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Thursday, December 22, 2005

A religion still seeking definition.

Scott Wells noticed that the Commission on Appraisal's report on Unitarian Universalist theological diversity is finally available as a free pdf. New readers of the report will also be interested in Rosemary Bray McNatt's review in the winter issue of UU World. Grateful for many of the Commission's observations, she is nevertheless disappointed with its

vague recommendation that the Association “mobilize a denomination-wide effort . . . to develop and articulate a deeper understanding of who Unitarian Universalists are as a religious people and what shared commitments the UU faith calls us to affirm as well as what challenges we face.” If not the Commission on Appraisal, which denominational body will take up this task?

That is a question for those of you with votes in the General Assembly. ("Do UUs have theological common ground?" Rosemary Bray McNatt, 11.1.05)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 22 December 2005 at 8:42 AM

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Bill Baar:

December 22, 2005 09:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

My wife completed a form for us at church about what was important to us in our Church's search for an Associate Minister. She told me UUA and denominational affairs ranked last in importance to us (I didn't dissent although I do read the blogs).

I'll have to ask around but I don't think her response atypical.

I have to read the pdf but this sounds like a commission tasked to herding cats when it's not all that important to herd them together anyways, and the real task may be instead breeding some interesting varieties to bring a little joy, comfort, and clarity in our lives.


December 22, 2005 03:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree with Bill. (that's new!)

But, when I was a kid in the Unitarian Church (before the merger....), on our order of service every week it said, "We unite in the free quest of the high values of religion and life."
I think that says it all.

Dan Harper:

December 22, 2005 10:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

From the quote above:

"If not the Commission on Appraisal, which denominational body will take up this task?"

Yes but... why a denominational body at all? Up to the early 20th C., the most interesting theology came from ministers: Hosea Ballou, Wm. Ellery Channing, John Dietrich. Since then it's been mostly scholars: James Luther Adams, Henry Nelson Wieman, Sharon Welch. Maybe what the denomination should do is pay more attention to supporting theological study by ministers and scholars. Maybe instead of funding expensive Commissions of Appraisal and the like, that money could go towards scholarships for religious liberals doing advanced study in theology (both D.Min.s and Ph.D.s, i.e., both professional and academic degrees).

Final thought: I've never heard of a committee coming up with decent theology. At least not in our tradition....


December 23, 2005 01:17 AM | Permalink for this comment


You're right on the money. What we need are some good "public theologians." Money should definitely be invested there, as the academy hasn't provided with any on its own in quite a few years. We need folks who can bridge that gap between the academy and the pews and speak convincingly to both groups.


December 23, 2005 01:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

and how about doing it on the radio?


December 23, 2005 07:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here in Boston, Earl Holt (minister of Kings Chapel) has a weekly radio spot.

To be perfectly blunt, though, I'm not confident that the well of theological talent is particularly wide and deep among our present body of clergy, wonderful people and compassionate pastors though they may be. The number of media markets that could both support a weekly liberal theology radio show and find the talent locally to host one may not be very large.

Which gets right back to the proposal that 25 Beacon should support more advanced study for our clergy. I think it's an excellent suggestion, and right on target. The only reason to have good academic theologians is to be able to preach good theology from the pulpit. If we can't consistently preach good theology from all our pulpits, what point is there to either our theology or our pulpits? We won't be able to engage the hearts and minds of very many people, radio or no radio.

I don't have a problem with the C of A making their points but stoping where they stopped. Their charge was to identify and analyze issues facing us, which they did. They're not the Army Corps of Engineers, with a mission to fix what's broken and build new structures to support us as they see fit. That conversations like this one are now occurring is evidence that they did their job properly.

Bill Baar:

December 23, 2005 09:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

I agree. You're exactly right.

Bill Baar:

December 24, 2005 02:41 PM | Permalink for this comment


I was at the Xmas show at the local mega-church. They had no pulpit.

The Theology and preaching a bit thin too, but a huge crowd of people attracted there; in part I think because there was not pulpit.

Liberal theology might do best if it Freed it self, for a moment at least, from the Pulpit and Theology.

Our covenent in Geneva refers to neither. When our founders wrote these in the 1840's maybe they didn't consider Plupit or Theology all that fundamental to what they were about,

Being desirous of promoting practical goodness in the world, and aiding each other in our moral and religious improvement, we have associated ourselves together: not as agreeing in opinion, not as having attained universal truth in belief or perfection in character, but as seekers after Truth & Goodness.

Theology a tool for the search maybe? And the Pulpit sometimes an absolute obstacle? And at times we should consider forsaking both for a while at least to help our search?


December 26, 2005 10:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

As a member of our present body of clergy, I stand accused by Fausto of having theological talent that "is neither wide nor deep." What an unfair, unkind generalization. My theological talent, and that of many of my colleagues, is as wide and deep as it ever was among Unitarians or Universalists during any of our shining former centuries. What isn't "wide and deep" is my bank account. Having gone $60K into debt to obtain an M.Div., I need to WORK, not pursue a Th.D., as I'd like.
This holds true for every other UU divine of my acquaintance, many of whom would love nothing more than to be serious scholars and writers of theology, but whose financial reality demands that we, poor slobs, get up in the morning and put in a 12-hour day to chip away at crippling graduate school debt.
If our laymen and women want public theologians, I suggest they set up Debt Reduction Funds for their ministers and set about making it possible for that debt to be retired. The UUA isn't going to do this, and shouldn't be expected to. Active Unitarian Universalists IN OUR CONGREGATIONS should do it, and give their ministers the support they need to pursue doctoral studies.

Bill Baar:

December 26, 2005 02:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Scott Wells picks up the pay thread today too.

I'm not sure higher education the solution here. It might just deepen the insularity of some of the Church's leadership's thinking.

I think the money UUA spent on Times Square could be better in some politically and theological conservative journals. I'm think First Things, or The Weekly Standard and saying something to the effect if you can agree to a convenant like this (I use my Churches, I like it better than UUA's version)

Being desirous of promoting practical goodness in the world, and aiding each other in our moral and religious improvement, we have associated ourselves together: not as agreeing in opinion, not as having attained universal truth in belief or perfection in character, but as seekers after Truth & Goodness. then you might want to visit our Church becuase you can find a home there.

The best thing for the Church is more open debate and exchange of ideas.

Using that $60k to sponser a conference to have some leading UUs discuss the faith and some tough questions about it and podcast it, and invite c-span, and have bloggers live blog it would have attracted more people to our Churches and sharpened the thinking more than having a commission or a sign in Times square.


December 26, 2005 02:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh dear. I didn't mean you personally, PeaceBang. In fact, I would exclude you and nearly all of the other UU clergy I have encountered in the blogosphere from my generalization, which like all generalizations is necessarily broad.

(And I note further that you are indeed taking additional training to cultivate your obvious talent, anyway.)

But I do think it can validly be said in general terms that preaching a vigorous, internally consistent and defensible theology is not a primary strength of a significant proportion of UU clergy. Naming no names, I have heard some amazingly vapid theology emanating from UU pulpits at times, and it would surprise me if there is anyone here who has not. I think it can also validly be said that, compared to other denominations where a standard "orthodox" theology can be more or less taken for granted and individual theological depth is therefore not especially needed on the part of each pastor, our heterodox tradition is one where a lack of theological depth and talent makes for a unique weakness in the pulpit.

I do think this is a flaw in where the denomination places its resources and emphasis, as well as in the general standards it sets for its clergy. I did not mean to criticize any particular clergyperson, and especially not any of the ones who tend to hang out around here.


December 26, 2005 03:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

Again, Fausto, I must cheerfully toss the gauntlet back to your side of the room.

First of all, how many UUs are willing, ready and able to HEAR theologically complex sermons? How many UU ministers have been insulted and punished for preaching such? Many, I can tell you. Read the letters to the editor of the WORLD for evidence that traditional theological concerns and conversations will inevitably earn a thorough drubbing by a good number of our co-religionists. UUs have a particularly challenging task in the articulation of theological concepts because our members mostly insist on a complete revision or recasting of theological language.

How much chronological time do you think the average minister is allowed for the composition of a sermon, anyway? This minister has ostensibly been generously granted an entire business day for preparing the worship service, but that day is inevitably interrupted by phone calls, meetings and other exigencies of parish life. A good, unfluffy sermon takes anywhere from 5-10 hours to compose, not including research and thinking time.

When are ministers supposed to do all of the reading and study required to develop a deep theological understanding? Our study leaves are too often not taken with the wholehearted support of our laity, but guiltily claimed at about 50% of what our Letters of Agreement actually allot. They are often interrupted and challenged by hostile laypeople who want to know exactly what we were/are doing with our time, RIGHT NOW, for their report to the board (and don't we owe them a day, according to the contract?). It takes only one or two such critics in a congregation to scare a pastor well away from his or her study leave and back to work (because by minister's "work," of course we couldn't mean just doing theology!). Every layman or woman who supports his pastor as a theologian must not allow these critics to bully their minister away from that task.

In an effort to infect our laypeople with a passion for theology, UU ministers offer Adult Religious Education courses or sessions on theological topics which are attended only by the retired, if at all. Therefore, precious few of our busy laymen and women have even a passing acquaintance with theological concepts and do not think of "doing theology" as a priority for their clergyperson. Such a priority has never appeared on any clergy reviews I have ever seen in the past ten years, whereas pastoral care, counseling, preaching and worship arts, community organizing, social justice work, and work with youth religious education are always identified as priorities. Our skills as preachers and theologians are expected to come from our theological education, *no matter how long ago we received that education.*

When we dare sneak off to a collegial gathering to share papers on theological topics, listen to the snide comments from the critics in the congregations, "oh, he's off at another ministers' cocktail party" (an exact quote from a former congregation). The papers that get delivered at study groups are often researched and written in the wee hours of dawn, apologetically crammed and sandwiched in between all other duties. Try telling any church leader that you can't be at this or that event or meeting because you're writing a paper on a theolgoical topic for a conference, and see how supportive they are. I'll say it again: UNTIL laypeople decide amongst themselves to support theological studies, it's not going to happen. We work for you. You are our employers. If "public theologian" is not in our job description, we do not feel supported in pursuing that avenue of expertise, except surreptitiously.

I challenge you, Fausto, to work full time, attend to your family and health, and craft JUST THE OUTLINE for a meaningful worship service including a 15-20 minute sermon featuring "internally consistent and defensible theology" that will actually minister to the people in your pews(and that last caveat is an important one, since no one wants a dry theological lecture in lieu of a sermon).
I challenge you to do it 32 times in one year (for fairness' sake, you should be able to produce 20 pretty good ones, and 10 or so okay, or passable, ones), and see what you come up with. If anyone can do it, you can. I'm asking for an outline, not the 12-16 page manuscript that working ministers generally produce.
If you are unable to produce outlines that satisfy your own expectations for meaningful, deep theology (and remember, if you're over-committed, depressed, uninspired, are nauseous from chemo treatments, have Thanksgiving dinner to cook, have had a family crisis, thrown out your back, wrecked the car, are going through a divorce, raising a grandchild, had a series of personally miserable interactions that week, or have had two funerals to prepare for two beloved parishioners --whose deaths you know you'll not be able to mourn for 8 months-- your outline is still due by Sunday morning), don't cast stones of vapidity. I am guessing that even you, with your love of theology and your expansive knowledge, would come up with at least a half-dozen sermons whose titles might be something like, "Spiritual Lessons Learned While Walking In the Meadow: Or, Have You Ever Really Looked At Your Hand?"


December 26, 2005 03:57 PM | Permalink for this comment

I think what Fausto is pointing to is what Unitarian Universalists get by having dispensed with the ballast of tradition. From a sociological perspective it hardly matters what the tradition consists of -- but when our rhetoric of liberation from tradition finally caught up with Unitarian Universalism and effectively banished our capacity to do anything simply because it's what we Unitarian Universalists do, well, the result was that each minister and individual UU was left to make it up for herself. And now we invoke our "living tradition" nostalgically or, worse, ignorantly.

From my perspective, the dilemma of contemporary liberal religion is that our pervasive suspicion of the authority of tradition -- combined with the high-brow "hermeneutic of suspicion" that our intellectual caste learns to apply to everything -- leaves us with very little to simultaneously love and think about critically. ("Too much krites, not enough phileia," a philocritic might say.)

If I could mix and match something PeaceBang said with something Bill Baar said, I'd come up with this proposal: We don't so much need more scholarship -- although of course we do need that -- as we need to build a new audience and community of writers for more serious liberal religious writing.

And this is where Bill's crazy notion of advertising Unitarian Universalism to the conservative intellectual audiences of First Things and The Weekly Standard isn't quite so ill-advised as it seems. Sure, advertising to First Things's audience is about the most poorly matched product-to-audience concept I can imagine, but hear me out:

Both magazines came into existence as part of a coordinated attempt to cultivate a new generation of conservative thinkers and conservative ideas. Foundations and wealthy individuals poured millions of dollars into them (and into similar publications across the conservative spectrum) -- and the investment has paid off spectacularly. Smart editors have encouraged smart writers, generated a self-aware audience (and market) for their ideas, and developed a mechanism for introducing conservative ideas into all strata of American thought.

One lesson for religious liberals goes like this: One of the reasons religious liberalism is failing as a popular approach is that there is not a network of mutually reinforcing institutions and media to popularize it. Academic journals don't help the situation unless there is a next tier of periodicals and a network of readers to discuss those ideas and share them. Unfortunately, academic liberal theology today is almost invisible even to UU ministers -- how would they keep up with it? -- and is certainly invisible to the mass of eager or would-be religious liberals. There are very few popularizers of this material -- and the few who have succeeded are usually addressing Christians (the Jesus Seminar coterie, for example).

I am all too aware that a quarterly denominational magazine can't fill this vacuum by itself; I regret how little conversation UU World seems to generate among ministers and UU intellectuals, even when material in the magazine directly addresses them (as the Bookshelf essay often does).

Blogs have stepped somewhat into this breach for Unitarian Universalists, although blogging has not yet replaced other media. What blogging can do is help to generate and cultivate an audience for intellectual writing and, given the right intellectual ecosystem, can launch bloggers into other forums. (Modest good news on this score: Two UU publications have recently improved or launched a web presence: The academic but non-scholarly Journal of Liberal Religion has been redesigned and improved and the contrarian UU Voice, now edited by Mike Durall, is finally online. I'm very pleased with both developments.)

What religious liberalism needs is an expanded network of discussion. Blogs are a start -- which is I started blogging four years ago this week. The world would be a greatly improved place if there were more intellectually serious (and wonderfully engaging) forums for liberal religious writing. Then those of us who aren't destined to be scholars -- and who aren't members of the handful of UU ministers' study groups -- will have plenty of food for thought without having to look for dietary supplements in the Newmanesque First Things or the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

Bill Baar:

December 26, 2005 04:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Somewhere in Philocrates you'll find a post on the intelligence and education of Political Liberals and if I recall, UUs too. It's high.

So when I see this statement: ...willing, ready and able to HEAR theologically complex sermons? let me suggest the problem is expecting the audience to LISTEN.

Chris says conservative foundations funded smart editors and smart writers. It's true. They're smart and a pleasure to listen too and read. They're also smart enough to understand they're reading and writing for smart people. And passionate enough about what they believe to welcome and respect those on the path to learn.

I blogged on Lifson's article in The Thinker on Liberal Bubbles. Read his article because I fear UUs have surrounded the Liberal and Free Church tradition in a bubble of a particularly scloretic variant of politcal liberalism and it's cast of Iron and not letting our thinkers break through to the audience they fear will not HEAR them.

When that happens, our thinkers will only talk to themselves, and the thinking goes down hill fast.


December 26, 2005 05:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

Part of what I'm suggesting is that religious liberalism might benefit from detaching some of our expectations from congregational, academic, and denominational institutions. Expecting our churches -- most of which are small and have one staff person, a minister -- to sustain the intellectual life of Unitarian Universalism is asking too much, as PeaceBang has explained. Expecting two tiny, struggling seminaries to do this work is absurd, if only because most UU ministers don't attend Starr King or Meadville Lombard. And expecting denominational staff or volunteer committees to do it is truly silly.

What's needed, I think, is for passionate laypeople to find out what it would take to organize, fund, and promote independent institutions dedicated to enhancing the intellectual life of religious liberalism. Some people might want to narrow the focus to Unitarian Universalism, and maybe it wouldn't matter at first. But the point would be to develop a system that would help interested and eager laypeople, students, ministers, and denominational activists find each other and engage with each other -- hopefully crossing denominational boundaries and attracting theological liberals from a variety of traditions.

Build an audience, build expectations. Build expectations, and perhaps there will be enough demand within individual congregations to generate support for ministers who invest time and energy in writing essays and books, organizing innovative initiatives, and contributing to denominational and interdenominational life.

But I think PeaceBang is right to say that unless there's demand for this sort of writing and expression from powerful constituencies of laypeople -- which is to say, from vocal people who are willing to put cash on the line -- ministers simply can't carve out the time to lead an intellectual renaissance.

Bill Baar:

December 26, 2005 06:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Were in a lot of a agreement here Chris, especially on detaching from the institutions you cited. But the notion one holds off stating the message until the demand materializes that can finance the message is perplexing indeed.

We have a proud tradition. We have an example which I think can serve the world well for reconciling faith with modernity. We should reach out to a wider audience than political liberals in America.

If we wait for rich people to finance us, forget it.. we need to rexamine ourselves then. Political Concervatives never had that doubt.


December 26, 2005 07:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

No, Bill, I'm not saying anyone should hold off on speaking out until an institution is in place. After all, I dived right into blogging when I could only find two other UUs doing it at all -- and for the first year that I was writing, I probably had a readership of ten. I didn't wait for an audience.

And I've been critical of the political hegemony in the UUA, even though I don't agree with the neoconservative or libertarian critics of UU political thinking, either. I agree that religious liberalism is not being adequately broadcast.

But expanding the reach of religious liberalism cannot happen willy-nilly. It requires coordinated effort, funding, and strategy. This isn't the sort of project that happens on the fly. Absolutely none of the achievements on the political right have happened in the past 30 years without extraordinary commitments of capital and thought -- and religious liberals would be fools not to think in terms of funding new and independent institutions focused on extending their worldview.

It was a very small circle of committed conservatives who launched the conservative revolution. I agree that they were self-assured and cocky as hell. But they immediately went in search of funding -- and they got it. I don't believe for a minute that religious liberals, especially given the current cultural situation, couldn't tap significant generosity to help shift the public conversation. The question is, who will develop the proposals and cultivate the talent to pull it off?

Bill Baar:

December 26, 2005 09:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

Don't know Chirs, but I think you have a better plan then the commission idea that started this post.

Maybe it will grow from here.

Dudley Jones:

December 26, 2005 09:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

I have just downloaded the COA pdf and it looks like they are directly talking about some of the issues that have concerned me for many years. Now I should go back and actually read the whole thing. Sometimes I feel like I fell out of a time travel machine from the middle of the nineteenth century into the twenty-first. Keeping up culturally has never been easy. Best wishes to PeaceBang - I would like to encourage PeaceBang and all the other UU clergy out there - whatever problems may exist, you have selected a worthy path to take for your life - UU clergy have done much good in helping real people navigate the complexities of life.


December 27, 2005 11:11 AM | Permalink for this comment

PeaceBang follows up at her site.


December 27, 2005 12:02 PM | Permalink for this comment

PB, I don't think there's any necessary contradiction between what you're saying and what I'm saying. Rather, Dan Harper asked a macro question, to which I was trying to give a macro answer, but you are responding to my answer on a micro level.

Yes, pastoring is difficult (I for one would be lousy at it, notwithstanding my mother's oft-voiced opinion) and nobody is going to be "on" all the time. Yes, many or most UU congregations don't especially value theology (which is in itself another topic, and perhaps an even direr long-term problem).

But also yes, valid preaching, even when it isn't overtly force-feeding theology to the disinterested, still needs to be based in some kind of valid theological orientation, or in a juxtaposition of such orientations. That is even more necessary in a heterodox tradition like ours than in an orthodox one where a common theological orientation is already widely accepted and understood -- whether between the clergy and laity, or from one congregation to the next.

It's not enough for us theological dissenters to be able to articulate what we deny (which we indeed do very well); to speak truth confidently in our own voices we also need to be able to articulate what we suppose. (No, the 7 P's don't do that. They are the result of theology in application, points of common agreement drawn from our diverse foundational theological perspectives, but not a statement of any one foundational perspective in its own right.)

What I question is not the particular orientation or talent or consistency of preaching excellence of any individual minister, but whether all UU clergy are equally conscious of the necessity of being grounded in valid theology, or equally capable of articulating an underlying theological foundation or foundations when circumstances require. Clearly some excel at it. However, among too many UU laypeople, and I suspect more than a few ministers as well, what passes for theology is not much more than a random jumble of personal, antinomian "aha" insights. At its worst, mistaking such personal musings for real theological grounding can prevent us from ever attaining greater spiritual depth than the mythological Narcissus, staring at his own reflection in the pool. It is the job of the clergy to offer something more substantive. It is the job of the denomination to give the clergy the tools they need in this task.

Don't get me wrong: we have many fine, well-trained, theologically grounded pastors among our clergy. I wasn't trying to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, I think Dan is right to identify a need for an even greater theological fluency among our clergy, and a need for greater institutional support for theological training, so that what is taught in the seminaries cans also become more familiar to the laity. And you are right to identify financial supprt as an important element of the overall need.


December 27, 2005 12:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I wrote my last post before I realized that PeaceBang had also taken up this issue on her own blog.

I wrote above,

What I question is not the particular orientation or talent or consistency of preaching excellence of any individual minister, but whether all UU clergy are equally conscious of the necessity of being grounded in valid theology, or equally capable of articulating an underlying theological foundation or foundations when circumstances require.

On her blog, PB argues that most or all UU clergy are in fact quite theologically sophisticated, and if anything they are intimidated from sharing all they know due to fear of provoking hostility or reprisal from their flock. She appears to be saying that this is true not only of those UU clergy who might seem to me theologically weak, but even of those like herself who seem to me especially strongly grounded.

If she's right in this, then the problem would not only be in my own misperception as she charges, but also in the intimidation and self-censorship which the laity demands of the pastorate. Is this hostility the real reason for the recent shift in UU "public" theology from the pulpit to the classroom, as mentioned in an earlier post?

More basically, can a congregational, confederated religious community survive if its governing lay congregants continue to be hostile to theology? How can such hostility be remedied?


December 27, 2005 02:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

And it's not just UUs who are suspicious of, or downright hostile to, the theological task. Check out the mega churches: how much deep theology are they actually preaching and teaching? Can you imagine the typical Catholic parish priest really delving into, for instance, the theotokos rift with the Orthodox church? A close friend of mine, a Methodist pastor, says that she is routinely scolded for bringing too much Wesley into her sermons, because "he's a downer and we need something that will make us feel good."

UUs, who commonly renounce the Bible and replace it with contemporary sources of wisdom, are willing to hear about Emerson ad nauseum, but Channing? Ballou? Not at length or in depth; just in comfortable snippets, thank you. Having none of the foundational learning required to understand what Ballou or Channing were really talking about, and what they were addressing (and correcting), they're satisfied with the simple motto version of both those great men: "This is the guy who thought everyone would go to heaven, this is the guy who thought we should think for ourselves."

This dumbing down of powerful, radical theological tradition starts in the religious education classroom, gets perpetuated from the pulpit, and is particularly egregious in our neverending game of "Let's Comb the Cemeteries and History Books For All the Dead Guys We Can Call Unitarian and Universalist But Ignore Their Christian Commitments and Faith."


December 27, 2005 02:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

And Fausto, your original quote said:
"To be perfectly blunt, though, I'm not confident that the well of theological talent is particularly wide and deep among our present body of clergy, wonderful people and compassionate pastors though they may be."
I never thought you were referring to any one minister, and certainly not to me. It was a broad smear against the entire college of ministers, "our present body of clergy," in your own words. It's fine to give a macro answer to a macro question, but the answer shouldn't be a generalization you are unfit to make; especially not one that casually insults hundreds of religious professionals whose work you're not at all familiar with.


December 27, 2005 04:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree that there should be more support for people willing to pursue theological studies, although they should not be necessarily ministers, but also lay UUs with degrees in Religious Studies, Anthropology, Psychology and other disciplines could be encouraged and supported to study and to publish.

BTW, there is an international U+U theological symposyum scheduled for next year in Transylvania and partially sponsored by the ICUU. Hopefully it will take place in July, as expected. I, and other people, are already writing our papers. I think that every active scholar and every serious and promising student of Religion in the UU world should be encouraged, if not necessarily to send a paper, at least to attend and meet colleagues and students.

OTOH I don't agree that more theological deepening should necessarily be reflected in more complex sermons. In the Catholic tradition, the theologian provides only the background consistency of theological thought, out of which priests extract their more practical sermons and addresses. The theologian paves the ground on which preachers can stand to address the people.

Jaume (who wants to make use of his Master in History of Religions)

Bill Baar:

December 27, 2005 05:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jaume: Spend time in a Catholic Church and you notice that. It's odd. I left a Catholic Church becuase it's so badly run. UU Church's (and I've belonged to two) always seemed very well run. But I don't know if I'd always go to them for interesting theology.

The Priest and the Theologian are different.


December 27, 2005 05:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

PB, if that's how you took my remarks then I chose my words poorly, perhaps very poorly. A broad smear or insult against the entire body of clergy is not what I intended, and I apologize for giving offense. I didn't mean what you heard.

Perhaps you will let me rephrase my original comment. I was trying to say that although our clergy (and congregations) may consider a minister's primary job to be pastoral, and although our clergy may be generally skilled and effective in that function, as a group they are not doing as good a job as they might at providing inquirers and seekers with a sound theological orientation upon which to build a reliable faith -- whether that orientation is historic Unitarianism or Universalism, ethical humanism, or some more syncretic or eclectic cross-cultural or interfaith apprehension.

It sometimes seems as though we have become so dogmatic in our non-creedalism that not only do we avoid requiring creeds as a condition of membership, but we avoid or discourage any sort of theological inquiry at all. As a result, I think not only the laity (in your eyes) but also an influential plurality of the clergy (in mine) are prone to take theology off the table as a meaningful concern in congregational life. It should not be so.

We seem to agree on the importance of theology and the frustration of not being able to find enough of it in ordinary congregational life. The main difference between your views and mine is apparently in where we are looking for the pathology we both perceive. As a minister, you despair that the laity openly resist the theology that is supposed to underpin the faith you preach. From your perspective, a hostile laity precludes a theologically astute clergy even from discussing, much less advocating, what they do believe and know. As a layperson, I despair that I do not hear as much underlying theology from the clergy as I would like, and that gives me the impression that some of the clergy no longer consider it important. From my perspective, if the laity seem adrift and confused, in at least some instances it may be because they are not being adequately led.

I don't know if you realize it, but your generalization about the laity's lack of concern for theology is just as as sweeping as mine about the clergy. Is it possible that there is not only a misleading oversimplification, but also a kernel of truth, in both positions?

Joseph Santos-Lyons:

December 27, 2005 05:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

I found the COA report lacking as well, and in their section on our beliefs list generalizations that lack much of a core for me. "We are a faith that..." isn't specific enough for me. I keep thinking about the context of Unitarian Universalism today...45 years since the merger...first generation of children who grew up "UU" and potentially to "UU" parents coming into the ministry...spiraling Cost of Living and Educational costs...lack of public theologians and mentors (aka JLA)...relevance of UU in the world after several decades of navel gazing...age spike downwards in ministerial candidates after women in religion movement...revitalization of young adults...

Dan Harper:

December 28, 2005 08:56 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's another thought -- if theology in a post-modern world is always local, and if it is always grounded in the direct experiences of a covenanted community of persons, then we will increasingly find that large-scale reports or denominational theological efforts seem vapid and unfocussed.

Or to put it another way -- if, in our hearts, we've given up the modernist project of a theological metanarrative that will serve the Khasi Hills in the same way it will serve New Bedford, Massachusetts -- if we've given that up, then theological work has to take place at the local and regional levels, and we all have to become theologians.

The most significant part of this comment thread for me has been Bill Baar's repeated quoting of the covenant of the Geneva, Illinois, congregation. That covenant continues to be well-attuned to its local surroundings; it's a lovely example of doing local theology; it has a powerful effect on persons in that congregation. That may turn out to be the new paradigm for how to do theology.

I think Joseph touched on something important, too -- the emergence of 45-year-old first generation Unitarian Universalists, born to Unitarian Universalist parents, now in the ministry. I'm one of those folks. I value the old Unitarian and Universalist traditions, but I'm ready to move into something radically new -- and I think that "something new" has to do with congregations that re-commit to a local covenant (seems to me Peacebang's doing that in her congregation), and then grounded in that local covenant, re-committing to a broader covenant with regional and then world-wide congregations. I wonder, too, if cross-fertilization will begin to move out of massive (modernist) denominational gatherings like General Assembly, and move into the interconnected World Wide Web, itinerant Unitarian Universalist preachers, scholars, lay leaders, regional gatherings, along with continental gatherings of special interest groups like DRUUM.

In other words, maybe we're trying to have a modernist argument about how to do theology -- in a postmodern world. The rules of the game have changed utterly -- they've taken up the infield and the bases, and put up soccer goals -- and here we are, still trying to play basebal on a soccer field. And it's looking about as pretty as Johnny Damon after he cut his hair for George Steinbrenner (doesn't get much uglier than that).

Bill Baar:

December 28, 2005 09:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thank you so much for noticing my repeated use of Geneva's covenant. It's local and has also endured over a hundred years (maybe with a tune up of a word or two in the 1880's...I forget).

Your statement, which I heartly agree with,

if theology in a post-modern world is always local, and if it is always grounded in the direct experiences of a covenanted community of persons, then we will increasingly find that large-scale reports or denominational theological efforts seem vapid and unfocussed.

tells us what the denomination should be doing.

Parisa Parsa:

December 28, 2005 12:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

What a heated storm you've cooked up here, folks! I have a couple of rambling cents to add.

I think that Unitarian Universalism would benefit greatly from more widely published, proclaimed, and promoted theological reflections and groundings. The question is what format is best. I'm quite sure that the sermon is not it.

While a sermon may well up from a theological center held by its preacher, it is not the place for complicated explications of this-but-not-that. That's the quickest way to bore/offend/disengage a listener. The fact is that on Sunday mornings, people arrive at church from complicated lives of their own, each different from the other, and need the whole experience of worship to offer them something that takes them out of their daily experience and connects them with some abiding, sustaining truth that helps to inform how they will live their lives for the week ahead. People with an already well-developed theology will be listening for very different things than people who come primarily to remember that they are not alone, or people who want to be able to sit quietly and just listen for an hour of their week, or people who are devoted to the community because it's been their family's church for generations.

The sermon ought to have theological integrity, yes, but it is unlikely to have a sharply articulated theological argument. It's a max of 20 minutes, for crying out loud. In one hour, you're taking people from sign-ups for the next potluck and reminding them of the next fundraiser to about 2,000-2,500 words that will remind them of what matters most to them in the coming week. Oh yeah, and it helps to make 'em laugh.

I think that real theological engagement is an iterative project, one that needs both intellect and experience to give it meaning. So it would be great to have more ministers have the time and wherewithal to write theological treatises, but I think the most important project we have before us is engaging our congregations meaningfully in their own exploration of meaning. And IMHO that's where the expectation of participation in adult RE and small group experiences are where it's at.

I would diagnose our problem not as the lack of a common theology, but an avoidance of theology altogether. We have on the whole become products of our culture that likes to spew pablum instead of really wrestling with meaning, especially the tough places where smart, well-intentioned people (in agreement about core "principles") may have experiences that have led them to widely divergent ways of making meaning. I'd like our congregations to be models of wrestling deeply with meaning, starting with not shying away from talking about God or the lack thereof. Right now I don't think they are, and I think both ministers and laity bear responsibility for that. We also suffer for it.


December 28, 2005 12:36 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill: It's really odd. I cannot compare both religious traditions from an organizational POV. I mean, there are more Catholics in my neighbourhood than UUs in the whole world. And despite organizational abilities, nobody knows in the larger world who those Unitarians are anyway. So we are talking about different dimensions here. Is it the same with theologians? It is likely, but it does not give the whole explanation, because quantity does not mean necessarily quality (that's the same argument as why the Chinese can't win the World Soccer Cup). When we have people like Rahner, Boff, Crossan or Meier among us, I will feel more satisfied with the intellectual level of Unitarian Universalist theology (or the intellectual level of UUism in general).


December 28, 2005 01:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

Unfortunately, I think the lack of theological depth does come down to the simple issue of time. It is not in our culture to set aside time for deep reflection - we're supposed to have something truly tangible to show for our hours of work. Sabbath has all but disappeared. And adult R.E. classes are great, for those who can fit them in, but are more often than not seen as a luxury - particularly for parents.

I'm seeing first hand as my husband serves his internship how he is expected to spend most of his time in meetings, rather than reflection, and while on paper he is encouraged to develop a deeper personal spiritual practice, he is not given the time to really do so. The minister of the church is often still writing his sermons early Sunday morning because of the demands on his time as well. I hear you, PeaceBang, on the secret lives of ministers - and sometimes they just need to sit and play video games for awhile to relax!!

So I don't think it's particularly fair to look just to the clergy for the theological development of the denomination - it has to be collaborative, and there has to be widespread support. And it's also not fair to look just to the seminaries, as they're having enough trouble staying afloat as it is.

However, there are some opportunities in existence already for mixing laypeople, religious educators and ministers in deeper discussion - one that comes to mind is Meadville/Lombard's Winter Institute held in Madison, WI each year (this year focusing on Meg Cox's book, "The Book of New Family Traditions."

The trouble with gatherings such as the Insitute or G.A. is, of course, cost. Only those who can scrounge up the money and the vacation time can get to these events, which leaves the majority completely out of the conversation.

So what can we do to remedy this? How do we inspire enough interest on the local level to spark district-level conversation, leading to a national effort? How do we convince our members and hangers-on of the importance of theological development, to the point where they're willing to commit energy, financial resources, and most difficult, time to give it the attention it deserves?


December 28, 2005 10:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thank you, Dan Harper, for lifting up the centrality of covenant. Not only am I doing it with my own congregation, it is the topic of my doctoral dissertation.

Keith Goheen:

December 28, 2005 11:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

I am growing increasingly convinced that our clumsy handling of theology has little to do with our intellectual skills or academic depth. It does have a great deal to do with our under-developed spiritual life.

Theology exists as a means to explain and encourage healthy spiritual practice. If direct spiritual experience is not present in our ministers and congregations, then theology is either reduced to an intellectual amusement or commandeered for socio-political ends.

We who seek sustained, genuine spiritual nurture and disciplined practice must often go outside of UU circles. The occasional gender-specific retreat is nice, and the recent crop of mediation manuals appears promising, but how many of us can demonstrate any significant mastery of our spiritual natures? Rather than funding more theological research, I would like to see us fund facilities, leaders and programs cultivating spiritual maturity. Enough of the theological suits, give me some spiritual integrity!

Steve Caldwell:

December 29, 2005 08:01 AM | Permalink for this comment

We do have a shared culture and a shared theology as Unitarian Universalists. The only problem is that most of our culture and theology are implicit and unspoken.

If we didn't have a shared culture and theology, it would be pretty hard for someone to catalog over 500,000 UU jokes (thanks to Joseph Lyon's "Radical Hapa" blog for pointing out this resource).

Until we look at this shared culture and theology and explicitly describe it, we will have a hard time finding our theological definition. I've got a longer response to this topic on my blog.


December 29, 2005 08:31 AM | Permalink for this comment

Umm... The first joke I got was:

How many members of a UUA committee does it take to change a light bulb?

Ten, of whom at least

five must be women
two black
three ministers
one Canadian
one youth
two elderly
two gay or lesbian
one Christian
one disabled
one a UUA Board member
and no more than three from any one UUA District!

This has nothing to do with shared theology. And it is a joke on the culture of pre-offended prissiness that I, for one, don't want.

That joke page mostly depresses me.


Bill Baar:

December 29, 2005 09:11 AM | Permalink for this comment

Jess said,

We have on the whole become products of our culture that likes to spew pablum instead of really wrestling with meaning, especially the tough places where smart, well-intentioned people (in agreement about core "principles") may have experiences that have led them to widely divergent ways of making meaning.

And I notice this at the top of the Ratzinger Fan Club site by Chesterton,

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.

I grew up Congregationalist but knew Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, and Chicago's Third Unitarian. All three Churches were clearly caught up in their age.

I spent ten years attending Catholic Churches not as communicate but as parent in a religously mixed family. There I saw a badly over worked clergy (almost 10k souls in the parish) who in ten years never preached a sermon I cared to remember.

Yet you did meet smart people (often nuns) engaged (using the word from this UU report who's meaning I'm still trying to deconstruct i.e. does this mean reconcile, or review, or revise...I'm lost...engagement sounds like what the platoon does with the enemy) with their age. The engagement sharpened their thought for sure.

I have to read this formidable document. I suspect it's evidence of our own Church emancipating itself from our age.

Dan Harper's words ring so true for me. I'm convinced he's right when he says post-modern world is always local and those localities can be virtual too; just like this thread.

Steve Caldwell:

December 29, 2005 09:49 AM | Permalink for this comment

Chalicechick wrote:
"This has nothing to do with shared theology. And it is a joke on the culture of pre-offended prissiness that I, for one, don't want.

That joke page mostly depresses me."


I'm not saying that these tendencies that are lampooned by the collection of UU jokes are good or bad. I'm also not saying that every UU would approve of these tendencies. All I'm saying is that they exist and we might want to look at the theology that these jokes (in exaggerated form) illustrate.

These jokes may help us in exploring the implicit aspects of our community's shared theology (even if the theology isn't shared by all members of the community). This implicit theology will exist in our communities without regard to your approval or my approval.

I'm just saying that we should look at implicit theology if we want to understand our UU community better.

adam tierney-eliot:

December 29, 2005 09:57 AM | Permalink for this comment

Dear God, I stop blogging for one minute and what happens? A huge and rather stimulating conversation. Unfortunately, I will have to print it out to truly follow the whole thing...

I just have two thoughts:

First, I agree with Parisa about the shortcomings of the sermon. I find that just when things become interesting it is time to wrap it up. Unfortunately, with child #3 on the way and the wife working most nights, I am right now unable to provide much adult ed. for the congregation. Also, while they are mildly interested in these programs, it hasn't been identified as a priority for my time right now.

Also, (Fausto and PB) I don't quite know how wide and deep my colleaugue's theology is for some of the above mentioned reasons. Frankly, I do not spend as much time with them as I would like. I do know that my congregation enjoys a meaty theological sermon from time to time and tends not to be too thrilled with the fluff that occasionaly wafts its way to the pulpit on Sundays. In fact, they rather require (more often than not) that I think theologically.

Ok, I also have a confession: I am not much of an academic or a scholar, really. I guess I would like to be some day. But, really, (at least in my case) the church has challenged me to work on my own spirituality and on theirs. I am not sure that without the church I would read as much or think as critically about God in the world (or any other place, for that matter). My congregation has made me smarter and they want more.


December 29, 2005 10:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

Steve said:

...we might want to look at the theology that these jokes (in exaggerated form) illustrate....

Or absence thereof, as the case may be.


December 29, 2005 11:22 AM | Permalink for this comment

Dear ones,

This is my first response to a blog, although sort of as as they say in other forums a long time reader, a first time responder.

Sadly I must disagree with my esteemed colleague, Peace Bang; I fear I and many others (excluding PB, himself, of course) are neither particularly broad nor deep theologically. Our generation of clergy do have some sparks, but I can't think of any flames...

But actually that's not my point.

While not particularly broad or deep, I do think thoughts theological. And I occasionally bore the congregation I serve with them.

A generally shared aspect of clergy of all persuasions is a tendancy to self-reference. At least, again, it is true of me. So, I suggest those interested in one UU minister's theological wrestling match with himself, might enjoy spending a couple of minutes with my most recent Monkey Mind column at the First Unitarian Societey in Newton's January 1-15 Newsletter: The user name is "fusn," and the password is "1326."



James Ford
First Unitarian Society in Newton (MA)

[Editor's note: James had put two URLs into the URL line for this comment, which broke the link. I've edited it so that his name now points to the UU congregation he serves; the second link he gave goes to the Buddhist community he also leads. --Philo]

Adam Tierney-Eliot:

December 29, 2005 11:53 AM | Permalink for this comment

Er, James

When I implied that I wasn't terribly broad or deep, I rather thought of you as one of the broad, deep ones. Could it be that some of this is a matter of perspective? Can anyone tell me what, exactly (or generally) this breadth and depth would look like?

I have checked out the JLR at (I think Chris linked it above) and I am not sure that this is what will give our movement the depth we need (though it does look like it has improved a bit). Is what we want academic knowledge, a strong voice in discussion (interfaith and otherwise), good preaching, or a combination of these plus something else? What are we looking for?

Again, I haven't read all of the posts, yet, but I think this is quite the fascinating discussion. Hang in there James! The rest of us think you are genius...


December 29, 2005 01:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill - I hate to take credit for someone else's good words. The text you quoted is from Parisa Parsa, not me! ;-)

James - I disagree that there are no "flames" in the current crop of working UU ministers. . . I've found plenty, including you!

"Our work together, our first great principle, is to know love. Our second is to act from that knowing."

A simple statement, but profound. And it is amazing how often something so simple is overlooked. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Additionally, I think that perhaps many sparks who could be flames are bogged down by the very same day to day crap that the lay folk struggle with. I'm right there with what Keith said, that the spiritual life needs to be given much more priority before we can truly deepen theology. Theology comes from deep reflection and discourse, and if there isn't any time to merely sit still and do that, then in most cases it doesn't happen.

Or it happens in the shower, and disappears before one can write it down.

Bill Baar:

December 29, 2005 01:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm surprized a bit by the comments on who should do Theology.

Our minister delivered a sermon once about our Theology Genes and I've accepted doing Theology, wisely or badly, disciplined or wildly, something most of us hard wired to do.

To limit the doing to a credentialed lot seems contrary to a Free Church.

I wouldn't turn to a lay person for a heart by pass, but I wouldn't spend time with a provider who didn't treat our relationship as a partnership either. If he or she is not listening closely to what I say, I get a new Doc because what works for the heart, works for the soul.

Ron Robinson:

December 29, 2005 01:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Someone above asked what should the denomination do? I would suggest 1.) make the next COA, and district gatherings, et al (heck maybe create one topic for a year's study by as many levels as possible as other associations do from time to time on matters of import), all focus on how the denomination should restructure itself in a post-denominational world, particularly how to restructure itself to meet the world of those born after 1975 (as Dan and others have mentioned, this means how to restructure from being the high denizens of modernity.) 2.) instead of trying again and again and again to do theology on a macro-basis, focus on helping congregations "do theology" as congregations (not as the UUA writ large, and not as "I" writ large even when the I is a scholar, as important as it needs to be to create opportunities for more scholarly communities among us).

Theology in a post-modern world is looking different than it was in a modern world that prized the sermon and the academy; in some ways it is looking very pre-modern, coming through community ritual and response and reflection.

Thanks for the end of the year ruminations


December 29, 2005 04:35 PM | Permalink for this comment

Dear all,

First thank you for the kind words several have shared about my possible contributions to UU theology. Sadly I suspect I'm just a spark, not a flame. But I do aspire that greater burning and am grateful for the encouraging words.

Second, I'd like to second Bill's statement about who best might contribute to our theological reflection. Must it be clergy? I sincerely doubt it.

I loved my seminary experience. I often have said if they offered a benefits package I'd never have left. But, to be absolutely frank, I've not seen our clergy be particularly reflective. Those three years at seminary are more hoops one must leap to engage a specific profession and less preparation for genuinely deep reflection about matters of meaning and purpose. Some among our clergy do think theologically about what we're up to. A couple are amazing. And most just do their jobs - hard jobs, no doubt! And demanding jobs; leaving little time for larger picture stuff. So, no blame here.

I believe it would be a signficant mistake to believe our thinkers should come from the ranks of our ministers. The point is we who walk this liberal religious way, whether we've become "professional UUs" or quite simply give of ourselves as we can; each may become the reflective voice that offers healing to this hurt world. Personally I'd love to see more "lay" UUs step up and offer their considered reflections.

I say this within the context of the bumpersticker that has become my current email tag: "don't believe everything you think." The deal for us all, whether lay or ordained, is profound reflection: bringing our best thought to our deepest experience. We have enough shoot-from-the-hip opinions. We need a lot more considered reflection. At least this seems so to me...

From such a perspective, if we really are encouraging, we may well throw up a few theologians worthy of the name...



James Ford
First Unitarian Society in Newton (MA)


December 29, 2005 07:03 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'll reiterate something I said earlier in this conversation because it goes along with what several of you have said: It's a mistake to expect ministers to shoulder the full burden of deepening and extending our tradition of theological reflection. I said:

What's needed, I think, is for passionate laypeople to find out what it would take to organize, fund, and promote independent institutions dedicated to enhancing the intellectual life of religious liberalism.

I'm trying to emphasize new institutional developments because solo projects have a tendency toward idiosyncrasy. And major advances in Unitarian theology have always had significant participation from non-clergy: There were unordained people -- most notably women -- in the central group of Transcendentalists; the organization of the National Conference of Unitarian Churches in the mid-1860s introduced lay representatives of churches for the first time; the early 20th-century Unitarian movement was promoted more aggressively (and probably more effectively) by the independent Unitarian Laymen's League than by the denomination itself. I could offer other examples.

All of these developments also involved clergy serving churches and scholars in academic settings -- but the involvement of laypeople shouldn't be overlooked, certainly at an organizational level or in terms of the audience they generated for the work the more rhetorically-trained clergy.

Whether the ideal institutional form is an educational program, a think tank, a periodical/website, or some combination, it will require a partnership of lay and ordained people. (But then, as a layperson with an M.Div., I'm a bit between worlds and simply can't imagine a clergy-only or clergy-free way forward.)


December 29, 2005 10:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

There are a lot of posts talking about talking about theology, (and I'll grant you, useful discussion is there,) but I don't see any posts talking about theology.
In other forums, I would expect some posts like:
"Here is what I think about God..."
or at least:
"Here's an idea, what do you think?"


And just so I can follow my own advice, but still be difficult:
God hates us all equally. Discuss.


December 29, 2005 10:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

Indrax! LOL!
I just skimmed through Paul Rasor's new book, _Faith Without Certainty_, which I thought would be a book about Unitarian Universalist theology. I had such high hopes for it, because Paul has taught UU theology and earned his Ph.D. in theology.

It's a fine survey of theological ideas that contribute to liberal religious life and thought, but it's not UU theology.

I commend Paul for his work, but it was hard to have my hopes dashed that I was holding in my hands (at last) a work of UU theology for the 21st century.

And the beat goes on. Ladi da di da di da.

Jamie Goodwin:

December 30, 2005 02:59 AM | Permalink for this comment

I'll add my 2 cents.

I recently went to the book store (before Christmas) and specifically looked for liberal relgious theology books. They just don't exist, or at the very least are difficult to find.

So do we need liberal religious people to get together and discuss theology, and then share what they come up with in some way with others in the community? My first gut reaction is YES! and then i get a little apprehensive. I worry that many religious liberals would be overlooked because of education level, profession, life status and what we would end up with is a lot of theological theories written exclusivly by and for theologins.

If such a thing where to take place in our faith I cannot see it's value without including all facets of our faith. Ministers, professional theologists, highly educated, and average educated lay persons.

Actually CC's joke up there (which she didn't like) would be a good place to start.

Another problem i have is; what is theology? Is it the Study of religious truth? If such is the case how can a group of religious liberals - people who gather Truth from a variety of sources, including their own unique experience, ever hope to come up with any common ground?

I just get confused by the whole issue. The me the shared Theology of UU has always been "To each their own truth". The gathering together, the method, the culture, the sharing of said truth has for me been a way to be inspired and to inspect, expand, and study my own truth.


December 30, 2005 05:25 AM | Permalink for this comment

Dan and Peacebang: It is interesting that you insist on the "centrality of the covenant". This is indeed a central issue in any attempt of doing U+U theology. I am sorry to be nowadays in disagreement with covenantal theology, which has Puritan origins as we all know (just as the mainstream of American Unitarianism has). I happen to be a radical individualist in religious thinking. My belief is that Unitarians are individualists who gather in communities because it is mutually convenient, not because we are communitarians. Our historical heroes (Servetus, Socinus, Dávid, Emerson...) were all individualists who were always at odds with social and religious institutions. But the insistence on covenantal theology is probably the theoretical response produced in America to look for a common link in congregations that have lost historical grounding in our religious traditions and may become "federations of religions", as Carl Scovel put it some time ago. (Peacebang, more reasons for a good chat around some tapas in Barcelona :-)).


December 30, 2005 06:50 AM | Permalink for this comment

My belief is that Unitarians are individualists who gather in communities because it is mutually convenient, not because we are communitarians.

That's probably an accurate empirical description of where we find ourselves today, but I wonder if it would be dangerous to take it as a normative prescription of what we should be.

Our historical heroes (Servetus, Socinus, Dávid, Emerson...) were all individualists who were always at odds with social and religious institutions.

I wouldn't apply that description to Socinus and David. They each founded whole Protestant denominations.

I also think historical integrity demands that we add early names like the Mathers and the Chauncys to the list. They were hardly "at odds with social and religious institutions", and we have them and their denominational heirs, not Emerson and his individualists, for the institutional survival of the denomination today. The reason there's anything at all left of the UUA today is due not to the individualists but to the early Puritan institutionalists and their Unitarian descendants, such as the Wares, Channing, Norton, Hedge, Bellows and Clarke.

Although today our "implicit theology" that Steve mentioned earlier may be far closer to that of Emerson and the Transcendentalists than the Puritans, the Free Religious Association that the T's tried to set up as a denominational alternative to the more puritanical Unitarians disintegrated into chaos precisely because of the impossibility of institutionalizing individualism. Eventually they rejoined the Unitarians and began to influence them from within, but the FRA's demise is a sharp historical warning for the state the UUA is in right now, methinks.

As far-fetched as it may sound, perhaps the time has come round again to reaffirm our commitment not only to covenantal political forms, but some newly articulated liberal version of actual covenant theology itself. Avoiding the fate of the FRA may demand it.


December 30, 2005 07:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Indrax said:

And just so I can follow my own advice, but still be difficult: God hates us all equally. Discuss.

See what I mean? Our Puritan streak is alive and well. It's only hidden under a bushel most of the time.

(Historical footnote: In 1749, the parish now served by Parisa Parsa had a vacancy in the pulpit, and held a town meeting to decide whether to call Jonathan Edwards, who had recently been dismissed from his pulpit in Northhampton. They voted overwhelmingly to keep looking. The bushel we hide it under is an old bushel.)

Bill Baar:

December 30, 2005 08:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

There is no Theology on this thread. It's really a thread about Who and Where and How the Theology should be done. If I understand it right.

I've been going back and forth with Paul Wilczynski on the Who question; which is also a question of authority which is a word that's a huge obstacle for anyone in my generation (I'm 51).

It's interesting how the who question parallels the current struggle within Islam on who can issue a Fatwa.

Anyways, I've found little Theology in any of the UU blogs. Paul said it would go back and forth in the older bulletin boards but I believe he was unhappy how it was done there. The impression I have is it was undisciplined and light.

I've split my blog into two parts. One I'll devote to Theology or maybe it will be post Theology or Theopraxis... I don't know because in all honesty I don't what Theology is. The other I'll leave as is which is mostly politics or whatever is on my mind. But I want to keep these seperate as the on is transitory and the other I want to focus on the more enduring.

They'll certainly be no Fatwas.

I've always understood the Protestant tradition and the tradition followed by UUs to be one of authority resting with the individiual who through a congregation contracts with educated persons to pastorially lead them. And maybe some Theology happens in the process. Maybe not, there is more, maybe much more and more important things going on between the congregation and minister.

The Theology happens there but elsewhere too. How or whether it needs to be certified or blessed or whatever I don't know.

Steve Caldwell:

December 30, 2005 11:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

As a religious educator who is familiar with Maria Harris' book Fashion Me a People and the related UU essays on current and future trends in religious education found in The Essex Conversations, I really think we need to look at our "implicit curriculum" if we are serious about theology in our congregations.

Our "implicit" or "hidden" curriculum is very close to the unstated theological assumptions behind the way that Unitarian Universalists currently "do church." While complaining about the lack of theology in UU churches, we overlook the existing "theology" that's currently in use every day in our congregations.

The complaints about modern-day Unitarian Universalism lacking a well-formed and articulated theology may be really be complaints about an explicit theology. To me, this is related to the concept of "explicit curriculum":

"Explicit curriculum refers to what is consciously and intentionally presented. It is the official curriculum, or written curriculum, which gives the basic lesson plan to be followed, including objectives, sequence, and materials, what is taught by the teacher, methods used and the learning outcomes for the student."
Contrast this idea with the concepts of "implict curriculum" and "null curriculum":

"Implicit (hidden) curriculum includes the norms and values of the surrounding society, the setting in which the learning occurs (including the decoration and set-up of the area), and the broader environment in which education occurs."
"Null curriculum consists of what is not taught. Consideration must be given to the reasons behind why things are not included in the explicit curriculum or recognized in examination of the implicit curriculum."

Extending these concepts of "explicit," "implicit," and "null" to our theologies, I think we can find some theological questions. We may find some theological history and even some current-day theology being practiced in how we run our churches.

1. What topics fall into our "null theology" (topics that we avoid in our pulpits and religious education settings)? What does this "null theology" say about us?

2. In terms of implicit theology, what is our implicit theology (or theologies) in how we view the nature of god and humanity and the relationship between god and humanity?

3. As an implicit theology, what is our "ecclesiology"? How do we define who is and isn't a member? How do we decide matters in our governance? Where does authority reside in our tradition?

4. What is our implicit theology of "soteriology"? Do we even have a theology of salvation in modern-day Unitarian Universalism? What does salvation mean for those Unitarian Universalists who are not Christian and are non-theists?

5. What is our implicit "missiology"? How do we interact with folks who are currently not in our faith tradition?

6. What is our implicit "eschatology"? What do expect to find as the "final destiny" or "end state" in our tradition?

7. Finally, what is our implicit "pneumatology"?

Well ... that's plenty for now. Go discuss.

Shawn Anthony:

December 30, 2005 12:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hello all. I've been reading along and can't help but to echo Scott's concerns as to where this will all lead.

Steve, for example, outlines a legitimate list of theological systematics, if you will. Ecclesiology, soteriology, missiology, eschatology, and pneumatology are expressive terms attached to various understandings or interpretations of God, or the acts of God. These terms do not point to something inherently active within themselves, do they? No, they point to an active God. These terms can not find a proper catalyst within a tradition itself, but in a God celebrated by the people composing the tradition. Theology is the study or science of God, as we all undoubtedly are aware. It is not derived from a tradition, but from a tradition's people and their past/present interpretation of a God which is quite active in their everyday lives. If we are looking directly at our tradition with a plan to extract theological definition we are not doing theology, we are doing humanism. If we are not doing humanism then more than a few of us need to start proclaiming some personal theology (i.e., what or who is God, to you?), and explaining where this comes from, be it sourced from faith, reason, or what-have-you. What I'm basically saying is that a conversation about God will have to take place before we talk about the things God does.

Christian theology is diverse. The abundance of Christian denominations can attest to as much. Yet, they are all agreed that there is an active God which can be theologically systematized, right? That's a pretty good starting point which ultimately leads to a larger Christian unity in-spite of some pretty serious theological diversity. I'm willing to bet that theology will not prove to be a unifying entity if it lacks agreement concerning base presuppositions that characterize God as singular, active, and central. There are probably a lot more necessary presuppositions but the aforementioned seem very important to me as I contemplate this important discussion.

So, what I'm basically questioning is the the presupposition that an emphasis upon theology would somehow unify or improve the Unitarian Universalist Association. I'm not so sure. Does this mean I personally would discard theology? Not at all! I happen to love theology. I majored in theology as an undergraduate. I'm at a UCC seminary where theology is talked about day and night. I also happen to believe in a God and require theology to unpack it. I just can't help but to question the ability of the larger UUA body to unify around the necessary presuppositions concerning God that are undoubtedly required to even start authentically "doing" theology. So, the question for me does not concern the identification of an organized group or committee dedicated to spreading a theological impulse 'round the UUA. No, the more important question, has to do with the proponents of this theology - when will we hear their own, explicitly? I also have to wonder why we haven't heard it by now, especially in this thread?

Peace all over the bunch of you!

Steve Caldwell:

December 30, 2005 02:18 PM | Permalink for this comment

Shawn Anthony wrote:
"Ecclesiology, soteriology, missiology, eschatology, and pneumatology are expressive terms attached to various understandings or interpretations of God, or the acts of God. These terms do not point to something inherently active within themselves, do they? No, they point to an active God. These terms can not find a proper catalyst within a tradition itself, but in a God celebrated by the people composing the tradition. Theology is the study or science of God, as we all undoubtedly are aware."


Of course, the original meaning of "theology" was the "reasoned discourse concerning God" (wikipedia definition). The dictionary offers a similar definition -- "the study of the nature of God and religious truths."

Wikipedia has another definition as well for theology -- "the study of religious topics" and the dictionary also provides something similar -- "a course of specialized religious study"

Since the Unitarian Universalist community includes faith traditions who believe in God (Christianity, Judaism, Theism, Deism, etc) and faith traditions who don't believe in God (Atheism, Agnosticism, Humanism, some branches of Buddhism, etc), do we structure our study of theology in such a way that folks believing in God and folks not believing in God can participate?

Or do we as a religious community decide that only those who believe in God can participate in this diologue?

Or do we want to have a theology discussion where God is a cherished part of our diversity but such belief is not mandatory?

For example, I believe we can talk about UU soteriology in a meaningful way for those who don't believe in God and those who believe in God. And there are some UUs who disagree with this suggestion -- for them, salvation can only come from God.

Finally, I don't think we're ready to take a vote and kick out all of us who don't believe in God from the wider Unitarian Universalist movement.

Scott Wells:

December 30, 2005 02:53 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'll keep this short. Following Shawn, I wonder if even if we make some headway in systematics, have we created new boundaries (unlikely) or just another option for people to accept or reject (more likely)? Insert your own condemnation of consumerist religion.

I don't feel a lot of personal need to espouse my own theology -- directly anyhow -- but as a journeyman theologian I would like to express my church's theology, except that it doesn't have an explicit theology -- Steve Caldwell's earlier explication is helpful -- and shows no desire of wanting one. The personal use of the veto is all-powerful.

That's one reason I've focused on practical theology at my blog: the church newsletter has to get done whether or not anyone else believes in the Trinity.

And no, this situation isn't to my liking.

Bill Baar:

December 30, 2005 04:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

Scott: If you did a survey of what books your congregation read, wouldn't you find a good many people reading about Theology, and Religion? At least one or two books a year? Maybe reading on the net?

Certainly there is a demand out there... and it's not getting supplied with a UU Theology; whatever that might look like.

I would preach sometimes at local Churches as a College student. I would used Tillich's sermons because that's what I had handy from my class. All the farmers in the tiny Iowa Church that employeed me had read him.


December 30, 2005 05:56 PM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto: Both Socinus and Dávid disagreed with the churches they were related to. Socinus did not found any church: he tried to join the Minor Reformed (Antitrinitarian) church in Poland but he was not admitted because he did not want to be rebaptized (the Polish Brethren were organized following Servetus's teachings, and therefore they were Anabaptists). Socinus was not an Anabaptist and rejected baptism all his life, so he never joined the church that later was known as "Socinian". As for Dávid, remember that it was NOT the Counter-Reformation that turned against him, but *Unitarians* (this is a well-known historical fact that is rarely acknowledged in our own circles because it's easier to blame the Jesuits for that and harder that we have our own version of a heresy trial). Dávid was accused by his teacher in Antitrinitarianism and former friend Biandrata of religious innovation, because Dávid started preaching against the worshipping of Christ and against addressing prayers to him. Nobody helped Dávid (Socinus sided with Biandrata and tried to convince Dávid of his "errors" unsuccessfully, as it is usually the case with our honorable individualist ancestors), and Dávid died in prison while a new Unitarian superintendent was chosen by Biandrata himself. Of course Biandrata knew that following Dávid's path would have been the end of Transylvanian Unitarianism, so he turned against his own friend to ensure the survival of the church.


December 30, 2005 06:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

Steve: I don't see a point in trying to find out what Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, etc. have in common. That is perhaps a task for the Interfaith movement, or for Esoteric/Perennialist people who believe that all religions are hints at a common truth revealed differently in different times and regions. To be on the right track for a UU theology is, IMO, to investigate what kind of Christians tend to be UUs, what kind of Buddhists, etc. My assumption is that only a specific subset of those people may be attracted to UU. Find the common traits of those people (not of their creeds/beliefs) and you get closer to what UU is nowadays.

As for my own opinion or conclusions, you won't find them in this blog (or any other), but feel free to attend the upcoming theological Symposyum in Transylvania next year! :-)

Steve Caldwell:

December 30, 2005 10:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Jaume wrote:
"Steve: I don't see a point in trying to find out what Christianity, Atheism, Buddhism, etc. have in common."

My apologies for being unclear here. I was speaking of different faith traditions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, etc) as they currently co-exist within modern-day Unitarian Universalism. I wasn't talking about these faith traditions as they currently exist outside Unitarian Universalism.

I think you're on the right track here in terms of what questions we should ask about what our core theology is. For example, if we knew what UU Atheists and UU Christians held as common notions and practices, we would be closer to what our current common UU theology looks like today.

On the drive home from work, I decided that observing how we "do Unitarian Universalism" as path for insights into UU theology could be called the "Kinsey" approach to theology. We probably have as much diversity in our theologies as the Kinsey's gall wasps have in their biological diversity.

Rather than having someone speaking from a position of scholarly authority deciding what our theology should be (in a proscriptive sense), I'm curious about who are today (in a descriptive sense).


December 30, 2005 10:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

One thing I'd like to make clear: I personally don't want better UU theology out of any desire for greater denominational unity, and I have almost no interest in denominational theology or official theology. I want better theology from Unitarian Universalists because it will help (some) people seek deeper and richer understanding of their faith.

Personally, I expect that my own contributions will continue to be rooted in liberal Christianity, and it won't bother me if many other religious liberals don't find what I have to say rewarding. If some do, hooray.

What I'm really hoping for is for some passionate group of people to find new ways to sponsor and promote more Unitarian Universalist religious commentary. I don't care which group or what particular kind of religious reflection they pursue, so long as they demonstrate that it can and should be done. Others will learn by example.


December 30, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree with Steve that discussing our implicit theology is at least as important as discussing the explicit theological statements Unitarian Universalists make -- like the UUA's "Principles." But I think that implicit theology is more often evident to sociologists than to theologians.

The book I'm promoting in the sidebar right now -- Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in an Age of Counterculture -- does this quite well in looking at how the style of the 1960s counterculture, rather than any particular ideology, unifies a range of changes in mainstream religious institutions during the 1960s and '70s: Unitarian acceptance of homosexuality; the Roman Catholic "folk mass"; the Episcopal Church's ordination of women; and the havurot of the Jewish renewal movement. The author, Mark Oppenheimer, writes marvelous contemporary religious history -- and I'm convinced that we can learn as much about ourselves and our religious movement from students of what we do as we can from students of what we say.

Shawn Anthony:

December 31, 2005 01:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

"I want better theology from Unitarian Universalists because it will help (some) people seek deeper and richer understanding of their faith."

Chris, I understand the sentiment, and I applaud it. I'm not quite sure, however, how it relates to Rosemary Bray McNatt's disappointment w/ the COA's "vague" suggestion (which was the catalyst for this discussion)? I'm also not sure why such a sentiment would require an official denomination body, committee, or even the COA (Rosemary's choice?) to officially perpetuate it. So, at the end of the thread, I'm not sure where any of this is really going, or why. Does that make sense?

I was under the impression that this discussion was centered upon "the common theological ground issue." "Common," to me, inherently speaks of denominational unity, theologically speaking (theology is the context). Unless, of course, the "UU's" referenced in the title of the article quoted in your post actually does mean "some." Again, if it is merely "some," then why a need for the COA or any other group to officially act? I'm not sure this is even what the COA was pointing toward when they made the suggestion to define ourselves denominationally. The unity seemingly searched for may be a loose one, but it must be unifying nonetheless, in a corporate religious aspect. This is exactly what I was attempting to point out. I'm not sure theology could be considered THE rallying point, unless we, as Christians do, agree upon a few necessary presuppositions concerning the point of theology. I don't think it would work well, save a few here and there. That's not to say I agree or disagree with such an effort.

But ... if that's not what is being discussed in this thread, forgive me and do carry on.

Bill Baar:

December 31, 2005 09:25 AM | Permalink for this comment

I volunteer at a homeless shelter every so often and work alongside Evangelical Christians. Sometimes they ask me what Unitarians believe. They often want to understand the Trinty better and hope I can shed some light since they assume I reject it.

My in-laws are Catholic. Sometimes they ask me wha UU's belief. One has a Master in Divinty from Northwestern in Chicago.

I usually respond with our Covenant and say we're a creedless religion and agree on behavior rather than belief.

But I think that's not entirely true. Because I do feel a core set of beliefs with those whom I repeat that covenant each weekend.

When my wife went through our new UU class, she found the hypnated UU's a bit of a put off because we did see a commonality in the Church even if some of the long time members in new UU didn't.

I think the purpose of this report is to flesh out those commonalities because I think they're certainly there and as a guy who's hovered around UU Churches for years being active to greater or lessor extents, I seldom hear it discussed.

It would be nice to have a better answer for people although I think our Covenant in Geneva pretty good response. People do want a little more though.


December 31, 2005 11:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

A very fair question, Shawn.

I take Rosemary Bray McNatt's question to be rhetorical because I don't see any evidence that any denominational body will take a next step beyond what the Commission on Appraisal has done.

If a group of people decided to try to focus on a deeper expression of denominational theology -- deciding, entrepreneurially, to do the work that the Commission only began -- great!

But one theme that keeps popping up here -- among post-modern enthusiasts like Dan Harper -- is that a unified or denominational theology may be impossible and undesirable. I don't agree with the post-modern tack -- I think we have a lot more in common than we think, mostly for socioeconomic reasons -- but I do think that there are irreconcilable theological positions within the Unitarian Universalist and larger liberal religious world that shouldn't be ignored.

I was probably responding to Clyde Grubbs, who wrote this over at his blog:

The commission shows that ordinary lay folks and working parish ministers can do theology, but it raise another question: why couldn’t the commission arrive at closure? Why did it avoid coming to a conclusion? Because the members of the Commission were divided on their vision for this faith community, and rather than confront their differences, they decided to provide a wishy washy report.

I suspect this problem will confront any group that tries to find a core that every faction in the UUA would accept. But I have a quote on my wall from Alfred North Whitehead that says, "A clash of doctrines is not a disaster, it is an opportunity." So which do I believe?

Ultimately, maybe there is a way to articulate a liberal theology that all Unitarian Universalists would affirm. Maybe. But practically, the only way I imagine that religious liberals will go beyond what the Commission has done is for some group who isn't interested in being wishy-washy to go first and make a good case for a particular kind of liberal theology.

Steve Caldwell:

December 31, 2005 12:27 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill Baar wrote:
"It would be nice to have a better answer for people although I think our Covenant in Geneva pretty good response. People do want a little more though."

There may be a curriculum answer to assist you with the "what do all UUs believe" question and the related "what do you as an individual UU believe" question ... and it's aready on the bookshelf ready for use in our congregations.

It's called Articulating Your UU Faith by Rev. Barbara Wells and Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove. The curriculum was originally written for UU young adults, but it can be used by youth and older adults as well.

The UUA Bookstore ordering info can be found here:

Ron Robinson:

December 31, 2005 01:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

I can see that I am going to have to get serious about marketing my "Theological Moves" board game which I created while in seminary...I've taken it to some GA and some UUCF Revivals and it is fun to play while being educational to boot...Anyway, since someone asked for more theology itself...

One of my frustrations has been that when we have committees preparing reports on theology we end up with descriptive theology, at best (and we debate about whether it accurately describes "us." I by the way liked the COA report because I thought it at least talked about things that mattered and pointed out some of the issues that have in my opinion plagued us). This is coming at things from a sociological orientation--looking for what is common, at values held. It has its place. But frankly I yearn for prescriptive and proscriptive theology, at what we should and shouldn't be believing, standing for, as a faith community. This is one of the reasons I shudder when I think about theology being presented by committees in the name of the UUA because I don't want them to be involved in such forms of theology. I don't :) because it isn't a part of our theological tradition...And I admit I go for my theological nurture now (having been bred on Hartshorne and Adams) mostly to Christian sources outside the UUA sphere (to Peter Hodgson and Kathryn Tanner and Stanleys Grenz and Hauerwas and the emergent and new evangelical theologians)

I really resonate with Steve's comments about implicit theology. Our congregations, where theology should be lifted up, are involved with theology all the time, in all decisions, in all aspects of leadership and worship. Practical theology, or ecclesiology, is intricately connected to the other forms of theology, so that even the Newsletter has a theological basis. We need to help people to understand the connections. To See! To make the implicit explicit.

Why is the focus of theology the congregation, moreso than the individual alone or the "UUA" as a movement? Because we have held that there, in the mediation of free community (nod to the covenantal theological folks who have written here), is where God is best met. Not the only place, not an infallible of course place. But the best place. What happened, in large part, is that when we through the years of fellowships stopped having churches call ministers, and to engage in that process when they most deeply did their explicit theological work as a congregation, or when churches in their settlement practices turned away from theological concerns for other concerns, theology's concerns fell away to be replaced by sociology's concerns, with the result that our anxieties became sociological ones (how is our community feeling?).

The theological map is quite simple. Its touchstones are prescribed, as touchstones, places to step along the path, not as ends in themselves. Imago Dei/theology with a little t (what we imagine and how we perceive of God) is connected to Cosmology (what is the nature of Nature) which is connected to Anthropology (what is the nature of human nature) which is connected to Hamartiology (what is the nature of sin) which is connected to Soteriology and Christology (what is the nature of salvation and within that of Christ) which is connected to Ecclesiology (what is the nature and purpose of the church) which is connected to Pneumatology (what is the nature of the Holy Spirit) which is connected to Eschatology (what is the nature of the end/ends of the world/cosmos?) which brings us round again to God. Within each of these touchstones are many other theological questions. They are immensely practical questions. When a church fights over anything, small or great, it is connected at root to how people see differently the church's mission, vision, values, which is connected to how they see differently what saves, which is connected to how they see differently what is sinful, which is connected to how they see differently the nature of humans, et al.

The theological map is rooted in Christian understanding. But it is helpful even to congregations that aren't Christian because as liberals we approach things broadly and can see how the essence of the touchstones can be helpful even when we have different takes on the answers than would others. Also postmodernists shouldn't be afraid to use it just because it is a map :) and because it intentionally constructs a world/view. A map doesn't force you to take this road or that, and it doesn't pretend to present all ways of getting from one place to another. But it says here you can locate yourself, and you can see what paths others have taken.

We need to help our congregatins and one another in our congregations to apply the theological map, to understand how it shapes the church itself, how it leads to such great diversity among us in the free church tradition called UUism, and to learn to celebrate that diversity. In St. Paul's understanding, it is time we take what the world sees as foolishness and weakness and see it as God's strength. That'll mean that the high Anglican churches and Trinitarian Universalist among us as well as the high humanist churches, and all those in between (who might have a harder time of it lol) will both grasp and celebrate what they are all about "as a congregation" and why they choose to be in relationship with those, within and without the UUA, who have different responses to the questions posed by the theological touchstones. For those who follow the terminology and debates, I am arguing for congregations to be on the one hand more "post-liberal" in their own sense of themselves and on the other hand more "revisionist" in their relationships with other congregations. I guess self-differentiation, the mark of a leader, is another way of expressing it. That might result in new connections among us (see Schaller's book, From Geography to Affinity, about denominations in a post-denominational world), and with some of us leaving for other relationships more nurturing. That's what freedom means.

I guess I am resolving in the new year to do what I can through my part of the world, as Executive Director of the UUCF, to raise up these issues and emphasize theology more (at our Revivals, these workshops are the ones most people go to, and there has been a hunger expressed lately for more things of an ecclesiological nature) and to see about sponsoring some more local things as well. I am already part of a new local conversation here in Tulsa on the post-modern emerging church movement, where theology too is at risk of being shunted aside for all things cultural...I hope others will keep this thread in other ways going and post on it off and on in the New Year.

Bill Baar:

December 31, 2005 05:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

-- I think we have a lot more in common than we think, mostly for socioeconomic reasons -- but I do think that there are irreconcilable theological positions within the Unitarian Universalist and larger liberal religious world that shouldn't be ignored.

The socioencomonic commonality frighten's me.

The irreconciliable theological positions I want to learn more about because I suspect they're ephemeral.

But I just don't know.


December 31, 2005 09:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

Wow. Take a week-long blog break and see what I miss!

To Philocrites. Your call for something of a coordinated entrepreneurial public theology effort is spot on. All you need is a coalition of the willing and able and, in time, some folks with deep pockets (as I believe Scott said).

To Fausto and Peacebang. To try and broaden and deepen your discussion (which I've found very edifying), here are some general observations from my experience:

1. My seminary required only two or three theology courses. One was a "history of ideas" course, followed by "intro to/overview of theology", followed by an elective (liberation theology in my case). This is neither broad nor deep, by academic standards anyhow.

2. I was often told that the seminary student of today was religiously illiterate compared to the seminary student of 40 or 50 years ago. This means more time must be devoted to raw basics at the expense of broadening or deepening.

3. The general trend of grade deflation (or is it inflation?) in higher education means that an A+ theology student in 2005 would be, say, something like a B- theology student in 1965. This cannot be good for ministers' theological literacy, though no fault of their own.

4. The skill set---and all around busyness---demanded of ministers today can border on abusive. We can't add "top par public theologian" to their already overburdened job descriptions.

To all. I believe my new model for doing ministerial formation presents a long-haul solution to some of the problems discussed here. (Comments on that should probably go over to my blog so they don't clog up the discussion here.)

Bill Baar:

January 1, 2006 06:41 PM | Permalink for this comment

Post Modern or Pajamas Theology?

We have Pajamas Media, so would Dan Harper's post modern and local Theology that's connected instantly accross the connected world lead to a kind Pajamas Theology?

Catchy name at least.


January 23, 2006 08:40 PM | Permalink for this comment

What do you all mean when you say "UU theology"? If we don't have an orthodox belief (creed), then what does it mean to have a theology?


January 25, 2006 09:43 PM | Permalink for this comment

Great question, Kim. When I talk about theology, I mean careful thinking about the meaning and implications of our religious ideas. UUs have ideas -- and practices and assumptions -- and so people who analyze and look for patterns and implications in our ideas are doing UU theology.

Back in 2003 I wrote an entry here called "Dogmatic non-creedalism" about the way UUs turn their distaste for dogmatism into an excuse for not thinking about doctrine -- a dangerous mistake in my view. I quoted the eminent church historian Jaroslav Pelikan (an Orthodox Christian) who said:

"Figure out how to put [puzzling] pieces [of your tradition] together in a coherent whole, and you are doing theology; suggest the answer you figured out to your [co-religionists], and you are proposing doctrine; write down what you and they agree on, and you have produced a confession."

What keeps a liberal religious "confession" from turning into a creed is our explicit acknowledgment that it can be revised and corrected as our understanding changes.

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