Radically Welcoming in UU Congregations

Over at Peacebang’s blog, there is quite the discussion going on about UU’s needing to be less full of themselves and more welcoming to all people. Amen I say. But, I started to post a very long response to Rev. Peacebang and so instead I thought I would take my long response to my own blog instead of taking over the comments section on her blog.

(First, a celebration….Papers are turned in! Yay! Life is back to normal. And thus I am back to blogging.)

Okay. Rev. PB lists a couple scenarios where people did not feel welcomed, loved, or cared for in our congregations. Of course, anytime people feel wounded by a church, this is not good. It is one thing if a person decides that a certain place simply isn’t the place for them. It is another if they feel unwelcomed, and unloved and judged. So I want to start off by saying people should never feel like that and I imagine that UUs do their share of that. In fact, W. and I struggled to feel at home in our first UU church. I eventually made a home there, but it was not easy going.

That said, I feel like PB’s scenarios warrant some comments:

She writes:

I want to ask, “How about the white Republican suburbanite who has three straight-arrow kids, lots of money, and a growing sense of unease about the consumeristic trajectory of her life, who seeks a place to connect with people, to pray with others, and to contemplate peace and God’s higher purpose for her life?”What if she came to one of our churches and spoke those exact words of self-description to someone at coffee hour? What kind of “radical welcome” might be extended to her? Or would the code words “Republican” “God” and “pray” lead someone to coldy explain to her that “This is a different kind of church”?

I think that there is an important distinction to be made between being a very welcoming and warm place and being everything to everyone. It just comes down to it that a lot of people who are seeking aren’t going to find it at every or any UU church. The words “God” and “pray” might lead someone to tell her that this is a different kind of church if it is a humanist congregation. I would hope they would tell her lovingly, and gently and of course that she was still welcome but not likely to find much praying going on. As for Republicans, there are of course a lot of amazing wonderful beautiful Republican folks out there (Hi Uncle Bruce! and lots of my extended family….). And there are also a lot of Republicans that might just love UU churches, currently be in them, and fit in just beautifully. However, it is a reasonable thing to assume that the “code word” Republican might indicate that someone will be less likely to find a place that they are happy with in a UU congregation. I will not go into the long list of reasons why I think that many Republicans would not be happy in our congregations and why I think that the Republican party and its leadership is doing very serious harm to the entire world. It is not meanness that UUs often criticize Republicans, rather it often comes from a place of deep love and concern for the future of the world and humanity. There are things that more Republicans than not believe and these beliefs often are not ones that the vast majority of UUs hold, nor do they fit with the gazzillion statements made by UUA over the years. Does this mean that Republicans should be treated with less kindness? With less love? With less welcoming? No. But, it does still mean that it might be more difficult for them to find a UU home that works for them and the congregation. The same reason why it would be more difficult for many UUs to find a home in a Southern Baptist congregation — there are lots of very fundamental beliefs, implied or explicit that just don’t fit that well. No creed does not mean anything goes. There is something of substance to our faith and I don’t feel like there is a huge overlap with the beliefs that many Republicans tend to hold. Not to say that they can’t and don’t fit in, but rather it is less likely.

PB asks:

What about the 17-year old honor student and cheerleader whose parents are non-observant Jews and who has a serious interest in Buddhist meditation, but who thinks that abstinence-only sex ed is a good idea for kids, and who has fairly conservative personal boundaries. How will she get along in one of our youth groups? Is there a place for her? Will she be welcome as she is?

Of course a teenager should find a place in the UU youth group who has fairly conservative personal boundaries. If she thinks that abstinence only sex-ed is a good idea, that is fine for her to believe. Certainly, OWL (Our Whole Lives comprehensive sexuality education) is not a creed that one must agree to in order to be welcomed or join! But it is also fine for others to share how they feel about this. She will might feel outnumbered. She might feel awkward. I don’t think that abstinence only sex-ed is something that I want affirmed or okay’d in any church I go to and I would hope that, if it came up, UU youth would be kind and loving in sharing viewpoints different from abstinence only. It is no grounds to somehow make someone leave or want them to leave, but I don’t want to be all wishy washy so everyone will feel comfortable and say, “Well, of course there are lots of good aspects to abstinence only education.” I don’t think there are and I doubt there are lots of UU youth that think they are and I think that is fine to say.

How about the 46 year old father of two who works in the restaurant industry and comes to church good and ticked off about the rise in the minimum wage, because he’ll now have to pay his servers twice as much per hour as he did last summer, and he therefore might lose his business? What kind of diverse views is he likely to hear about economic justice from the pulpit and during coffee hour? How welcome will he be, with his questions, his anger, and his fears? How about if he comes on Justice Sunday, with its unequivocal support of the living wage? Does anyone care about ministering to him?

Yes, I would hope people care about ministering to him. However, this is no reason to shy away from absolute unequivocal support of a living wage, including, ahem, to clergy and clergy-in-training who are often paid a very not living-wage. We need to take people where they are at. But this does not mean changing where we are at when it comes to justice. This man is a victim of our economy too, and I hope that there would be people willing to lovingly talk to him about his frustration and struggles. Listen. Empathize. He is not likely to hear “diverse views” about economic justice from the pulpit and during coffee hour if that means that one of those diverse views would that it is okay for people not to be paid a living wage. I would hope that someone would remind UUs that they benefit greatly from people NOT being paid a living wage in the cheap everything that they get pretty much everywhere, so it is not like it should be “Oh, all those bad people out there who take advantage of people being underpaid in order to get cheap merchandise, lower hotel room rates, cheaper clothes from Target….” I would hope someone would say how much work UUs have to do in making REAL sacrifices in their OWN lives to bring about justice. But I don’t think that this is what this guy wants to hear. I think (via the way he is constructed in this little description) that he wants to hear that he shouldn’t have to pay his workers more. But he should, and the fact that that will make him lose his business is a tragedy, but it is not because he has to pay his workers more that the business will fail. It is because the economy is structured to favor big businesses who have the power to get the government to do lots of helpful things for it and small businesses get the short end of the stick.

And finally,

What about the woman with two teenaged sons whose husband comes out to her, and together they negotiate an understanding around their sexual fidelity, but she wants the minister to pray with her for discernment? The woman and her husband have been attending a more conservative Christian church in the area that believes her husband can be “cured” of his homosexuality through prayer and love. The other church is praying for them, is embracing them in their struggle, and says that he is welcome to be a member of that church no matter what he decides about his sexual identity. Meanwhile, the woman feels that no one in the UU church would respect her or her husband, feeling that he should just come out and be done with it. For all the so-called tolerance at the UU church, she finds that she actually feels more accepted and cared for at the other church, and that her search for God’s will in her life is taken much more seriously. She resigns her membership.

First, I am very skeptical of any church that believes the husband can be “cured” of his homosexuality through prayer and love AND also says that he is welcome to be a member of that church no matter what he decides about his sexual identity. Skeptical in the sense that I’m sure that this was what was told, but I’m wondering how “welcome” this man would feel if his decision was to be gay. I bet he’d feel real welcome knowing that his whole congregation thought he was sick and needed to be cured and was headed for hell if he wasn’t cured. I have been in these churches. Conservative Christians are the nicest people you’ll ever meet a lot of times but this is not because they just love you to pieces no matter who you are or what you do, but rather it is often because you are a soul that can be saved and gee-look-how-happy-we-are-with-Jesus-don’t-you-want-to-be-so-happy-too sort of happiness? Just visit a nice big Campus Crusade gathering. Or the megachurch where I went in high school. You’ll see what I mean. I acknowledge that there are many-a UU congregations that would probably not handle the above described situation well. But I am very resistant to the idea that somehow a lovey-dovey supportive conservative Christian we-think-homosexuality-can-be-cured sort of church offers some sort of sincere and helpful alternative. There is a place in the middle. UUs frequently might not cut it, but I would never want our churches to give the sort of sappy, Jesus-soaked, Lord-Father-God, insincere sort of stuff that might make an aching person feel more loved for the time, but that in the end is, I think, I skeleton of what real Christian love looks like.

I repeat: I am not disagreeing with the need for more loving, welcoming, warm spirits and cultures in our churches. But I also think that we need to find loving and kind ways not to water down that which is important to us as individuals, congregations, and/or a denomination.

Whew, I know these long posts are not as fun as shorter ones. I’ll try to think of shorter ones soon. Off to bed. Elizabeth :)

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8 Responses to Radically Welcoming in UU Congregations

  1. LaReinaCobre says:

    Hi Elizabeth; this is my first visit here, I do believe. I enjoyed this posting very much. I read the discussion at Peacebang’s Blog with interest, and your response made a lot of sense. You touch on how we, as a faith community, can “stand for something” and yet be openhearted.

    I also agree with your assessment of some religious communities that appear to practice great hospitality. I almost choked when someone on PB’s blog mentioned that the Southern Baptists were more tolerant and welcoming than UUs. Hmm. I have grave doubts about that. Perhaps this is true if you have certain identities, but I would not feel comfortable in a Southern Baptist church.

    I have been very welcomed by some Christians (not Southern Baptists), only to find out later that once they realized I had no intention of converting to their religion that they had no use for me.

    As a UU I definitely feel a sense of coldness in many UU churches. I see people come in and leave without anyone greeting them, no matter how often the ministers suggest to everyone at the end of service to “greet your neighbor.” My church is quite large (hundreds of people per service), but I have been to far smaller services where maybe one or two people have introduced themselves and then moved on.

    I wonder a lot about this. Do we not have enough room in our lives for new folks – is that what it is? What is it about UUs that makes it difficult to come together purely on the basis of being UUs? Is it because we often don’t know what it even means to us to be UU? Are too many of us shy? Wary? Self involved? I don’t know.

    I attended a meeting for the local committee for planning General Assembly 2007. One of the ministers of my church was in the meeting, too. Out of 15 or so attendees, there were probably five from my church. I knew one of them, and recognized the minister. I have never really spoken more than a few words to this minister. At the end of the meeting, I was standing by myself for a bit, and he never even greeted me. I know he is not a mean person; I’ve heard he’s very nice, actually. His sermons are always thoughtful.

    But I thought to myself, “Is he my minister?”

    I don’t know. I may have to think more about this and reflect on it later in my own blog.

    Thank you for thoughts!

  2. LaReinaCobre says:

    Oh dear, I’ve completely cluttered things up here. I hope you can delete my “delete” notice. I wanted to consolidate two comments into one:

    First, that last line of my previous comment should read, “Thank you for your thoughts.”

    And the second thing is that when I went back over some of your recent posts I see that I have been here before – not so long ago, either. I am not good with names. Apologies!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Lareinacobre,
    Thank you so much for your comments. If you ever happen to get back here to see this, I really enjoyed your article in the UUWorld. I read Living Islam Outloud recently and so I felt like I could better understand your story. It was beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you so much.

    On another note, I too had doubts about the whole Southern Baptists being more tolerant and welcoming than UUs. I would venture to say that that person has not spent much time in a Southern Baptist church.

    Thanks for your comments and your work in our movement. Smiles, Elizabeth

  4. LaReinaCobre says:

    Yes, I made it back! =) Thanks for your feedback on the UU World article. I’m glad you read Living Out Loud. I thought many of the essays were really representative of the life I grew up living – different perspectives were emphasized to be sure, but I found many of my own realities reflected back at me.

  5. PeaceBang says:

    Elizabeth, just thought you might be interested in Philocrites’ recent take on UU Republicans. It was up in the last few days.

    Cheers, PB

  6. jeff says:

    Elizabeth,

    There is so much going on here, and in the conversation on Peacebang’s blog, that my head is spinning. Let me begin with PB’s scenario about the Republican wife looking for a place “to pray with others, and to contemplate peace and God’s higher purpose for her life?” If I meet this woman at FUUSM this morning, I would tell her she is in exactly the right place. Our services are filled with God and prayer, though they are not called by those names in UU services. (Too bad, sometimes, because “God” and “pray” are very convenient words for those things.) If she is willing to hear beyond the words we choose, she will find what she is looking for. I have.

    As far as welcoming Republicans is concerned: For many people, opinions on political issues may not be accurate reflections of their true values and beliefs. They may not realize this — it’s easy to be misled by politicians and others who try to make us believe A means B. But don’t most issues come down to choosing a balance amid competing values? For example, we value both “freedom” and “security”. Many of our political divisions today come from the relative weight we give to these values, WHICH WE ALL SHARE.

    My point is that we do share many deep core values with individual Republicans, Southern Baptists, and so on. On a practical level, to reach those people, we might benefit from figuring out where we agree with them. And as someone said on PB’s blog, listening comes first.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Jeff, This is so well put and really helps me to think about things a little bit differently. I have to ponder for a while. Thanks, Elizabeth

  8. UUorwhat says:

    I completely agree with you on this blog. What a wonderful post. I had many concerns about UU. My husband and I are new to UU. I have been on a spiritual journey and I hope that you read my blog on the various churches that I have visited and my experiences there.

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