Rev. Dawn Cooley with a new twist on an Old Question
Today I am welcoming the Rev. Dawn Cooley to the Lively Tradition. Dawn is the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Louisville, KY.Is Unitarian Universalism a Christian denomination? Some say yes, some say no, but I am guessing most of us aren't really sure what the answer is. I have been tossing this question around quite a bit in my brain lately.
On the one hand, if you use the more orthodox definition of what it means to be a Christian – that is, the inerrancy of the Christian scriptures, and subscription to the Apostles Creed – then we are not. But the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are in a similar boat – they may not be orthodox Christians, but they are trying very hard to make the argument that they are a Christian denomination.
On the other hand, our roots are in Christianity, our worship style is very Protestant, and I have met many liberal Christians who believe very similarly to what many Humanist UUs believe, but who use the Bible as their primary metaphor for interpreting and understanding the religious questions of life. So it really depends on how you define “Christian” and even Christians can't agree on this one.
It recently occurred to me that perhaps I am looking at it the wrong way. Perhaps the question is not “Are we a Christian denomination?” but instead “Are we a part of Christendom?”
The answer to that, I believe, is yes.
Let me explain. I live in Louisville, KY. In 2003, the city of Louisville merged with Jefferson County, expanding the city's borders and increasing the number of people who reside in Louisville. My spouse works in Okolona (red dot in the map below), not quite as far south as you can go and still be technically in Louisville, but close. Okolona was its own town prior to 2003, but became a part of Louisville with the merger. If you want to write a letter to someone in Okolona, you can now address
it either as Louisville, or as Okolona.
Is Okolona a part of Louisville? Yes. It has all the same city services (schools, police, trash) as what was pre-merger the city of Louisville. Okolona is on the edge, but it is still a part of the city.
If we look at Christendom, the world of Christianity, there is the old orthodox historical center, but the world of Christianity has grown beyond its original borders. Unitarian Universalism may be like Okolona – on the border, but still within that world. We have not disassociated ourselves from Christendom.
Now, the town of Anchorage, KY (pink dot in the map below) decided not to join Louisville in 2003. They have kept their own school, government, etc. They basically disassociated themselves from the expansion of city services.
Unitarian Universalism may or may not be a Christian denomination, depending on who you ask. But we are a part of Christendom, because we have not disassociated ourselves from Christianity. Nor should we – it is an important part of where we come from and who we are today, and, I suspect, an important part of where we are going.
What does this mean pragmatically speaking? Being on the edge means that we get to be “both/and” instead of “either/or” when it comes to aligning ourselves religiously. It means we can speak the languages of secularism and religiosity. It means we get to enter into the conversations happening all around us in the world of Christianity, such as on the future of the Church, as both outsiders and insiders. It means that we have a place at the table, if we are willing to claim it – and I hope that we do claim it. This mystic humanist finds this location very exciting for the present and future of our faith.
(Some biographical data about Rev. Cooley:
- Minister of First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY since 2009.
- Blogs at http://revdawn.wordpress.com/
- Graduated United Theological Seminary in 2004.
- Came to UUism as a young adult 20 years ago.
- Has preached in 40 congregations in 8 states
- identifies theologically as a mystic humanist
- won the 2014 Universalist Heritage Sermon Contest
- Prior to moving to KY, grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, and then lived in Minnesota for 10 years.
- Enjoys "getting up on the balcony" and looking at things from a system perspective
- former skater for Derby City Roller Girls )