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Do U-u Know The Way To Progressive Christianity, Part One

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[please note: I am splitting a really long post here from the Debate board because a) it got tooooo long and B) it really wasn't intended to provoke debate anyway, just a discussion of progressive Christianitity]




In the middle of the last century the Unitarians and the Universalists in the United States joined together to form the Unitarian-Universalist Association. Based on their understanding of the teachings and examples of Jesus, they wanted a non-creedal, non-exclusivist vision of religion in which people of all faiths or no faith could come together to serve a Higher purpose and share a common fellowship. So today UUs come in all flavors, so to speak. Because their set-up is congregational rather than denominational, each church can be very distinct. In some UU congregations you might think you were in a progressive Christian church, while in others you might think you were in a liberal social justice picnic and book club. In some, you might hear frequent references to the Source, the Divine, or God, and in others people might cringe or make a sour face at the mere mention the G-word. In some, the life and example of Jesus is celebrated as a model for how to be fully human and recognize the Divine in all things, whereas in others (as some have joked) the only time you hear anyone mention Jesus in their church is if someone trips on the stairs on the way out. Indeed it is hard to praise or criticize UUism without someone pointing out that the comment doesn't hold true for their congregation, making even thoughtful critiques difficult.


While they won't call them creeds, the UUs do have their principles:

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:



The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.


Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:


Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.

Perhaps then it is fair to say that in their exuberance for inclusivity based on the inspiration from Christ's UUism dismantled their Christian identity any overt primary references to the Christian tradition. Given the negative association some have with the political and social bedfellows Christianity has kept at various times in its history, this could be seen as a plus. Come on in Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Jainists, Buddhists, Animists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc. There is no big scary judgmental GOD here nor the guilt trip often associated with stories and sermons concerning the remembrance of Jesus. For those healing from negative experiences with organized religion this may also be perceived as a boon.


On the other hand, this transition has created problems as well, as summarized in the following joke:


What do you get when you cross a Jehova's witness with a Unitarian?


Someone who knocks on your door for no reason.


Nor is this just a view of people outside UUism who don't appreciate what the organization has to offer. Here is one recent complaint from a UU minister about the effects of certain attitudes/agendas expressed within the UUA. Nor am I a UU-basher. I have attended a few services at a couple of locations and I have a great hope for the success of such an organization (you can read more about my hesitation and uncertainty over UUism here).


Another way to put it is this: What is religion and spirituality actually about? What are the essential components? Does being progressive and non-exclusive in terms of salvation/enlightenment/etc mean becoming non-distinct in terms of tradition? That is, is there a difference between

  • being a progressive Christian who is a part of the interfaith/interspiritual movement who sees value and occasionally draws on other traditions but who still functions within the broader context of the Christian tradition, and,
  • someone who begins firmly rooted in a tradition such as Christianity and who has grown to organically incorporate elements from other traditions into a primary and consistent practice as part of a long and serious journey of growth, and,
  • someone who identifies with no particular religious label, talks a lot about the value of religious diversity, and switches back and forth between a number of various practices?

And which of these, if any, do we imagine as being a preferable model for what a progressive Christianity? Should we even have a rough idea of what we think a progressive Christianity should look like? What can we learn from the experiences of the UUA, or even from working with the UUA?


[click here to read Part Two]

Edited by tinythinker
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I think there is definitely a place for the UU who knocks on the door for no reason... when I was briefly part of the local UU congregation I saw a lot people having their needs met. No, it wasn't for me, but there are a lot of things that aren't for me. That doesn't mean I can't value them or understand it works for others.


There is certainly a huge part of going to church that serves important psychological functions. For those who don't fit with a more traditonal church setting because of their religious beliefs or because of being agnostic or atheist or something else a UU may serve that function.


My life stays in balance because of three parts: work, church, art. Work gives me a greater purpose but their are serious limits to it. Church gives me a place to funciton as a layleader and place where I can openly discuss my thoughts, beliefs, practices regarding politics, sexuality, and religion. Because my beliefs about politics and sexuality I relate to my religious beliefs this is the most appropriate place for that. Art fulfills my creative need to express myself. Right now I do through the making of baby dolls. A year ago I was making doll clothes. Who knows what I'll be doing a year from now! When I was only working I was seriously out of balance. When I started going to church my life got in a little more balance. When I started in a leadership role at church the balance improved. It wasn't until I started expressing myself artistically that I started to fill fulfilled and whole -- completely in balance (most of the time).


What works for me, might not work for someone else.

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