Beyond Congregations and modern UU History

I divide the history of Unitarian Universalism (since merger) into 3 periods.  See my paper in response to Kim Beach at the James Luther Adams Foundation in 2011. 

Most of our assumptions about Unitarian Universalism come from the longest period -- 1968-2008 -- the period in which conservatism in all forms was aggressive and hegemonic while liberalism in all forms was defensive.   It was a wilderness period.

In our wilderness period, two responses arose:  One was to move to the Left politically.  The other was to stand on "religious community" as our core meaning and purpose.  UU's did not feel able to aggressively challenge conservative theology in the public square.  Instead they turned to the long strand of congregationalism as being their essential meaning.  "Congregations" and "covenant" defined us. These terms were applied to all sorts of congregations -- from those that sat in pews to those that sat in circles. But in all circumstances, our gospel tended to be reduced to "everyone needs to be in a religious community" and "our religious community welcomes everybody."

Now, in a third period of UU history, when we see again that our religious views would be welcomed by a sizable minority of people, we see that our focus on "religious community" is too narrow.  We will end up waiting for people to come to us, rather than meeting them where they are.

President Peter Morales is right in saying that we need to develop ways of connecting to people who are not going to join our present congregations.  And I think that most UU leaders accept that proposition, although the mechanisms are still undefined.

But it is foreign to us, given our assumptions of our wilderness period, to think about touching people's lives in ways other than joining an organization of some type, or becoming part of a community.

We will, instead, be touching people's lives first through a message now.  We will be bringing them a point of view, a consistent way of looking at themselves, others and the world that we live in.

So the question for us now is not "what new forms of organizations should UU's seek to build?" but "what do we want to say to people?"  How do we want people to think of us?   What should they think about how we want them to live?


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