Matthew Gatheringwater on Patton

The dialogue with seminarian Matthew Gatheringwater has been stimulating, and the following responds to his most recent comments, where he shares about his first time out in a robe.

Before I say any more about clerical garb, I’d like to hear more about the episode of which you wrote. Was it a funeral?

As for Ken Patton (a sympathetic biography for those who need to ramp up) et alia, my main beef with him is that he took Universalism up a theological dead-end. Looking at the numbers, it was almost as if the materialist-syncritists were thought the Universalists the last, best hope (and the Unitarians the best marriage-partners; they really are of a piece). His attitude towards all religions reflects an almost imperial, paternalistic missiology — “I know well what I can take from other people” — that has been rejected as oppressive in other religions. His defenders have been quick to divorce his message (kerygma) from his personal life, as if a person is so divisible. Also, it should be noted that the experiment was never financially self-sustaining, begging the question: who believed it with their resources? His religion was an experiment for his time, and some experiments are best left behind. (His was, financially anyway. The UUA defunded him.)

Unitarian Universalism is theologically adrift. If you think about it, Patton’s views are not very widely held either; rather a free-form eclecticism reigns with geographic pockets (Christians in the east; Humanists in the midwest, and the like) of something else. Back in the 80s you heard him quoted all the time; since the 1993 Singing the Living Tradition hymnal, it seems Rumi and Mary Oliver are neck-and-neck for #1 most quoted.

I don’t expect everyone to follow my banner, but as long as there are Christians in the UUA — “grandfathered”, “drawn in under false colors” or as in my case, became a Christian here — we deserve a Christianity that’s robust and in dialogue with the rest of the Body of Christ. (Which is why I consider the elevation of Benedict XVI such a terrible blow to Christian unity.) I want to be a part of that. There’s a difference between backing up and driving backwards, especially when you’re in a vehicle that’s stuck, though this difference may not be plain to someone else.

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