Missional Unitarian Universalism: a layman’s persective.

At the turn of the 19th century, Universalism had a vibrant and passionate voice in Hosea Ballou. Having converted to Universalism in 1789, he also came to reject the concept of the Holy Trinity, making him a Unitarian Universalist long before the consolidation of the UUA. He wrote many sermons designed to empower Universalists to talk about the unconditional love of God. He also established Universalist publications, and was known to welcome public questions of his beliefs.

One of the constant questions he faced was along the lines of “How can you believe God saves everyone, no matter how much they have sinned. Ballou confronted the idea of damnation, saying that love required salvation at all costs. He asked, given the Christian assumption of a fatherly creator:

“Your child has fallen into the mire, and its body and its garments are defiled. You cleanse it, and array it in clean robes. The query is, Do you love your child because you have washed it? or, Did you wash it because you loved it?”

He did not make these declarations to shame people. He was not trying to lure them to his pews for prestige or tithes. He wanted people to feel loved. His desire was to save people; not from damnation at the hand of God, but from the condemnation of the society they lived in. He argued against Calvinism and the idea that bad things happen only to bad people, and good things only to good. He had more than faith, and more than a message. This was a man with a mission.

This is what Unitarian Universalism needs; not more “social action” or “welcoming” language. We need a mission to actually change the world, with our faith in humanity and the power of love and knowledge, as the core of that mission. We don’t need more people to join us because of how we do politics; we need people to feel compelled to activism by our message that people deserve to be treated with respect and empowered to live lives that make them happy.

To reframe the question posed by Rev. Ballou: Do we embrace our faith because it promotes things we want to do, or are we doing things to help the world because we have a loving and humanist faith? Do we love the world because we are making it better, or are we making it better because we first loved it?

There are people in the world who are lonely, who have been hurt, and who are angry. They don’t want to talk about religion, and they definitely don’t want to hear about divinity and love. They are the people who need us the most. We can reach them, because our divine love doesn’t come after you are dead. Our religion doesn’t even require that you believe in gods, much less worship them. We can offer them a community and a home for their spirit to heal, so that they can find the path that makes them happy and healthy again. We have that, and we shouldn’t be at all afraid to tell people about it. They may say no, but that isn’t a reflection on us, and it isn’t an insult. The insult is presuming that they don’t want the invitation or might not deserve one.

There are people in the world who have been oppressed. Our movement is overwhelmingly made up of people who are white, educated, and middle-class. As a group, we have a lot of privilege. As a religion of love and justice, we owe it to the world to use our individual privilege to work for equality and justice. In effect, our mission should be to leverage our political, economic, and intellectual power to reduce our own impact, much as Jesus said to his followers to give all their goods to the poor in order to follow him. If the poor are elevated, then poverty is eliminated; if cultural privilege is shared, then oppression can be eliminated. Both are essential to achieving social justice and giving everyone an opportunity to contribute their best back to society.

We need to love the world enough to want to change it. Too many Unitarian Universalists seem to come from the other end; operating from a place of dissatisfaction or even disgust and a desire to change things so they are tolerable. We need to care about more than what we can personally stand to allow. We need to make sure the mission is about making things as positive as we can for as many people as we can help. We need to make sure that we are building an all-inclusive community, that makes room for everyone who truly desires to join in our spiritual and social work.

I’ve previously argued that our creator must love us all, and must either have one final destination planned for all of us, or be a being unworthy of my personal reverence. Now I am making the point that our churches must do the same. We have to actively embody that belief, encoded in our Principles, that all people have an inherent worth and dignity that needs to be nourished, and deserve the chance to build a life that makes them happy so long as it doesn’t harm others. It needs to be rooted in our shared belief and a desire to build a better world. We also have to tell people about that mission, because there are people who want to help us, and we need them. There are others who just need the hope that they might have a place in the community; that we are working to have their dignity recognized and respected.

That is missional Unitarian Universalism, to me, and it leads me to be evangelical about our faith. Even those who have no desire, even those who truly have no need, for a religious community do need to know that we are different, and that religion can be a force that helps unite society and undo the idea that God has picked winners and losers and that the oppressed don’t deserve better from their society.

The Principles of UU Evangelism

When was the last time you said to someone, “I had lunch at the best Italian place today”? Have you ever said to someone, “There is a farmers market every Thursday over off the highway, if you want better, local produce”? I can’t be the only person who has tried to convince people to visit at a small, locally owned business instead of a box store or chain restaurant. Have you ever let someone know that there is a local charity that needs the kind of items they might have otherwise set out on the curb? Have you ever talked to someone about an issue that they seemed misinformed about?

Evangelism isn’t foreign to many UUs. We just don’t apply it to our religion, which is a shame, because we are often driven to tell people about things that are exciting to us because they promote our Principles.

Part of the difference is that we have let Evangelism be owned by fundamentalists. People tell me that the definition of the word is to talk to people about Jesus and the Gospels of the Bible, and that it has no relation to Unitarian Universalism. Do we really believe that we have no place for Jesus in our religion? That would be a painful thing to hear for our great theological fore bearers, of whom we are so proud. When did we stop teaching “love your neighbor”? What would Unitarian Universalism be without non violent protests, where we “Turn the other cheek”?  Our Biblical message is part of our larger religious message; is it not as worthy of being shared as any other?

Some people have said that it goes against something fundamental in our Principles or beliefs to be excited and talk to people about why being a Unitarian Universalist matters in our lives. I would like to counter that, by saying that, just as we pray differently, worship differently, and fellowship differently from most Christian churches, we can evangelize in a way that still honors our Principles. Just as we haven’t, as a movement, given up those other words (nor should we), we shouldn’t give up the idea that we have a great message to share through personal evangelism.

We affirm and promote the idea that we honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Doesn’t that mean that we should be telling people that our church accepts who they are? Shouldn’t we make sure that they know where to find a community that will make room for them, as they are, and let them grow into the person they were born to be? Valuing their worth and dignity means wanting them to know that we offer something different in a church. It means telling them that, if they need it, it is there for them. Inviting people, warmly and sincerely, to join us honors their worth. Letting them choose for themselves honors their dignity. Shouldn’t we make sure they are aware of Unitarian Universalism as an option?

Unitarian Universalist congregations also covenant to “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations”. How can we grow if we are never challenged? How can we grow if we allow our churches to stagnate and age without seeking out new members? Our mission requires fresh ideas and new talents every year, to tackle fresh obstacles and meet changing needs. Our growth requires that we hear other perspectives and that we consider new information. Our mission requires that we engage people in conversation, and that we seek out people who hold different ideas than those already represented in our congregations.

The most likely sticking point, I think may be in our commitment to “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. As I said last week, “I believe that we can’t convert people to Unitarian Universalism; you have to come to it already knowing that it is right for you.” I also believe, though, that we can plant the seeds by talking about our Principles, and I am proof that those ideas will stick with some people, and they can come to accept them, even if it wasn’t their first reaction. I have never advocated for beating people with copies of “On the Origin of Species” or “Guiding Principles for a Free Faith“. It wouldn’t do any good. Instead, let us lead good lives, do good in our communities, and make sure people know that we are expressing our faith and living out our Principles. We can tell people about how our congregations are families that accept and embrace our uniqueness. It isn’t about conversion or convincing people of anything other than that our church helps us be better people, and that we have a place in it for them, too.

It isn’t against our Principles to talk to people, to educate them and try to influence their decisions. Our Principles actually call on us to try to change our communities for the better. It cannot run contrary to those saving, loving, accepting ideas to share them with others, to widen and strengthen our beloved community. We cannot proselytize in the manner of fundamentalist. Ours is not a faith that comes with answers, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. We can talk people through that, if they are willing to listen, but only if we are wiling to share. There are people you encounter every week who need to know that they can be loved for who they are. We need to extend an invitation to join in our work, because our beloved community is incomplete without them.

Evangelism isn’t in opposition to Unitarian Universalist Principles. It is required by them. As with so many other religious terms, we just need to come to our own understanding of what it means to evangelize. We can do it in a way that respects the personal quest for truth, while still proclaiming the worth and value of each person we encounter. If we have something great to share, how can we claim to better the world while keeping it to ourselves?

Privilege: Oppression by Omission

“This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.”
Gloria Steinem

That is the goal, isn’t it? People, all people, having choice and self determination? What can you do to help us get there? Well, if you are anything like me, then it starts with an admission that we have to participate in the process by getting out of the way. If you are a man by biology and personality, are of northern-European decent, or are attracted primarily to those of the opposite gender, then you have a cultural privilege. It isn’t your fault that other people have prejudice, but it is your responsibility to stand up to it and refuse to allow it to be part of your culture any longer. If you won’t do it, then the discrimination goes on until the discriminated are powerful enough to overthrow the system or are exterminated.  We’ve seen extermination in Europe, and we’ve seen both outcomes in various parts of Africa. We can do better, and we have to. We need equality, and it can only come peacefully if straight, white men (and everyone who fits into one or more of those categories) demand it of each other. We are the dominant groups in our culture, and like it or not, we are the problem.

People will tell you that their family isn’t racist, “It’s just my Grandfather and a couple of uncles, so we just don’t provoke them.” People will tell you that a political movement isn’t racist, sexist, or homophobic, or biased against minority religions if only some of the people it represents hold any or all of those views. People will tell you that they aren’t biased, but their company, their industry, their department, their culture has a problem, and they don’t want to rock the boat.

That is the defining point of “institutional” discrimination; a segment of the population, no matter how large or small, sees the problem, but doesn’t think that they can effect change because the problem is small, or wide spread, or any other of a number of excuses for letting it happen to other people. That kind of discrimination, whether it is sexism, racism, or discrimination against those with handicaps, requires a group with power which uses their power to oppress others. A person can be prejudiced, but only a culture can have institutional discrimination; it requires a group of like people who are empowered to protect their status, and who are allowed to do so.

That is the definition of cultural privilege. I can speak of privilege; I have plenty of it, and the places where I am an outsider are so far outside the norm that we aren’t even really talking about them. I’m white. I’m straight. I’m male. I am the default hero in a romantic comedy (most kinds of comedy, really), and I look a lot like the action hero, too. Since we don’t see religion as a major theme in a lot of movies, television shows, or books, my most prominent sticking point isn’t really talked about much. We talk about Islamophobia and antisemitism, but we don’t really have discussions about the privilege of being Christian in the US, and that is clearly one of the biggest problems I may ever face with discrimination in this country.

So, I am speaking from a place of privilege, to people with varying degrees of privilege. We cannot ignore our position in the dominant culture, because of gender, race, primary language. We have to be aware of the advantages that come to those in the US with fair skin or the appearance of male-ness, or simply a functional English vocabulary, or an understanding of Christian culture and symbolism. More over, we need to understand that any one of those things is still privilege, even if you only have one working in your favor. A Black man who is a baptist still has advantages over his sister or a black man of similar build who was raised Islamic, or to whom English is a second language, even where his skin tone causes him trouble. A white woman will still face less scrutiny than a black woman, or,in many cases, a black man. While it might not come up as often, I can tell you that a white man who has turned away from Christianity, even though he was raised to it and knows it better than most believers, will face discrimination over the choice. It has never cost me a job, that I know of, but I am certain that it would have if it had ever been known to at least one employer.

I don’t say this to compare my struggles with those of anyone else; I refuse to believe that we can compete for equality and I know I have it easier than most. I say that I have faced some discrimination in my own life to illustrate that I don’t take my privilege lightly. I try not to use it as a crutch, and I never hold it over anyone else. We cannot have an unequal fight for equality.

What I am saying is that Privilege is real. To deny that it exists is to literally deny the institutional nature of the discrimination faced by women, by persons of color, by those with disabilities, or by those from minority cultures or religions. It is fine to say that it can be hard to be a man, living up to expectations, but to do so must come with the understanding that those expectations are unfair to all genders and that it is still men who hold most of the power. Your ex-wife wins custody “because she’s the woman”? That’s not fair to her, either, because it presumes that she’s more willing to suffer in her professional life. It is the system punishing you for not properly owning your family, in a manly way, and letting your marriage “fall apart”. That isn’t women oppressing men, it is a male dominated culture claiming that women are better suited to raising kids. Feminists don’t want that, either.

You didn’t get the job you wanted because, all things being equal, a minority was hired instead? Or even someone who wasn’t quite as qualified, but had darker skin? Well, then let’s remember that the qualifications they have were harder to earn. Let’s remember that black and Hispanic students are far more likely than white students to repeat a grade, and that more than 70 percent of K-12 students who were arrested or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black. The people who make it through all of that deserve a little more consideration for the effort.

Ultimately, the thing about privilege is that we have the choice to ignore it. Being white factors into almost none of my decision making in a given week. Being a man, I can go to the store or for a walk and have very little concern about what I am wearing because anything it does say about me isn’t really going to bring me any real trouble. if I look good, then I just look good with very little chance of sexual assault. If I look like a slob, there is little chance anyone will feel compelled to comment. It is up to me to notice that my relatively positive treatment is a privilege, and to use it to stand up for those who aren’t being treated fairly. It is up to me to use my visibility, my better chance at an education, a job, or a television appearance, to speak up and demand equality for those who don’t have the odds in their favor the same way.

It is the responsibility of those who have privilege to reach out to those in need of recognition, because we need their ideas and we need their participation in our society. They have things to share and to teach us. They can help us be a better culture. It is up to those of us with more options to work to share those options with everyone, because equality isn’t equality if it only applies to some groups. It is, by definition, still privilege. You cannot refuse to believe in privilege without also disbelieving the underlying discrimination that comes with it. You can’t ignore racism, sexism, ablism, or many other forms of institutional discrimination without ignoring not just statistics, but millions of individual identities across the nation. When you say “That’s just Grandad” or “Boys will be boys”, what you are really saying is “I’m Ok with a little discrimination”. Only, discrimination is insidious, and there is no such thing as “a little bit”; it is always either being consciously fought with education and active changes to policy and practice, or it is hurting more and more people, denying them their rights and depriving us all of their full potential.

FYI: A reply to Mrs. Hall

As a father with 2 boys and 3 girls in my care, I feel I have to respond to FYI (if you’re a teenage girl). If you haven’t read it, and don’t care to click through, let me give you a quick breakdown.

This is a mother who loves her kids. She clearly understands that she needs to be involved in their social lives, and monitors their social media, looking with them at posts made by their friends. The thing is that she is putting on notice the young girls who are friends with her sons: if mom thinks a post is too provocative, the friend is blocked. No warning and no second chance. She doesn’t initiate a conversation. She doesn’t tell her sons that she has high expectations of them. She puts it on the girls not to temp her boys. And she does it in a post that features pictures of her sons, topless, in their bathing suits.

I applaud the effort. I thank her for being a concerned and involved parent. I question her assertion that a teenaged girl bares the responsibility for her sons’ impure thoughts. I disagree, strongly, with her assertion that one picture that she finds mildly offensive is grounds for ending a friendship, or even just an on-line connection. I dispute her claim that “once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it”.

Girls do not owe it to the world to hide their bodies. You are allowed to find it offensive or appealing, but they do not owe you their modesty any more than they owe the world their nudity. Each of us has a body, and it can be argued that it is the only thing that we truly own. I’m sure that you are teaching your boys to respect women, but they need to know that every woman, and every man, deserves respect. Even the scantily clad woman on the street corner could be an  addict in need of health care she can’t afford, a single mother trying to keep food on the table, or even an undercover police officer. Who are you to judge any of them? It isn’t the job of a woman to guard herself against the impulses of men. That is the job of society as sure as the need to guard one person against the murderous rage or the felonious greed of others. We teach that it is wrong, we instill responsibility and respect in our kids, and we prosecute those who act on their impulses.

As I have said before, though never written into a full post, this is the kind of misogyny that is as damaging to men as to women; it claims that men can’t help themselves, and that they shouldn’t be blamed when they act on impulses that they were never told to control. I can see a woman in a towel, in a hospital gown, or a burqa, and still get to know her as a person of inherent worth and dignity who deserves the chance to earn my respect. And a second chance. And if the second goes badly, there are always opportunities to earn another by embracing your inherent worth and being good for the world. But, unlike Mother Hall, I not only believe people can change for the better, and that teenagers can do so in a very short time, but that you can change the world for the better while wearing a bikini. That’s what I teach my kids, too.

If you just can’t get through those two points, though, please remember that people do change. People learn from their mistakes, and they do it faster and more effectively when the people around them help them, lovingly, to see the errors that they have made and support the effort to fix the problem. Everyone can be better today than yesterday, but they have to believe that there is a reason to try. We all have inherent value, as humans, to one another. Each of us has experiences that we can share with the rest of the world. When we recognize that and nurture it in those around us, we gain so much more than we ever could through shame or derision. These young women might be the ones most in need of good boys in their lives, who will value them for more than their appearance. They may be looking for validation, and by refusing to let your sons communicate with them, they might continue down a road of self doubt and manipulation when all they really needed was a good friend. Then again, they might just be that self-aware, which could make them excellent influences on your own kids.

In short, congratulations; you are a good mother who clearly wants the best for her kids and who hopes to instill in them a sense of self confidence and self respect. Your heart is in the right place, and I am sure that you are doing many things well. This policy, though, is not one of those things. I doubt you will read my reply, with over 600 comments on your blog already. I couldn’t ignore the core of your message, though, because I think the consequences of your actions will be at odds with the intent, and I hope that writing this will help someone, if not you, see that there is a better way to teach your boys to respect women than by telling them that these young girls are unworthy of their friendship.

Natural Disasters and the Hand of God: Why do bad things happen Part 2

Let me get something off my chest: If you survive a tornado, hurricane, or earth quake that killed children and leveled entire neighborhoods, this is not the time to thank God. God didn’t put out a personal hand to save you, because that implies that the same hand intentionally left others to suffer. God does not direct tornadoes. God does not shake the Earth. God has bigger problems. The Universe is huge, and God doesn’t have time to direct the flapping of every butterfly to ensure that hurricanes only destroy evil people. God cannot be said to have saved you without also having to condemn the dead. That is clearly beyond our ability to understand the intentions of the divine.

You can thank God for the life you have. You can thank God for seeing to it that we have a divine spark of humanity. The spirit of God is at work in the first responders and the Red Cross. God gave us the ability and the compassion to take care of each other. We are created as curious, caring, cooperative creatures (sorry for the alliteration, it came too easily to ignore). That is what we should be thankful for. You never felt thankful for your parents failure to keep you from getting ill, but for their care that helped you get well. Bad things happen because the universe is complex, and we are such a small part of it. The winds are not out to get us, nor the rains or the ground, but it is virtually impossible to build something to withstand all of them. The Earth has its own stresses, far below us, that are released as tremors. The weather is dictated by the sun, the spin of the planet, and every tiny movement of the air. It is beyond our prediction, and it is unconcerned with our desires.

God does not single us out for birth, for death, or for salvation. The tools have been put in place, and it is up to us to use those tools in the best possible way. We’ve been given the intellect to overcome the worst climates and even the vacuum of space. God has intrusted us to save ourselves. It is up to us to put our creativity and compassion to use, putting storm shelters in schools and neighborhoods and building safer homes and offices. God made sure that the universe would provide, but, from a human point of view, bad things happen because we are not the most important thing in the universe, and there are forces at work that we cannot predict or outsmart.

It isn’t fair to blame our individual suffering on God, and thus, it isn’t really necessary to credit God with having a well designed and built house, or a safe place to shelter, or for any of the other human factors that saved you, just like God doesn’t force either team to loose the Super Bowl every year, just so that the other can win.

The Almighty: Images of God

While far from unanimous, the Western world has largely settled on the idea of Monotheism, or at least that is what the majority would currently profess to, if you asked them. Most of the people on Earth, the world’s Christians, Jews, Muslims, and followers of many other religions with fewer believers, are monotheists in dogma and doctrine.

The trick to monotheism is the idea that there is one creator, who oversaw, designed, or even hand-crafted the universe according to a plan. There is much disagreement about the intent, and whether this being remains “hands on” in the operation of the universe is certainly up for debate. The essence, though, is in the creation and the idea of a design or plan for the universe. As we try to understand this force of creation, our main focus and most valuable tool is our ability to understand what was created.

Thus, there are, even within monotheistic religions, many different views of what this creator wanted for creation and why there is a creation at all, and most importantly how we are supposed to react to the creator and the rest of the creation. Each person, even in hearing the same words, even those who internalize the same stories and doctrines, must shape their perception of God around their experience with creation.

For many of us, our understanding of God is, at the most basic level, the idea that God is almighty and powerful. After all, isn’t the creation of the universe enough to indicate the absolute power over the universe? We shape our idea of God based on our idea of power. The things we see as “Powerful” and “Capable” become the things we ascribe to God.

This is why many depictions of God give the creator a masculine body, and generally one that is elderly, with white hair and a beard, but also physically fit and imposing. God, of course, would have none of these traits, inherently. If the creator of the Universe is still in existence, then our concept of age clearly does not apply, and even if, as Genesis tells us, man and woman are both created in the image of God, then God must not conform to our gender roles or sexual characteristics.

What we are left with, then, in my opinion, is an image of God that mimics our image of power. The people in power in the Middle East and in Europe were mainly older men, and that became intertwined with the idea of power and authority. Being the ultimate in both power and authority, God, in those cultures, took that form in their collective consciousness. Whether this was God’s intent, or just the only way that certain people or groups could relate to the idea of The Almighty, we may never know.

Many ancient peoples and pantheons held that the creation of the universe was the act of a primordial mother, or a primordial “couple” forming Earth and Sky. The primary Greek creation myth was one of the Feminine Primordial Gaia, who created her own mate and birthed the Titans, who gave birth to the Gods, who created the world as it was known to the Ancient Greek people, who understood on some level that the planet was much older than their civilization, and incorporated that into their mythology. Ultimately, though, the world of the Greeks was ruled by men and by Gods who took the power for themselves, making it theirs by right of strength. In a way, this mirrors the progression of theology through most of the world: masculine figures taking prominence, and eventually displacing any divine feminine figures more or less completely.

Clearly, then, our image of the divine is shaped by our perception of potency and the essence of what makes something powerful. Many people see power in strength. Many see it in some form of magic or in the promise of technology. In reflection, some deities are strong, some wise, and some clever, but the monotheistic God is usually all three. Gods are born of ideas, and powerful ideas become powerful deities. Likewise, the attributes that you ascribe to God say a lot about what you value in leadership, in relationships, and in your life.

It is important, then, to consider what you really think  about God, and not just what you have been taught, or what you say in front of others. Is your true concept of the divine as loving as you say? If so, then how is that love manifested in the world? How do you emulate it? Is your vision of God vengeful? Does that make you vengeful, too? Does that improve your relationships? Is your God forgiving? Does that help you to forgive? Has that been healthy for you?

Another common and important factor in monotheism is that God is “good” and that the intent of creation was to give rise to life, and ultimately to intelligence, and that intelligent life was meant to have a relationship with God. We are meant to be “good”, helping to bring about what God wants in the Universe. Being like God is being good.

By really examining your view of God, and thus your perception of what makes one “good”, you can shape your whole being. If you know that God is vengeful, and live in fear, then you are likely to resent those who see God as loving, and live at peace with their place in the world. If you know God in absolute terms, then you will be distrustful of science, revelation, and even your own senses. If you know there to be no God at all, then it is possible to fall into arrogance and conceit, looking only at the world around you for your sense of purpose and power. Your image of God both often both dictates and mirrors your best and worst traits.

Robert Ingersoll once said that “There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.” This is the essence of what I am trying to say: As long as we value anger, discrimination, and vengeance as divine traits, it will be impossible to remove them as cultural institutions. We must examine our concept of God, and decide, objectively, if it matches our understanding of what is good in the world. If you wouldn’t respect your God as a neighbor, then you have to understand that your image is too small and too personal. We need a universal God, who is good without resorting to divine dispensation. We need a God willing to give us our curiosity and senses in order to use them, rather than one seen to tempt us with knowledge we are forbidden to seek. We need a God who loves all humanity, rather than picking and choosing based on situation of birth. We need to see God for what God must be, rather than for what our tribal ancestors had hoped was a champion for their way of life.’

It is said that most people have some instinct for good, and that this “conscience” is an echo of the voice of God in our lives. Whatever the origin, we know what good is. Our understanding of the Universe, both of what is true and of what feels right, must be applied to our understanding of the creator. What is wrong to do to one another in any other cause is also wrong to do in the name of God, or the name of God isn’t worthy of our worship and reverence.

 

Parades, Protests, and/or Prayer

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
John Piper

This is how I sometimes feel about the Unitarian Universalist involvement in Pride Parades, protests, and “volunteer opportunities”.

I went to Pride Day once before I joined my Congregation. It was fun, though I spent a good portion of the parade tying protesters up in discussion, telling them things they needed to know about their Bible. I enjoyed the festival after and got a lot of really great information at the booths. More over, I was there as an ally, and a person who wanted to be around other people who were, at least for the day, unashamed of who they really were and what their families look like. I wasn’t part of a group or movement; I was just a friend who wanted to celebrate their lives with them.

I’ve been to Pride Day 3 times since joining Horizon, and each time I was a participant in the parade, and I spent at least a little time in our booth, telling people about who we are and what we believe, and mostly handing out free water, because it is really hot in Texas in September. It is fun, and it does lead to some good conversation, but I’m not gay. No one in my immediate family is gay, or even bisexual, as far as they are telling. I’m not active in an outreach program. I’m not an official member of any kind of political organization. I just go to a church; a welcoming, Universalist, liberal church, but that earns me a place in the parade. We march, as a group. Why?

Are we really there for support? Are we there to tell the LGBT community that they aren’t going to hell? If they were worried about it, our simple presence in the parade isn’t likely to assure them. Are we there because LGBT church members want to show off their community? If so, why aren’t they our organizers, and why are they outnumbered? Are we just there as part of our ongoing membership drive? It certainly seems like this is at least part of the reason we are handing out fans with the 7 Principles printed on them.

Why do we celebrate civil disobedience? Is it solely because we want to see people moved to do brave things, or is it because it means a headline now and then? Headlines aren’t bad things, mind you, but they aren’t missional. They are sound-bites; the snack cake of wisdom: sweet, but void of nutrition. They don’t feed the intellect or the soul.

We do a lot of work, which is right for us. We are a humanist faith, as much as we are any other type, believing in the necessity of action. One of the 5 Smooth Stones, which form the bedrock of our faith, is the need to manifest goodness, creating it in the world around us. James Luther Adams tells us that a liberal faith, sincerely held, must “express itself in societal forms”, creating institutions to enshrine liberty, education, and justice in our nation. Still, he says of “individual virtue” that it “is a prerequisite for societal virtues.” I will go a step further, restating the theme of my last post, and say that sincere individual virtue obligates us to manifest social virtues. In short, if the church were helping us to be spiritually healthy, then the protests and the celebrations would come as naturally to us as showing up on Sunday or calling a friend on her birthday. It would be an obligation of the spirit and of our sense of community, rather than a commandment from the pulpit or the newsletter.

At what point does our mission to gather after service and carpool to the Parade simply mirror the pilgrimage of the fundamentalist group, where members may not have strong feeling about the LGBT community, but feel compelled to protest the calls for equality as a sign of their faith?

We don’t need publicized missions. We don’t need uniforms. We don’t need national campaigns designed around visibility. We need people, moved by faith, doing good in every part of their lives. If we can inspire that, then we will already have changed the world.