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Saturday, March 19, 2005

'If UU Christians are so oppressed...'

Jess ran into some poorly disguised bigotry at her husband's Unitarian Universalist seminary — pointed, of course, at anything having to do with the "J"-word:

Last week I approached two seminary students who were responsible for this week's Wednesday Vespers service, offering to sing Faure's "Pie Jesu" from the Requiem, 'cause it's pretty and seasonal and I think it would add to any service this gray time of year. As soon as they heard "Jesu" they shut me down, saying it wouldn't be appropriate with their message of "Take your light out into the world." "All they'll hear is 'Jesu,'" said one of them.

Many of you will immediately grasp the irony of this exchange, but a few too many UUs will not. I think back to a fellow member of my congregation in Salt Lake City who asked me what seminary I was applying to — and then stepped away from me when I told her I'd be going to Harvard Divinity School: "But there are Christians there!," she said. And soon there would be one more, I thought. At the time, though, I was keeping my light under a bushel and kept my mouth shut.

Jess's reflection on this phenomenon led PeaceBang to post an inspired essay, "And I Am Convicted." Two paragraphs from her essay:

I had never once questioned his absence in my childhood church, but I now began to wonder: since Jesus’ radical inclusivity, love of humanity, and passion for justice was so harmonious with all the “good news” I was hearing in our congregations, why did our ministers and congregants so assiduously avoid the gospels? I found it comical on some Sundays, depressing other Sundays, and consistently baffling. I could not understand why UUs would allow the perversions of the religious right to define the word “Christian” (or “religious,” for that matter), why they would concede religious language to the conservatives, and why they would go out of their way to construct a religion intentionally bereft of theology, rendering themselves a quasi-religion and many of their churches temples of denial and hypocrisy, where every spiritual path but the Christian path was considered valid, and where all evidence of a Christian past was removed, revised, and painted over.

It took me over ten more years of committed Unitarian Universalist life to consider that perhaps my dear UUs were the most strangely faithful Christians of all: having either intuitively or consciously embraced Jesus’ gospel of love, service and justice, they could not stand to affiliate with any so-called faithful who claimed to have received their inspiration for discrimination, exclusion, superstition, and damnation from the same source. The well, for too many UUs, had been irrevocably poisoned, and they would thereafter drink of the living waters from another source. Any other source, it seemed, but the Christian well.

PeaceBang in turn inspired Fausto to offer his own very good Easter commentary, "Like a Thief in the Night." I think I'll save my thoughts on the resurrection for after Easter, but Fausto will give you plenty to chew on in the meantime. And, in a post and followup comments you won't want to miss, Chalicechick challenges PeaceBang and Fausto to explain what the Bible has to do with UUs. Jeff Wilson throws in some good stuff, too, though my own anachronistic perspective leans to Fausto's side.

With all this invigorating liberal Christian witnessing going on, however, Paul Wilczynski raises the question I'd like to address:

I keep noticing that most of the bloggers who identify as Unitarian Universalist characterize themselves as Christian Unitarian Universalists.

What's up with that? If UU Christians are so oppressed — as the old conventional wisdom in UU circles had it — why are there so many of 'em on the Internet? A few thoughts:

It's parochial: Although you might not be able to tell, several of the early UU adopters of Blogger and Movable Type — two of the major blogging software packages — actually know each other off-line. Could it be that UU Christians took to blogging early because it gave us a way to keep in touch with each other while having conversations we wanted the larger movement to be having? Boy in the Bands, Philocrites, Prophet Motive, PeaceBang, and Unity, for example, are written by real-life pals who like to hang out with each other. And now that a few of us have met the Amazing Fausto, we're not just a bunch of div school pals. (Only PeaceBang and I are Harvard Divinity alums. Fausto shames us all, though: He knows more UU history and theology than 93% of ministers.) Since we're a chatty bunch, we make UU Christianity seem more widespread than it is. When you add in the other UU blogs by Christians or Christian-friendly blogs, you get quite a long list.

It's really software-specific: As Eric Posa noted in an earlier series of comments about the theological tendencies in UU bloggers, users of LiveJournal tend much more toward the neopagan and free-thinker ends of the UU spectrum than the UU population as a whole, probably because the UUs in LiveJournal Land are much younger even than us young fogeys, and because LiveJournal is known for its embrace of alternative subcultures. HUUmanists, meanwhile, largely dominate a handful of UU e-mail lists — though I've seen hints of movement toward explicitly religious-humanist blogs. Could it be that UU Christians feel more comfortable in the more public blogging universe because we're more comfortable in relatively mainstream culture?

It's the holy spirit!: Okay, I'm kind of kidding here, but the UU Christian blogging phenomenon is part of a larger trend toward new forms of Christian witness within the UUA including the UUCF Revival conferences and growing interest among younger UUs.

It won't last: Unitarian Universalists with more typically UU theological perspectives are bound to adopt blogging, and I expect the UU Christian dominance to fade over time. I suspect we'll still contribute some of the best writing, but that's because I admire my friends a great deal. Given the quality of the theological conversation we've seen lately, I can't wait to see what might develop. Can't you just imagine a General Assembly panel discussion with Chalicechick (the humanist), Jeff Wilson (the Buddhist), and Fausto (the Socinian Christian)? Wow would that be fun!

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 19 March 2005 at 1:03 PM

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Jeff Wilson:

March 19, 2005 05:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree, that would be fun.

I started to write out a long comment in reply to this post. But, I already wrote one over-long comment on CC's blog today, I feel like I'm unduly cluttering other people's space. Therefore, I've made my own blog: Transient and Permanent. I'll put my more lengthy comments there in the future.


March 19, 2005 05:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff, I don't mind the long comments -- I think they make it easier in many ways for people to follow the conversation than having to skip from one blog to the next, which is why the string of comments you mentioned at CC's blog make such good reading. But it's great to have you blogging specifically about Unitarian Universalism! I'll add you to the Guide.

Jeff Wilson:

March 19, 2005 06:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris, that's something I thought about too, you're right that it can be harder to follow a conversation on multiple blogs. So, I envision that I'll many use Transient and Permanent to make long posts that I wouldn't want to clutter other blogs with, and continue to make shorter, more directly relevant posts to the threads of other blogs. Hopefully, that strategy will work out.

I've just added my second blog post, responding generally to what I've seen of the UU theology/UU Christianity issues that've been kicking around recently. It's a good example of something I wouldn't expect anyone to wade through in a comments section, but which is OK for an actual blog post.


March 19, 2005 11:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

There seem to be a bunch of us within driving distance of Boston. What about a meetup for liberal religious bloggers in New England? Not just UU's, but Anglicans like Nate Knows Nada


March 21, 2005 09:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

In the words of the immortal Rosemary Clooney, "Come on-a my house, a my house, I'm gonna give you EASTAH EGG!"
Which is my way of saying YAY to a Meetup!


March 21, 2005 09:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

I take up Rick Heller and PeaceBang's suggestion about a meetup. What a good idea!


March 22, 2005 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

I didn't realize that meeting the immortal Fausto was part of the deal! I can hardly wait!


March 22, 2005 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

I didn't realize that meeting the immortal Fausto was part of the deal! I can hardly wait!


March 23, 2005 10:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

You make me want to live in Boston. Well, I kinda want to anyway, only now I'm really jealous :)

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