Unitarian Universalism is a religion, not just a social movement.

Let me be unequivocal – Unitarian Universalism is a religion.  We are not just a social movement. (This comes in response to some of the comments in my post about General Assembly below.)

We are a religion.  We worship.  What do we worship, that’s open for interpretation.  Worship does NOT mean that we get on our knees and pray to a God with a beard sitting on a cloud (unless you want to.)  You can worship in all kinds of ways and means, you can worship God, you can worship the Goddess, you can worship gods, you can worship the inner light in all of us, you can worship the Holy Spirit, you can worship the good in humanity, you can worship our interdependence.  Hell, you can worship the Jonas Brothers for all I care.  Whatever and/or whomever you chose to worship is your personal choice, and that’s what makes Unitarian Universalism unique among religions.  Our individual choice is just that – individual.  When we come together to worship, we worship both internally and externally.  You need not believe alike to worship together.  That’s an outdated model of ministry that our faith and our religion rightly rejects.

I started off attending Unitarian Universalist as an atheist, but you know what, I still saw Unitarian Universalism as a religion.  But I dove in headfirst.  Now, my beliefs are all mucky – I think I believe in some kind of higher power, but not sure what that belief looks like yet.  And no matter what I thought in either case, I remained a member of the Unitarian Universalist faith.

We are a religion.  We are a community of faith.  We are a community that worships together in some manner. We minister to people every day.  We find connections to the divine every day.  We worship every day.  We are not merely a non-profit or an NGO.  We are not merely a social justice club.  We are not merely an educational institution.

We are a religion. We are a church.

And it’s high time we act like it.

15 responses to “Unitarian Universalism is a religion, not just a social movement.

  1. I don’t know if you had the opportunity to attend the presentation by Rebecca Parker & John Buehrens about their new book, “A House for Hope.” One of many things I liked about the presentation was when Rebecca talked about her allergy to the word “hope.” As a community, many of us struggle with word-allergies, and it is only through patient conversation with each other that we can be healed.

    It’s a very individual thing. The word “religion” doesn’t bother me, but “worship” makes me break out in hives, even though the thing you call worship is something I very much enjoy (singing, time for contemplation, etc.).

    Some people aren’t willing to work on their allergies, and that’s not cool. Other people want those of us with allergies to just “get over it,” and that’s not cool, either. Balance is a good thing, I think.

  2. I was planning on hitting up house of hope, but I just needed some personal time. I think they have video up on the web of it.

    I can understand people having words that set them off / have allergies too. Prayer is a loaded word for me, and words do have power (why I dislike all the wordsmithing stuff at GA in regards to the peacemaking SOC.) I agree with you finding the balance there is important – in my experience, I’ve just seen more on the resistance to using religious words side rather than embracing religious words side

  3. My partner’s barley allergy has made me a much more creative cook–we make all our own bread, for example. Though it’s hard work, I think the same is true for UU work around word allergies. Our allergies force us to think about what we really mean.

    For example, I’m very interested in why “prayer” is a loaded word for you.

  4. Another way of looking at it. Kinsi, is that, if we are not a religion, we might not qualify for our tax-exempt status. Anyone want to calculate the past-due tax, interest, and penalties that would result? In some states, our incorporations as religious organizations might be fraudulent. To say nothing of the fact that the weddings performed by our ordained clergy might not be legally valid. If we are not a religion, we could be in really deep doo doo.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to worry. We are a religion.

  5. Perhaps the reason I see UUism as a movement rather than as a religion is because I personally don’t worship. The dictionary definition of worship is “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration of a deity”. I don’t feel that. I have no deity, no expectation of afterlife. I do have a great sense of community, of family, within my congregation, and I value that. I have a moderate-to-mild allergy to “god talk”, which will be tested with our new settled minister, who seems to use it a lot—metaphorically, not literally, but still. . . . it pushes the wrong buttons for me. However, I will try to see past the words to the substance.
    I think the wordsmithing just proves that words have power: those uncomfortable with the words chosen feel it important to change them, just as those who wrote them chose them for specific personal meanings—to me, it means that we are all thinking carefully how to best express ourselves in a collective document, and to me that is a good thing. (I do agree that more of it should be done before GA.)

  6. Patrick McLaughlin

    SalliejaneG, I understand your sensitivity to the “w” word. That said… the dictionary definition is *not* the only meaning, nor is it the root meaning.

    The roots of the word are “worth” and “shape”. The sense you’re reacting to is not the original one. It’s just the one that’s commonly available. But the same is true of other words. “Theology” is from a Greek term that pre-existed Christianity. So the idea that theology is studying about god turns out to be wrong. That’s the narrow sense. The older sense, the root, is the study of things that are sacred, things that are of ultimate worth and importance.

    Let’s face it–the shaping of what is worthy and important *IS* what UUs do on Sunday mornings.

    Most people who have any education at all about the subjects of “god-talk” understand that they’re talking about things that are metaphor, laden with nuances…. The idea that the little kid version of Sunday School god has anything to do with mature, adult notions of what the sacred might be is just painful. It’s painful when it’s waved around by the fundamentalists, and painful when it’s waved by those who reject that vociferously… and imagine that *those* definitions are the ones that other people are using….

  7. Unitarian Universalism is the religious refuge of last resort for many people, myself included. We have nowhere else to go. Many of us have quite a bit of education about “god-talk,” and do not find it helpful when UUs who are comfortable with more traditional religious language think that a bit of etymological gymnastics will enlighten us. Despite the convenience of the “allergy” metaphor, many of us have done the hard work of thinking through our religious language. We are not reflexively waving around little-kid, fundamentalist notions of what is sacred.

  8. Mark Thompson

    I came upon this site through a ‘Google alert’ and I’m interested to read more!

  9. @ Partick – You know I love you, Pat. But I disagree regarding etymology. The origins of a word only tell us the origins of the word, which is something worthwhile only in some areas of study. What etymology cannot ever tell us is what the more correct or better meaning of a word is. Nor does etymology even open up new possibilities for meaning. Words have meaning as they are used or accepted in communities of people. Regardless of what etymology tells us of what originally was understood from a word.

    Of course, if etymological study gives us wiggle room to reclaim a useful word, it is, to that extent, good. :)

  10. nagoon – Interesting point. See, I come to UU having grown up in no kind of religious environment. There are definitely (at least) two streams of people coming in to Unitarian Universalism – People who are coming in scorned from other faith traditions, and people who are coming into UUism without coming from a religious background.

    I think those of us who come from no religious background are actually more willing to accept religious terms in worship. Because we have already made that jump into going to a church (and what a leap it is), we come prepared to listen to religious language.

    Any religious words we find off putting are due to how followers of said religions used those words, rather than how religious leadership (ministers, etc.) used them. Like, one of the reasons I’ve got issues with the word prayer are because of being told, a million times growing up in south Georgia, “I’m going to pray for you” when they found out I didn’t believe in God. I’m having to overcome internal resistance to the word prayer because of that, not because of the institution of Church. A lot of UUs out there who do come from other faith traditions have been spurned and/or offended and/or hurt by big c Church, so they are less likely to be welcoming of religious terms

  11. Excellent point, Kinsi. I’ve been thinking about the differences between those born-to UU, and those who I usually call refugees. But it’s an interesting addition to my thinking that some people come to UUism from no tradition whatsoever. Thanks!

  12. I am a third-generation atheist, so I have a lot of baggage about religious language. (On both sides of my mother’s family, churches were unwilling to make accommodations for the budgetary constraints of first-generation Americans in stringent economic conditions), on my father’s side, pastorly reassurance to my grandmother that my dad and his brother would not have to sit with “colored” children (the general term at the time). So I have been brought up seeing religion as hypocritical, and simply without a place for a god in my life.
    I was looking for new friends when I sought out the local UU congregation, as a result of various personal events that virtually eliminated my social network, and that is who I found at Central Unitarian. I tolerate the religious aspects—I would probably have been more at home in a congregation that was less traditionally religious, but now that I have made so many friends and become a part of the community I would not consider moving.

  13. Pingback: Social justice at GA, suffering, salvation, and more « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  14. Kinsi, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog – thoughtful and interesting.
    I understand of course that you speak for yourself and not for an official UU position, but when you say “Unitarian Universalism is a religion. … We worship” you might want to consider that it begins to sound like you’re speaking for UUs. And many of us don’t worship.
    @Patrick: You say to SalliejaneG “The roots of the word are ‘worth’ and ‘shape’. The sense you’re reacting to is not the original one. It’s just the one that’s commonly available.”
    Patrick, I’ve heard that before, but really, if language is to communicate, then we have to use words the way words are commonly understood. Otherwise, we are not communicating but just making sounds.
    So I’d just like to say that I’ve been a UU for — oh, I don’t know, maybe 30 years. And I can’t speak for everyone in my congregation, but I know I speak for many of us when I say “We don’t worship.”

  15. Helen,
    Thanks for your comments; I just reviewed this discussion and stand by my personal statement that I neither worship nor pray. However, if other UUs do so comfortably, that is fine with me. In fact, our new settled minister uses a lot of “god language”, and challenges us all to see beyond the literal interpretations of biblical stories. I am doing my best to keep an open mind, but sometimes it does go against the grain. I was amused to find myself joining the Worship Committee toward the end of our last settled ministry (~2008) to keep our Sunday services from becoming too “religious/sacred”; to keep the committee balanced. I have enjoyed the discussions there. Our congregation is pretty evenly split between those defining themselves as religious and those defining themselves as humanist/atheist. I really enjoy the mix!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s