Wednesday, July 12, 2006

said by Bill Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, at General Assembly:

"Every expert who looks at us from the outside, reminds us that we are a faith community of tremendous coherence. That we share so much. And demographics tell us that the average Unitarian Universalist is a very identifiable animal: white, middle to upper-middle class, terminally over-educated, Birkenstock-wearer, Prius-driver, and still upset that Jeb Bartlett's second term has ended."

the comment about jeb bartlett's term definitely amuses me. i only wish. :)

but, on a more serious note, i have noticed that most of the people at church strike me as extremely educated...and extremely white. i agree that it would [as in the context of the comment] be a good idea to discuss ways to broaden the membership--broaden the ways that people could hear about unitarian universalism, and
decide if it's the religion for them. i don't know much about publicizing religious communities...if it should be done like publicizing many other things, with signs and stuff, or more subtly, as my gut instinct is telling me right now.

it reminds me of a discussion i had with another person at church, a week and a half ago, who was telling me with enthusiasm and interest the seminars he went to at General Assembly about getting the word out that unitarian universalism exists, and what it is all about. we discussed for a while about how speaking publicly about a community of faith is getting such a bad name, thanks to the religious right. they speak so publicly about their churches, in a sense of "believe what i believe, or you're going to hell." it crosses the line from publicity across to intrusion, to coercion. that kind of publicity would not sit well with basic unitarian ideology--the idea that people can take responsibility to discover, act on, and continue to build on and refine a faith that makes personal sense.

but, the idea of getting the word out about the idea of unitarian universalism makes a lot of sense to me. it goes beyond the desire to have a more racially and socioeconomically diverse church community. it touches on an idea i read in the challenge of liberal religion, a book i read earlier this summer about unitarian theology. it discussed an idea, that i found a lot of truth in, that people often have two "religions": their personal religion and their church religion. there's the faith their church teaches, in which they go to ceremonies and services every week, or few weeks, or few days, in which they observe, but may not agree with a lot of the teachings in. then, there's the personal religion, the compendium of religious ideas and teachings that the person agrees with and finds meaning in.

sometimes, the two are substantively equal: the religion observed at their chosen house of worship is well-mirrored by the religion that the person believes and observes day in and day out. sometimes, the two are not even close to equal. the person may still go to the house of worship due to habit, or family tradition, or one of a million other reasons, but the church religion and the personal religion are not substantially similar. sometimes, people realise this, reconcile or simply live around the duality somehow, and keep going to the old church.

but, sometimes people realise the difference between their personal religion and their church religion, and want to find a new place where both intersect. that's where i think getting the word out about any religious community can be a good thing. if it's not done in a proselytizing manner, but rather by saying "this is who we are, these are the basic tenets of the religion, come investigate if you're interested", then a religious community can become more expansive, just by people knowing about it and coming in, if they feel their personal religion and that church's religion would fit together well.

i don't think there's a race line, or a socioeconomic line, in the faith that inherently makes unitarian universalism less attractive to people who aren't white and aren't able to wallpaper their bedroom with advanced degrees. ideologically, i think it is the opposite, a very inclusive religion, one that emphasizes and nurtures each individual's search. but, many people won't know that, won't consider it as something that may fit their personal religion, unless they find it somewhere on their search. evangelism is one thing, i'm not for going out there and asserting that unitarian universalism is the true way, or everyone's personal religion--that would be intrusive and patently against everything the religion stands for. but, there's nothing wrong with some publicity, giving the church a little more public presence somehow, and inviting people to come by if they are interested.

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