Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Future of Unitarian Universalism

I am a Unitarian Universalist, and I was reading an interesting article in UU World, one of the two major publications of my faith today.

While searching for some UU sites, I found some interesting viewpoints from ex-Unitarian Universalists. We must remember that an important aspect to growth is to be a place people won't want to leave. and have some important points on what struggles this religion faces, and have some very reasonable points. The point of people who are radical atheists who get offended when people talk about God is a very important point, and this needs to be suppressed in our movement. Just because a belief doesn't fit with one person's viewpoint doesn't mean that it shouldn't be discussed. This ties in deeply with being a place where people can find meaning with their own readings and experience, and people who do this aren't truly UUs because they are not following the 4th principle, free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and by making a congregation not follow this principle means it loses a lot of value. Those congregations need to think very hard about if they are truly Unitarian Universalist, or just atheists seeking revenge. There are atheist UUs, and they have an important role to play, but they don't have the right to enforce their dogma on everyone else, as some people have experienced. This might be our number one hurdle to growth in the near and distant future.

I have some ideas on how Unitarian Universalism can grow, and I hope that at an assembly soon this can be made clear on how we are going to grow and become more relevant in the near future and be a major force for justice and democracy in the world. In typical UU fashion, here it is in list form, to be an addition to our seven principles and six sources, consider this to be perhaps our seven responsibilities:
  1. We welcome people of different backgrounds to our congregations who wish to celebrate the joy of life and meaning and be part of our community.
  2. We help our communities through service projects to make our world a better place.
  3. We offer a place of peace for people to share their beliefs and gain insight from each other. The ministry has a responsibility to be available to mediate conflicts so that people can be comfortable.
  4. We offer a place of love for all people needing a place to grow a family in peace.
  5. We honor and practice the Golden Rule towards all people as is taught by all great faiths.
  6. We support all people who need support from oppression.
  7. The pulpit will have the freedom to talk about any religion, and the pulpit will be available to all members for a reasonable amount of time.
  8. We have a message that must be shared and it is our responsibility to share this message.
A very common concern people have is that by not limiting ourselves to a Christian message we can't be a true religion. I think this is narrow minded. I have many beliefs of my own and I have been challenged in every one of them, and by understanding different religious beliefs I have been able to gain a perspective that serves me very well. People who are Buddhist or Christian and explore both deeply will find many things about each that are very compatible, at least this is what I have found. The most common belief system in China is a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. Being American, this is not a viewpoint I probably would not have learned a lot about without being either interested in comparative religion or Unitarian Universalist. For people who don't fit any one box in belief, are genuinely interested in other points of view, and have the basic morals that UU has in the seven principles, Unitarian Universalism has a very important place in the world's religious landscape.

Religion is a very important institution. Among roles are charity throughout the world, charity for the local community, and support for its members and visitors. Religion offers a place where people can grow spiritually. I believe that people need to fed in three ways, physically through food and exercise, mentally through education and life-long learning, and spiritually through different means that make our beliefs and actions moral. Religion is one of the most effective ways that people around the world fulfil their spiritual needs, and become well-rounded individuals. The charity that religions give out cannot be understated, given the existence of military and prison chaplains, and movements for homelessness and defending the people who are not defended. Being able to pool your money to one trustworthy organization that provides a wide variety of roles is a very efficient way to donate money to charity and make a real difference in the world. Some people will say this is partisan, but many of the greatest Americans in history, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. among others, were guided by their faith and patriotism, and many of them were Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist. For people who live in Western nations in particular who have difficulty with hell, the trinity, or other dogmas of Christianity, Unitarian Universalism has a very important role to play, and for people from around the world from any culture that find that not just one religion speaks to them and want to have a community that will allow them to grow spiritually, Unitarian Universalism's role becomes globally important in every country.

Unitarian Universalism however, is not Mormonism or Jehovah's Witnesses. We don't have a set doctrine on God or the afterlife, which is a very important aspect of who we are. We are seekers, and we seek guidance around the world, from the Bible to the Tao Te Ching, from the Koran to the Bhagavad Gita, even from more modern non-religious writings like The Lord of the Rings or even The Lorax, we look for and usually find meaning in everything. Because we are seekers and don't expect people to necessarily come out with one belief or another converting people to Unitarian Universalism in the Mormon fashion won't work very well... a better way to have higher retention for us would be to retain people who visit our congregations and make certain people have access to on-line resources and can join groups like Church of the Larger Fellowship if going to church on Sunday isn't a realistic option. The best way is to have open churches that allow people to come in and are very inviting but not pushy for conversion and have people be treated both as members, but with information on how to begin. When people visit us and we don't see them for a while we should check in with them to see how they are doing, so they know we care about them.

Charity. One important function a good religious organization has is the community that develops around the shared principles. In the two UU groups I am part of, the local congregation and campus ministry, I have made many friends who I expect will last a lifetime, or at least for a very long time. Having a single place where I know I can gather with people who share my optimism, values, and beliefs once or twice a week is a very uplifting experience. It is possible to find this in the secular world, but more difficult to build a large family that is self-supporting that exists for a purpose like religion can. The community I am part of is global and gives me connections to people around the world.

Friendship. Another function of good religious organizations is support. When someone is part of a fully functional religious organization the person knows the minister is there to help him/her. This is an important role that happens in the secular world, but usually not with the level of training religious organizations have.

Discovery. Finally the third function of religion for me is to open my eyes to new wonderful things. I hear beautiful music, and stimulating sermons that get me thinking about the world and my place in it. Having a highly educated minister in religion gives me the opportunity to get a perspective that takes a long time to assemble alone. The world is big and having a guide is useful in learning about the world.

These are a few reasons why I believe religion has an important role in the future.

I hope that Unitarian Universalism can grow soon. We have a wonderful message, wonderful people, and all we need is to get our message out. Historically important Unitarians Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Mott built the  feminist movement, and many leading Transcendalists were also UUs. Not just that, but President Obama's mother was also Unitarian Universalist, we are standing right now on the brink of growth, all we need is the first little push to make us climb the mountaintop.

We have a lot to offer the world, and we have a lot to do to expand to people who are not part of our dominant demographic. We need to reach out so we can grow and be one of the largest forces for good in the world. If more people discover us we can continue to change the world and show people there is a way to make the world a better place in beloved community. I truly love my church, it gives so much to everyone around it. It is our duty to share our mission with the world.

(Most of this was written a year ago, but I think this must be shared, so I'm publishing it now with a few additions)

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