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.
Most 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.