July 14, 2008

Phew 2!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:18 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

The second most striking thing for me about the Pew Center Religious Landscape results is their decision to place us in the category of “Other.” Not “Other Christian” (as we have generally been listed for most of the past century of sociological studies) not “Other World Faiths” but a strange border category of “Other Faiths;” and most of us seem to find this  perfectly acceptable.  It speaks to me of our changing identity, which is never fully formed from within, no matter how lovingly we work at our congregational “mission and vision statements.”  

In recent decades we have been dedicated to growing “our movement.”  Part of that effort has been a clarification of our “core” and that, I think has put us on a crossroads.  We are determining, some of us consciously, and others unknowingly, if we are to be a liberal religious movement or a liberal religion. 

For a long time Unitarians especially, but also most American Universalists, have insisted that “we” are not another “denomination,” that is: just another variety of Christian.  In part we avoided that label because in connoted a distinct creed and we were non creedal, but more than that we sought to draw on the living “Truth” rather than any human denomination of it.  In fact many, even Ministers, referred to us simply as “Liberal Religion,” as if we were all the liberal religion in the world.  In the 1800s we were primarily liberal Christian.  Interfaith work expanded that identity through the 20th cent. until we began to see religious liberals in Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Existetialist, and even Muslim forms. 

The result was that we created places that promoted certain values in the world; nice communities to be sure, but with a rather vage “liberal” identity.  Thus, it did not matter so much if we created more U, and then UU congregations or even more U or UU people. What mattered was if we established and nurtured the values of justice, equity and compassion, openmindedness, and reason in the world.  It did not matter if 90% of our youth left our churches never to return, what mattered was that our children were kind and educated: willing to work for peace and justice and a healthy environment. (I even know of a member of a UU curchwho did not mind at all that her son had decided to go along withhis wife and have a Catholic wedding or raise their children with a Catholic identity.  But when he said he was thinking of voting Republican she became unhinged.)  As long as there was a general liberal secular culture and liberalism in mainstream religious societies we could ride easy on the waves of culture. 

But if we are to be more than an embodyment of Liberal Religion, and are to become A Liberal Religion, then what is unique to us will have to grow in importance.  Our rituals will have to take on a stamp all our own and spiritual depth will be described as UU interpretations of ancient concepts rather than liberalized borrowings.  Above all we will have to see our young adult children not joining a UU church as a failure or an insult or rejection rather than an inevatablility.  We will become not just an “other” religious movement, but a true alternative religion.  We could still serve the larger cause of liberal religion, but as one of its children rather than as its presumptive head.  Someday we might even move from ‘other religions’ to ‘world religions.’  I don’t know for sure, but I think the Pew Survey is one more mark of a turn in our history from mere liberalism to UUism.  I know this path has its dangers.  But it excites me to think that we might someday be even more than 0.3% of the world, because if what we say is true, then we and the world will all truly be changed for the better.


  1. Robin Edgar said,

    “Someday we might even move from ‘other religions’ to ‘world religions.’”

    Well for the time being U*Uism is a “tiny, declining, fringe religion” according to Rev. Peter Morales’ “stump speech, although he apparently believes that U*Uism could be “the religion of out time”. Personally I expect U*Uism will remain the formar and never achieve the latter, especially since U*Uism has all but completely abandoned its monotheistic religious heritage.

  2. Ben Stewart said,

    I associate the demand for recognition of our Christian roots, despite continuing surveys that pronounce the greater balance of our membership to regard themselves as something other than Christian, as a tool for larger membership. I do not mean to be disrespectful of anyones belief, but I do feel that the nature of many UU congregations has more to do with appreciation of our ambiguity and opportunity for covenant between members than possible in a “christian” church. Our church is not satisfied with lip service, our church does not require an utterance that we cannot believe in, our church moves towards the other and not away from the other. We do not call upon sinners to repent, to be washed in the blood of lambs.Instead we offer a hope in the expansion of human goodness. ben

  3. Robin Edgar said,

    Ben said – “Our church is not satisfied with lip service, our church does not require an utterance that we cannot believe in, our church moves towards the other and not away from the other.”

    Actually, at least when it comes to God and Jesus, the Unitarian*Universalist “church” has a very bad habit of engaging in what Biblical prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah would immediately recognize as being “lip service” of the worst kind. Indeed when U*U clergy and lay people are not engaging in insincere “lip service” about God and Jesus they can even descend into anti-religious attacks on them and those who believe in them. I have heard fundamentalist atheist “Humanist” U*U clergy dogmatically preach from their wayward pulpit that God is “a non-existent being” and that belief in God “seems primitive”. One prominent “Humanist” U*U minister once concluded a sermon about natural disasters by pronouncing that “God can be a son of a bitch.” And the U*U “beat” goes on and on and on. . .

    The U*U “church” may not *require* the utterance that U*Us cannot believe in but U*Us, perhaps especially “Humanist” U*Usm, are all to prone to rather insultingly and offensively uttering what they don’t believe in. Anti-Christian and more broadly anti-religious intolerance and bigotry seems to be all too common in the Uncommon denomination. Those U*Us that don’t actually engage in anti-religious intolerance and bigotry themselves do little or nothing to rein in the vocal minority of U*Us who do. And U*Us wonder why they “repel” visitors and thus remain a “tiny, declining, fringe religion” to quote UUA Presidential candidate Rev. Peter Morales. . .

    All too often Christian oriented Americans, or otherwise God believing people, find themselves to be “the other” in U*U congregations and could only wish that intolerant and abusive “Humanist” U*Us did move away from them, rather than making a point of approaching them and telling them what they don’t believe in, in condescending, insulting, contemptuous, and outright hostile and abusive words that make it abundantly clear to believers that they are anything but genuinely welcome in U*U ‘Welcoming Congregations”. If Unitarian*Universalists aka U*Us want to have the slightest hope of moving away from being a “tiny”, “often elitist”, “declining fringe religion” towards being “the religion of our time”, as Rev. Peter Morales fantasizes about, they are going to have to learn to get along with, and be genuinely accepting and welcoming of, liberal Christians and other God believing people.

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