Why the UU Mismatches?

More from the comments I made at the Dawning Future Conference
The common feature of many of the mismatches seems to be our insularity. 
  • We build our buildings the way we like them and where we live; 
  • we talk to ourselves in the ways that we are comfortable with; 
  • we treat our religious professionals as though their congregants were their only constituency that mattered. 
  • We finance ourselves just enough to sustain ourselves
  • On the local level, we spend very little on outreach. 

It is as though we think that our congregation is the Beloved Community, rather thinking of the Beloved Community as all humanity made fair and the people one. 

But why are UU's so insular? 

Everything I said about 2013 is even more true now.
It is not surprising when you think about the social climate since 1970. Forty years of 40 years of conservative culture  creates and reinforces a dichotomy between the personal and the social. (Conservative culture is about the personal: individual advancement and fulfillment) Put another way, conservative culture perpetuates a conflict between the spiritual as individual growth vs. the spiritual as the deepening solidarity

In conservative culture, the Kingdom of God becomes heaven, the reward for individual good behavior and faith. In more progressive traditions, the Kingdom of God is more a this-worldly realm of love and justice. 

The Unitarian Universalist response to the conservative dominated culture was to focus on our local congregations where everyone was on their own journey, their own path, to personal fulfillment and serenity. Social justice, well, that’s some people’s thing, their hobby, and they can have their table at coffee hour and their petitions and clipboards. 

The legacy of the conservative era has been our insularity. We have been tending to ourselves, and preserving the peace among ourselves. This has been a self-reinforcing style; congregations become more like themselves all the time, unconsciously narrowing the gate through which people enter.

There is a generational effect as well of the conservative era we have endured.

During conservative periods, liberal and progressive movements do not grow. They don't grow because younger generations do not join them because they do not seem effective and relevant. During the last 40 years, UU's have been so focused on why we can't hold our own young people that we did not really confront the fact that we were not attracting young people at all. 

Consequently, the leadership and the style of Unitarian Universalism aged. Now what? 

In many movements, the existing organizations survive through a tough downturn, but when the underlying movement re-emerges, it often re-emerges in the form of new organizations, with a new style.

The Movement for Black Lives is not the youth wing of the NAACP. In fact, SNCC in 1964 was not the youth wing of the NAACP. The New Left was not the Old Left organizations transformed and brought up to date. The community unions fighting for fast food workers and the minimum wage are not new incarnations of the unions that were so successful in the 1950's. New periods bring forth new organizations, new styles, new leadership to bring life and vitality to on-going and long-standing struggles. 

The situation that we are in is that the Unitarian Universalism we know now is not well-suited for the times that we now live in. It is not the result of a particularly heinous moral failure on our part. It is just the history of our time.

But just as the historical developments of the last half century help explain where we are now, the same "historical understanding of a possible future" can give us guidance to move forward. 

More on that tomorrow. 


  1. "It is as though we think that our congregation is the Beloved Community, rather thinking of the Beloved Community as all humanity made fair and the people one."

    As though?

  2. I was going to underline the same line that John did. Great point, Tom. Great framing.


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