Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Oppressed UUs

I suppose I enjoy a good semi-theological cat fight as much as the next person, but the current fracas at Philocrites and LiveJournal highlights a real problem in so many UU communities.

Everyone seems to claim the title of least appreciated or most oppressed UU out group. In this thread it is youth, in the argument above it is the atheists. Sometimes it is the Christians. I know it is the same for pagans but I do not have a good link for their grievances online. (Somehow using the word grievance makes me wonder if we should just have one grand Festivus, air our grievances and try feats of strength)

This is not to deny the legitimacy of anyone's grievances. Liberal religioin is harder to do well than liberal politics. It is important to remember that tolerance literally/denotatively means "to bear with repugnance." We must aspire to do better than that. Especially in these cases where it does not cost us much.

I believe that UUA President Sinkford is actually making a step in the right direction with the "Vocabulary of Reverence" effort he is making. When the initial news stories occurred, I googled David Bumbaugh at Meadville-Lombard and he sent me a copy of one of his papers on "A Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence." I found it personally meaningful and have used his work in a couple sermons.

I am by no means a lifetime UU. My experience with the UUA is entirely defined by Bill Sinkford's presidency. LIke many enthusiastic UU converts, I read A Chosen Faith and in spite of my dogmatic materialist atheism I fell in love with Buehrens and Church (like all good converts should :)) I did not feel particularly threated or offended in the way that Rieux does. Some people do make a religion out of anti-religion and I have never seen it be a healthy experience for them. I once met a cult deprogrammer who made a religion out of being against cults. I found that he and his colleagues had made their own cult of anti-cultists.

For all the complaints people make about John Buehrens, I do at least feel compelled to mention that he was nothing but supportive of my line of questioning and even followed up my questions with emails when he taught a short class I attended. I find him uncomfortably dogmatic occasionally, and I have some real differences with Rev. Dr. Church on the political implications of his doctrine of evil and sin.

If I knew how blogger worked, I would put up a poll that asks which marginalized UU subgroup is yours. Maybe you are young. Maybe you are single. Maybe you have a different theology. Maybe your congregation does a bad job of including people with young children. Maybe your congregation does a bad job of including people without children. Maybe you can't make it to church anymore and are lonely.

I think these very real feelings of exclusion interfere with people taking other issues of inclusion more seriously. How can we do a better job of accepting one another and encouraging each other to grow? I'll admit that a lot of the congregations I know avoid the words church, worship and sermon.The would never sing the word G-d in hymn #413 Go Now In Peace when the children leave. So for now, I am an atheist but I will caucus with the Christians and Pagans and see what I can do in my congregation to increase everyone's sense of acceptance.I know that some people in other places will need to be on the opposite mission.

Just for the record, the UU subidentity I will claim is left wing political activist. And by this I mean left of the Democratic party and more oriented towards Infoshop and Indymedia than DailyKos or Kevin Drum. When I write overtly as a UU I will be criticized for being too political and confusing liberal politics with liberal religion. I've found it a lot easier to develop a sense of myself as religious than as a liberal. As a "self-styled radical" my concerns may be fairly predictable. We really do need to more intelligently address systems of oppression with our UU culture, especially race and class.

I know Rogi has in the past made a good case for the experience of low income UUs. I have also seen some spirited defense of UU antiracism/antiopression work at FUUSE.

We need to get our house in order so that we can live up to the meaning of our message.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Speaking of "most oppressed outgroup," in "Faith Communities Today: Growth and Decline in UU Congregations," the Rev. Charlotte Cowtan makes the following observation about a recent survey of UUs: "The only categories of participating adults less common than life-long UUs were non-white (Euro-American) racial/ethnic minority groups." If I'm reading that correctly, life-long UUs are the second smallest minority in our association, just above non-Euro-Americans. No wonder those of us who remain have a hard time coming up with a consistent religious identity. For the record, I'm a Unitarian Universalist. Period.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger jfield said...

Your point reminds me of an even smaller group I would love to meet. Lifelong UU children of lifelong UUs who are under 50. I'm really curious how many people that meeting would have.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger fausto said...

Lifelong UU children of lifelong UUs who are under 50. I'm really curious how many people that meeting would have.More than you might guess, at least here in eastern Mass. There are several in my congregation alone. I imagine there are fewer out there on the Left Coast, though.

At 6:14 PM, Blogger jfield said...

Maybe I should have stipulated a Mass Bay district exception. I still think it would be an interesting UU World article or General Assembly gathering.

At 4:24 AM, Blogger mperloe said...

The disheartened minority in our congregation is the Bush-supporting Republicans. In order not to offend the politically conservative members in our congregation discussion on how governmental policies run against UU principles was not considered respectful of these members.

At 5:47 AM, Blogger jfield said...

I seriously thought about UU Republicans before I posted my No to Gonazles post. I think there must be at least some bottom line we do not sink below.

This raises the great question how do we avoid being the lowest common denomination?

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Phil said...

The lowest common denomination? That's a good one. I keep hearing how we're a "big tent" religion. Sometimes it seems like we're more of a sideshow.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger fausto said...

(currently posting as 'fausto', formerly as 'smcisaac')

Maybe I should have stipulated a Mass Bay district exception. You'd need to exclude the Ballou Channing district as well, or you'd fail to catch the Plymouth church and her neighbors. There are many more Unitarians in the Mayflower Society than the public at large.

AS for Republicans feeling out of place, some of the ones in my congregation (and others nearby) have been both Unitarian and Republican for a whole lot more generations than two. These are families that used to own their own pews, back when the interior of the meetinghouse was real estate and the GOP was the forward-looking party of emancipation and reconstruction. They're still here, they can hold their own against upstarts, and they aren't going anywhere.

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Jaume said...

I think that the problem with today's UUism is not which subgroup has more grievances, but the fact that there are subgroups. This group thinking is divisive and is eating away our common identity. I am also a Unitarian Universalist, period.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Well said LCU. Especially your parting shot. . .


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