A month ago, I looked at a library of religious books in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and I realized that what I was seeing wasn’t in accord with the promises that Unitarian Universalism makes about providing people with a diverse experience. Almost all the books were Christian. Most of the world’s religions weren’t represented in that library at all.
I talked to a few of Unitarian Universalists about this problem, and they told me that it was probably just a matter of that particular library, that there had been a bias in the purchasing of books a few years ago, but that if I looked at Unitarian Universalism in general, I’d find the diversity I was looking for.
So, the next week, I went looking at Unitarian Universalism in general – specifically at the Unitarian Universalist Association, the administrative organization that represents Unitarian Universalism. I conducted several different forms of searches of all the material the UUA has made accessible to its members online, but no matter how I looked at things, the same result kept coming back: Christianity dominates the material to a tremendous extent. There isn’t any other religious tradition that comes anywhere close to the position given to Christian doctrine.
As an example of the data I found, here’s a chart that represents the results of my search for mentions of particular religious leaders by the Unitarian Universalist Association.
At the UUA, whenever religious talk gets specific, it’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. In a distant second place comes the Buddha. Buddhism seems to be brought in as a token of diversity every now and then, as the default non-Christian perspective.
In response to this analysis, Unitarian Universalists objected that the Unitarian Universalist Association couldn’t be expected to represent the diverse experience of Unitarian Universalism, because it’s only a central administration. These UUs advised me that, if I were to look at specific congregations, I would find the religious diversity I was looking for.
So, yesterday, I looked to a specific congregation – to the largest Unitarian Universalist congregation of them all, the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I looked through all the sermons delivered there this year, and found that only one religious text was ever spoken of: The Christian Bible. Muslims were represented as scoundrels. The only time atheists were spoken of was to insult them. This wasn’t the Unitarian Universalist diversity and tolerance I was told I would find.
This morning, a Unitarian Universalist once again advised me that I was looking for diversity in the wrong place. Maybe the Unitarian Universalists of Tulsa weren’t offering a diverse religious environment, but other Unitarian Universalist congregations were. He specifically advised me to look at two Unitarian Universalist congregations he had attended himself. The Unitarian Universalists in Quincy, Massachusetts and Charleston, South Carolina, he told me, “have gone out of their way” to offer the religious diversity suggested by the official Sources of the Unitarian Universalist Association. “Congregations vary quite a bit in their orientation,” he said, so it wouldn’t be fair to characterize Unitarian Universalism by just the content offered by a single congregation.
So, I went over to the web sites of the Quincy Unitarian Church and the Unitarian Church in Charleston, prepared to discover, at long last, the Unitarian Universalist diversity that I had been seeking. That’s not what I found.
The charts you see below represent the results of my searches through the Quincy and Charleston UU online material. I used the same search technique I had with the Unitarian Universalist Association, to produce the chart near the beginning of this article. For purpose of comparison, I also made a second, identical search through the site of the Tulsa All Souls Unitarian Church.
The results from Quincy, Massachusetts:
As with the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Quincy UUs deal with the Christian Jesus at a level far beyond any other religious leader from the world’s many traditions. The Buddha is an extremely distant second, and every other leader is left in the dust.
What about down in Charleston, South Carolina? Have a look:
Once again, it’s Jesus dominating the available materials, a wee bit of the Buddha mixed in, and religious leaders from other traditions with extremely little or no attention.
Let’s wrap it up with a look at the Unitarian Universalists of Tulsa:
Once again, it’s the Christian religious leader, Jesus, who gets the attention. Buddha comes in as a small gesture to suggest diversity every now and then, and all the other leaders of all the other religious traditions put together would barely be noticed.
There’s a repetition in my experience studying the lack of diversity within Unitarian Universalism. Every time I uncover evidence for this lack of diversity, Unitarian Universalists insist that the specific evidence I’ve found isn’t valid, and that I should look elsewhere. I look again, and once again, the facts I find are ignored, and Unitarian Universalists insist that reality in their congregations is something different.
Today, I’ve looked at two congregations that have been identified as good exemplars of Unitarian Universalist religious diversity, and found that they have the same undiverse pattern of Christian dominance as is found elsewhere in Unitarian Universalism. I didn’t choose these congregations in order to cherry pick results that fit a hypothesis of low diversity. These congregations were chosen for me by someone trying to disprove that hypothesis.
The congregations I’ve searched have been demographically diverse. They’ve been small and large, from New England, the South, and the Midwest. They’ve come from congregations with different histories.
Nonetheless, these congregations all promote one particular religion – Christianity – over all others, in just about the same ratio. There’s not just a lack of diversity within Unitarian Universalist congregations. There also seems to be a lack of diversity between UU congregations.
Unitarian Universalism insists that it isn’t promoting any creed, but these results show that it is promoting a particular creed – a special blend consisting mostly of Christianity, with a drop of Buddhism mixed in.
There’s a significant gap between what Unitarian Universalism claims to be and what it actually is. That’s a problem, both for Unitarian Universalism, and for the people who listen to Unitarian Universalist promises of diversity, expecting to actually find it in practice. It’s a bait-and-switch deception, and it’s going to leave Americans who are looking for exposure to genuine religious diversity feeling burned.
The number of Unitarian Universalists is in decline. If Unitarian Universalists want their congregations to survive, they need to choose between two possibilities:
1. Come clean and admit that Unitarian Universalism is a form of Christianity, and stop pretending that UU congregations will offer religious diversity and tolerance.
2. Work to correct the cultural problems and mechanisms of unstated creed by which Christianity has gained dominance within Unitarian Universalism, so that the promise of Unitarian Unversalist diversity and tolerance can be honestly delivered.