Want to Argue About Creeds? I Don’t
Loving the intellectual challenge and caring passionately about my own beliefs, it is sometimes hard for me to walk away from a debate. I need to try harder, however, and simply look for whatever common ground I can find with others. Unitarian Universalists are fond of saying that we believe in “deeds not creeds.” Almost every Sunday I start the worship service by welcoming visitors telling them that we value diversity of all types. Our congregations include people who self-identify as Christians, Pagans, Humanists, Agnostics, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Spiritualists, and pretty much everything else. I say that what matters most is how we treat other people and how we care for this planet of ours. That is another way of saying “deeds not creeds.”
Our faith tradition has a long history of respect for the individual right of conscience. Believe whatever makes sense to you about God and what happens after we die, but let’s see if we can get together and try to make our own lives and this world a better place. We can discuss differing theological beliefs. I love hearing what others believe about the big issues, and I like to talk about my own, always evolving, sense of the universe and what this life of ours is all about. Arguing is pointless, however, and generally serves to increase the distance between people rather than bring them closer together. We’re pretty good at this at our church. We talk about differences, but we try to do so with respect and as an attempt to understand. We had to work on this and it didn’t happen overnight. Some of our members had been hurt badly by religion they grew up with. They were victims of what I would name spiritual violence. It takes some time and a lot of love to heal those wounds. They can heal, however, and an inclusive religious community can be the perfect place for that healing. I knew that we had come a long way here, when a woman made the sign of the cross before adding her water to the bowl during our water communion. (We do it prayerfully, not as a travelogue). Others noticed and mentioned it to me afterwards. The miracle was that everyone who spoke to me (including at least one atheist and at least one ex-Catholic) was thrilled that she felt comfortable enough with us to engage in a religious practice that clearly held great meaning for her.
Some of the folks in our wider movement, however, and unfortunately some of our congregations apparently don’t understand this. They freak out if God is even mentioned and heaven forbid if someone wants to pray. This reaction comes from fear I think, fear that Unitarian Universalism will become the religion that hurt them, that they ran from. They are afraid that they will be left out and left behind. It is not a totally unreasonable fear. Unitarian Universalism is changing and we will keep changing; change is in our DNA. We were formed from the merger of two Christian denominations, both of which date back to the 1700’s in this country. That history is still part of us, but I don’t think many of our religious ancestors would necessarily recognize us today. We brought in science and humanism, incorporated wisdom from other world religions and from the earth centered traditions. The Transcendentalist also had a huge impact. For those of us who believe in God, revelation is definitely not sealed. For those of us who believe in the human spirit, change is simply part of life.
Our faith tradition has a long history of respect for the individual right of conscience, but that doesn’t mean that our churches and worship practices will not change over time. It does mean that we take diversity of belief seriously, however. I see a real spiritual hunger out there in the world today. People are looking for meaning in a world that devalues spirit, that judges people in so many hurtful ways, and that values profit over compassion and caring. They are not very interested in dry lectures on Sunday mornings. They want to sing, to weep, to think, and to be inspired to do something positive to make the world better. This year, the Service of Living Tradition at our General Assembly provided that. I loved it. At the close, maybe 2300 people were rocking to the gospel music, waving their hands in the air and dancing. Maybe 1200 were freaking out because of the God language in some of the music. (This was NOT a count at all. Just a wild guess at the numbers. Maybe only 200 people were upset and maybe they are just very vocal.)
We need to work through the hurt and the fear if we are going to grow as a faith. No one is going to be left behind, but they will need to learn to both welcome and respect those among us who are yearning for a deeper spirituality. We are better together and there really is room in Unitarian Universalism for all who are looking for vibrant religious community that makes a real difference in the world.
It is time to stop arguing over our theological differences. Embrace them, learn from them, and get busy and do something wonderful.