Christianity and the UUA

So Shawn at LoFi Tribe (sorry, no time to link these – you can google them) has left the UU path and is going to be straight up Christian (he didn’t say what denomination he is switching to). I’ve read the blog some here and there and find it a fine blog to read. I just hate losing cool people. But, the main point of this quick post (I’m trying not to make posts need to be perfect and essay like) is that he writes:

The UUA is a new age smorgasbord that does not – and will not – resonate with the majority of people living in this country (especially young adult families w/ young children). It will appeal to a very small segment living on the fringes of our culture and society. That’s it.

Okay, so I don’t love my beloved denomination (with all its flaws) being called a “new age smorgasbord” and I would not say it appeals to “fringe” people (there are some, but not most), but the main reason this stood out to me is because it could come across that our faith needs to get with the program and resonate with more people… um, like, say, fundamentalism or evangelicalism? As CC says, if all the Methodists jumped off a cliff, would we? The thing is, Jesus’ message was not so popular in his day. Didn’t quite resonate with that many people. But a lot of people stuck with the Jesus tradition because they believed in it – they thought it was the right thing to do even when it was way unpopular and people called them weird. And when people tried to come up with new ideas, and they didn’t fly, they were thrown out or killed. I don’t want to throw people with new ideas out of our faith. Even if they seem new age-y to some. I think now folks might like to call us “new age” to say “Hey, they aren’t the real thing” and/or “Those people are WEIRD” (this may not be what LoFi Tribe is doing – but I’ve seen it done other places). And I think also people are called and have been called heretical or pagan or heathen over the years to say “Hey, they aren’t the real thing – We’ve got the answer. And it involves a particular path. That we set.” My point is not at all to pick on Shawn at LoFi Tribe, but just to point out this sort of criticism that takes place in multiple context, blogs and otherwise. I’m not saying that Unitarian Universalists in general cannot be a little cooky seeming. Okay, it happens. But it isn’t as if they Catholics or Baptists don’t have cooky people or institutional issues similar to those that the UUA might have. I think it is totally cool if someone feels that they need a Christian faith to be ordained in or attend church or be a minister in or whatever. But I reject that Unitarian Universalism is “new age” in a clearly not good way or that it is for people on the fringe and that (by implication) we need to get more mainstream to attract less fringe-y people. More people in general would be fine, but not if it means we have to tell the people with new ideas or less traditional ideas (those new age people) to get out. Oooo, I’m dying to write more and articulate this more clearly but I must must stop. Anyway, just some quick thoughts. Don’t yell at me if there are mistakes or this isn’t articulated perfectly. If I’m going to blog these days it must be fast.

14 Responses to Christianity and the UUA

  1. Lizard Eater says:

    And making it personal … I’m giggling at the thought of me, a stay-at-home-mom-of-four in tennis shoes, living in the ‘burbs, being an outsider living on the fringes …

    Hey … I’ve even got tivo! And my daughter is in girl scouts!


    And I can’t imagine raising my children in any religion other than UU.

  2. fausto says:

    Ooh, sounds like Shawn touched a nerve.

    You say, “I don’t want to throw people with new ideas out of our faith.”

    But that’s not really the problem we face, either in general, or in Shawn’s specific instance. You’re only arguing against a false straw man when you say things like that.

    The far more real threat to our future is throwing people who want to keep old ideas alive — especially the ones that formed the foundations of our two now-merged denominations — out of our faith.

    People like Shawn.

    You say you “just hate losing cool people”, but it’s comments exactly like yours here that make people like him feel “thrown out”.

    You are apparently claiming the prerogative to post your thoughts carelessly here. The UU search for meaning is supposed to be not only free, but responsible. Why do you feel so free to express your criticism, but no corresponding duty of responsibility to do so with respect and careful reflection?
    I certainly hope such irresponsibility does not portend the future of our entire ministerial body, or I’ll eventually follow Shawn out the door.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Fausto, I really didn’t mean to aim this particularly at Shawn and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I don’t know him – I only know that I like his blog and that I typically don’t like to see almost anyone leave our faith, particularly if it is a difficult or stressful parting (rather than your average drifting away). I tried to make clear in my post that my concerns are not aimed particularly at Shawn, but a particular sort of comment, one of which he happen to make. I state “My point is not at all to pick on Shawn at LoFi Tribe, but just to point out this sort of criticism that takes place in multiple context, blogs and otherwise”

    “You are apparently claiming the prerogative to post your thoughts carelessly here.” Not at all. Sorry it came across that way. I typically take a long time for posts and my comments simply express my insecurity about a shorter, quicker post. I think my post is not only free, but responsible too. I don’t mean any disrespect and think my reflections come from a place of deep reflection and love – something I have thought about for a long time. The thing is, I want our faith to be a place where Christians feel at home and welcome, as well as people who are on other paths. I HATE the stories I hear about Christian folks feeling unwelcome or at not at home in Unitarian Universalism. But I also feel strongly that the people I believe Shawn and others understand as “new age” and “fringe” should be as warmly welcomed.

  4. fausto says:

    Well, again, I’m saying that we seem to be in no danger of losing people with new ideas, but losing people who want to continue to affirm old ideas has been a serious problem for quite some time. Shawn is not leaving because new ideas are welcome, but because he feels his old ideas are unwelcome.

    As he says, “My immediate family and I desire a deep, abounding religion grounded in Biblical faith, reason, tradition and experience. Jesus Christ would most definitely be the center of this faith. Jesus Christ’s offer of saving grace would be central.”

    Those ideas are not necessarily incompatible with either Unitarianism or Universalism; indeed, there was a time when asking if they were would have seemed impertinent. However, the casual supposition that today traditional ideas cannot co-exist with newer ones (which you seem to embrace, with your quick defense of new ideas that Shawn did not in fact criticize) is a large part of why so many supporters of older ideas do not feel at home in our denomination. I wonder if perhaps you don’t see that, or see how pervasive the denial of traditional religious thought has become.

    Rather than expressing fear that views like Shawn’s threaten our receptivity to newer ideas, perhaps we should put more energy in affirming views like Shawn’s as enthusiastically and vocally as we do newer ones. Then perhaps more cool people like Shawn would not feel that they were being driven away.

  5. UUpdater says:

    Fausto – Shawn’s comment about his tipping point being attending a Labyrinth walking and calling the UUA a “New Age Smorgasboard” seems to be a criticism to me. The way I read things it appears Elizabeth is saying the old & new can co-exist. Shawn was saying the “new age” doesn’t work for him.

    Of course for Shawn this was a tipping point, not the whole of his issues. Are you saying if he felt more free in expressing his “old ideas” that the tipping point would probably be a non issue?

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Fausto, I feel as though you are reading a lot into what I’m saying, somehow thinking I am on a particular side of a bigger, unfriendly seeming debate which I’m not really that much a part of… I feel as though you have somehow put me into a camp I am not in…

    I feel so strongly about being warmly and radically welcoming to a wide range of beliefs in Unitarian Universalism. I come from a very Christian background and still feel a great attachment to that tradition and a deep love and respect for those who identify with Christianity. I have my own, personal, back and forth with Christianity, but in no way judge or feel unwelcoming to Christians within our faith. I feel terrible that Shawn or others would feel as though “old” ideas are not welcome – I am not, however, the person that is being unwelcoming or representing some anti-traditional faction in our movement.

    You write that I have a “casual supposition that today traditional ideas cannot co-exist with newer ones” and I really am not sure where you got that. I think that calling Unitarian Universalism “fringe” and a “new age smorgasbord is a not said in a supportive or approving way. I think Shawn was being critical. Which he can do. I’m simply responding to that by saying that I disagree and that by saying that sort of thing, I think it could make folks are being referred to as “new age” and “fringe” feel unwelcome in our faith. I am not saying, however, that more traditional people or beliefs cannot coexist with the new ones. If someone else referred to those “old-time, traditionalist, weirdo Christians” I would also react strongly and feel as though that makes Christians feel unwelcome in our faith and disagree with such a characterization.

    You write, “Rather than expressing fear that views like Shawn’s threaten our receptivity to newer ideas, perhaps we should put more energy in affirming views like Shawn’s as enthusiastically and vocally as we do newer ones.” I like to think that I try to do both – defend receptivity to newer, less traditional faith paths, as well as affirm that view’s like Shawn’s should be accepted with respect, open arms, and joy. I regret if I’ve ever come across as feeling or thinking something differently.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you UU Updater for recognizing that I am going for the whole “old and new exist together” idea. That is the gist of it. And not only exist together, but be mutually respectful. Hard work, yes. But I think doable and one of the most exciting parts of our faith.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Lizard Eater, based on my reading of your blog, I too would have a hard time seeing you as fringe :) Hope Little Warrior and the rest are well. Best, Elizabeth

  9. fausto says:

    Yes, Shawn did characterize UUism as “new age”, and did object to that. As I understood his criticism, though, it was not so much that we have moved away from leading the mainstream of our culture to placing ourselves in contrast to it (though I would say such a case could be made), but that in embracing an alternative identity so thoroughly we no longer allow enough room for more traditional modes of religious belief or expression within our denomination.

    Elizabeth, perhaps you did not mean to express yourself in an unwelcoming way, but there was an inherent bias in the way that you framed your response that you may not even have been conscious of. Shawn never said, “Let’s evict all the new agers”, but he did say, “All the new agers are leaving no room for me.” What you took particlar offense at, though, was that he spoke of religious innovation in marginalizing terms, and not that he felt it sucked all the rest of the air out of the room. Rather than taking issue with his supposition that a Christian orientation like his is unwelcome or inadequately supported within the denom, you defended the UU enthusiasm for religious innovation in a way that seemed to accept as valid Shawn’s impression that his own more traditional spirituality is incompatible.

    While I would agree with you if you say that we should try to make our more traditional members feel welcome and supported in their faith, I would also agree with Shawn that we have generally done a pretty poor job at it over the last half century or so. In particular, rather than continuing to preach and promote the fully-developed Unitarian gospel of Channing and Parker, or the fully-developed Universalist gospel of Murray and Ballou, we have tended largely to ignore them except for a few glib sound bites. What is promoted instead by the UUA and many of our congregations is too often something very much like what Shawn describes — a broad, shallow, inclusive message that is long on pleasantry, but doesn’t leave enough oxygen in the room for authentic substance or depth, not even our own.

    Again I’ll say, that Sean never called for drumming all the “new agers” out of the UUA, but you responded as though he had. Despite professing an abstract allegiance to principles of inclusion, in the heat of the moment you seemed particularly eager to defend the innovative majority who were not being excluded, rather than support the lone traditional voice who did feel excluded. That’s not what we are supposed to be about, but it does reflect the problem with the path we have recently been walking.

  10. Matt says:

    I think the real ‘fringe’ people / thinking is indeed the ‘old’ ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism. Unitarian Christianity and Universalist Christianity are both on the fringe of other Christian denominations and now on the fringe of much of the current denomination.

    And Fausto is right in his first comment, your blog post is in many ways arguing against a straw man. This is what disappoints me about our denomination – debate over theology / identity / tradition are all too often reduced to a debate over who is being excluded.

  11. UUpdater says:

    Fausto/Matt – perhaps you are drawing on some history unknown to me, because the following words of Shawn sound pretty exclusionary:

    “I’m all for honoring people of other faiths, but I’m also all for having one I can call my own and that I can share with the neighbors around me. The above is not it for me.”

    “the above” referring to “A labyrinth walk for 5th and 6th graders led by what I’m guessing to be a Pagan/witch”.

    Which I would interpret to mean he would only feel at home in an exclusively christian environment. Perhaps this is not what he meant, but it sure could be interpretted that way.

    Let me put it this way. If someone left saying “the UUA is to gay” and “I am leaving because I only want to be around straight people” then I suspect people would respond to such a post with proud proclamations of acceptance in the UUA.

    And if Shawn wants to leave to proclaim Jesus as Savior being the one truth I have to nod my head and agree that is a wise choice. I don’t think proclaiming a one true path is in line with UU values.

    If the sum total of his complaints had been “I want to talk about Jesus but there are too many humanists and new agers that won’t let me” then I would agree with what you are saying, but that is not the sum total of his complaints. At least not the way I read it.

  12. Shawn Anthony says:

    Hello good people. I’m going to this real quick … and then bow out. I haven’t the energy.

    UUPdater wrote:

    //”I’m all for honoring people of other faiths, but I’m also all for having one I can call my own and that I can share with the neighbors around me. The above is not it for //me.”

    //”the above” referring to “A labyrinth walk for 5th and 6th graders led by what I’m guessing to be a Pagan/witch”.

    //Which I would interpret to mean he would only feel at home in an exclusively Christian environment. Perhaps this is not what he meant, but it sure could be interpreted that way.

    “The above” I was criticizing is the senseless act of recklessly smashing together three or four different traditions and naming it something else. I have no problem with a Pagan, Native American Flute Music, and/or Egyptian/Greek/ Christian Labyrinths. When they are all combined it is religiously ridiculous and screams of a lack of a personal center. The dissolution of a center is the tipping point I was point toward.

    I do believe the UUA is seriously unattractive to the larger culture. It has no center. I need a religious center. The majority of people out there need a center. That is what religion is for. You can do all the work in the world you want but you will not attract people of lower classes and people of color without an identifiable center – thus it will remain a fringe movement dominated by new-age ideas that dislike centers. A church that can not reach the lower classes and people of color is doomed.

    Me? I honestly believe the UUA lost it all when the classic heritage was tossed out. Yes, humanism is to blame, but so is something else. What is this something else? Well, when the UUA woke up to the realization it needed more “spirituality” it went for the “new ideas” rather than relying upon the old (heritage), for some reason. Bad move.

    Quite frankly, I think the “new ideas” are not conducive to church growth. In fact, much of it scares people away. This is not a critique (though I have no problem offering one up for whoever wants one). It is reality. If this is the reality people in the UUA want, so be it. But don’t get angry if someone simply points to it.

    I left the UUA because I want a center based upon the Jesus of classical Unitarianism and the salvation of classical Universalism. I am one of the most dedicated inter-faith/pluralists one will ever bump into. I do think, however, that to be such I actually do need a personal religious identity that I can share with others too. There are many paths to God. I just don’t want to tread every single one of them at the same time. The offer to do such a vain thing does not resonate with the broader culture. It is a strategic failure. It is a failed misison.

    Carry, on … I do imagine there are more interesting things to discuss. I’m done.

    PS: Elizabeth – It’s cool. :)

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Shawn (and others), Thank you for your comments. I didn’t intend for this post to be such a fuss, and regret if I have hurt anyone. I love our faith/the Unitarian Universalist faith, and want it to be radically welcoming to a range of people. I disagree with Matt that Unitarian-ish or Universal-ish Christians are fringe. I hope that they would fit squarely right in the center of our faith that seeks to honor the various spiritual paths that people feel called to. Clearly we are not there yet. But I won’t give up, while at the same time I understand why someone(s) could feel as if another tradition would work better for them. Much peace to all – I think I’ll sign off on this discussion for now. Elizabeth

  14. Antonio says:

    Very nice site! Good work.

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