Thursday, March 31, 2005

Peacebang is Deliriously Happy

Well, I'll be. I am just now picking my jaw up off the floor after reading a smashing, challenging, throw-down-the-gauntlet sermon composed by Funky Ethan and given at a recent gathering at the Unitarian Universalist staff at 25 Beacon Street.

Ethan's sermon reads like something out of my own journal and basically begs the question: "Hey ya'll, um, why can't we consider ourselves a Christian denomination, and why should we let the skeevy right-wing hypocritical bastids who make Jesus cry and bite his nails claim the 'Christian' title when we're historically and culturally Christian, and plenty of us are Christians theologically and spiritually, too!? Just not in the orthodox sense!"

Ethan's low christology may cause some of my more Christ-centered UU comrades to wince (I hope not), and he's not as clear on Unitarian christological tradition as I'm sure he will be, but by gum, the kid's got at least half a dozen breathtakingly intelligent points, and he makes them with affection and panache, and best of all... he's a life-long UU, so he's got that particular street cred.

Could this be the beginning of the real revolution in UUism, when the next generation doesn't break out into hives every time we crack a Bible of mention Mr. Jesus of the Christ family?

Go ahead and read what he said, won't you?

And read the comments of the kids afterward. It will warm the cockles of ye heart; if you have cockles. I'm not sure I do.

Peacebang to Ethan: "Holy Ghost power! Holy Ghost power!" (a la Robert Duvall in "The Apostle


Blogger Rieux said...

Say it ain't so, Rev.

Please tell me you aren't actually in favor of this--of defining the majority of Unitarian Universalists out of Unitarian Universalism. I utterly fail to understand how you could possibly support this and still claim to value the freedom of UU faith.

Hey ya'll, um, why can't we consider ourselves a Christian denomination...?

How about because the solid majority of UUs--well over a hundred thousand strong--are not Christians? Or because a huge chunk of that number have made then considered decision that Christianity is not a path or a tradition that speaks meaningfully to us?

Reverend, you can't possibly have missed the fact that UUism is "historically and culturally" humanist, Buddhist, Pagan, deist, skeptical, transcendentalist, pantheist and panenthist (among a zillion other things), not just Christian. I'd expect the Falwells and the Robertsons of the world to ignore and deny the non-Christian influences on our shared history, but a UU minister? Brrrr.

Could this be the beginning of the real revolution in UUism, when the next generation doesn't break out into hives every time we crack a Bible of mention Mr. Jesus of the Christ family?

Why in the world would this require, or justify, the redefinition of our religion?

"Revolution" indeed--you're talking UU civil war. Thousands upon thousands of us cannot in good conscience be part of an association that defines itself as fundamentally Christian. (If we'd wanted to be second-class citizens in a liberal Christian body, we would have cut out the middleman and joined the UCC, MCC or Episcopalians in the first place.)

Do you realize that you're talking in "deliriously happy" terms about jettisoning untold thousands of perfectly good UUs? Do you even care?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's wrong with reclaiming UUism as a Christian denomination that embraces all paths to the holy?

From my understanding of UU history, the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists did not create a new religion (contrary to popular UU opinion, or dare I say, propaganda), but only a new "Association" of creedless churches. The Christian Unitarian and Christian Universalist traditions are still very much alive and without them UUism would not be as influential as it is.

UUism can be Christian and still open to other paths. After all, Jesus hung out with prostitutes and such filth...but he never considered them as "second class" citizens. He embraced them.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Brrr! Dr. Rieux is back!

I don't know why I bother, but
to clarify: my delirium is due to the fact that a UU Youth dared to even broach the subject of identifying as Christian -- as an INDIVIDUAL UU. Do you think anyone is suggesting that you or anyone else identify as Christian?? Do you think that's bloody likely to happen? I don't know how you define the UU "denomination" and I'm frankly not worried about it -- you're free to do as you like. However, and this is one of Ethan's main points, as I recall --to identify UUism as a movement that has roots in liberal Christianity is absolutely correct, and should be part of our explanation of what a UU is, if we've got more than 30 seconds in an elevator.
You, Rieux, who prefer to define UUism almost purely by the heritage of its last forty years,will not be expected to do this. The "freedom" you're so sure that I'm constraining assures that no one will force you to.

As for your other sources of ire, why not bring it up with Ethan? He's the one who broached the question, not I. I merely ecstatically applauded him for doing so. And I will again. "YAY ETHAN!"

Have the atheists appointed you their Official Spokesperson yet? Because again, mature atheists can read Ethan's sermon and appreciate his point. I know because I forwarded it to six members of my congregation: three of whom are agnostic/humanists and three of whom are atheists and don't think of themselves as spiritual at all.
They all found it fascinating.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

In regards to your question that summarizes Ethan's sermon ("why can't we consider ourselves a Christian denomination"), we need to be honest in how we describe ourselves to the world.

The best available denominational survey data I know of is The 1997 Unitarian Universalism Needs and Aspirations Survey conducted during the "Fulfilling the Promise" Campaign. The survey results can be found online here:

Here are the theological identity statistics from this survey:

Humanist: 46.1%
Earth/Nature centered: 19.0%
Theist: 13.0%
Christian: 9.5%
Mystic: 6.2%
Buddhist: 3.6%
Jewish: 1.3%
Hindu: 0.4%
Moslem: 0.1%
Other: 13.3%

Unless we are currently today 51% or more Christian in our self-identity, I don't know if we can honestly call ourselves "Christian" in any meaningful sense other than our Unitarian and Universalist roots in the Protestant Christian tradition.

Historical roots in Christianity doesn't make modern-day Unitarian Universalism a Christian denomination any more than historical roots in Judaism make modern-day Christianity or modern-day Islam a form of Judaism.

Additionally, other Christian groups (including the liberal National Council of Churches) don't consider us sufficiently "Christian" to be full members of ecumenical groups.

If liberal Christians and conservative Christians both agree that the UUA isn't a Christian denomination (or at least isn't Christian enough for membership in NCC and other ecumenical groups), that may be an indicator that we aren't a Christian denomination any more.

For my congregation's new member and guest FAQ page, our short answer to the "Are you a Christian church?" question is "yes and no" with a full explanation to follow on why we answer that question this way:

Finally, I recently wrote on my blog about why I think that Christians and Non-Christians in UU congregations may have conflict using an anti-oppression perspective to examine this topic:

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Good points, Steve. Thanks for making them. It's true that most UUs don't identify as Christian but are theologically--oriented otherwise. Hence, it's not accurate to say we're a Christian denomination.

Which should never stop an individual UU from beginning his or her elevator speech by saying, "I'm a Unitarian Universalist, a diverse religious movement that has its roots in liberal Xtianity. I am a liberal Christian within that tradition."

In the end, your solution of saying that the answer to whether we're a Christian denomination is both yes and no is the wisest. My great jumping happiness in reading Ethan's post was, of course, that any of the younger folks among us are willing to come right out of the gate STARTING with our Christian "identity" and then qualifying THAT, rather than starting from a place of wiggly negations. "Uh, we're not that, we're not that, etc." or the worst, "WE CAN BELIEVE ANYTHING WE WANT."
(wait, the worst was the one I heard from one of my adult members recently, "We're a non-denominational church." -- he had no idea that "non-denominational" usually signifies extreme right-wing Christian groups).

One of Ethan's other main points (that none of the comments thus far have acknowledged) is that our typical forms of worship are distinctly Protestant. I love that he is willing to NAME this and set the challenge out there on the table. What we do weekly is not a discussion session, it's not a caring-and-sharing time, what most UUs have in common activity-wise is CHURCH SERVICES on SUNDAYS. Hello, and that tradition is Christian, unless the congregation in question has made a sincere effort to make it something ELSE (eg, pagan, etc.). Thank you for naming the Elephant in the Living Room!

Your point that UUism relates to Christianity the way that Christianity relates to Judaism is precious and misleading historically, of course. Unitarian and Universalist churches that weren't gathered post-merger were *regularly* holding Communion services well through the 1940's and 1950's. We're not talking some ancient vestiges here. We're talking worship practices and a theological orientation that's *very* recent.
Ethan's willingness to bring that to the attention of his listeners is important, and brave, and points out how absolutely silly it is to repress this issue, or to roll around on the floor whining and pummeling fists, saying "This conversation OFFENDS and INSULTS ME." The victimy, you-can't-talk-about-that-because-that-perspective-doesn't-speak-for-ME bullying among some of our numbers is the most smothering, soul-killing instinct in our movement, and we've pandered to it for too long.

Blogger Rieux said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Peacebang wrote:
"One of Ethan's other main points (that none of the comments thus far have acknowledged) is that our typical forms of worship are distinctly Protestant."

I remember mentioning to my partner a few years back that she as a UU is now a member of a Protestant church. Her upbringing was Roman Catholic. While some folks have "knee-jerk" reactions to words like "God" "Christian," or "Jesus," my partner initially didn't like the "Protestant" label being applied to her.

We need to look at this using anti-oppression language. If "typical" also means "dominant" culture as well, then our "typical" worship services reflect the dominant Protestant culture in North America.

According to the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance web site, 52% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant in 2001. In 1990, 86.2% Americans identified as Protestant.

According to the OCRT web site reporting of polling data,

"14.1% do not follow any organized religion. This is an unusually rapid increase -- almost a doubling -- from only 8% in 1990. There are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans taken together."

Protestant Christianity as a religious and cultural force is still important enough that we need to be mindful of it in terms of outreach to the wider community.

What if the dominant religious voice in North America were to be something else ... Roman Catholic Christianity, "unchurched," etc? Would effective outreach require adapting to this change? Or would we hold on to Protestant culture regardless of its effect on outreach?

We also need to keep in mind that significant portions of our UU faith community are culturally Pagan in worship style.

One final tidbit that Peacebang will appreciate comes from a USA Today/Gallup Poll in Jan 2002:

"**About 50% consider themselves religious (down from 54% in 1999-DEC)

** About 33% consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" (up from 30%)

** About 10% regard themselves as neither spiritual or religious."

[Disclaimer - my childhood religious upbringing was Mainline Protestant - mostly Methodist - in civilian and Air Force military chapel communities.]

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is this hater?
This isn't about atheism -it's about DUMB.
Does this guy READ, or what?
it reminds me of one of those people who hijack the parish meeting and rants and raves and no one can get any work done.
I have a headache!

Blogger Steve Caldwell said...

Errata - Misquoted statistics on my post - Corrected below

Here's the correct statistics that I should have posted originally:

According to the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance web site, 52% of Americans identified themselves as Protestant and 76.5% identified as Christian in 2001. In 1990, 86.2% Americans identified as Christian (no Protestant percentage given).

Further down on the OCRT web page, I did find some data on Protestant Christianity that documents a declining percentage in North America:

"From 1972 to 1993, the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center found that Protestants constituted about 63% of the population. This declined to 52% in 2002. Protestants are expected to slip to a minority position between 2004 and 2006. "Respondents were defined as Protestant if they said they were members of a Protestant denomination, such as Episcopal Church or Southern Baptist Convention. The category included members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and members of independent Protestant churches." However, the data may be deceiving. Some subjects simply reported themselves as "Christians" and were not counted as Protestants since they were not affiliated with a Protestant denomination."

I'm totally guessing here, but a person who identifies as "Christian" but isn't Orthodox or Roman Catholic may be traditionalist Protestant version of the "spiritual but not religious" demographic. This may also be a person who has issues with more organized and traditional forms of religion.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Dude Anonymous!
You're right! Dr. Rieux WAS being a hater! EXCELLENT point! And not cool on Peacebang!

Not only was he being a hater, but he practices "selective reading," which is where you say one thing and he says, "I canNOHT believe you just said that other thing I fantasized that you said!" He got deleted mostly because he claims for me arguments/points that I'm not making and also for quoting Homer Simpson as a rhetorical device.

We love administration features on!! Everyone is welcome to read Rieux's, um, "thoughts," on his own blog... the font is really tiny so you'll want a magnifying glass. I won't be going there again, as I believe that the early promise of a bright gadly has degenerated into an exhausting, often unnuanced, paranoid rant.
(P.S. Rieux? When you seek out sermons on-line to critique on your blog, keep in mind that a sermon is a spiritual teaching given in the context of LOCAL WORSHIP; ie, to minster to a specific congregation at a specific time. When you're outside the community expecting that sermon to function as an editorial or an essay, you're shooting fish in a barrel. A sermon is one side of a passionate conversation with a specific commmunity of people. If you're not in that community,you're always reading a sermon out of context.

Did you know, for instance, that Patrick Price is a pagan? Didn't think so.)

I'm going to seek out all my thoughtful, mature, loving atheists in my church this Sunday and give them a special smooch of appreciation. "Thanks for not willfully misconstruing my every word 'cause you need my personal attention so much, and for not getting spittle in my eye!"


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