Overcoming cross cringe: UU Christians, speak

After writing the last post, I noted it on Twitter (I’m bitb) where Martin Kelley (martin_kelley) , a force behind QuakerQuaker picked it up.

To make the dialog short, I have an appeal for Unitarian Universalist Christians reading this. Please note in the comments how you have been affected by “anything but Christian” behavior, and (where appropriate) you have confronted it.

Also, I recall a good bit written about this when the UUCF began to reassert itself a few years ago. Does anyone recall which issues of the Good News had articles on the subject?

19 Replies to “Overcoming cross cringe: UU Christians, speak”

  1. Dear Scott

    Best wishes with this difficult issue. You should appreciate that UUism has great local differences. I have been in and out of UU churches in my part of the world (New Jersey and surroundings) and in 40+ years I have never physically met a UU who publicly identified as a Christian. Every UU clergy I have ever met made it explicitly clear that they are not a Christian.

    There are apparently many UU Christians in New England.

    In a previous life I was an Episcopalian, and remember those years with affection.

  2. I’ve been to various UU congregations in the east – and have met Christian UUs wherever I’ve looked for them (I don’t always look when I’m a visitor). Never heard any really offensive comments – worse I can recall is an email suggesting that “we” save the UUA for secular humanists and insist that Christians (I dont recall if Pagans, Buddhists, et al were mentioned) go to a Christian Church. I suggested that secular humanists go to their local Ethical Cultural Society. The email writers didnt get it, and I saw that suggestion mentioned later implying my naivety rather than their own.
    With the current trends, the UUA should be really interesting to see what happens in the next 10-20 years….

  3. I do appreciate the regional differences; I’ve seen them in by 25 years of being a Unitarian Universalist. But the generational ones are probably greater: both the generational bent of the members, and in what year the congregation was founded. Small post-WWII congregations, developed in the Fellowship Movement, and populated by those over 60 are probably the most resistant to Christians, but I’ve found the occasional Christian even in these.

    But you have to ask. Christianity in a Unitarian Universalist congregation isn’t something most people lead with.

    (And while most Unitarian and Universalist Christians are probably in New England, they’re a minority there, too. They probably skew a lot older, too. So in the next couple of decades the national distribution of Christians is probably going to even out.)

  4. Steven – Could not access link. It demanded a password for authorized access.

  5. odd, they’re now asking for a password for their entire website since last night.

    I got the link from the Unitarian Ministries yahoo mailing list.
    I’d prefer to let people speak for themselves but since we can’t do that currently
    I’ll quote from the email which had the link:
    >”Referring to Christianity as a “cult” among other offensive remarks. Jesus was
    >portrayed as an cult leader that taught people to worship him and acknowledge
    >him as God.
    the email went on to say
    >These statements, even if it was presented as the views of UU
    >Atheists, caused me to ponder over what is the current state of “interfaith”
    >relations within the UUA? .(…)To start, any action taken by a Unitarian
    >Christian that is a member of the UUA should be on a footing of love, >tolerance and respect

  6. I cannot get to that site either. The domain was not expiring, so I guess it was pulled down or put behind a wall. But my browser did cache the pages (about Atheism and Christianity) in question, which for the sake of reference the text of which I append:

    Spiritual Atheism

    Atheists find a home within Unitarian Universalism because the focus of the UU faith is tolerance and thought not the promotion of dogma. Atheists contribute to UU services. These are commonly held views of atheists in our fellowship.

    GOD — There is no reason to believe in a god, higher power, designer or creator of the universe and life. Such belief only confounds and corrupts connection with the natural order of things. The universe as we know it today is the result of natural events unfolding over the past 13.7 billion years. Our universe originated in what is commonly referred to as the Big Bang. Assertions of a supernatural were born only a few thousand years ago as the best science among an emerging intelligence of our ancestors. As human observation and understanding of our universe matures it is incumbent upon us to incorporate new knowledge into our world view. Doggedly preserving ancient beliefs violates the scientific method and is an impediment to living life fully and completely. To an atheist God is a figment of mankind’s collective imagination.

    HELL — Does not exist!

    SATAN — Is a figment of our collective human imagination across time that attempts to put a face on evil. There is no organized supernatural evil at work subverting a divine master plan.

    HEAVEN — Does not exist.

    BIBLE– The Bible becomes a dangerous book if we empower it to be a source authority. Because the Bible can be interpreted to say anything it ceases to have source authority. The Old Testament is a history, a genealogy, of old Israel. The New Testament is a record of the influence of one human being, Jesus Christ who convinced his cult followers that he was God and creator of the entire universe. The cult simply packaged their records along with the history book of old Israel. The Bible is not a sacred scripture but a statement preserved from one point of time in human history. Preservation of ancient texts does give a window into the moral and ethical concepts that existed back then. However, other religious texts related to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other faiths also provide that same insight into ancient belief.

    JESUS — Is a poor example of morality and ethics. Jesus mission was to convince his followers that he was an intercessor between “god” and themselves. The same moral teachings of many great teachers predate Jesus. Jesus did not originate morality and ethics. Jesus agenda was to convince people he was god. The New Testament is a record of an ancient communal cult teaching the principle of everyone placing their production into the community pot and then their needs would be met by drawing out from that collective production. Jesus message was to fixate upon him. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life!” Who say you that I am? You can not get to the father except through me! etc., etc.

    ORIGINAL SIN — Is a convoluted concept exerting control over the lives of the Christian cult by giving a trumped up purpose for Jesus mission. Jesus saves from original sin by the simple act of “accepting” Jesus as ones personal savior. Jesus vain attempt to consolidate within himself all of nature, love, creation, morality and ethics speaks to the flaw in his character not one of a heavenly nature. Jesus lied.

    VIRGIN BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST — There was no supernatural intervention into the laws of nature two millennia back. Virgin birth simply is not true. Jesus Christ was conceived by the same biological process as all the rest of us. Jesus Christ evolved from the same evolutionary process that has produced all other life forms on this planet. To award a “virgin birth” is one more attempt by the Christian cult to deceive and generate a larger than life myth. It is how cults control followers. The larger the size of the lie you can get followers to accept the more they fight to promote it. Virgin birth is a lie.

    BODILY RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST — In all probability if Jesus Christ actually existed and the story of crucifixion is true his body would have hung on the cross for days providing food for birds and maggots. He would have dried up in the sun. Crucifixion was a common practice used by the Romans to demonstrate they meant business. If the guards had actually helped take Jesus down from the cross they themselves would then have been put up on crosses.

    LIFE / DEATH – Humans are part of the interdependent web of life, subject to the laws of nature as all other life forms that share our planet. Humans have evolved to consciousness. There is no substance within us that lives on and is either reincarnated or spends an eternity in heaven. Our “memory” after death is the same as our “memory” before birth. We did not exist before our birth, we cease to exist after our death. Our life is our precious moment of existence. Carpe Diem, Seize the day.


    Some Unitarian Universalists are Christian and tend to define their beliefs as: Review this with Ruth Graf and John Wharum

    GOD — An indefinable and unnamable essence that is higher than humankind but also a part of all that exists. Unitarian Universalists reject portrayals of God as a manlike super being.

    HELL — It does not exist. A loving God would not punish humankind in that way.

    SATAN — Most do not believe in a personal Satan. But evil exists in individuals and in governing systems, and the church should work to alleviate it.

    HEAVEN — No one knows what happens when we die. People should focus on the here and now. Heaven is not a piece of real estate somewhere in the sky.

    BIBLE– The Bible is the only sacred Scripture used as a basic teaching tool in Unitarian Universalist seminaries. But the Bible is not seen as infallible, and other sacred books related to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and other faiths are also taken as containing valuable religious truths.

    JESUS — No finer moral or ethical example exists. But most Unitarian Universalists do not see him as divine or as the only way to reach God. In the view of most members, Jesus was not the son of God any more than all men and women are sons and daughters of God.

    ORIGINAL SIN — Unitarian Universalists strongly oppose the view of humanity’s basic depravity, or “original sin,” as taught by many Christians, based on the account of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. But all people do wrong and must try to make up for it by attempting to correct the wrongdoing.

    VIRGIN BIRTH OF JESUS CHRIST — A myth that has meaning for many but is basically a folk legend for which there has never been theological consensus.

    BODILY RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST — Not accepted by most Unitarian Universalists, who focus on the way Jesus lived rather than biblical accounts of his death and resurrection.

    SOURCE: Interviews with the Rev. Suzanne Meyer, pastor of First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, and the Rev. Craig Roshaven, pastor of First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church of Forth Worth. (This article was prepared for use by the NYTimes News Service © 1994 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

  7. the last part wasn’t (to my memory) on the page earlier this week. I did look for the equal time page….

  8. Part of the larger problem I see in the above referenced materials, and involving UU cross-cringe in general, is the underlying desire to define Unitarian Universalism (ESPECIALLY in terms of beliefs/convictions about God, the Bible, Jesus, heaven, Christianity, etc.). This drive to define UUism in terms of beliefs is particularly hypocritical in light of our supposed non-creedalism. What is particularly distrurbing is the way the atheist materials reference Christian themes, in a way the widely accepts fundamentalist definitions of those same themes, and therefore labels the themes as dangerous/harmful/cultish. I know for a fact, quite a few Quakers, Congregationalist, Disciples, Swedenborgians, and even a few Baptists who would not embrace the definitions as the atheist materials define them.

  9. As someone who was in a (New England) very secular UU congregation, I can say for sure that there was serious cross-cringe. (I’d bet a good chunk of the membership of that congregation would ascribe to the above ideas.) It went as far as having an argument about whether or not to include the word “faith” in the congregational covenant. I remember a funny little argument two people had once about the location of an event: “it’s going to happen in the church basement.” “No, that’s the Society’s Social Room.”

    I think they’ve probably mellowed – they had a UU Christian as an interim minister for a while. But I have to admit that it was not really possible to feel entirely welcome as fully Christian in that context (although truthfully, I left before I got to really test that.) I do remember very vividly a conversation I had with a member who was also attending Andover-Newton, about how difficult it was to be in seminary there as she was “anti-Christian.” Hmmmm.

    Anyway, in some ways, I do wish I felt able to remain a UU, but the UCC feels so much more like home to me now.

  10. I am a UU Christian, having defected from the Episcopal Church a few years back. The thing that confuses me is that my UU congregation seems to do a better job with living out Christian values than my partner’s Christian church does. (Yes, we are now an interfaith family of sorts.) But nobody wants to talk about Jesus.

    On the flip side, as a worship associate who often preaches, I almost always preach on Christianity because that is the path I follow. Almost every time I preach, people whisper in my ear, “I’m one, too.”

    When I first came to the UU church, the minister warned me that the two things UUs are intolerant of are Republicans and Christians. Like all churches, we have a long way to go to earn the Welcoming Congregations Badge.

  11. In my experience, congregation occasions of this sort have come from individual congregation members during announcements or in sermon talk-backs. They’ve in the form of snide generalizations about Christianity. They have not come from the pulpit, I’m relieved to say.

  12. I’m a UU Christian who is now affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC). The congregation I was a part of was founded in the ’50s during the Fellowship Movement. My experiences with cross cringe or anything but Christian behavior included the standard comments that many of us get including, “How can you be Christian and a UU?”, “UUism and Christianity don’t mix” or the popular, “If you’re a Christian, then why don’t you worship with the Methodists?” In respect to the first two questions, I respond, If it weren’t for Christian Unitarians or Christian Universalists like me there would be no Unitarian Universalism. I also told them that Christianity is our heritage; Christianity informs our liturgical practice and congregational life. In response to the third question, I told them that in some congregations, my Universalism and my Unitarianism would be declared heretical and would thus not feel welcomed. Other instances of this behavior included aversion to reading from The Bible, or invoking the names of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. I also got mistreated at the hands of some of the Pagans in the congregation who invoked the Salem Witch Trails and the “Burning Times”, and have gotten plenty of criticism from those who label themselves Humanists who are of the Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris variety. I wish there were an explicitly Christian or Christian friendly UU church in Southern California. When I went to the UUCF Revival in Cleveland in ’07, we were very warmly welcomed by the the Rev. Kathleen Rolenz and the congregants of the Westshore UU Church. At Westshore we experienced all theological groups co-existing in peace, where worship was taken seriously and where we as Christians were free to follow Jesus in freedom. When I visited Neighborhood UU Church in Pasadena, I also felt very welcome as a disciple of Jesus knowing that Neighborhood also had a Congregationalist connection. I look forward to more Revivals, to participation in the Conferences of the Christian Universalist Association (CUA). I am now at this point in my life responding to God’s call to the ministry. While my credentials would be with the UCC, I’d be willing to serve any liberal church in any denomination.

  13. Yes, “how can you be UU and Christian?” seems to be a strong common thread. I’ve heard it on more than one occasion, including while trying to use the urinal at a church where I was facilitating an anti-oppression class. My recollection is that the fellow followed it with “What’s THAT about?” LOL

    Our church (in Texas) has had an established UU Christian small group for about 5-6 yrs. and we’ve been dabbling with a monthly UU Christian worship services using the Abraxan Eucharist liturgy as a framework for the service for a little more than a year. There seems to have been a lot more interest in the last six months or so in the small group, as we’ve had an influx of people who seem interested in gathering some new understandings of the Christian tradition. “Worship” is still too scary for most, though we have a small devoted band who attend that day. I would guess that the congregation considers us “mostly harmless.”

    Our congregation exhibits all of the classic behaviors, though in what I think (hope?) is a shrinking minority: avoiding “God talk”, don’t say faith, don’t say spirituality, don’t talk about Jesus, etc. There have been many occasions when it felt like I should just walk away from the whole mess and go back to bells-and-smells.

    I’ve been close to giving up, but what has kept me in the game is that the inquiring intellectual framework within UUism and my congregation actually brought me back to my Christianity in a way I had never considered possible. I used to just grit my teeth when I heard the snide comments, or the dismissiveness, but now I feel more comfortable and called to try to engage in dialogue about insensitive or ill-informed remarks in this regard. Many seem genuinely surprised to consider that a “thoughtful” person can be a Christian and not believe in the literal factuality of I had one in a class the other night say “Well I think Jesus is great and try to follow his teachings but I don’t believe any of that stuff like dying for my sins. Maybe I’m still a Christian?” Maybe so, indeed.

    The UUFNORTHIOWA thing is saddening and the entry on Jesus… sheesh.

    Generally our pulpit is Jesus-friendly (as long as he doesn’t visit too often) except when we have the very occasional “newly converted” UU who is burning with that energy of having cast of the shackles of his/her past religion and wants to tell you how triumphant good old God-sanitized UUism is and how crappy and stupid his past theistic presbyluthericanism was.

    The problem with being under a big tent is all these other knuckleheads standing under here with me.


  14. I’m just fascinated by this whole discussion. Very familiar from Quaker circles. I kind of wish we could pick one of our congregations to be a Christian-focused and the other non-Christian and just swap off the members (we can all have monthly potlucks and still be Facebook friends). I don’t really care which congregation would be which. We could flip a coin for all I care because the denomination pecularities are less important than the message (I’ve been reading CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” this week, does it show?).

    It seems like there should be some clearly articulated progressive Christian voice out there. Faith-focused, welcoming to all, clearly and unashamedly sharing the real good news of Jesus as a counterpoint to the pro-war fundamentalist Christian junk that gets all the popular attention.

    I’ve got dear non-theist and pagan F/friends and they’ve taught me a lot with their friendship and challenges. But on my QuakerQuaker.org site I see the comments filled by a small group of insiders who want to debate the same internecine arguments over and over again. Even friendly debating over names and identity and history is a distraction. When I write online I find myself spending more time worrying about what so-and-so will think than I do with sharing the simple truths I’ve been given. Simple arguments get rewritten as theologically-tight and defensible ramparts, all but impenetrable to those without theology degrees.

    One of the disciplines I’ve tried to cultivate then is to worry more about those who would be Friends if only they knew what Friends believe (based on tradition) and less than those who are Friends (members for a variety of reasons).

  15. @MK. Funny — I know some people who think the Christian/non-Christian mix to be a feature, not a bug. I’m not one of them.

  16. To Shawn:
    My apologies on behalf of the Pagan community for the rudeness you’ve experienced! We really are trying to debunk the myths about Paganism (a la “The Burning Times”) as fast as we can! Likewise, I can assure you that I make it plain that intolerance toward Christianity is every bit as bigotted as intolerance toward Paganism whenever I encounter it among Pagans.

    I will say that I encounter such sentiments most among the least seasoned Pagans I know, and among religious refugees from dogmatic fundamentalist Christianity. I wish that liberal Christianity had a voice that was a bit easier to hear amid the right wing noise out there–there is some danger of the religious right coming to hold the patent on the word “Christian.”

    *sighs in discouragement*

    One question I am often asked as a Pagan Quaker is why I don’t go join the UUs. With all respect for you as a religious community, I have to say that I’m not inclined to do so. Though Quakers and UUs share important spiritual and cultural values, our ways of worship are quite distinct.

    Wouldn’t it be grand if, instead of implying that those of us who are in minorities in our communities are confused and need help finding the door, if we were asked instead something like, “Wow–your ideas are very different from what I’m used to. Can you explain to me how this works for you, so I will understand?”

  17. Cat C-B, your last para especially is wonderful. Yes, wouldn’t it be great? It seems that we are open to learning from absolutely everyone, except the person sitting beside us.

    I am delighted to hear your comment on crossing the street. There was a period years ago when the UU congregation I then attended went totally off the rails. I went with other acquaintances to the local Quaker meeting (where I found several others UUs) and while it worked for me then, I knew that basically I didn’t quite belong there. I thought it was perhaps a Christian/non-Christian divide (that came from reading Friends Journal in those years) but when I look at my f/Friends now, Christianity isn’t the dividing line and I’m not sure I can define what is. My own congregation has huge lay involvement, but that’s not it either.

    Funnily enough, although my parents brought me up a UU, I am very resistant to having the word Christianity co-opted by the right. Perhaps it’s affection and respect for the liberal Christianity I see practiced by aunts, uncles, and cousins.

    Incidentally, I wonder whether that northiowa site is for real. Might it be fake? It seems so dishonest, I can’t help wondering — especially since it’s now walled off by a password. The UUA website links to a blocked site?

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