Unity is an Appealing Objective

People who attend the church (I really wish there was another name for it; I have issues with calling it a church) that I’ve been visiting periodically tell me they, and the church, are viewed in deeply unfavorable ways by some of the more “mainstream” churches in the area. They are disappointed in others’ perception of them and the church, but they don’t seem to return the contempt. Rather, they seem to hope that, over time, others who misunderstand and mislabel Unitarian Universalism (UU) will grow to understand that its approach is not one that deserves to be reviled. Were I more invested in the church, I would be livid at being branded in such ways. But I’m not, and members of the church certainly are more patient and understanding than I, anyway.

Despite the fact that Unitarian Universalists tend to be progressive, open, and willing to accept the rights of individuals to hold whatever belief they wish, some religious sects (forgive me while I label them fringe cults) view them as the devil’s spawn. Excuse me? What the devil did I just say? But it’s true, apparently. I read online a Baptist minister’s attack on Unitarians; he wrote a scathing letter to the editor of some tiny backwoods town in Kentucky, labeling Unitarians as something akin to Satan in shorts. It was an appalling diatribe and especially ironic coming from a man steeped in the “gentle faith.”

I find it especially annoying to read vitriolic attacks on UU, its adherents, and friends from people who do not have the faintest idea of the way in which the organization operates, nor what its members believe or do not believe. I see similar attacks on Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists; you name it. At any rate, the church I occasionally attend welcomes people of all, or no, faiths; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans—you name it—every is welcome.

The way in which that can occur in a church is that UU does not promote nor enforce a creed. Rather, it says, quite plainly (from its website): “Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal faith. Accordingly, individual members of our UUVC congregation are free to search for truth on many paths. While our congregation upholds shared principles individual Unitarian Universalists may discern their own beliefs about spiritual, ethical, and theological issues.”

That structural dimension of UU is what allows Baptists and Methodists and Catholics and Atheists and Pagans to fit in comfortably, provided they can understand the way in which the members of the congregation view one another and the world around them. Before each weekly program, the people assembled in this little church are asked to affirm a covenant between one another, as follows:

Love is the doctrine of this church,
And the quest of truth its sacrament,
And service its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humankind in fellowship;
To the end that all souls shall grow
Into harmony with the good.
Thus do we covenant with one another.

That does not infringe on anyone’s rights to believe whatever they wish about a divine being, or the lack thereof. I suppose the church’s insistence that everyone has the freedom to think and not be bound by religious dogma is the thing that sticks in some craws. I view it as a highly evolved attitude; others view it, apparently, as sacrilege or worse. Each month, as I attend (or don’t), and find that the congregation has adopted another charity to which members are encouraged to consider supporting (and which the church does), I am impressed with the humanity of the people who support and lead the church. In the past few months, some of the “causes” the church has supported include:

  • Green Leadership
  • Oaklawn Migant Workers
  • Fair Trade
  • Bridges Out of Poverty
  • The Caring Place
  • Garland County Imagination Library
  • Arkansas Red Cross
  • Arkansas Hospice
  • Jackson House
  • Computers 4 Kids
  • Ouachita Childrens Center

I don’t know; how can an organization that supports, and encourages its members to support, humanitarian causes like these be subject to labeling as an anti-Christian or anti-religion group?

The UU church does all the things more “traditional” churches have long done (and for which I applaud those more traditional churches), but without demanding a theology that conflicts with my view of the world and that does not demand my acceptance of a history (across many religions and sects) of violence and societal discord.

Am I writing this to encourage you (or anyone) to join the Unitarian Universalist church? No. I am not even a member; I attend as a guest or a friend and have no plans to (and seriously doubt I ever will) join. I’m writing this to get an irritant off my chest. And to introduce a “religion” (again, I don’t much like the word in this context) that I find appealing and very compassionate and human. I’m not a religious joiner. If I were, maybe I’d join UU. It’s probably the only one I’d ever consider joining.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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