October 27, 2020

Anti-Racist Universalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:39 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I was reading about a professor at Bryn-Mawr, Julien Suaudeau, who wrote a piece about the current tension between French ideals and the reality of racism and division. He asks,

“How can French universalism reinvent itself as an anti-racist and postcolonial co-production? Asking these questions is not to reject universalism, but rather to question the forms in which it manifests itself and how they relate to reality and material conditions. They push us to understand what these values mean for someone living in the countryside, or in the suburbs of a big city (banlieue), or for a French person whose background is that of an erased and obscured colonial history. In line with the thinking of Jean Jaurès, the universalism emerging from these questions would start from the real and move towards the ideal.”

The same question can be asked of Unitarian Universalism. How can our (small ‘u’ universalism) be reinvented as anti-racist and postcolonial? How will diverse people co-create something that has been dominated by white Americans? How can we question the forms in which we manifest our faith without blindly rejecting their inspiration in both Christian Universalism and humanistic universalism? How can we understand what our current forms of UU life mean to those people who’s background includes the erased and obscured history of American colonialism, slavery, jingoism and Jim Crow?

My experience tells me that it depends on relationship. Who do we know and work with and how does that shape the words we use, the stories we tell, the rituals we perform and above all the people who find a home in our congregations and stay to become leaders?


August 4, 2014

Christian Universalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 1:31 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

As a Unitarian Universalist minister I can be morally strong and clear without needing to set absolute rules.  I am moral and also free of eternal punishment for moral failings.  I don’t need to condemn others to an eternal Hell in order to tell them I think their actions are wrong. However, there are some people who find any openness or change in moral stance as equal to chaos, or worse. For example, a recent opinion piece by Dr. Michael Brown, posted on the One News Now site, floated to the top of the Google alerts on “Universalism”: Universalism is Next for the Soft Love Crowd

In it Brown says simply that if you become welcoming and affirming of gay and lesbian people, by blessing the marriages of such people, you begin sliding down the slippery slope to having no standards what so ever.

To his credit, Dr. Brown does admit that it is very difficult, even painful, to consider God punishing kind, thoughtful and devoutly compassionate people who do good work in the world. He admits it would seem cruel for God to do so. He writes, “I honestly believe that if questions like this don’t cause us some level of pain then we don’t really have the heart of the Lord.”

His response to this pain is to simplistically assert that it is wrong to move away from preaching about future wrath and divine judgement on issues of anything. Then he encourages his readers to pray that those who disagree with him will be brought “back to the truth as it is found in Jesus”.

Clearly he is writing to his own choir, but he misses two essential points. One is that wrath and judgement are real and serious theological issues, but do not necessarily entail eternal punishment in an eternal Hell. Despite all the condemning passages of scripture one must also deal with passages such as Psalm 30:5, Psalm 107:1, John 12:32, 1 Timothy 2:1-6, and Jeremiah 31:34 “…they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The second point he glosses over is that it is in the Truth of Jesus that people do find love, kindness, acceptance and the spirit of reconciliation that moves them to create a more just and inclusive community, instead of the eternally divisive and unjustly judgmental community created by Dr. Brown.

June 23, 2011

The Wright Stuff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:15 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

I have had the pleasure of being part of study group with a great group of clergy, mostly Baptist. We have read some wonderful books and talked about them, mostly encouraged each other that we were not alone in enjoying these books. We read Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and decided that we were all willing to call Rob and ourselves universalists, even if Rob was afraid of that label. We went on from there to read the much more dense, or at least wordy, theological work of N.T. Wright “Surprised by Hope” which we also liked. Wright is an Anglican Bishop, but we won’t hold that against him. He is a good, creative and Universalist Christian who affirms the bodily ressurection as literally as possible.

After the great food and good conversation the Baptists gave me a certificate as a parting present naming me “An Honorary Baptist” and I conferred on them all honorary UU status.

Looking back over Wright’s writings I came across this quote:

“Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in such a being they had therefore stopped believing in God, so many who were taught to think of hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire…decided that when they stopped believing in that, so they stopped believing in hell. The first group decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of hell, they must be universalists.”
— N.T. Wright (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church)

It made me laugh. In part because after the meal one of the Baptists told me that in all the decades of his ministry, in several different cities, he had heard of Unitarian Universalists but he had never met one.  “Never met one” were his exact words.  It seemed sad to think of how many opportunities had been missed over the decades because UUs who should know that the light shines everywhere had not reached out to find this person who had been for me an ally and friend.  Through these sorts of ecumenical groups I always find that the Beloved Community has more members than we usually can see.  From Anglicans to Baptists the universalist spirit lives.  If we have that spirit then we all have the right stuff.

March 2, 2011

The New U: Ringing the Bell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:55 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Rev. Robert Bell may have done us a great favor. The question is will we take advantage of it? Rob Bell has announced his new book “Love Wins” has generated a lot of short term condemnation from his more conservative Christian brothers and sisters. He has generated their ire by daring to suggest, to PROCLAIM, that there is no such thing as an eternal Hell. Check out his cool book preview at: http://vimeo.com/20272585

I have long felt that as the institutional inheritors of American Universalsim we have been hiding a powerful message in our back closets. Lately we have been saying that we “Stand on the Side of Love.” Christian Universalism is the primary root of this idea. So, will we capitalize on Rob Bell’s recent celebrity and publicity by enunciating our ability to affirm and include his message in our lager faith? Will we say to everyone that Origen as well as Arius, Gregory of Nyssa as well as Servetus, James Relly as well as Charles Chauncy, Robert Bell and Carlton Pearson as well as our current Unitarian Universalist leaders are all part of the really good news of inclusion, love and faith?

If we do so then we will gain from Rob’s notoriety and turn even more people to the side of Love.

July 30, 2008

There is a Hell

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:35 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

This afternoon, sitting at a local Starbucks, I was reading chapters of Ahab’s Wife, purportedly written by First Mate Starbuck himself (actually written by UU author Sena Jeter Naslund).  Cool coincidence. 

A chapter or so later as the main character, Una, is having a last supper aboard the Pequod, she asks about religion in Nantucket, the town to which they are headed.  Of course, in their listing they mention the Unitarians (who Una’s mom had described as letting people believe as they wished.  “Only your behavior must be according to what is commonly held to be good.  You must be kind…”)  After Mr. Stubb calls one church “the Elephantists!”

Mr. Flask corrects, “Nay, it’s the Universalist Society.” 

“What is their belief?” Una asks. 

“That ye cannot be damned.  It makes no difference if ye worship elephant Hindu gods or the crescent moon.  There’s no hell, they say, and ye can’t go to it.  Salvation is universal.” 

At that moment Una’s husband, who is chained in the next room, crazy with grief and guilt and alcohol, cries out, “Hell.” 

The point is that Hell is real and very much a part of our experience.  We found that out in Knoxville this past Sunday.  When children  gathered before a UU congregation to sing “The sun will come out tomorrow,” a crazy man fired a shotgun three times, killing two adults in the audience and wounding five more. 

That must have been a bit of Hell. In Church of all places. Watching the people that they loved, trusted and identified with being shot; blood splattering all over.  I am glad the shooter still lives, to face what he did. To plumb the depths of his depression and insanity.  Perhaps, to wring some vision of salvation, forgiveness and healing from it all. 

It was the great American-Universalist theologian, Hosea Ballou, who insisted that freedom from Hell did not mean freedom from judgment for sin or from consequences of wrong belief.  Hell was for him, and is for us, very much a reality in this world, even if there is no place for it in eternity.  Hell is the world in which so-called ‘liberals’ are a scourge that is ruining this country and must be taken out with shotgun blasts.  Hell is a world in which a person is isolated, without community, without family, without work and about to lose his food stamps.  Hell is a crazy angry man with a gun in a church trying to end the worship of hope and love and courage.

  Hell was in the world of his own mind, and so he made it tangible and real in the world of others.