Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I had lunch today with a UU seminarian who is in discernment about what religious tradition she really wants to affiliate with on the path to ordained ministry. I like her a lot -- she's a terrific person and a bright spirit -- and I hope she stays in the Unitarian Universalist family. She's not really a Christian theologically but she finds many Christian experiences and worship services deeply moving in a way that parallel Unitarian Universalist offerings have not been. Some of her reflections really depressed me, though, as she shared typical questions like"what do I do as a UU in this or that situation" or "how can I do ministry in a UU way" -- always assuming that the UU way was non-theistic, uncomfortable with explicit belief, and other-than-Christian. She herself isn't anti-theist (although not theistic herself), nor is she uncomfortable with people having a strong faith stance (or being Christian), but she has clearly internalized that these positions are mainline "UU."

I'll tell you what I told her, which is that it's such a shame that Unitarian Universalism has become identified with such limiting, rejecting mentality as that. Instead of being known as the religious tradition where theologically diverse people can sincerely support one another in community, we've become defined as the perpetually suspicious, pre-offended people. She said to me, "The only time I've ever heard another religious tradition insulted in the UU church was when the minister made a nasty joke about Christians." She said it was so disappointing to her that she almost walked out. I told her that she should have, that it would be good for us as a movement if more people walked out in protest whenever we egregiously violated our own vaunted tolerance and acceptance. I told her that, in my opinion, Unitarian Universalist hypocrisy around tolerance and acceptance was as hurtful to the growth of our movement as the clergy sex scandal was damaging to the Catholic Church. I don't mean to compare the degree of immorality in both cases; my comparison is one of relative impact. I truly believe that for every one person who walks into a Unitarian Universalist congregation on a Sunday morning and feels immediately at home, there are three or four who say to themselves, "Oh, these people were great on paper but in person they're an incredibly close-minded, judgmental crowd."

Let me be clear: our "crimes" of hypocrisy are no more common or reprehensible than the hypocrisies committed by any religious group. The difference with Unitarian Universalism is that we have given ourselves a very high standard to live up to, and aligned our public identity with the very principles of tolerance and acceptance. Therefore, people come to us with very high expectations and are therefore, I think, doubly crushed when they observe that we are no better than anyone else at living up to our own PR.

We're just as fallen as any religious movement. We billed ourselves as the saviors, the reformers, the ones who would purify the church, and we failed. We just don't see it, because the ways we have tunnel vision are so in sync with so much of liberal, secular culture, we have no idea how deeply and regularly we violate our first principle.

I said to my seminarian friend, Look, in most houses of worship, a good number of people have no belief in God or Christ, don't see the value of the rituals, and don't like the lyrics to the hymns. The only difference between Unitarian Universalists and these other groups is that we're honest about those realities and don't attempt to bring everyone together in a conformity of faith. We just hang out in the open with our skepticism and difference and wondering. We make it a point of strength (on our good days, we do). Yet for all our eternal protestations of being something truly different and exotic in the religious landscape, we're incredibly similar to mainstream liberal Protestantism in almost all the important cultural ways. I hope your generation of ministers will help us get over our terminal uniqueness, I told her. And I hope your generation of ministers will help us find a way to truly grow up and grow beyond our blinders. Right now in our history I give us a C- on our report card and the comment, "Unitarian Unviersalism is not living up to his/her potential."


Blogger Obijuan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Obijuan said...


the only thing I'll add is that we'll surprise you with demonstrations of tolerance when you least expect it. My supervisor and I discussed some of the potential static that might result from introducing Advent into the congregation, and how we might respond.

On Sunday, after doing my thing explaing the season to the kids (and adults), I heard none of the potential negativity that was in the wind. I did receive at least one heart-felt "thank you" for bringing the tradition in. I've come away thinking, "Maybe it's time to stop apologizing for the practice of my faith."

Blogger Obijuan said...

does that last post make sense? I've been term papering all night.

Blogger fausto said...

Amen. You need to publish that in UU World, I think.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Obijuan, you make sense to me, man.

Blogger Jess said...

I had such a feeling of hope after GA, especially after hearing Burton Carley's Berry Street Address and Patrick O'Neal at the Service of the Living Tradition. It seemed that people there, at least, were fired up by the unflinching messages of hope and of spirit and of worship.

And then we come back to reality, and realize just how unrepresentative GA really is when we look at our own congregations.

I wonder most why we apologize for faith practices, when legitimate criticism of truly inappropriate behavior is most often met with "but you have to affirm my inherent worth and dignity, and that means I can do/say/slander the minister/dance naked on Main Street/insert your example here whenever I want!"

So we're worried about offending people too much on the one hand, and not enough on the other. There has to be a good balance, I think.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

while this is the point of your topic, I would like to remind folks that there are UU Christian churches.
looking at upcoming services at one church, i see sermons on "Prince of Peace: Prophets and Jesus on Peace", service of Christmas music, "Traditional Lessons and Carols with an Unorthodox Interpertation", "Spirtual Christmas" plus a couple of other non-sunday morning Christmas services. (and yes, there is also a sermon on "Wisdom from the world's relgion").
not my church, so I wont say where (other than central NC) -- in case somebody want to drive there, let me know.

as to your topic: yeah, we're not as tolerant as we like to think....at least some of us try to be!

Blogger chutney said...

Yes, UUWorld, please.

Blogger pb2uu said...

So many of us refugees have not made peace with our religious history--it makes us cranky.

I like to think of myself as an iconoclast but today I realized that the only graven images I feel like destroying are Christian ones. Hmmm. Maybe that's not iconoclasm.

I would be very interested in further discussion of how we (the refugees) might come to peace with painful religious history (while not forgetting the important lessons we learned).

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Obijuan said...

pb2uu: demand the church provide resources and space for healing. Honestly, it's the one major failing of our churches that pisses me of more than any other (and the one that most drove me to to enter the ministry). We're great at welcoming the wounded in, but once they're in, it seems we'd rather let the wounded bleed and fester all over the sanctuary floor rather than attempt to heal them. We should do this automatically without being asked, but until such time as that happens, demand this from our churches.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

"demand the church provide resources and space for healing."

but since We are the Church, we need to first decide how do we heal this?

-- because the Church is not just pastors, staff, and officers, but all of us. How do we as caring people help those who want to be healed, and what about those who dont?

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

" Who in their right mind doesn't want to be healed? Prey tell. . ."

(i hope you mean "Pray Tell" - as "prey tell" would evoke a different answer)

lots of people dont want to be healed. since
i dont think Peace Bang wants me to hijack her blog and go on and on, but if you ask anyone in the medical field, they will tell you plenty of stories of those who want to stay physicaly sick. ask any minister and they will tell you plenty of stories about folks who want to keep their pain. Self-rightous anger/pain can be and is very comforting for a while.

If someone is finding satisfaction in bleeding on your floor, they will reject requests that be healed.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger indrax said...

What about the victims of various kinds of injustices and abuses whose repeated requests for justice, equity and compassion are repeatedly rejected by the perpetrators and indeed the perpetuators of the injustices and abuses?

We should heal those people.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

EA indeed said "in their right mind"
and so I was indeed talking about those who are.
It was widely reported that the old Soviet Union believed that anyone who questioned authority were not in their right mind - however the courts in the USA generally accept the idea that if you know the consequences of your behavior, you are in your right mind.
Glad you knew my "prey" comment wasnt a spelling flame (I can hardly spell well enough to do that- and why doesnt blogger have spelling and grammar check?)....but frankly, any "prey tell" answer would fall under the heading of obvious joke...

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger indrax said...

I'm not sure you should take that as an affirmation, Robin.

'We' includes you, and 'those people' includes them.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger The Emerson Avenger said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Kim said...

Sometimes I think that the problem is that most of us don't recognize tolerance (or intolerance) when we see it.
If I feel that I should be tolerant of ideas I don't agree with, but that I can still disagree with them, what does that mean in practise? what does it look like to respectfully disagree with someone's ideas? What happens if I think I am disagreeing respectfully and they don't think my tone is respectful? what about people who feel ANY disagreement is disrespect?


Post a Comment

<< Home