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Biggest UU Congregation Reflects UUA Christian Dominance

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been conducting a survey of diversity within Unitarian Universalist congregations that ranges from the very local (a bookshelf) to the very general (the Unitarian Universalist Association). Everywhere I look, I find the same same results.

Unitarian Universalism purports to offer a community without creed, where people from all religious backgrounds, and people of no religion too, are welcome. Unitarian Univeralists say that they draw from many different religious traditions, including “world religions”, “earth-centered traditions”, and humanism as well as Christianity.

What I find when I look at Unitarian Universalism is different than what Unitarian Universalism promises to be. What I find is that, whenever Unitarian Universalists reference a specific tradition, it’s almost always Christianity that’s talked about. Buddhism is a token of diversity that’s trotted out on rare occasions in a vague way. Besides that, non-Christian religions are hardly ever mentioned at all. Humanism is pushed off into the corner. Atheism is hardly ever talked about.

I’ve looked at many different kinds of sources within Unitarian Universalism and found this same trend, but whenever I point the trend out, Unitarian Universalists tell me that I’m looking in the wrong place. If I just look some place else, they say, I’ll find that Unitarian Universalism really is the home of diversity that it promises to be.

for believers in God onlyMost recently, a Unitarian Universalist suggested to me that pointing out the Unitarian Universalist Association’s overwhelming Christian tone isn’t fair, because the UUA is a general administrative organization. I was assured that, if I examined specific Unitarian Universalist congregations, I would find the diversity that I was looking for.

So, today, I explored the materials of a particular Unitarian Universalist congregation – the largest Unitarian Universalist congregation there is apart from the UUA itself. I examined the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The promise of the congregation is clear. “All Souls Unitarian Church welcomes all who seek a religious home free of creeds.” Yet, right next to that promise on the All Souls web site, the promise was contradicted with an advertisement for “An evening of praise and worship” where attendees would “come experience the presence of God”. A service for theists only doesn’t seem consistent with a congregation that claims to be free of creeds.

Maybe, I thought, that event at All Souls was an aberration in an otherwise diverse and tolerant congregation. So, I went looking elsewhere. I read through all the sermons that had been delivered at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa this year.

The Unitarian Universalism claims that “are welcome in Unitarian Universalism,” but atheists are not getting a warm welcome from Unitarian Universalists in Tulsa. All this year, there has been only one reference in any sermon to atheists or atheism. That single reference is an insult against atheists: “A smug elitism bolsters an attitude among too many humanists and atheists… I have grown weary of those who scorn God.”

Weary? How could the speaker have grown weary of atheists? It’s Christianity alone that’s allowed a prominent role in the All Souls Unitarian Church.

There is only one sacred text that’s mentioned in the 2011 sermons by the Tulsa Unitarian Universalists: The Bible. The Bible was used as the central text in many sermons. No other religious tradition but Christianity enjoyed such centrality in any sermon.

No verse from the Koran was ever cited in any sermon at the All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa this year. The only Muslims that were mentioned by name were Osama Bin Laden, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi – two dictators and a terrorist.

In Tulsa’s local version of Unitarian Universalism, I found the very same problem I’ve seen elsewhere. Unitarian Universalism claims to be diverse, and claims to be welcoming, but when non-Christians walk through the door, they find themselves left in a corner, ignored at best, and often belittled.

The unwritten creed of Unitarian Universalism seems to be: Practice Christianity, but pretend not to.

8 comments to Biggest UU Congregation Reflects UUA Christian Dominance

  • Paul Wilczynski

    I can’t speak for All Souls Unitarian. What I do know for a fact is that both of the UU churches I’ve belonged to (one in the Quincy, MA and one in Charleston, SC) have gone out of their way to use all of our Sources (see http://uua.org/beliefs/principles/index.shtml) to provide information and inspiration. During different seasons, the Christian tradition might be ocasionally favored (Christmas and Easter).

    Remember, too, that both Unitarianism and Universalism come from the Christian tradition. Some congregations stress that fact more than others, but it is *very* true that congregations vary quite a bit in their orientation. Just because one large congregation appears to be more oriented toward Christianity says nothing about all UU congregations.

    • Paul, as you’ll see in the first paragraph, my analysis is based on much more than just one congregation. But, I’ll go ahead and look at the two congregations you’ve identified, and see if they have any material online.

      Christian leaning Unitarian Universalists say that Unitarian Universalism has roots in Christianity, but the 6 Sources make the claim that Unitarian Universalism is broader than that. The claim is made that Unitarian Universalism is not just Unitarianism plus Universalism, but that it’s fundamentally something different, with no creed, and with foundations in traditions from all around the world.

      That claim is plainly contradicted by the Christian dominance within Unitarian Universalist organizations. When there are Unitarian Universalist congregations that “stress” Chrisitianity over other religions, they are establishing a creed at their congregations.

      It’s a silly position to say there’s no creed, when a congregation promotes Christianity over other religions over and over again, as happens in Tulsa. Putting the asterisk on the end that “you’re free not to believe this, of course” isn’t sufficient to counteract the immense weight of material that’s preached to the contrary.

      We’ll see what the Quincy and Charleston congregations are like later today.

    • Paul, I’ve just looked at the actual material provided by the Quincy Unitarian Church, and by the Unitarian Church of Charleston. What I found is that the material shows the very same pattern of lack of religious diversity that’s present in Tulsa, and in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

      Look at the results of the survey I conducted:

      http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2011/12/08/quincy-and-charleston-unitarian-universalists-continue-pattern-of-christian-dominance/

      This is not what one would see if these congregations were truly going out of their way to use all of the Sources, to be tolerant and diverse and accepting of all.

      Now, the question in my mind is this: What are Unitarian Universalists going to do about this problem? Are they just going to keep on pretending that nothing’s wrong, because that’s what makes them feel comfortable?

  • SDH de Lorge

    J. Clifford, as you have seen, your publishing of a new version of this story eclipses my fairly sensible comments in response to the earlier version of the story. Those comments of mine addressed some of your arguments in this new version of your article. Your creating a new article relegates my points to invisible history.

    Is it your intention to engage in dialogue in this underhanded way?

    Social movements of like mind, such as “progressive” people, are subject to one fatal flaw: they fractionate by factionalizing into squabbling sections activated by scrambles for power on the part of would-be leaders. The drive to power seems to overwhelm the drive to promotion of the common good.

    Not all groups fall victim to this, of course. Sadly, yours appears to.

    Your group, in this first exposure on my part, appears to prefer attack and dirty tricks. I offered fairly reasoned responses to your previous article attacking UUA. That’s all the time I have to invest in deciding if your organization is worth my while. It appears not to be.

    Goodbye.

    SDH de Lorge
    Fresno CA

    • “SDH”,

      You have set a very odd standard: if you comment on a story here, then if anybody writes *another* story on a related subject, they’re somehow censoring you. Well, they’re not. Your comments are available as they have been, right here:

      http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2011/11/13/jesus-and-buddha-bully-out-diversity-from-unitarian-universalist-association/

      No one’s deleted them, and no one here has any intention of deleting them. Writing new stories does not equal repressing you.

    • SDH,

      You haven’t responded to any of the substance of this article, or the last one. You’re merely complaining that it’s somehow rude for me to point out that the Unitarian Universalists, both nationally and in local congregations, are making big promises of tolerance and diversity, and then not delivering on the promises.

      I’ve actually written this article in response to some of your claims that you hadn’t gotten enough information. You suggested that I should look at local congregations. Now, I’ve examined local congregations, and you don’t like it, because I found information that makes you feel uncomfortable about Unitarian Universalism.

      I’m sorry that the facts don’t match your expectations, SDH. You can decide to ignore the facts, for yourself. For Unitarian Universalism as a whole, that’s a tactic that won’t work.

      • SDH de Lorge

        Alternate hypothesis: You are a CoIntelPro disinformation program working in the service of Ann Coulter.

        I dropped back to see if any reconciliation would have been offered. Having seen, I have no further use for your baiting. Bye.

  • R. L. Boerger

    I’ve only belonged to one UU congregation (UU Congregation of Wyoming Valley, in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton PA; uucwv.org), but it is certainly very different from what you have described. Much of our energy and new members for the last few years have come from our CUUPs chapter (Covenant of UU Pagans); we don’t have a minister of our own and currently our most regular visiting minister is a local rabbi. We had several sermons about Christmas (unusual for us); one encouraged members to look at Christian, pagan, and secular roots of the holiday; one was from a local philosophy professor talking about why we should stop teaching our children to believe in Santa (the rabbi replied with a defense of Santa the next week.) and we had a poorly attended Christmas Eve service that used the model of the Mexican Posadas festival to add a multicultural influence. You probably wouldn’t find most of this on our website, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but I know we are not the only congregation like this. I will admit that there has been a backlash against atheism/humanism, which I find very unfortunate. I got into a heated argument on a UU message board about someone saying (albeit only on her worst days) that she thought atheists and agnostics were lazy, just throwing around words. But I don’t think her alternative is Christianity, either, but rather a greater acceptance of spirituality in many forms.

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