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."