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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Shortest creed ever?

The new issue of the Christian Century quotes a rather extraordinary pledge of allegiance by June Alliman Yoder and J. Nelson Kraybill, president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary:

I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,
And to God’s kingdom for which he died—
One Spirit-led people the world over, indivisible,
With love and justice for all.

That may be the shortest affirmation of Christian faith I've heard. Although I'm sure I'd have to spend some time explaining to my fellow Unitarian Universalists what each of the highly complex symbols in this statement mean to me — a task that will have to wait for another day — I nonetheless affirm all of it.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 10 November 2004 at 5:19 PM

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12 comments:

Scott Wells:

November 10, 2004 06:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow! I'm on board with that, too.

roger:

November 11, 2004 08:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

what would Jesus think?

Steve Caldwell:

November 11, 2004 10:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

Well ... I can't agree with that confession of faith.

Our salvation doesn't require the death of Jesus to happen.

Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans nearly 2000 years ago was simply humans being cruel to other humans. It has nothing to do with "God's Kingdom." I agree with Rebecca Parker's comments on the over-emphasis on death and violence as the source of redemption in Christianity.

Yes ... there are times when one has to die and sacrifice for principle. But there are times when death and sacrifice are senseless and tragic. In times of grief, people try to make sense of the senseless and tragic. And much of Christian theology is an attempt to deal with the senseless tragedy behind Jesus' execution.

As Unitarian Universalists attempting to incorporate Christianity into our faith communities, perhaps we should look at our Universalist history. Rather than focusing on the death of Jesus as a source for redemption and salvation, we should look at Hosea Ballou's writings and perhaps even the 1803 Winchester Profession instead:

"We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain a revelation of the character of God and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men."

Philocrites:

November 11, 2004 10:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, you're projecting a theology onto this affirmation that it nowhere expresses. Read it again.

One might say that it expresses a doctrine of salvation that finds God's saving activity in the work of Spirit-led people — like Jesus of Nazareth and those who have worked in his spirit — to bring love and justice for all. And, since the "kingdom of God" was clearly the substance of Jesus' teaching — and since (as John Dominic Crossan and others have rather compellingly argued) his teaching and the teaching of the earliest Christians clearly cast the "kingdom of God" in opposition to the "kingdom of Caesar" — Jesus most certainly did die for this belief.

What is only implicit in this affirmation, however, is the Christian affirmation that God redeemed Jesus' death in the resurrection. There are many ways one might interpret this doctrine. But nowhere in this affirmation is there even a hint of a doctrine of Jesus' vicarious suffering for the sins of humanity.

Non-Christian Unitarian Universalists would be immeasurably helped in their interfaith work if they could tell the difference between major doctrinal differences within Christianity. Not everyone who proclaims Jesus as Lord is out to get you. This affirmation is both orthodox and liberal, in the deepest senses of both those terms.

Philocrites:

November 11, 2004 11:08 AM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, another thing: It would be interesting to hear Scott and Steve discuss how this affirmation is consonant or dissonant with the Winchester Profession and Universalism more generally.

Jeff Wilson:

November 11, 2004 11:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

"Non-Christian Unitarian Universalists would be immeasurably helped in their interfaith work if they could tell the difference between major doctrinal differences within Christianity."

Chris, I certainly agree with this statement. My only question is, where would they learn these differences? Should they be taught in Sunday School? As part of adult RE? Or is every individual non-Christian UU expected to purchase books or spend time surfing the internet to attempt to ferret out all the nuances of alien religions systems? If this sounds snarky, it's not really meant to be--I have a concern about UUs not understanding other religions and wish it could be addressed. But I'm not really certain where the responsibility lies and how the problem should be remedied.

Philocrites:

November 13, 2004 06:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff, your question points to a puzzling problem! I think ministers especially are obligated to integrate this kind of education into their preaching. It's a form of basic literacy that UUs need in order to see how UU theology fits into the larger theological landscape. I'd call it cultural competency. (Sermons I'd like to hear, or maybe give: "How To Recognize a Liberal Christian." Or how about "Evangelicals on Our Side: Who Knew?" And there's always "Catholic Roots of Liberal Religion" or "The Jesus Jerry Falwell Doesn't Know.") I'm not talking about nuances, either; I'm talking about basic issues that UUs would need to know in order to find allies and make sense of the religious landscape in which we live. Why, for example, does it annoy or offend many "born-again" Christians when we call them "fundamentalists"? (One reason: Most of them aren't fundamentalists.)

But when it comes to what we UUs call "religious education," I'm not quite sure what to propose doing. The way many of our Sunday Schools teach about Christianity is either too bland or too generic to be helpful — but many UUs are too anxious about Christianity to support a curriculum that goes much beyond the ABCs: It would imply that these doctrines have something to do with us and that we have a stake in a particular interpretation of Christianity's central themes.

When I was a youth advisor, I found several occasions to provide really rudimentary information about liberal Christianity. (Evangelical Christianity was making itself known to the kids through the paid Campus Crusade for Christ guy at the local high school. We're talking wealthy New England suburbia, and the minister the principal would call on was the CC guy. The kids knew him. They knew his perspective. They didn't know ours — or the United Church of Christ's, or the Episcopal Church's, or anything else.) But the kind of opportunities I had were thirty seconds at a time, around a campfire or midway through Check-in at YRUU or as part of a Coming of Age lesson, and I don't know how much of it could stick. The biggest point I kept trying to make is that the Bible is not meant to be read literally, and that people who do are misrepresenting it.

A sad story: One year, I decided to integrate some hands-on non-literal biblical interpretation into the ninth-grade Coming of Age curriculum. I decided I'd try giving the kids an experience of seeing that a much fought-over part of scripture — Genesis 2-3, the "Garden of Eden" story — can have profound meaning for us if we look at it the way we might look at a work of literature. Part of my goal was to give people some tools for dealing with the whole concept of "original sin," and seeing a new way of interacting with the Bible than what they might hear from their Evangelical friends. The kids weren't jumping up and down about the lesson, but I think they were engaged by it — until the adult mentors blew a fuse. Several of them simply would not go along with the lesson, insisting that the only way to understand the Old Testament was as the record of the violent patriarchal obliteration of a primordial peaceful matriarchal paradise. To them, the Bible was an embodiment of everything they had rejected; they couldn't grant my starting supposition, that the Bible is ours, too, and requires our own kind of interpretation. Frustrated by the experience, I concluded that it was probably going to be unfruitful to re-enact this bit of drama in future Coming of Age programs, so I cut the section.

It's a problem. Without better religious education opportunities for adults, I don't see any way to substantially improve the theological education of our children — because the adults' biases will just keep getting in the way. And our biases are getting in our own way, tragically, by making us ineffective interfaith partners.

There are no answers in what I've just written, I know. For our children, I think the key curriculum goal about the world's other major religions should come down essentially to this: "There are many wonderful ways to be a religious human being." As kids get older, our churches can encourage their individual interest in some of these traditions. (One of the kids in my first Coming of Age group developed a passionate interest in Buddhism, for example.) But Christianity isn't just one of the world's major religions. For American UUs, it is both the parent of our own tradition and a dominant cultural force in our society. It requires much greater attention and much higher literacy from us; understanding it would be at the top of my list of curriculum goals for the liberal church.

[Here endeth the rambling reply.]

Steve Caldwell:

November 14, 2004 10:46 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 13 November 2004, Philocrites wrote:
((But when it comes to what we UUs call "religious education," I'm not quite sure what to propose doing. The way many of our Sunday Schools teach about Christianity is either too bland or too generic to be helpful — but many UUs are too anxious about Christianity to support a curriculum that goes much beyond the ABCs: It would imply that these doctrines have something to do with us and that we have a stake in a particular interpretation of Christianity's central themes.))

((It's a problem. Without better religious education opportunities for adults, I don't see any way to substantially improve the theological education of our children — because the adults' biases will just keep getting in the way. And our biases are getting in our own way, tragically, by making us ineffective interfaith partners.))

Chris,

You may want to check out the UU young adult small group ministry curricula on UU identity by Kate Tweedie Erslev. On pages 19-28 of this curriculum, there are two sessions of material explaining the Protestant historical roots for modern-day Unitarian Universalism.

Take care,
Steve

Jeff Wilson:

November 15, 2004 10:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks for a meaty, heartfelt reply, Chris. I'm in no way surprised by your anecdote, the sort of resistance you encountered and the mindset behind it are woefully common in our churches. I hope that you confronted the adult mentors directly, politely, and privately about their prejudices and explained patiently what you were doing and why it was so important. There are some people who will never get it and will never relinquish their anti-Christian views, but I do think most UUs who are fearful can be reasoned around to a much better understanding of the importance (and value) of the liberal Christian tradition and the Bible.

Someone needs to write a book called "How to Teach the Bible to UUs and Why it is Important," making it explicitly clear that this is not an attempt to Christianize UUism, but to make us literate, informed, intelligent citizens in a democracy profoundly shaped by Biblical culture. (And if a reader subsequently gets some spiritual sustenance out of their encounter with the Bible, all the better for them). Or maybe it should be called "Why the Bible teaches Unitiarianism." Channing et. al. certainly thought it did.

I also think we need to do a _much_ better job of explaining our denominational history. Once someone sees that we got here by a commitment to liberal Christian values, and that those values are in no way in conflict with where we are, then they can begin to feel grateful to liberal Christianity and support it in our churches, even if they themselves are not theists.

For some reason, ever since the election I can't stop making sarcastic, snarky comments. So all I can do is preface them with a disclaimer. That said, here's one more tactic you could try: add Jesus Christ to the list of "famous UUs." Since UUs are so insecure that they want to claim everyone from Superman to the Dalai Lama as a crypto-Unitarian, why not just appropriate the Messiah? If UUs found out that Jesus Christ was actually a Unitarian I bet they'd be proud to put up posters of him all over church.

Mike Andreski:

November 15, 2004 04:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I know that this is a bit off the subject, but where can a UU who is almost in agony over the election get a UU perspective on dealing with this? I would like a dialog on how we can talk to fundies and move them back to the loving side of religious dialog, using their own language.

Philocrites:

November 15, 2004 05:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Mike, I've set up a separate entry in response to your question. To talk about dialogue with religious and political conservatives, see From Anguish to Dialogue.

Philocrites:

November 15, 2004 08:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff, I think the closest book to what you're asking for is John Buehrens's Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals. (Excerpts published in Beliefnet and UU World.) Beacon Press prepared a discussion guide for the book, which might help make the book easy to use in an adult religious education program. I'd also recommend the works of Marcus Borg.

As for the snarky recommendation that we reclaim Jesus as a UU, well, be my guest! The UU minister and popular author Forrest Church once wrote a book with the gutsy title God and Other Famous Liberals: Recapturing Bible, Flag, and Family from the Far Right, an agenda I clearly share. Although the book isn't a very comprehensive guide to the opposition, it will lend some encouragement as we religious liberals try to have these conversations — and the book is full of snarkiness all its own!



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