April 5, 2010

Ethnic UUs

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:42 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

To be a Unitarian Universalist we say you must be a active member of a UU Church.  Except, according to recent Pew Center polling, people who call themselves UU but are not part of a church outnumber the church members two to one!

I have long noticed the people who are married to UUs, but rarely darken the door of a church unless their child is in a play or something.  Are they UU? I meet many people who tell me “We were married in a UU Church,” as if that makes us related; yet they have never joined a congregation in the twenty years since.  There seem to be almost as many people who “used to go” to the Muncie UU church as those who regularly participate.

The other day a young woman asked me to conduct her marriage ceremony. In talking I mentioned that the process for non-members reserving the church building is different than for members. She looked a little confused and said, ” I have always thought of myself as a UU. I know I haven’t attended much in the past decade, but I was raised in that church and I would never think of going anywhere else.” I asked if she ever remembered signing a membership book. “No” she protested, “but I still think of my self as part of that church.”

One problem is that many of us have long defined our “movement” as synonymous with all liberal religion, or mere cultural liberalism in general, especially as it appears in North America. This is a definition almost without boundaries, one that encourages anyone who thinks that tolerance, open-mindedness, and a desire for freedom and  justice are good enough for a shared identity.  I think it is related to our problems with racial diversity. That we have a particular ethnic identity: middle-class, liberal-minded, well-educated, white-people.

In my church we make a clear distinction between Members and Friends.  We like our friends, we want them to be part of the church, they have permanent name tags and can even lead committees .  In a sense all of our children in the RE program are Friends.  Membership on the other hand takes commitment, a covenant, to follow our principles and  struggle with them, and to fulfill to the church a pledge  of one’s energy, time and money.

It is more common to think of ethnic Catholics or Jews, but there are many people who are connected to UU congregations in a similar way; on the edges but not on the fence. What does our connection to those people mean? What duty or responsibility do we have towards those persons? How do they change our own self-image?