Saturday, July 17, 2004
Theological diversity watch.
Surprise! The UUA's Commission on Appraisal is in the news! The Boston Globe's Rich Barlow interviews Earl Holt, minister of King's Chapel and chair of the Commission. The article asks, "Has the Unitarian Universalist church, renowned for its diversity of religious viewpoints, gone too far in pursuing diversity?"
Holt honors the freedom of conscience that remained a tenet after Unitarians merged with the Universalist Church to form the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961. And yet, he said, "I'm ready to defend now the hypothesis that Unitarian Universalism as it presently exists is not in any meaningful way . . . a continuity of either of the traditions" from which it sprung. Embracing all theological viewpoints — "at some point, pandering would not become too strong a word" — the UUA has lost the sense of unity that underlies community, Holt argues.
He heads the nine-member Commission on Appraisal, which reports every four years to the church's annual meeting on important issues. In its next report, due next year, Holt hopes the commission calls on the UUA to reexamine its statement of Principles and Purposes. That statement cites Jewish and Christian teachings, among a half-dozen influences.
"Any average Rotary club in America could probably affirm [them]," Holt said.
He'd like the church to stress that "this was a biblically centered faith, and that from that anchor . . . it has sought to be as open as possible" to other forms of inquiry.
Failing that, a statement that the UUA simply isn't Christian anymore "might be a cleansing thing to do," he said, acknowledging that few other commissioners share his view that the church should orbit within Christianity's gravity.
The article also quotes Tom Owen-Towle (another Commission member) and a good portion of UUA President Bill Sinkford's sermon in which he describes his own spiritual awakening to the presence of God. ("Revisiting Unitarian Universalism," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 7.17.04)
The question of how meaningfully contemporary Unitarian Universalists relate their religion to the tradition from which it emerged preoccupied me all the way through four years of divinity school. Frankly, we need much better narratives about our own evolution. The advanced supercessionism we like — the narrative of smart upstarts throwing off the benighted superstitions of their predecessors — has limited usefulness in eliciting lifelong commitments. It works much better as a myth of heroic exile for those of us who are arriving from other faith traditions. It manifestly fails to help us encounter contemporary Christianity with any real capacity for appreciation or dialogue. We have become effectively anti-historical, believing that our parent traditions were frozen in amber when the heroic upstarts we revere — Emerson, Parker, Reese, Dietrich — broke away.
Although I'd like to say that I have some really fresh solution to the problem, my most thorough effort is a lumbering paper I wrote at the end of my first year of seminary. It's an attempt to outline a doctrine of the liberal church. Perhaps by the time the Commission's report is finally published, I will have time to work through an essay that is more fully developed and written in straightforward English!
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 17 July 2004 at 6:34 PM