No, Your Neighbor is Probably Not a Unitarian Universalist

I’ve recently seen people share this post from

The mistaken premise of the article is that because Unitarian Universalism doesn’t have a creed, “central message of the UU church is that you can believe anything you want…” though this claim is contradicted immediately with the phrase, “except that there are objectively right and wrong beliefs.”

And, I would like to tell you as a professional Unitarian Universalist Faith Development Facilitator, all of that is wrong.

Firstly, while it is just a truth that one can believe anything they want, you cannot do so while being in a healthy relationship with a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Our churches are pledged to hold members to a responsible search for truth and meaning. If your beliefs are irresponsible or patently untrue, then they will be questioned, contradicted, and maybe even shunned. But, we also recognize that there is no actual vantage point from which humanity can obtain a truly objective view of the universe to base our morality on. We are doing our best with the available information, but we are open to new information  at all times. We believe that the world would be better is every person was treated with worth and dignity, and we come to that from a logical and ethical line of thinking, but it clearly is not (yet) a universally accepted truth and it is possible that we’re wrong. (Let’s try it for 100 years, though, and see how it works out, huh?)

Mr. Tjarks continues, “It’s an appealing message for a society that has lost its faith in God.”

And I hope he’s right here. I think he is. Ours is an appealing message of hope and dignity; one where you were not born broken, but as a human being as valuable as any (and every) other! Of course, that isn’t what he means, but I reiterate that he has UUism all wrong, which is odd since he says he was raised UU. Then again, so many of our youth “bridge” into a chasm rather than into membership, being treated as outsiders in the faith we raised them in. He quotes an interpretation of the reading from Singing the Living Tradition that so many many congregational covenants are based on:

Love is the doctrine of our church.
The quest for truth is its sacrament.
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace.
To seek knowledge in freedom.
To serve humanity in fellowship.
Thus do we declare.

…about which he says, rightly, “The implication of searching for something is that you haven’t already found it…. the UU church fathers didn’t promise truth to their parishioners.” (Ignoring the “church fathers” bit. “Congregational Polity” seems to be beyond his understanding)

And here is where he completely loses the thread about what Unitarian Universalism is. He says. “it (Unitarian Universalism)’s already the default option in American life. Why go on Sundays if you live it 24/7?” And that completely misses the point of a covenantal religion and of Unitarian Universalism in particular. You cannot be a UU if you aren’t engaged and committed by covenant to a UU group. You can believe in our vision, live our values, and even affirm and promote our Principles, but you are not a UU if you are not recognized as such by your fellows in community. That’s because being a UU requires all of the parts of that pledge quoted above, including questing for truth, seeking knowledge, and serving in fellowship. And we believe that all of those things are best done, most effectively, as part of a community that posed uncomfortable questions to help you grow, keeps you involved in ways that are productive rather than self-serving, and to keep you honest about the integrity of your beliefs.

In short, while your participation does not need to occur on a Sunday, you cannot be a solitary UU. Unitarian Universalism is inherently institutional, asking us to pledge to a community than then directs our shared resources towards beloved community. Few people actually can live that way 24/7. Most of us find the intellectual rigor tiring after a certain point, which is another advantage to being able to work in shifts towards our larger goals.

So, as much as I believe the average American would agree with our Principles, or at least most of them, the average American is not a Unitarian Universalist, and isn’t ready to become one. That’s not to say that we can’t still invite them in, give them the choice. Because it matters that being a UU is a choice, and one we make over and over again.

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