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Unitarian Universalists, What’s The Difference Between Christianity And A World Religion?

Unitarian Universalists claim to value religious diversity and equality of all people, regardless of their beliefs. “Our faith draws on many religious sources, welcoming people with different beliefs. We are united by shared values, not by creed or dogma,” says the Unitarian Universalist Association.

That’s an easy thing for Unitarian Universalists to say, but saying something and actually accomplishing it are two different things. Does Unitarian Universalism really draw on many religious sources, welcoming people of different beliefs?

Certainly, Unitarian Universalist congregations allow people of all beliefs to come sit in their churches. Merely allowing a presence for diverse people doesn’t mean true respect is being given, however.

Take a look at what goes on in Unitarian Universalist congregations, and the practice is not at all diverse. The music, the education, the sermons, and other material, when it mentions a specific religion, draws on Christianity and Judaism almost exclusively. Other religious traditions are given merely token mention. Atheists, though they’re told that they’re welcome, are excluded from recognition and appreciation. Atheist hymns aren’t sung. Atheist sermons have fallen by the wayside. Atheists in Unitarian Universalist congregations are routinely lectured to, told to develop their “spirituality”, consider praying and worship, and accept the word “God” as a metaphor for what’s meaningful in life.

The unequal, disrespectful, non-welcoming attitude of Unitarian Universalist congregations toward people other than Christians and Jews is reflected in the very document that the Unitarian Universalist Association uses to try to prove its respect for diversity: The list of “Sources” for Unitarian Universalism:

” Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

Notice something? Judaism and Christianity are the only religions mentioned by name. Everything else is lumped into the murky category of “the world’s religions”, “humanism”, and “earth-centered traditions”.

Why are Christianity and Judaism, not simply put into “the world’s religions”? They have the first and second place at the Unitarian Universalist table, that’s why. Everybody else is consigned to the status of “etc.”

If Unitarian Universalists believe that’s a welcoming attitude, why don’t they consider how a similar approach would work with another realm of human existence.

What about sexuality? What if the Unitarian Universalist Association produced a document claiming to welcome: 1) Heterosexual people, 2) Celibates, 3) Married and unmarried couples, and 4) Other sexualities?

What about ethnicity? What if the Unitarian Universalist church said that it welcomed: 1) People of European ancestry, 2) People from island nations, 3) People who reject the notion of race, and 4) Other ethnic groups? Would that seem respectful? Would that be a welcoming message?

Unitarian Universalist congregations are shrinking in size and number. A big part of the reason is that Unitarian Universalism, while it claims to have no creed, has in fact settled into a bland version Christianity, with a little Judaism thrown in now and then, with little but assertions of acceptance for the rest of the human experience. Unitarian Universalist congregations are not only lacking in diversity, they’re lacking in energy.

Most people who are on an earnest quest for deeper meaning in life will look elsewhere. For people who know the diversity of the world and truly respect it, Unitarian Universalist congregations have little to offer.

23 comments to Unitarian Universalists, What’s The Difference Between Christianity And A World Religion?

  • Tom

    This would be a better way to go for someone looking for “meaning” going forward, an honest appraisal of the possibilites and constraints on any future scenario:

    or try this one:

    The Stockholm Memorandum
    Tipping the Scales towards Sustainability
    3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium* on Global Sustainability, Stockholm, Sweden, 16-19 May 2011
    *The Nobel Laureate Symposium Series on Global Sustainability was initiated in 2007 at Potsdam and continued by the St James’s Palace Symposium in spring 2009. This Symposium series unites Nobel Laureates of various disciplines, top-level representatives from politics and NGOs, and renowned experts on sustainability.
    Photo credit: Mattias Klum

  • Another Tom

    I am an Earth-Centered UU. Our minister is a Buddhist Humanist who scoffs at the power of prayer & teaches the historical Jesus. The fact is, Christians complain that we aren’t welcoming enough to them because we refuse to give them an undeserved place of honor. This is not the first time I’ve read complaints that other groups feel left out, either.
    The fact is, there is no right answer. The UUA is organized such that each congregation gets to place the emphasis where it suits them. if you dislike one, visit another. If we suffer from any fatal malady, it is that we often try to hard to please everyone, leaving our services feeling trite & lifeless. It can be hard to excite people in a church that promises not to give you the answers to the big questions, but honestly asks you to search for your path among seekers.

    • There is no right answer? I’ll go along with that in stating that there is more than one potential solution.

      However, in addressing the dwindling attendance at Unitarian Universalist congregations nationwide, I do believe that there are definitely some wrong answers – wrong in the sense of being dishonest and ineffective.

      One of those wrong answers is to stay the course, and keep on with the not-very-subtle dance of acting like a Christian church while pretending not to be a Christian church. Promising diversity and respect, and then not giving it, is lacking in integrity and is strategically inept.

      • Jacob

        “while pretending not to be a Christian church”

        There is no pretending to it. The UU is not a Christian Church. They are not Christ followers and do not accept the Gospel. They like to mention Jesus names but they have created a false version of Him.

      • Anonymous

        Exactly, Jim, sort of the same thing as being a Democratic Party hack propagandist apologist while pretending to be a leftist independent hip rebel blogger.

        • Anonymous, have you read some of the things that we’ve written about Barack Obama and the Democrats?

          Nobody at Irregular Times is a Democrat.

        • Anonymous

          To fail to admit that your blog, while it pretends to be unaffiliated, actually just recycles all the same memes and talking points of the two parties, and thereby failing to get people away from their dominion, that’s lacking in integrity.

          Not attacking and opposing the B.O. during the primaries, but instead leaving it to the independent candidates, and then periodically attacking them and their supporters with ridicule and various litmus tests– yep, you got it: that’s strategically inept.

          If you are sincere, you need to challenge yourself more, because you and your site are an utter failure in this respect.

          • You’re a typical third-party plant. United We Stand! Hope and Change. Darn the 47%. We are the World, We are the Children. Man in the Mirror, Vote Early and Often, Donklephant, Elekey.

        • In other words, we need to agree with you more. That about right?

  • theotherjimmyolson

    I think you have not broadened your study of the UU enough. Me experience is far different from yours.

    • I have experience with several congregations, actually, and I listen to podcasts of the services of multiple congregations from across the United States while jogging. What would you suggest that I do to expand my experience further?

      I could look at the national Unitarian Universalist organization, couldn’t I? You’re not addressing the issue of the higher status given to Christianity and Judaism in the sources – and for Christianity especially in the UU symbol, which is a modified crucifix.

      Why should non-Christians and non-Jews bother themselves with a place that gives them second class status, while condescendingly telling them that they’re welcome to attend anyway?

  • BobSK

    Visiting even a handful of UU congregations wouldn’t even begin to paint an accurate picture. Each congregation is independent and has its own flavor. In our area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill/Hillsborough, NC) there are a handful of congregations. One mixes in a fair amount of humanism, one leans more heavily toward earth-centered religion or paganism, and the list goes on. Insisting that the UUA–or UU congregations across the country–try to maintain the same level of diversity is probably impossible.

  • Why should U.U. even exist? If a person wants to know more about a specific religion, why not go to that religion?

  • A great question. Unitarian Universalism seems to me more of a bridging organization for people leaving Christianity but still seeking a “church” than a group with a coherent identity of its own. For people who are truly seeking to understand the diverse range of human thought, there’s nothing stopping them from striking out on their own. The restricted scope of Unitarian Universalist organizations looks like more of an impediment than a resource for discovery from where I stand.

  • Stephen A.

    Well, I’d say the UUers were VERY diverse. They welcome – with open and loving arms, ALL Pagan Agnostic Non-Theists, Christian Agnostic Non-Theists, Buddhist Agnostic Non-Theists, “Seeking” Agnostic Non-Theists, LBGT Agnostic Non-Theists, Politically Active Liberal Agnostic Non-Theists, and “etc.” All others (including “God” (“whatever that means”) need not apply, need not speak in church, and need not have a place at the “table.”

    J Clifford’s 8/20 comment is pretty much on the mark: UUism is a halfway house for those who still want to “play church” rather than admit that they have renounced God.

    • Actually, my experience is that Unitarian Universalist congregations tend to be much MORE accepting and welcoming of theists than non-theists. Their services are dominated by Christian (and in second class status Jewish) theist language, music and ritual, only slightly watered down. Non-theists tend to be officially “welcomed” while in practice regarded with sneering derision as pests who ask too many skeptical questions, ruining the mood for the people seeking to perpetuate the Theist Lite brand dominance within UU.

      • I’ve seen that too, although I’ve seen *individual* UU people who are very accepting of non-theists and non-theism.

        At an *organizational* level, it seems like UU is trying very hard to push back against people who say it isn’t really a religion. In responding to that criticism, it often shoves skepticism and non-theistic practice under the bus.

        UU as an organization has a right to do that. But after 3 or 4 attempts to interface with UU and find a place there — in 3 or 4 different congregations — I walked away, realizing that the UU organization’s priorities don’t really accommodate mine. That’s fine with me — I have a bit more time on Sundays.

  • scott

    This is an important issue. The UU is imperfect and can benefit alot from criticism. But I don’t see any real evidence for your conclusions.

    I’ve attended a wide variety of UU services. In none of these did I find a message similar to a Christian message.

    It is fair to say that some UU congregations are structured and organized like Christian churches and might make more use of Christian and Jewish faith texts and traditions then others (while still being obviously NOT Christian). I can see how this lack of diversity at SOME UU congregations might turn off some….

    ….but the empirical reality is that most people in the USA visiting UU churches are ex-christians. If they weren’t coming out of some religious tradition, they’d be less likely to take an interest in something like UU,.

    Viritually every UU member would agree that UU ‘ought’ to incorporate the widest variety of traditions in order to teach respect for diversity. However, it’s unrealistic to expect a group of people (most of whom are ex-Christians and are seeking the community vibe they got from Christianity without well… Christianity) to immediately jettison all of their spiritual practices and traditions. ANY UU congregration will be strongly influenced by the people (and the traditions these people came from) that comprise it…if most of a congregration is coming out of a Christian tradition then some trappings that appear Christian are inevitable.

    I guess the other part of my response is I just don’t agree with the empirical part of the critique as stated. I’ve been to several different UU congregrations and none of them seemed to be privledging Christian discourses. Nor did any of them seem even vaguely Christian (and I’ve vistited liberal Christian demoninations…the Unitarians are definitely their own thing) All UU congregratiosn I’ve visted deployed and integrated a wide variety of spiritual/secular perspectives.

  • scott

    Are you in New England JClifford? I’ve heard that some UU congregations in New England are more like a liberal Christian church.

    In all of my experiences visiting UU congregrations (in either Colorado, New York, Florida, or Texas) a non-theist or agostic or religions-of-the-world bias was evident.

  • Xevious

    I always thought Unitarians were just agnostics who liked to go to church…

  • Sashabill

    I left the UUA when I came to realize that it was, in actual practice, not much more than a left-of-center political advocacy group. Nobody ever explained to me what the necessary connection is between liberal religion and leftist politics. The UUA’s concept of “diversity” and “inclusiveness” certainly did not include diversity of political opinion. I still consider myself a religious liberal – but liberal religion, for me, has no necessary linkage to liberal or left wing politics.

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