What is our gospel?

OK: I’ve asked before and I’ll surely ask again, but what is the “saving gospel” that I hear some Unitarian Universalists talk about? You know: the one “the world needs to hear.”

There’s something rather Rorschach test-like about it, in that the discussion of a gospel is in relation to the desirability for one. Still, I trust that it exists, but I’m not so sure that there’s a consensus of what it may be. Or perhaps, even more likely, there are multiple gospels and vagueness is our way of holding them together. (I know what I believe as a Christian, and it’s not belief or a Unitarian Universalist version of the gospel that keeps me attracted.)

So what is it, or are they? I’m not asking for anything prescriptive, merely some detail that would help me distinguish Unitarian Universalism from cultural endowments of goodwill, self-esteem or beauty.

Knoxville: Sympathetic reportage from non-Unitarian Universalists

I figured it was worth a look to see if there were any “they deserved it” posts in the blogosphere, particularly from self-identified Christian sources. (Had there been, though, I doubt I would have brought it up, and certainly not now.) While I’m sure there’s some crank out there, especially since the notorious Fox News has depicted TVUUC as a pro-gay church, I have found nothing but concern and sympathy coming from a number of distinct backgrounds, including:

Unitarian Universalism is a Christian religion

At least for me it is.

The aspects of Universalism and Unitarianism that inform my religious life are Christian and my Christian faith is distinguished by Universalism (and to a lesser degree, the ethos of Unitarianism.) If you’ve read my blog much, you’ve gathered that. Yes, of course, I know that most Unitarian Universalist aren’t Christian and perhaps don’t want to be. But if so many people are pining for the hundreds of thousands of “lost” Unitarian Universalists that the recent Pew study suggests live in the United States — of which we know almost nothing — then who’s to say that there’s not a significant corpus of silent and unknown Unitarian and Universalist Christians out there, perhaps even a majority? Or more to the point, I’m hacked off that it’s acceptable to verbally minimize the import of Unitarian and Universalist Christians and not expect pushback.

Which brings me back the all-to-familiar refrain, following by Fred L. Hammond, the eponymous author of A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi, who wrote

If we see ourselves as a denomination that means that we are a denomination of a specific faith tradition such as Christianity. Yet, we no longer identify as a Christian faith. We may have people who honor their Christian heritage and identify as Christian but Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.

I think this is fundamentally an error, and he’s only the most recent — and far from the most grating — to make it. Rather, it is that the Unitarian Universalist Association is not a Christian organization. But the UUA and Unitarian Universalism are not the same thing.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is essentially a service and coordinating body, not an ecclesiastical organization. Consider this: if the UUA Board of Trustees — even the General Assembly itself — adopted a resolution which defined what a Unitarian Universalist is, how would we collectively act? I suspect there’d be howling from the rooftops. And before the howling, quick calls from many quarters that their particular constituencies not be excluded. Basic questions of membership and leadership are invested in the congregation and that’s detailed in the UUA bylaws. Doctrinal teaching, too? A particular church can make that call; the UUA can’t. (Which, for instance, is why I flinch when the president of the UUA gets deliberately “pastoral.” Bill Sinkford isn’t my pastor.)

But informally, because it has had the coordinating power and bridged congregations, ministers, schools and other institutions including the independent/cast-off affiliates, the UUA has had more power to shape congregational internal identity than it could ever hope to acquire. That’s going to change. The promise of distributed social networks — welcome to this blog! — and a deliberate constriction of role by the UUA means that the constellation of Unitarian Universalism is going to get bigger.

Even if we weren’t liberal, and generally comfortable with pluralism, we would still have to describe ourselves — inasmuch as that’s possible — in a plural way. If someone asks, we’ll have to continue to hedge and give caveats and realize that the dreaded “elevator speech” can’t mean anything more than a dictionary definition or a personal testimony. In other words, I don’t expect to say you’re a Christian if you’re not, and I demand you not write me out because you prefer to paint in broad strokes.

When you Google "unitarian"

You get these first three entries in this order. Interesting. And what does that say about branding?

Unitarianism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the liberal religious movement with the same name, see Unitarian Universalism for the … This is because over time, some Unitarians and many Unitarian …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarianism – 79k – Cached – Similar pages – Note this

Unitarian Universalism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the largest association of Unitarian Universalists in North America, see Unitarian Universalist Association. For the beliefs from which the religion …
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Universalism – 112k – Cached – Similar pages – Note this
More results from en.wikipedia.org ยป

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalism, a liberal religious tradition, encourages us to keep open minds, believing that personal experience, conscience, and reason should …
www.uua.org/ – 13k – Cached – Similar pages – Note this


I grabbed this domain today. (No content.) Seems unwise for it to be floating available — it could be snapped up by anyone — when it could be very valuable for Unitarian Universalist promotion.

Even more valuable than magazine ads.

Cost: $24 for two years.

Just saying.

The religion of what?

For better or worse, I was thinking theologically in the shower this morning.

Ponder, as I did, that once-common Unitarian Christian claim that “we don’t practice the religion about Jesus, but the religion ofJesus.” Well, I don’t believe that. However well we dig down to Jesus’ idea and ideal of religion, it comes mediated through the very community of faith that very much practices a religion about him. Whatever claims are made of Jesus’ humanity and deity, it seems hard to image Christianity without having fellowship with his living presence. Without that fellowship, what remains becomes something other than Christian. Sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly, but different. And it doesn’t take that long.

Christianity will always be, to some degree and probably always to a very great degree, about Jesus and not of him. I’d like to unpack that a bit more some other time.

Now, I would like to take that of/about dynamic a farther by a degree. I think Unitarian Universalism is about Christianity, if not a faith of it. Yes, there are Unitarian and Universalist Christians and needn’t rehearse this fact. But even among those Unitarian Universalists for whom Christianity is alien, unknown, unwelcome or even hated, Christianity is the enduring context. Our polity, style of worship, forms of leadership, history, connections, lingo and culture has direct and subtle traces of its Christian aboutness. If it’s only a habit, it’s one not broken after decades of neglect and deprecation. That’s more than tradition, which suggests a past connection and for which there’s little esteem today, but continues as an itchy and integral part of our identity.

It follows, I think, that we ought to be more careful to cultivate relationships with unambiguously Christian individuals and entities. Whatever we may choose from the interchange, we surely would learn more about ourselves.

Which UU churches will have Christian communion next week?

If there’s going to be one Christian service of communion in a Unitarian Universalist (or Universalist or Unitarian) churches in a year, it will probably be in Holy Week: at Maundy Thursday, Palm Sunday or perhaps (a bit eccentric, but probably a surviving morsel of Victorian liberal theology) Good Friday.

There’s a hint, but not a confirmation, that there’s going to be a service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Florence (South Carolina). Which makes me wonder, which churches (especially the non-Christian ones) will have a recognizably Christian service of communion soon?

Here’s your chance to drum up some interest.

South Shore featured in Post

The Washington Post wrote Sunday about the charms of the South Shore, south of Boston, and refers specifically to Hingham Old Ship Church, which is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Indeed, I think there’s a Unitarian “First Parish” in each of these towns.

I know this article says nothing new to several noteworthy bloggers and many, many Unitarian Universalists, but it is sure looks purdy.

Classic New England: Five for the Road” (April 22, 2007)