Thursday, May 17, 2007
Uh oh, here come the Unitarians and Universalists!
The email list for the UUA General Assembly, which is usually buzzing with roommate requests and worries about the expense of attending, has taken an interesting turn towards basic questions of polity and religious identity. But not in a good way.
Last weekend, someone posted the transcript of the Anderson Cooper CNN segment on All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington. Surprisingly, the conversation on the list turned immediately not to criticism of the show's odd portrayal of the church as liberal Christian but to its portrayal of the church as Unitarian. Oh, yes: and also to the fact that it's a Unitarian church. Both words, you see, are not up to date. The UUA should make them (and the media) stop using these anachronistic terms.
We are not Unitarians, insisted most of the list participants; we are Unitarian Universalists. And it's insensitive beyond words for congregations to call themselves churches, because that's a Christian word.
Sigh. Here's what I wrote in response:
The consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America in 1961 did not force historically Unitarian or Universalist-identified congregations to adopt a new identity or shed their old one, nor did it rule out the possibility of people identifying with one branch rather than both. (Indeed, many members of our churches don't identify with either!) The merger did create a new, third option, however: "UU" — which many congregations and many individuals have embraced. Meanwhile, some member congregations have never had a "denominational" name at all, like the Society of King's Chapel or The Community Church of Boston.
Although some people see the UUA as "one faith," another equally valid interpretation is that the UUA is a community of autonomous congregations that have covenanted to work together. The first vision is denominational and unified; the second vision is congregational and diversified. Each is a legitimate view.
One can certainly try to persuade people that all Unitarians should be Unitarian Universalists, or that all Universalists really are UUs, or that no UU congregation can legitimately claim to be a "church," but our history and polity make it just as legitimate to argue that we are and should remain a theologically diverse movement.
None of this is to defend media errors when referring to the Unitarian-Universalist movement as a whole. But if a news story is about a local congregation where people tend overwhelmingly to talk about themselves and their congregation's tradition as "Unitarian" or (less often) "Universalist," the reporter should go with the facts they've got.
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 17 May 2007 at 8:21 AM