The DNA always carries on (Dialectical Theology, Part 9 of Many)

If you have not yet read Mark Morrison-Reed’s history of the Black Empowerment Controversy, do so as soon as possible.

Is there any period of time when the interplay of historical developments outside of Unitarian Universalism and its own history were more clear?

The rise of the Black Power movement was a mortal danger to the Unitarian Universalism that was formed in 1961. Racial Liberalism (integrationist, color-blind, universalist) was at the center of its public ministry, and its public ministry was at the heart of its mission. Public ministry had to be because the new denomination had punted on theology and liturgy because of the unresolved conflict between humanists and theists.

Reading Morrison-Reed, what struck me was the good faith effort that the UUA made to respond to the demands of the Black Affairs Council. But it could not let go of its racial liberalism, as evidenced by its unwillingness to stop funding of Black and White Action (BAWA). And that was the breaking po…

Reflection on Merger (Dialectical Theology Part 8 of many)

I wonder if the UUA's stuckness on race isn't built into our DNA, established at the time of merger. As I have mentioned before, our formation came in a particular time of history (1961) and at a particular time in the development of liberal religion. 

Religious liberals were polarized between theists and humanists, and as a consequence turned toward public ministry as a way to unify.

At that point in time, the early 1960's, Racial Liberalism was the prevailing social vision. (Racial Liberalism can be defined as Integration and the minimization of racial difference. Color-blindness as a goal.)

In the absence of deeper theological unity, Racial Liberalism became the practical embodiment of Universalism, what we understood ourselves to be. Not just what we believed, but what we were.

You can see it in the shocked white response to the formation of black-only UU organizations in the late 1960's.  Race-based caucusing was seen to a violation of something fundamental about…

What's In Our DNA (Dialectical Theology, part 7 of many)

The institutional DNA of the Unitarian Universalist Association was established at the time of merger. (I am talking about the UUA, not individual congregations, or this larger thing of the "liberal religious tradition in the USA")

I see three governing assumptions that come down from the time of merger.

(1) We are going to be bigger. The merger generation assumed that we were poised to become the religious movement that captured the emerging new consensus: progressive, modernist, liberal, cosmopolitan, tolerant. Millions of people were coming our way; our work was to make them room.

The problem with the assumption that we are the verge of growth is that it has created a recurring frustration, a nagging "what is wrong with us?" bouncing around in our collective heads.

(2) The merger generation thought that public ministry was our most important work. The President would be our public spokesperson, and their ideal ministry setting was the steps of the Capitol.

The …

Merger (Dialectical Theology, part 6 of many)

In 1947, President of the American Unitarian Association, Frederick May Eliot, proposed the formation of the United Liberal Church of America, which would be created by the coming together of Reformed Jews, Unitarians, Universalists, Ethical Culture, and religious liberals “of every name and sign”.

Eliot’s proposal was in tune with the times. World War 2 had been won through the creation of a large multi-national alliance of nations. The postwar era continued that trend; it was all about creating big institutions. In the postwar period, NATO was created and the European Common Market, and the United Nations. Big was good; big equalled power. President Eliot saw that the need to create a larger and more powerful institution for liberal religion. He had a specific understanding of what was needed for liberal religious growth — institutional strength.

The desire for greater institutional strength led eventually to the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists in 1961; it was a much more…

Jim Crow and 40's/50's Unitarian/Universalism (dialectical theology part 5 of many)

Section 3: The Civil Rights Movement.

We are talking about the historical context of the 1940's and 1950's Liberal Religion. The first factor was the Cold War; the second factor was Suburbanization, and the third was the emergence of integrationist Civil Rights Movement, mostly in the South: Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Unitarians and Universalists were largely sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement. In this, they were moving in that direction with a larger force of white liberals. The question that I have is "how did those U/U's see the theological justification for that alliance?"

In 1946, in the immediate aftermath of the war, A. Powell Davies proclaimed in: ‘A Faith of an Unrepentant Liberal”: calling Unitarianism “the faith that begins in individual freedom of belief and goes to the limitless, building throughout the world the Free and Universal Church." Davies was centering a universal movement toward freedom in…

Suburbanization (Dialectical Theology Part 4 of Many)

After World War 2, there was a housing shortage. Very little new housing had been built since the 1920’s. The Great Migration of African Americans from the South and the movement of rural people to the cities for wartime jobs, meant that a lot of new housing had to be built, especially for returning veterans.

Suburbanization was the chosen solution, implemented by the housing industry, but enabled by government policy.

Cheap farm land near the cities was developed into mass produced housing. The new houses were offered for sale on credit; an expanding mortgage market was guaranteed by the government. Governments invested in the infrastructure of the new suburbs: building the roads and sanitation systems, establishing schools, standing up suburban governments to administer new towns and cities. Vast wealth was created, much of that wealth accumulated as real estate equity held by the residents of the new suburbs.

But through a series of interlocking policies and practices, including u…

Humanism in Context (Dialectical Theology -- part 3 of many)

A sermon (since converted to an essay) that I wrote in 2015 is useful here. My argument was the sense of being counter-cultural and rebels entered into Unitarian Universalism during the 40's and 50's. We attracted those who were repelled by the effort to impose a Christian Nationalism on the USA, as part of the Cold War.

I note, and the comments received confirmed, that one effect of this origin story for many Unitarian Universalists is the vigilance that many UU Humanists have about any Christian influence in UU theology and liturgy.

Enjoy the essay: