The worst site

I won’t be naming the worst website in the UUA but I have certainly found it.

  • Is a website supposed to make you cringe, first with fear and then embarassment?
  • Have you ever gone from page to page and asked “why?”
  • Has a site ever made you want to move into an area, just to form a new church?

I won’t name the site because the congregation is rather small and I don’t want to be seen as picking on it. Plus, it is so beyond the pale I don’t think an unsolicited scolding would actually result in anyone changing it. Also, I know that some of you already know about it, and it can be our little secret, like the Hymns of the Spirit anonymous authors code.

But here are two hints:

  • The congregation’s distict has the name of its state in it. (There are five districts with state names in them.)
  • The town/city it is in shares its name with another town/city, but the other one is more famous.

Got it?


Yes, when Larry Smith (hi, Larry) wrote “thong” he meant “thong” — and not what we used to call flip-flops. Here’s another hint for the kitty:

  • This congregation is an Annual Program Fund fair-share honor society.

I feel so dirty now.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. Great God!

    After considering several places with those vague hints, I unfortunately found it. I think that I suspended my belief that that congregation actually belonged to the same ministry to which I have given so much of my time, heart, money and spirit. I wanted it to end time and again.

    The real clincher came when I found the congregational “thong” in the gift shop. Given its location, I suppose I should not be too surprised. Then I noticed that their ministers are not ones in the UUA Directory.

    This is congregational polity run totally amok!

    Reaching for smelling salts in West Chester,
    Larry Smith

  2. Just curious … is the problem with web site design or with the theology expressed on the web site?

    The web site design garishly cluttered from my perspective, but I prefer simple and austere web design.

    Theologically, I’m a UU Humanist. However, I’m OK with sharing our UUA umbrella with folks I don’t agree with. If every congregation and person who disagreed with me and even sometimes embarrassed me were removed from the UUA, there would only be about 5-10 of us left within our demonination.

    Also, why the complaint about thongs? They also sell boxers, t-shirts, tank-tops, etc on their web page.

    If one’s congregational logo is appropriate to wear on a t-shirt, then why would it be wrong to wear it on a thong? What’s so bad about wearing a symbol of one’s religious community “down there”? Is this some whiff of sexuality negative views being inherited from non-UU traditional Christianity?

    If putting the church logo on one’s chest with a t-shirt is OK but putting it on one’s genitals is wrong, perhaps that says something about views on sexuality of the person disapproving.

  3. Oh, bully. We’re back to “there must be something wrong with you if you can be shocked” notion. And where exactly is the church thong (or boxers) supposed to be displayed? (That’s what makes it a false comparison with a t-shirt.)

    So I’m guessing church emblazoned condoms would be OK? Or toilet paper?

    Get a grip.

  4. Found it! It’s the eyes that I find creepy, and when you click on them you don’t get anything all that interesting. And as for the thongs, they strike me as absurd in their mixing of commerclialism, sexuality, and religion. And Steve, this isn’t about being sex-negative, but about noticing the absurd when it waggles itself on your computer screen.

  5. If we want to be taken seriously as a faith community in the broader society, we need to be mindful of not only our own moral values and teachings, but also the broader society’s.

    In some cases it is worthwhile to bear a public, prophetic witness to social norms we find immoral. The great issues of human equality — whether in slavery, racism, sexism, or sexual orientation — are areas where we have borne effective public witness and influence out of proportion to our numbers.

    In other cases, though, if we visibly reject societal norms out of a sense of private judgment, but without any corresponding prophetic, missionary message of social justice behind us, we only come across as countercultural crackpots, as irrelevant members of the looney left whose views on all other matters can also be safely ignored.

    The Internet is a public medium, not only by which we communicate among ourselves, but also through which others perceive us. If the image we present to the larger society is not one of prophetic justice but of a self-referential preoccupation with exotic cat eyes, womens’ drummming ceremonies, and clothes merchandising (with or without thong underwear), the image outsiders take away os one of a small band of clueless, self-absorbed libertines who have nothing useful to offer anyone else. There may be nothing inherently wrong with printing your church’s logo on thong underwear, but there’s nothing inherently prophetic or even religious about selling it and other merchandise over the Internet, either. (Nor could I find anything particularly prophetic or religious anywhere else on their site.)

    I half-wonder if the web site isn’t intentionally absurd and self-parodying — a kind of UU answer to the Landover Baptists.

    Scott, as for your observation that they pay their dues, and knowing that after having mocked their website makes you feel dirty, well, you needn’t. To borrow a well-worn observation from the traditional “language of reverence”, God often chooses broken vessels to further His purposes.

  6. About the “feel dirty” comment: it was in a bit of jest, but not entirely. (And I don’t feel bad about this at all.)

    Given the financial bottom line, this congregation comes out as a “team player” while a congregation that pays less than its assessment (for that’s what the Fair Share has become) gets painted as disloyal or a trouble maker, even if it is because the UUA can’t or won’t provide the services it needs.

    I suppose to say “I feel disgusted” is hyperbolic, but “feel dirty” (or “feel cheated”) seems fair.

  7. On 13 February 2005, Scott replied to Steve:
    “Oh, bully. We’re back to ‘there must be something wrong with you if you can be shocked’ notion. And where exactly is the church thong (or boxers) supposed to be displayed? (That’s what makes it a false comparison with a t-shirt.)”


    There are places where a person gets undressed and another person might see the undergarment … locker rooms, immediately before an intimate encounter, etc.

    It might spark a conversation later on about religion and faith. Should we overlook this opportunity for evangelism?

    Frankly, I don’t see UU church thongs as “shocking.”

    “So I’m guessing church emblazoned condoms would be OK? Or toilet paper?”

    Well … toilet paper doesn’t sound very respectful to me. But I personally don’t see a problem with a UU church distributing condoms with their “brand” on the wrapper. Planned Parenthood distributes condoms with their brand name on them and their views on sexuality education are nearly identical with our denomination’s views on sexuality education.

    Condoms with a UU church logo would make a powerful theological statement about who we are and the salvation we offer from those things that deny life or make life less whole.

  8. I just did a search on Unitarian and Thong and found the site…. makes me feel better about my own as not being so bad… I think I have a great aunt that lives in Hollywood… she isn’t UU though…

  9. OK, I’m going to take the bait. Steve could you explain more about the powerful theological statement it would make if we had condoms emblazoned with little chalice logos? And how is this theological statement made compelling to the general public, when the vehicle for communication is a condom? This gay man turned “preacher” don’t get it. Should our sister denomination in the OWL-curriculum (the United Church of Christ) produce their own condoms with their “Cross & Globe” logo? Readers who don’t know OWL, should know that OWL is the “Our Whole Lives” sexuality curriculum jointly produced by the UUA and the UCC.

    The UUA is not Planned Parenthood, nor are they us. And their logo is a secular symbol representing reproductive healthcare. Chalice condoms seem to me be an odd merging of secular and the sacred; and an odd merger of a sacred ritual image, and a birth-control device that gets rather “junky” when used appropriately. Additionally, even when we dissent from the larger culture, don’t we need to consider how to convey our message in a way that will be most effect at conveying it to the wider public, with accuracy and compelling persuasion? It seems to me that condoms or thongs bearing UU religious logos, won’t do the job (excuse the smutty pun), in Peoria, or in the rural community where I serve a UU church.

  10. There’s a place for kitsch in religion — at any rate, there’s no way to banish kitsch from the way people express themselves religiously — but when the core institutions of a religion can’t tell the difference between kitsch and their best efforts to represent themselves, well, then those institutions deserve whatever mockery they get.

    Kitsch has its place: I own a Darwin-fish refrigerator magnet, for example, which I bought at coffee hour in my first Unitarian church; Mrs Philocrites owns a cheap Blessed Virgin Mary figurine (which we keep in a pink paper lotus blossom like Venus rising from the surf), a memento from a high-church Episcopalian who thought she was insufficiently devoted to the BVM. We like these cheesy expressions of our respective religions, although we also think they represent aspects of our religions that we’re not really proud of. But I would question the good sense of any congregation that put either of these images front and center in its efforts to reach out to the broader community. That’s the issue, Steve. Put your best foot forward in the public square; let people pick up the inside jokes and cheeky paraphernalia later.

  11. Oh little tiny baby Jesus! How did I miss this thread of comments, and am I ever glad I’m wearing water-proof mascara!!!! All I know is, someone had BETTER get a UU thong for her 40th birthday or someone ELSE is going to hear about it. To even dignify some of these comments with thoughtful responses… oh you darling tolerant ones, you are too good and TOO godly.

  12. Mrs P wants me to add that she loves the chalice thong idea and wants one with her Episcopal diocesan shield on it. Personally, I think has a great online shop. PeaceBang, they sell their chalice thong at GA, just in case your many friends forget. Stop by the Young Adult booth. (Plus, if you’re not quite sure how to wear your FUUSE thong, they have helpful pictures of members modeling the products.) Again, I’m kind of charmed that people love to wear their one and only religious symbol all over. I love it, every year at GA, watching people wearing Chalice T-shirts with multi-Chaliced necklaces and Chalice earings carefully inspecting the Chalice jewelry stands for the perfect Chalice ring. Could we find a few more symbols? I’d like a Henry Whitney Bellows votive candle.

    Scott here — comment edited to remove link HTML, something I have to disallow to catch spam.

  13. For what it’s worth, chalice thongs and chalice condoms would not work in my Bible-Belt UU congregation.

    But I’m thinking that chalice condoms would be a good idea for UU campus ministry. It would send a powerful message that we really do care about the worth and dignity of every person and we also care about the interdependent web that all of us belong to. And we want our ministry to be meaningful in the lives of those we meet in the world.

    The suggestion that sexuality (and condoms) are somehow “secular” and have nothing to do with religion puzzles me. Our UCC cousins say the following about the relationship between sexuality, religion, and incarnational theology:

    “One of the implications of the incarnation is God’s affirmation of the goodness of human life as God created it to be, including both our sexuality and our spirituality.”

    So … I can’t see condoms as something secular and divorced from my UU faith.

  14. Peacebang, you don’t need any UU thong for your birthday. Not only are you already a UU, you’re a UU MINISTER, for cryin’ out loud.

    I say we give Rich’s great aunt two thongs instead. Souls are at stake here.

  15. In the not so distant past was a college student, and I’m currently a graduate student at a large public university. I think that condoms with a UU church’s contact info on the wrapper, distributed free to college students, would definately increase the student body’s curiousity about UUism. This would probably translate into a certain number of new members. Better yet if they were distributed by a UU campus ministry group with their meeting times on the wrapper.

    There would definately be some controversy, especially if it was at a Southern school like mine. But we’re no strangers to controversy and it would probably work in our favor. I really don’t give a hoot what the evangelical Christian groups on campus think about us; their minds would already be made up whether or not we handed out condoms. But we’d probably reach the misfits (i.e. potential UUs) and maybe more, and they can always use the support we’re offering. Plus, cutting down on STDs and unwanted pregnancies, regardless of whether it translates into new converts, is always a good thing.

    However, if the chalice were on the condom itself, I’d say that’s going too far. Even though I have a funny image in my head of how it’d have to be expandable to accomodate usage, I think it’s in poor taste, not even funny poor taste.

    I can still remember going to dances in my college days and the bowls with free condoms out front (at the most liberal college in the nation, NOT my current campus!). I sometimes took a handful and recall that they were distributed by the LGBU–Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Union. I can still remember this fact eight years later. That’s good marketing.

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