my life to this work.’ “
Since then, anti-racism, gender justice, and LGBTQIA+ equality have been the pillars of Erin Walter’s role as a faith leader, with TXUUJM and her affiliated congregation, Wildflower Church in South Austin.
In the wake of SB8– Texas’ six-week abortion ban, Reverend Walter has traveled with pregnant people seeking abortions from Texas to New Mexico, where they can access necessary healthcare– a journey, that while incredibly vital, she wishes she did not have to make: “That we would force someone to have a pregnancy, force someone to give birth, is abhorrent.”
“From a faith perspective, there are a lot of reasons why abortion is a moral good. If you believe in a higher power or the divine, and you believe that God made people in God’s image, then choice is divine. I can say without a doubt that people seeking abortions know exactly what it is that they need to do for their bodies and their lives,” says Walter.
Taking action to care for our communities and “bend Texas towards justice” is always at the center of Walter’s initiatives and messages– and she even hosts a weekly Action Hour that’s accessible to people of all faiths (or no faith at all) where folks can join a Zoom meeting and spend time together writing Letters to the Editor, emailing representatives, and sharing gratitude for fellow activists that inspire them. Free and open to all, you can follow TXUUJM on Facebook for upcoming events and Action Hours.
While Reverend Walter is often inspiring others to get involved in social justice work, she knows how overwhelming it can be to get started in a world where there is so much need. She has some encouragement for those of us who may not know how to begin organizing around the issues we feel passionate about.
“For people who are struggling with where to begin in their justice work or how to get involved, I would say: Ask yourself what your spirit and heart are calling you to do. Whatever piece you can do to help bend Texas towards justice, it will be beautiful and welcome.”