The editorial hand and the UUA

Jess (Jess’s Journal) picked up on a thoughtless — but I don’t think malicious — description of Unitarian Universalism at the new site that included the line “Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian religion.” None of the other religious options within Unitarian Universalism were ruled out. Needless to say, a bunch of Unitarian Universalist Christian ministers kept the Interwebs a buzz for a few days. What do we do? What do we say? Why is this still happening. Independently, but almost simultaneously, a bunch of us wrote in, as we later revealed. Our objections were heard and honored and the text is scheduled for a change.

Problem solved, case closed.

The how long question nags. Several years ago, that meant, “How long would Christians in the UUA be sidelined?” Today, all it takes is a bit of gumption and things can change; this might have always been true.

But today, with increasingly decentralized Internet communication and the name recognition this brings, editorial control for Unitarian Universalism is now much wider than the UUA staff and a few independent (but low circulation) periodicals. The emerging “how long” question is “how long will it be before an outsider won’t necessarily go to first?”

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I’m absolutely puzzled by these complaints. The very next two lines on the website say “[o]nly 9.5 percent of Unitarian Universalists today identify as Christians. Because of the freedom within our faith, there are many differing opinions regarding the role of Christianity in our religious community.” Even if the statement that UUism “is not a Christian religion” is somehow unclear, and I would argue that it’s not, the context makes the statement perfectly clear: While UUism is not necessarily a Christian practice, some UUs are Christians.

    Should I have complained if the website said “Unitarian Universalism is not a Humanist practice”? Or “Unitarian Universalism is not Buddhism”? I wouldn’t have.

    But I do understand the siege mentality. I’ve got that when it comes to a few things, too.

    Happy Easter, Scott.

  2. First, don’t get me started about bait and switch of the nonscientific 1997 poll which was elevated to a census. That’s where the 9.5% figure comes from.

    But my objection isn’t so puzzling. There’s plenty of recent history when the Christians have been tolerated at best as a throw-back. A past-oriented rhetoric is still the norm, and it doesn’t take too many steps of logic when you say “Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian religion” to get to “We’re waiting for them to die out.” Which, apart from being cruel, is untrue.

    And yes, if the same thing had been said of the Humanists, who are very much in the same boat the Christians were in a few years ago, I would expect a complaint. (The Buddhists may or may not be stirred, as is their wont.)

    Last thing — I don’t think there is a siege mentality among the Christians any more. There once was, and it paralyzed every thing it touched. But those days are past and self-assertion and new projects have taken their place. How else can the “die out” rhetoric strangely overlap the “the UUA is getting too Christian” line I’m hearing more and more.

  3. I want to go back to your last “how long” question — “how long will it be before an outsider won’t necessarily go to first?”

    This is actually something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I’m pretty sure it’s already happening. I think one or two of our newcomers here in New Bedford skipped, and came to church on the strength of our Web site alone. I know our church Web site gets hits from local social action Web sites, which I suspect is people who have never seen

    I’m wondering too about the emerging ideas of the Semantic Web. The way I understand it, FOAF would likely lead people directly to congregational or personal UU Web sites, bypassing a centralized UUA Web site. And I’m hearing that the Semantic Web might help people to do place-based searches (the biggest weakness with current search engines is that it’s hard to find Web sites for organizations in your community) — here again, likely bypassing

    Absolutely a trend to watch….

  4. I usually say something like ‘Unitarianism is rooted in Christianity’ which allows freedom in interpretation of how you want to be rooted – but I think has to be true.

    Browsing the same pages I looked at the Humanism section where they claim that Joseph Priestley was a humanist. That is definitely incorrect, he was very committed to Christianity, although to be fair people in his own lifetime made that mistake because he was a philosopher and politically radical. (Or are they talking about someone else? they spell the name without the last e)

  5. Priestley could be termed a Humanist, but only in the classical sense. Before the 1900’s religious humanism was largely viewed as a Christian theology where the lens of interpretation was human story, human perception, human experience, and the humanity of Jesus Christ. This in contrast to theologies that emphaisze opinions about what God thinks, God’s power, and God’s knowledge. After the 1900’s we get definitions of Humanism that are more influenced by the scientific method and secularism, and the trend towards Humanism being defined as scientific-rational non-Theism.

  6. I’d have said, “Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian or theistic religion as far as most UUs are concerned.”

  7. Once again, I miss a ringing affirmation of what Unitarian Universalism is.

    Protesting over and over about what one is not is simply juvenile; perhaps a reflection of where we are in our development as a faith community.

    I think insisting that ours is not a Christian religion makes it inevitable that we will fail to learn the language we need to talk to folks who might be allies (or even leaders) in the social justice work we want to be doing – just because they are Christian. This seems like a recipe for staying small and, dare I say it, irrelevant.

    Speaking of Priestly, I have no problem, BTW, with my doctrine of humanity firmly in view, in characterizing myself as a Christian Humanist. Not a choice I recall being offered in the 9.8% poll.

  8. And why do these flawed results live on? Because no sociologists actually study Unitarian Universalists and no department of the UUA is charged with ongoing studies that would reveal better answers.

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