This weekend, I was able to articulate one of my central complaints about Unitarian Universalism.
When I first attended a UU fellowship at the turn of the century, it was a very humanist congregation. I was completely turned off by them. I was vaguely pagan, from a protestant background, and I had been lead to believe that I would find a comforting, church-like environment where almost all religious views would be respected, if not practiced.
What I found was an atheist social club with Christian trappings and monthly mentions of Jesus. They accepted that Christianity was dominant, and that it had shaped our culture, even humanist thinking. They were dismissive, short of hostile, to any other practice (accept possibly Buddhism) as superstitious and immature.
If this had not been a college town, I would not be a UU today. Luckily, other people my age had found Unitarian Universalism somewhere else and refused to accept this congregation’s view of the religion. The fact is, the congregation was doing it wrong. These Young Adults met separately, did their own services and rituals, and helped me see that UU could be what I had been told to expect.
Ultimately, I left that congregation anyway, but some of my peers stayed involved on a level sufficient to found a CUUPs chapter, which attracted more people to the congregation and changed their make-up. Years later, I came back to find a very different reception. I did not join that congregation for a number of reasons, but my interest was renewed. I did seek out another, and I was made to feel welcome. I am proud to be a member of Horizon, in part, because of the way they treat all visitors with respect.
The point is that that Congregation was, at the time, doing UU badly. They were Atheists first, UU second. I have read many comments from others that indicate to me that this is not an isolated incident. Other people have reported that their Christian, Humanist, or Earth Centered spirituality seemed unwelcome at one congregations or another. That’s not the covenant that we made when we joined the UUA.
Certainly, some congregations are going to be made of more Christian UUs, Humanist UUs, or even one I know of that is primarily Earth Centered. This is as it should be to meet the needs of their members, and allow their leaders the right to preach the truth as it is know to them. But this does not mean that it is ok to belittle any of our sources, or to ignore their impact on UU theology. We are one faith with many sources, but those sources have to be brought together in some fashion to create an identity. We cannot grow as a movement if we are going to draw from one source at a time, and simply allow others to pick their favorite as well.
We must welcome every seeker in the place they are at in their journey. We must value all of our sources for their contributions to society and the parts of their teaching that we can embrace. We must strive to see them as notes in a chord; each resonating at an amplitude that creates the message we want heard. We cannot allow any one source to drown out the others.
We must see ourselves as one faith, with many sources, and not many faiths merely tolerating each other for the sake of political impact and the respectability of numbers.
There is no means to respond to a congregation that is getting this wrong. The UUA has little authority to question, much less rebuke, a congregation that is ostracizing those who come seeking truth. All we can do, for now, is try to get out the message that this is not how we want our religion portrayed or practiced. We have to make it known that we are one faith, and that what we believe not only matters, but can change lives and communities.