UU Growth: Alternative #4 to the "Community Building Strategy.

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Four:

We are a theological center of religious liberalism. Our purpose is to challenge all theologies and interpretations that oppress and bind the spirit, especially the dominant religions in our community. We teach the long history of insurgent theologies and equip people intellectually and emotionally to declare themselves independent of shame-based, punitive religions. We do not avoid the theological message that conservative religion is aggressively promoting, but engage it head on. We build allies with other religious liberals in other traditions and learn from them. Our culture has always conducted its most important arguments in the language of theology, and our purpose is to be in that conversation and our goal is to change minds. We are not humanists fighting against faith and belief. We are religious liberals fighting against oppressive forms of religion.

Our worship takes many styles: old-school, contemporary, participatory, contemplative, but the purpose is the same: to inform people, including children and youth in age-appropriate ways, about liberal religion, and to prepare them to make meaning out of the events of their lives from that perspective.


  1. I'm surprised to see what feels very much like a caricature of humanism coming from one who has averred in other contexts that "we are all humanists now".

  2. Steve, I think that it;s a valid model of a UU church; not in every location, but where fundamentalist Christianity is dominant and many are looking a a critique of it as a first step in their spiritual growth. But actually I was thinking also of the liberal Christian model of UUism as being a model of a church that invites people on the basis of a specific theological critique.

  3. Steve, I'll let Tom speak for himself, but I don't read the phrase "we are not humanists fighting against faith and belief" to be rejection of humanism as part of Unitarian Universalism. But if Unitarian Universalism is to be what it proclaims it is -- a non-creedal religion with multiple roots, including both Christianity and Humanism, then rejecting faith and belief generally would run contrary to the concept that we are open to people with liberal religious theologies.

    I would suggest that self-consciously placing ourselves within the larger liberal religious movement, struggling as it may be, is a more powerful place to be than than a more limited space where we emphasize lines that separate us. My sense is that the religious right would like to brand itself the only authentic way to be religious in contemporary America, and that if the response to that effort is disparate, uncoordinated protests from individual, relatively small denominations then that response will be ignored. I realize that the National Council of Churches and Jim Wallis exist so perhaps what I'm suggesting is being tried, but I think that UUs continuing to try present an alternative to conservative interpretations of the Judeo-Christian tradition is a worthy goal.

  4. We've been a halfway house for those transitioning out of conservative religion for a long time. Not sure there's much of a future in that, though certainly for the time being it continues to provide a needed service in some places. Still, I doubt it's a growth industry.

  5. Steve, I can only speak based on my personal observations but I find that folks who most want services to emphasize the unique, secular, non-churchy character of the UU faith are those who have left conservative religious backgrounds. One former minster called them the "come outers".

    By contrast, I find people who "come in" to a UU congregation as their first church home -- people with limited religious histories to be more comfortable with traditional religious language and symbols. I also find this to be true of the (admittedly few that I know) people who were raised UU. It sounds like your experience is very different.

    I agree that being a halfway house for folks coming out of conservative religions may not be a growth industry -- but I do think there may be one in appealing to people who might be "culturally" Christian, Jewish, Hindu etc, but have never really been connected any faith.

  6. Pete, then it would be better to say simply "we are not fighting against faith and belief" without the dig at humanism.

  7. Friends, It's a suggestion. My argument is that you could grow a UU congregation by representing a very specific theological perspective and going all in on that. Before UU's commited themselves to building "theologically diverse reliigious communities" that how UU's assumed that they would grow. When the humanist/theist debate became too divisive, we transitioned to community building.
    The question you are discussing is the necessary question of what do the potential UU's in your community need?
    I can imagine more than one kind of UU community that makes a particular theological invitation: humanists, liberal Christian, "Buddhish", Pagan etc.

  8. Pete, in reply to your second comment- I have actually made the same observation. I myself (having easily discarded my Catholic upbringing in my pre-teen years) have no discomfort with "churchy" things (I certainly have no problem donning my choir robe and singing religious music!) The people whom I have encountered who have strong "church allergies" are indeed recovering fundamentalists who understandably over-react against reminders of what wounded them. I did not intend to convey by my original comment that I am what has been referred to as a "flat-earth humanist"- I'm not. (I much prefer "religious naturalist" anyway.) Which is precisely why I don't like to see jabs at humanists which imply that all are of the "flat-earth" variety.

  9. Anonymous5:04 PM

    'Our purpose is to challenge all theologies and interpretations that oppress and bind the spirit..' I would say this approach could go further then religious doctrines. I think... spiritual practice, and a committed, supportive community encouraging it - is useful for helping us free ourselves from many things that work below our awareness. - from commercialism to cultural/family expectations to fear based journalism to our own defensive egos and to etc.... Surely this approach should encompass much more then freeing us from conservative religious theology? Of course I haven't been personally harmed by a dogmatic religion, but surely they are merely the tip of what contributes to our disconnection in this world?


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