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Friday, September 28, 2007

News about UUA, Bay Area marketing campaigns.

Don Skinner reports extensively on the Unitarian Universalist Association's first national marketing campaign, which begins in Time magazine in October, and on the regional marketing campaign underway in the San Francisco Bay Area. There's a lot in his uuworld.org report — including an announcement that Bill Sinkford and Gini Courter (the UUA's president and moderator) are hosting an open conference call about helping congregations welcome guests more effectively. That toll-free call is next Thursday at noon; 877-844-6052. ("UUA launches national ad campaign in 'Time,'" Donald E. Skinner, uuworld.org 9.28.07)

Here's the 30-second TV spot the UUA and the Bay Area marketing team developed for broadcast during The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report:

Update 10.2.07: A 10-minute film, "Voices of a Liberal Faith," which the UUA developed as a tool to help congregations introduce Unitarian Universalism to newcomers, is now available for viewing online in the RealVideo and WindowsMedia formats. DVDs of the film have been sent to all UUA congregations. You can order additional copies and find out more about the film at UUA.org. (You'll also notice that the clips that ended up in the 30-second TV ad are from the shooting of this film.)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 28 September 2007 at 7:59 AM

Previous: Buddhist monks lead popular uprising in Burma.
Next: UU Council of Christian Churches meets October 21.

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22 comments:

Chalicechick:

September 28, 2007 03:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm not offended, just kinda underwhelmed.

More on my blog.

CC

Rev. Jack Ditch:

September 28, 2007 05:42 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm a little bit offended; seems to me the message is more "Who Needs God?" than "God Loves You." Or at least, it wasn't God that made me leave Roman Catholicism, it was God's followers.

But given that, it's actually kind of a relief that it's so underwhelming and, well, cheap-looking. Seems far more likely to be immediately forgotten, rather than storming onto the scene with a vision of Unitarian Universalism that makes me feel so unwelcome.

Derek:

September 28, 2007 09:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

I guess I find it underwhelming because its based on telling people what we are not. But doesn't say much about what we are for. Except perhaps a better world, and being welcoming. But who is truly against a better world, or wants to be unwelcoming? Even my most conservative and dogmatic Lutheran family members would say they are working for a better world, and that their church is welcoming. Where we differ is based on what we think would make the world better, and about what it means to be welcoming.

Steve Caldwell:

September 29, 2007 08:16 AM | Permalink for this comment

On the positive side, it does touch on our history of endorsing freedom of belief and being non-creedal without using religious insider jargon like "non-creedal" ("We don't teach people what to believe -- we teach them how to form their own beliefs").

Rev. Dan Harper provided a description of our theological boundaries on his blog:

Notes on our theological boundaries
http://www.danielharper.org/blog/?p=1031

The money quote from his blog is the following:

"I argue that we do have theological boundaries, as follows:

(1) We privilege the use of reason in religion, over such things as blind faith.

(2) Feminist theology is central to us, particularly second-wave feminism.

(3) Humano-centric theology is central to us.

(4) Anti-racist theologies, and GLBT-friendly theologies, currently represent weak boundaries, but they are growing in strength.

Based on these boundaries, I further argue that there are large numbers of persons who would feel theologically comfortable among us; however, there are other boundaries at work which may keep these people out."

Dan describes "Humano-centric theology" from William Jones' work using the following simplification:

"But UU humanist theologian William R. Jones described a humano-centric theology back in the early 1970’s that can unites UU humanists and theists. To oversimplify, Jones pointed out that humano-centric theists and humanists are united in their understanding that some father-figure God is not going to bail us out of all our troubles; therefore, said Jones, both humanists and humano-centric theists have to act as if we human beings are fully responsible for our own destiny. By contrast, theo-centric theists might tell us to “put our trust in God,” “God will save us from all our problems” — a theological stance that would not be particularly welcome, or would be less extreme and more nuanced, in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Humano-centric theology could be considered a central theology among us, but humanism cannot be so considered."

So -- if this description of our theological boundaries is an accurate description, how do we market this in a 30 second soundbite?

Jeff W.:

September 29, 2007 10:03 AM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, thanks for bringing in the major points from Dan's blog, you did a really good job of summarizing that material.

I've been thinking about this since Dan made his post, and I agree that they have implications for marketing UUism. I'm not sure if these really qualify as "theology." They strike me as being about how we practice as religious people, not about what we believe (which, for my purposes, is the stress I'm laying on the term theology for this discussion).

We use reason, and I suppose you could say "we believe people should use reason in religion," but that's not really strictly speaking a theological position. Likewise we believe in utilizing feminist modes of investigation and in valuing our female and male members equally, as well as valuing white and non-white persons, straight and queer folks, and trying to discern and eliminate instances of injustice toward anyone, especially those who have historically (and still today) been oppressed (really, these are just specific instances of a generalized social gospel position that seeks to remove instances of corporate sin). None of which makes us theologically distinct from many other liberal denominations (both Christian and otherwise) in North America.

The human-centered orientation is closer to a true theological position. And I happen to agree that this is a bedrock position for many, probably most UUs--that whether or not deities (of whatever number or nature) exist, humanity is the main focus of religion and also the main source of action in and for the world. But this is still mostly a sort of preference or orientation, which has theological implications but not actual theological content.

Dan didn't include classical Unitarian or Universalist theological positions, and wasn't too interested when I brought them up. It is intriguing to me that these aren't seen as boundaries anymore, or even as part of the discussion. They were conveyed to me as a UU child as being essential to who we were, but that doesn't seem to have been a universal experience (to say the least). Perhaps it is simply a generational thing: in the late 70s and 80s truly Unitarian and Universalist positions were still holding on, especially in the sort of historically Universalist New England church that I was raised in, but have by the 2000s been well and truly drowned by the rising tide of other concerns.

I actually think this ad spot is right on in describing honestly who we are. We don't hold to Unitarian or Universalist theology anymore. In fact, we have no true theology. Rather, we have ways of approaching religion generally (with reason, an open-mind, a tolerance of other ideas), a generalized sense of social justice commitment, and are mainly defined by what we aren't--we're not "them" with "their God." If you're not "them" and aren't into "their God" too, you might be happy over here in our church--don't let their God keep you from hanging out with us, we don't believe in him either. This seems like truth in advertising to me. Our ultimate theological boundary isn't organic, but reactionary--we're not them, i.e. the bad sort of Christians (or bad Muslims or Jews). That's not necessarily who any of us is as individuals, but as a movement, I think perhaps the Bay Area folks have got us pegged. If that's underwhelming or unsatisfying on some level, I don't think the blame can be placed on the folks who made this overall accurate commercial.

Check out the commercial ChaliceChick links to on her page for one alternate way of approaching this issue.

Chalicechick:

September 29, 2007 11:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

My guess, people don't pick a church because of theology. The people who are reading this might, but the portion of the population that doesn't read religon blogs is wired a little differently.

My guess is that people pick a church because of values and a commercial that focuses on our common values would be optimal.

CC

Steve Caldwell:

September 29, 2007 01:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 29 September 2007, Jeff W. said:
-snip-
""The human-centered orientation is closer to a true theological position. And I happen to agree that this is a bedrock position for many, probably most UUs--that whether or not deities (of whatever number or nature) exist, humanity is the main focus of religion and also the main source of action in and for the world. But this is still mostly a sort of preference or orientation, which has theological implications but not actual theological content."

So you're saying that the suggestion that we should not wait around for the "big guy in the sky" to rescue us and whether or not salvation happens is up our decisions as humans is not a theological statement?

Jeff W. also said:
-snip-
"We use reason, and I suppose you could say "we believe people should use reason in religion," but that's not really strictly speaking a theological position.

Since theology is "reasoned discourse about religion and spirituality" (according to Wikipedia), how is this not a theological position?

The emphasis on reason that we have in our faith tradition results in several outcomes.

We are not constrained by "received tradition" and this makes us a bit different.

To contrast us with another liberal religious tradition (Bahai), we are not constrained by the words of our prophets if reason and experience tell us differently. The Bahai founding prophets are incredibly forward-looking when it comes to race and gender issues for their time and for now -- but their views of homosexuality are fossilized and frozen in amber like the insects of Jurrasic Park reflecting views on sexual orientation that reflect the time and culture of the revelation.

This is going to be growing issue for a faith tradition that says there is no conflict between science and religion but doesn't respond to changing knowledge in the mental health sciences.

Other faith communities that use reason as part of foundation (e.g. the three-legged stool metaphor in Anglicanism and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral).

But the different here for Unitarian Universalism when compared these three examples is that we give considerably more weight to reason and experience and very little weight to tradition (including traditional interpretation of scriptures). To borrow a phrase from Buehrens' book on the Bible, we have a habit of reading scriptures "against the grain."

Steve Caldwell:

September 29, 2007 02:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 29 September 2007, Jeff W. wrote:
-snip-
"Dan didn't include classical Unitarian or Universalist theological positions, and wasn't too interested when I brought them up. It is intriguing to me that these aren't seen as boundaries anymore, or even as part of the discussion."

Jeff,

I've heard Rebecca Parker speak about our mostly-implicit theologies and how the theologies we have today (as described in Rebecca Parker's work and in Dan Harper's blog post) are grounded historically in classic Unitarian and Universalist theologies.

What we have today as Unitarian Universalists didn't just crystallize out of nothingness. I'll agree that it has changed considerably from the classic Unitarian and Universalist theologies from which it came. But it did evolve out of those earlier traditions.

I would ask what do the traditional theologies tell us about who we are today and do they still influence where we might become in the future.

For example, the idea that no one is going to Hell eternally after death was an important idea when popularized by Murray and others. Once eternal damnation is removed as a threat, one can freely explore all theological possibilities. So it's important in that it opened the door for future theological freedom.

But I don't see too many folks debating the Hell as imagined by Murray today. While I do know of people in my town who do worry about hellfire and damnation after death, I've never heard it spoken as a concern in UU churches. My sense from working with youth is they are often puzzled by the need for classmates to say that UUs are going to Hell. They don't believe that this myth is a real threat in the way that their classmates believe it.

Jeff W.:

September 29, 2007 03:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, for my purposes I was using a definition of theology that is closer to the traditional use by religious practitioners, rather than that used by scholars of religion--I tried to indicate that in my remarks. Wikipedia is using a religious studies definition, one I obviously affirm in other situations seeing as how I'm a professor of religious studies. I don't think that the human-centered orientation qualifies as theology in the classical sense, or, at best, it does so only weakly. I did indicate that I thought it approached theology more than the other things on Dan's list.

Your remarks on Bahai are interesting--I have only a basic understanding of them and my studies haven't even led me to direct interaction. I tend to chat them up at street festivals and such but have never been to a Bahai house of worship.

If I was feeling snarky, I'd respond to Buehren's comment by saying that our real tradition is not to read the scriptures, against the grain or otherwise. Or, at least not the Christian scriptures (certain segments of the ministry excepted).

I wonder if Parker's statement isn't too strong. I don't think our modern implicit theologies are grounded in our classical doctrines. I do agree that they partially evolved from those positions, but at least the way I'm thinking of it "grounded" is much too strong a verb. I don't think they're "grounded" in them at all; maybe "derived at several stages of remove" would be a more accurate, though awkward, way of putting it.

You don't have to go back to Murray to reach people finding value in the no-hell position--this was active in my Universalist church during my childhood and I guess is still somewhat active (certainly it persists among my parents and their church peers, our DRE, and among my peers who remain in the church, such as the young man we just ordained). But that's a bit of a red herring anyway, because it's never been about no-hell, but about universal salvation. That carries with it a very particular conception of God and of humanity's responsibilities toward one another, a vision that many felt had great beauty and moral power.

Once upon a time we did explicit theology, in the classical and religious studies senses. Now it seems we only do implicit theology and pretty much only in the religious studies sense. Because we have no explicit theology we can't make good 30 second marketing ads. We are mainly "not them," rather than being truly "us." I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that this is a historical shift and adds a layer of challenge to efforts like the Bay Area UUs, who I think should be commended for trying.

Steve Caldwell:

September 30, 2007 01:21 AM | Permalink for this comment

On 29 September 2007, Jeff W. wrote:
-snip-
"Once upon a time we did explicit theology, in the classical and religious studies senses. Now it seems we only do implicit theology and pretty much only in the religious studies sense. Because we have no explicit theology we can't make good 30 second marketing ads. We are mainly "not them," rather than being truly "us." I'm not saying that's good or bad, just that this is a historical shift and adds a layer of challenge to efforts like the Bay Area UUs, who I think should be commended for trying."


Jeff,

At our congregation's board and council retreat, one of the goals that the board and program council came up with was "sharpening the profile and identity of All Souls as a religious alternative" -- basically a fancy way of saying better articulation of who we are religiously and better marketing of us in our community.

Rather than defining us by what we are not, I suggested using the short and simple theology of salvation in modern-day Unitarian Universalism that I heard in a talk by Rebecca Parker in 2002 -- I suggested that we say we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

When I heard this in 2002, a light bulb went off over my head -- it explained why we offer sexuality education in our congregations. It explained why we offered YRUU as part of our youth ministry (I've heard enough youth during worship at district YRUU events say how YRUU saved their life).

Several board members and the minister didn't like using the word "salvation" to describe what we do because it's a loaded word for many folks with Southern Baptist and conservative Protestant Bible-Belt backgrounds.

The objection wasn't with the statement describing salvation -- it was with using the word "salvation" to describe what we do.

This all comes back to finding a positive statement of who we are that most of us would agree with. Until we can find that, we're stuck with saying what we are not.

Rev. Jack Ditch:

September 30, 2007 01:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Rather than defining us by what we are not, I suggested using the short and simple theology of salvation in modern-day Unitarian Universalism that I heard in a talk by Rebecca Parker in 2002 -- I suggested that we say we offer salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole.

The thing is, I think most people realize that this simply not possible for any human institution to achieve; most suffering comes down to irreconcilable conflict, "Us vs. Them," and when it inevitably does so, most everbody (UUs included) chooses "Us."

The churches that make the most convincing (as in, convinces the most people) case for offering salvation are the ones who argue we must submit to the rule of God (read: the rule of the denominational authorities) to make it work. In other words, "Us" becomes defined as the Authority and those who submit to it. From there, denominations argue amongst themselves about who gets to make the rules--who gets to be the real authority. We can play that game if we want, as Unitarian Universalists, but I suggest our emphasis on freedom will get in the way, and we will drift more towards only being able to "save" an increasingly small subset of people we think we can live with--in the case of this marketing campaign, that'd be people who find God threatening.

I don't think that's the only way, though. The myths of many of the world's great religions all point to what seems to me like simple observational reality: salvation from that which causes suffering requires self-sacrifice, forgiveness and endurance of suffering. Whether we're talking about Jesus on his cross or the bodhisattva sacrificing the complete Self-Absence of nirvana in order to remain in this world of suffering to help others, the message is that we have to suffer to make the world a better place. We can claim to offer salvation without voluntarily suffering, but when we're only able to "save" a select few who are like ourselves, our hypocricy (so similar to the churches we pride ourselves on NOT being) will become readily apparant to all those we have failed.

Steve Caldwell:

September 30, 2007 05:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 30 September 2007, Rev. Jack Ditch wrote:
-snip-
"We can claim to offer salvation without voluntarily suffering, but when we're only able to "save" a select few who are like ourselves, our hypocricy (so similar to the churches we pride ourselves on NOT being) will become readily apparant to all those we have failed."

Jack,

I have to respectfully disagree here -- the type of UU salvation that I'm most familiar with is our lifespan sexuality education programs.

We know from the experiences our Western European neighbors that the salvation that we offer through the Our Whole Lives program can be provided through both churches and secular groups with lower STD rates, lower teen pregnanacy rates, lower teen abortion rates, and fewer problems with anti-gay bigotry (based on what I've seen in the documentaries produced by Advocates for Youth, a secular partner involved with the development of OWL).

Much of what we offer in our congregations can be given to the wider world as part of our ministry -- a salvation through human agency.

Besides, voluntary suffering (or "practice bleeding" as we referred to it in the military) is highly overrated.

fausto:

September 30, 2007 09:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think I know what you're trying to say, Steve, but still, just about anyone outside of UUism, and even quite a few within it, would find preposterous any claim that a religion could offer salvation through sexuality education.

Sexuality education is certainly a very constructive service that we (and the UCC, and other denominations with similar programs) provide, but as a religious community we certainly do not confess or affirm it as the means of our salvation. We should try to be careful in public forums like this one to present a serious, credible face to the larger world, because the larger world forms its impressions of us by the things we say.

(Of course, the Hindu Kama Sutra is a venerable religious text on sexuality education that is older than the canon of the New Testament, but even it only claims to offer satisfaction and fulfillment, not "salvation". Nor do we grant "Our Whole Lives", justly proud of it as we may be, anything close to the authority of Scripture.)

Rev. Jack Ditch:

September 30, 2007 10:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Yeah, I'm with Steve--helpful advice is a good thing, but it's not exactly "salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole." It's at best good advice for people similar to yourself on how to maximize the cost-benefit function of sexual activity, but it does little to alleviate the kinds of suffering most people experience when they think, "I need saving!"

It makes me think how lucky most UUs are, that they don't find themselves thinking such a thing very often. But for those who have little money, power, skill or luck, it's the reason why they show up to church in the first place, and blessed are those who make sacrifices to help them.

Besides, voluntary suffering (or "practice bleeding" as we referred to it in the military) is highly overrated.

I'm sure the people benefiting from such benevolent suffering disagree. I could point to the great icons of holy suffering--Mother Theresa suffering to help the poor, Daniel Berrigan suffering to protest war, Martin Luther King Jr getting shot, Gandhi fasting in protest, or many a soldier who has stood in harm's way to protect his family or liberate others. But it need not be so iconic--I'm also thinking of the suffering of my father, who has worked his butt off his entire life to make a good life for his children. I wouldn't so flippantly dismiss suffering that does so much good for this world.

Steve Caldwell:

September 30, 2007 10:12 PM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto,

Our denominational social justice work is related to the late 19th and early 20th century Protestant "Social Gospel" movement.

Through human agency, we have the power to make this world more like heaven or more like hell.

Our sexuality education is one small example of this (one that I've done a lot of work on). Other examples include Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (I've heard countless UU youth share during worship about how YRUU saved their lives).

I would suggest that this type of salvation described by Dr. Parker is also a potential outcome of antiracism and other antioppression work. Oppression in the world is something that wounds everyone to some degree and makes our lives less whole. And antioppression work could be salvation in that it case save us from this.

Steve Caldwell:

September 30, 2007 11:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 30 September 2007, Rev. Jack Ditch wrote:
-snip-
"Mother Theresa suffering to help the poor"

Actually, there is some discussion about the disconnect between Mother Theresa's reputation vs what she actually did to help the poor. I've read that a few journalists (including Hitchens) have reported on this.

I know there are times when sacrifice and suffering are necessary in order to prevent greater suffering (having served 20+ years in the military).

However, a world where suffering is reduced is preferrable. Through intellect, reason, and love, we can discover ways to reduce suffering.

fausto:

October 1, 2007 06:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'm not saying that we shouldn't do sexuality education, or that it's ineffective. I'm only saying is that a word as loaded with larger meaning as "salvation" is not an appropriate term to describe the useful but comparatively banal things we do in our sexuality education work.

Or our AR/AO work -- which I do say is largely ineffective. And theologically invalid, too. To the extent that it involves "salvation" (and I deny that it deals with anything so grand), it rests on a false soteriology of victimization and resentment that, IMHO, directly contradicts our First Principle. It denies the inherent worth and dignity of whole classes of suspect oppressors, and thus is no less systematically bigoted than bigotry it seeks to correct. Other churches that fight racial and social injustice because of the lingering effects of the Social Gospel consider such efforts to be the fruits of salvation, not the means. Once your heart is turned (which is the point of salvation), you do God's work because the Holy Spirit is lodged in your breast.

In classical Unitarian parlance, by working to improve society we are saving ourselves, and nurturing the social conditions that make it increasingly possible for others to do the same, but only they can experience the inner turning that saves them. We do not do it for them.

Rev. Jack Ditch:

October 1, 2007 11:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Actually, there is some discussion about the disconnect between Mother Theresa's reputation vs what she actually did to help the poor. I've read that a few journalists (including Hitchens) have reported on this.

Oh noes! She wasn't perfect!

However, a world where suffering is reduced is preferrable.

Reduced for whom, though? That's why I started talking about "Us vs. Them" as soon as this was brought up. You're preaching salvation from suffering to people who have the power and skill to avoid most suffering in this life, but that constitutes very few people at all. And when it comes down to a choice between "saving ourselves" and saving someone else, UUs seem to fairly consistently teach that "self-care" is the preferred route. No surprise, then, that so many other churches and people (including many liberal ones) find us suspect. When we look towards and praise holy women and men, it's because they have sacrificed to put others before themselves.

uuwonk:

October 1, 2007 05:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

Who is this "them" that we are not? I have lots of friends who attend very liberal Episcopalian, UCC etc. churches. Their churches are welcoming and support stong social justice programs. While it is true that not all Episcopalians are liberal, liberal Episcopalians greatly outnumber all UUs. On some issues UUs talk a lot about, including national influence and ethnic diversity, they are doing a lot better than we are, although not as well as they would like. They also have some really nice buildings.

As far as I can make out, the major difference is theology, something most UUs I know don't care about much.

So I don't see much point in advertising us as the "not Episcopalians". Of course if "them" means Southern Baptists, the differences are larger. But then lots of liberal mainlines and New Age churches qualify at "not them".

For me, and I think for most people in my area, the primary alternative to UUism is simply not going to church. So a positive message, like the Methodist ad ChaliceChick describes, seems more promising.

Anonymous:

October 18, 2007 06:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

It took me a while, but I finally came up with a campaign slogan that I like.

Grounded in the Spirit...Acting in the World...
the Unitarian Universalist Association

I've written some more about it at my blog.

Philocrites:

October 26, 2007 03:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

The second Time magazine ad appeared today (in the November 5 edition). It announces the launch of a UUA-sponsored Time religion archive called The Religion Pages, which features links to Time articles about religion alongside links to UUA promotional content.

The UUA ads appear in the print edition on the spread with Time's article about Dumbledore's coming out.

Philocrites:

November 5, 2007 11:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Religion News Service reports on the UUA's marketing initiative. Here's the syndicated article as it appeared in the Dallas Morning News: "Unitarians embark on outreach," Shona Crabtree [RNS], Dallas Morning News 11.3.07 (via BitB).



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