I think a worldview that doesn't have any muscular boundaries can't effectively work for justice -- nor is it really a theology. There is a faddishness that comes from having no true core. Ironically, I find that even as the culture moves in our direction it does us little good if we are not really standing up for something at our core. I think our problem may not lie so much in the recent period of conservatism as in the period before that when the Fellowship Movement and increasingly secular Humanism stripped much of our movement of any theological grounding, followed by the "do whatever" aspect of the 60's culture that made boundaries of any kind suspect.KJR presents a view that I have often among UU ministers. Our lack of "theological grounding" is why our social justice work is faddish. And "theological grounding," is authority given explicitly to our lineage within liberal Protestantism. And so, the diagnosis of our ills go back to the 20th century turn toward Humanism among us, and then the "anything goes" of the 1960's.
I have been deeply sympathetic to this analysis and spoken up for it myself often. But, now, I want to think about it some more.
I am less upset about the 20th century turn to Humanism as I used to be. I think it was a sincere, well-reasoned, and in some sense, inevitable, turn toward theological realism. I think, in fact, that Humanism is the final product of Christian philosophy which said that it was describing the actual, factual reality of the Universe. Really it's hard to argue against atheism, if you're going to argue on the basis of concrete, provable facts.
Theism and Christianity, of course, go on, by making another sort of claim to ultimate truths.
The Fellowship movement was a evangelical strategy of "church" planting, by forming lay-led, autonomous worshipping communities. It was wildly successful. Most of what was planted, however, was never going to change beyond what they started out as, and would thus, have a natural lifespan. Because of the time they were formed, they would be inevitably humanist.
The Fellowships often had tight theological boundaries: they actively resisted any deviation from Humanist theology, especially if it came cloaked in ministerial robing. And the Fellowships were not politically quiescent.
I don't have the history of the Fellowship movement at hand, but I would be interested in knowing how many were formed between WW2 and 1954, and how many between 1954 and 1968.
My sense, and I would be interested in hearing from other witnesses on this, is that Humanist vs. Theists debates were the theological content of UUism during the earliest period of UU history -- the period of cultural liberal ascendency from 1961 to 1968. UU's, both humanist and theists, were moving in synch with a much larger movement in the society as a whole.
The "anything goes" and the weakening of our boundaries seems to me, to be coming from that period of 1969 to 1980 -- the 70's. I think of those cartoon characters who run off the cliff and keep going even though the ground beneath them is gone. This is a very complex period for us, when in some ways we were moving defiantly out of the cultural mainstream (feminism, glbt rights, sexuality education, youth empowerment, open marriages, spouse-swapping, unconventional ways of knowing etc.) Of course, we were not alone in this -- the entire cultural left was in the same place. Some of it was prophetic; some of it pathetic.
And all this led, in the nation, to a cultural backlash, an intensifying struggle between liberals and conservative worldviews and the eventual triumph of conservatism, of which Reagan's election was the sign.
I think some of concern about the boundaries of UUism comes as a internalization of the conservative critiques of liberalism's excesses. It's liberal self-hatred, and it is one of the strategies that grew up in response to the conservative hegemony of the times. They got in our heads more than we acknowledge.
Most of UU history is the story of the tensions between strategies of defiance and strategies of accommodation to the cultural hegemony of the Right in US culture.