The Emerging UU Consensus [Tom Schade]

Unitarian Universalists like to think that we are a fractious lot, each with our own opinion on everything and unable to agree on anything. Whenever that was, that was then and this is now. Oh, we disagree about this and that but a consensus emerging about the work we share together. We are becoming more unified than one would think.

A Short List

1. The "language of reverence" is now our vocabulary. President Sinkford was roundly criticized for suggesting that we needed to break out of the straitjacket of humanist language, but then, we did. We're all about "calls", "faith", "mission", "prayer", "spirit", and "soul". Admittedly, we are probably sloppy in our usage, but everyone kind of gets what each other is talking about, and goes along with it.

2. Evangelism is IN, even "growth for growth's sake." Gone are the days when people like us didn't do anything like that. Now, we are all for spreading the faith, sharing the word, and witnessing our faith in places and at times where people we don't know may actually observe it happening.

3. Congregations are great, but so are not-congregations. Once upon a time, UU's worried about non-congregational organizations of UU's. In fact, in recent memory, a whole bunch of 'independent affiliates' were invited to be just 'independent' and not 'affiliates.' Much weeping and wailing occurred. Now, they could just say that they were 'beyond congregations' and list themselves on Faithify.

4. O yeah, "Faithify". In the childhood of my ministry, I heard some parish ministers of blessed memory complain about the UUA sending letters (paper, stamps, envelopes, return envelops, remember all that?) asking for funds to their congregants. Not PC in CP Association, (Polity Correct in a Congregational Polity Association.) Now, we all get lots of emails begging for money, and it's the norm.

5. We used to worry about Community Ministers out of the same narrow understanding of Congregational Polity: who were they supposed to be accountable to?

6. It's even hard to get a good fight going about whether UU's are Christian or not, which was always a third rail discussion

7.  Most of the time, now, it is hard to gather a mob to head to Beacon Hill, pitchforks in hand to growl at the ecclesiastical bureaucrats holed up in 25 Beacon Street. It's hard to brandish a pitchfork with one Flour Bakery's pastries on one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. I think 'l'affaire logo' may have been the tragedy repeated as farce.

8. But most importantly, the consensus is that we are headed for the public square. The dichotomy between "spirituality" and "social justice" has moved from an "either/or" to a "both/and", at least more than it used to be. Or to be more precise, I think that some UU's harbored a suspicion that other UU's had no agenda beyond social activism. I know I had that distrust. And I suspect that there was a mirror like mistrust that some UU's, like me, were navel-gazers, or worse yet, mid-century, mainline Christian nostalgiques. (is that a word? It ought to be.) Or New Age crystal collectors. But that dichotomy now seems so unimportant.

None of these differences and concerns have been entirely resolved. God knows we have still have issues, technical problems and adaptive challenges to share our feelings about. But the fight has gone out of us, at least, the fight with each other.

What happened? I doubt that it is the sweet reason and gentle wisdom dispensed here on the Lively Tradition has had that much good effect. Nor do I think that our leadership is so qualitatively superior that our systemic anxieties have been calmed.

I think that the world changed. 
I think we changed, too.

I think that our participation in the struggle for Marriage Equality brought us into contact with a public, people beyond us who appreciated our support and wanted to work with us. In a crucial way, they were us and we were them.

I think the proclamation that we were going to "Stand on the Side of Love" brought our Seven Principles and Six Sources and all those elevator speeches down to earth.

I think that the awful shootings in Knoxville made us realize that if we were worth hating, we must be worth loving. We were shown that again this week in New Orleans.

I think we realized our skills when we went to Phoenix and it wasn't an embarrassing disaster, as it so easily could have been. And when we saw all of us in that hot night outside of the Tent Jail, bright as suns with yellow t-shirts, we felt that we had some power. And we see our presence, and thus our power now, so often now. In Raleigh NC, and in Washington DC, today.

There are now more examples of that powerful presence than I can list.

What happened; the world changed; and we changed with it. It is now more clear than ever that our country is headed into a period when the public square is going to be figurative battleground. There is a powerful, inflamed, and armed, reactionary movement out there, and it is aggressive. And there is a broad movement for change gathering its strength. Everything we have learned in the decades since Selma has been in preparation for the times to come. All of the arguments that used to pre-occupy us were thought problems to help us sort through what was transient and permanent about this path of faith.

We don't make the times that we live; the times that we live in make us.  And we are finding ourselves here and now and in history.


  1. Steve Cook8:18 AM

    Keenly observed. I think your point #8--in one formulation, do we save the world or save ourselves?--led to a lot more intra-congregational tension and paralysis then we really understood. There was much muttering and mutual reading out of the other side as not being "true" UUs. There does seem to be less tension around it now, and I do think it has to do with a much more challenging world.

  2. I drfted away from UUism for over a decade. And since I came back last year, I am seeing and feeling a very different movement, just as you describe, and I find myself drawn into it in a deeper and more powerful way than before. I have no way to know how much of this is changes in me, and how much my former congregation (which is in a different part of the country and has a very different history from my current one) has changed in those years. All I know is that I feel very fortunate to have found my way back. I understand now how much I need what UUism has to offer, and how much our broken society needs liberal religion. The fact that I'm not a theist and the person sitting next to me is- who cares?

  3. Steve Cook- I like our minister's words from his usual parting blessing, and which are incorporated into our mission statement: "Take very good care of yourselves, each other, and the world." Both / and!

  4. Good one! For decades, I was witness to vicious infighting among UUs, but in the past decade or so, this has really calmed down and our church membership has increased tremendously. UUs can, of course, be as opinionated as any other folks, but the acerbic edge seems to have been diluted.

  5. Yes! Thank you. I have been a UU for 20 years now, and have seen an enormous shift. And I have to say, it is for the good. Thank you for enunciating this so well.

    I wonder, too, about a foxhole syndrome. Are we so under attack, or feel that way as liberal religionists in an increasingly fundamentalist culture, that we are bonding together in deeper ways. There is no time or energy for fussing and fighting amongst ourselves when there are bigger, scarier things at our doorstep.

    Whatever the cause, I am grateful.

  6. Anonymous9:18 PM

    I am an ex Catholic UU plus a conservative Republican and a believer in Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Quite often I have strong problems with the positions the the UUA and some in my congregation take. These overly liberal positions make me feel much less included and uncomfortable. Unitarian Universalists need to realize that all of us are not ultra liberals with positions to the left of Lenin. Does the UUA want to drive us out or keep us in?

  7. Dear bba09 etc.
    Like all religions, Liberal Religion has political, economic, and social implications. Those who practice that religion, and those who think hard about it, develop a consensus about what that religion means in a particular time and place. I don't doubt that as an Objectivist you would find UUism an uncomfortable place right now. I extend to all you all good wishes as you sort out where your journey takes you as you try to reconcile UUism with that particular worldview.
    You can't however expect the rest of UUism to not speak and act on what we believe because it makes you uncomfortable.

  8. wondering if the starving minister is a future trend.

  9. Anonymous9:45 AM

    "God knows we have still have issues, technical problems and adaptive challenges to share our feelings about." Who??

  10. Anonymous10:37 PM

    Just what is a "UU"?


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