Revolutionaries? Unitarians? Since When?
On the denominational level, historical awareness is often boiled down to a list of important “firsts” or various progressive stands on social issues. This string of successes is important and inspirational, but it can also become a way of disowning past sins and errors that are still folded into current realities. Most denominations end up with a baseball-trading-card approach to history—they highlight singular achievements but don’t explore larger complexities. I suspect this aversion is one reason why the historical memory of [mainline] denominations seems to stop somewhere after the Civil War and pick up again in the 1960s. The long intervening decades, marking mainline Protestantism’s glory days and its deepest crises, are virtually unknown territory.
from “The past isn’t past” by Margaret Bendroth in the Christian Century–Feb. 9, 2010
The word revolutionary seems to have come up a number of times at GA. Pardon the cynic in me, but when have U.S. Unitarians ever been revolutionaries? Unitarians and their forbears were members of the establishment. And establishments hate/loathe/detest/despise/spurn/etc. revolutionaries and the revolutionary impulse. Establishments benefit from the status quo—the same status quo that revolutionaries are fighting.
Now don’t get me wrong, there have been revolutionary Unitarians (yes, I am being very specific about Unitarians…the Universalist side is different)…Theodore Parker and John Haynes Holmes to name a couple. But the collective….not so much.
Are we following the way of other denominations and looking at our history only through the “firsts or various progressive stands on social issues”? What do we lose if we don’t look at it in the whole?
So were Unitarians really revolutionaries? Or are we looking at our history through rose-colored glasses?
Nothing can change unless truth is acknowledged. And while revolutions and revolutionaries have their place, they must have support from institutions for the change they represent to bear fruit. What institutions does UUism have to support the revolutionaries in its midst? Or are the present-day revolutionaries doomed to the same treatment as previous Unitarian forbears?