What's In Our DNA (Dialectical Theology, part 7 of many)
I see three governing assumptions that come down from the time of merger.
(1) We are going to be bigger. The merger generation assumed that we were poised to become the religious movement that captured the emerging new consensus: progressive, modernist, liberal, cosmopolitan, tolerant. Millions of people were coming our way; our work was to make them room.
The problem with the assumption that we are the verge of growth is that it has created a recurring frustration, a nagging "what is wrong with us?" bouncing around in our collective heads.
(2) The merger generation thought that public ministry was our most important work. The President would be our public spokesperson, and their ideal ministry setting was the steps of the Capitol.
The problem with the assumption that public ministry was the most important work is that we ride up and down with the state of other movements in the society. The long period of conservative cultural dominance (1980-2012) was dispiriting and demoralizing.
(3) The questions that were glossed over, ignored, or delegated away at the time of merger come down to us now as questions that the UUA has no means to address. The merger generation delegated theological and liturgical questions to the local congregations. The question of ecclesiology was glossed over. After all, the new denomination already had churches, and did not need to answer the questions of what is a congregation, who is it for, how is it formed, what does it do?
A case in point: The UU consensus on theology as expressed in liturgy has emerged as "belief in God is not a primary religious question. Religious liberals consider it an open question, with which much of humankind struggles. Our congregations' liturgical practices should not close this question but allow for it to remain alive for worshippers." It could be phrased in many different ways, but my impression is that this is the rough approximation of how most of our ministers set the boundaries of their liturgical practice and preaching.
Yet, how much energy has been wasted over the decades in local congregations over conflicts and complaints about this question. A rough consensus has emerged among our religious leaders, but no forum exists for articulating the consensus on a denominational level, or even having the conversation. We assume, which is an assumption that is in our DNA, that this are not even a legitimate question.