What The %&*^# Is UU Identity?!?! pt.2 or What Schools Count? pt.3, The Swedenborgians Are Coming pt.4

What the %&^*@ is UU identity?

Tuesday’s post posed a question that had been brewing in me for a while and came out because of Patrick Murfin’s comment. Just to let Patrick know, I used his comment because I hoped that he would know that I was talking about a larger issue.

I’ve heard the term “UU identity” for a while now. The reason I asked the question about exactly what IS “UU identity” is because I have a very bad feeling that the term is used as a code to talk about who is “one of us” and who is “not one of us.”

To be perfectly frank, when I hear “UU identity” I hear “uh oh, this person is <place racial group or socio-economic status group here>, they’re not really one of us.”

So what makes up UU identity? Are we confusing UU identity with UU culture?

I’ll keep posing the question ’til I get a direct answer……what the %&*^@ is UU identity? [and by extension….am I less of a UU because I choose to go to a non-UU seminary?]


9 thoughts on “What The %&*^# Is UU Identity?!?! pt.2 or What Schools Count? pt.3, The Swedenborgians Are Coming pt.4

  1. For me, what Unitarian Universalists believe speaks more about their identity than does race, socio-economic status, or other demographics.

    In the early 90s, the Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide had an essay “Our Beliefs” by David O. Rankin. A subsequent edition of the Guide took it out, unfortunately in my opinion. It gives me a sense of who UUs are. http://www.uufortwayne.org/beliefs.html

    So does Doug Muder’s blog post from last year, “Some Assembly Required – Bedford Version”. http://tinyurl.com/lahodu

  2. Kim – In my opinion, UU identity is about how a person understands his/her spiritual identity. And so if your spirituality is in some sense Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist in a way that has links to these historic religious lineages, then I would say that you are UU. As a caveat, my position is a tad more ecumenical than some are comfortable with.

    Others conflate a UU identity with conformity to Beacon Street efforts at “branding” the religion (must we all have the same elevator speach?); or as conformity to official positions coming out of the Boston headquarters. Still others would define a UU identity in sectarian terms regarding what a person does NOT believe, in contrast with American Protestant culture. This is often combined with a desire to hive ourselves off from other liberal denominations, so that we can be real UU’s. That last part is a statement I’ve heard when multi-denominational churches and campus ministry programs in the UUA choose to sever ties with other denominations (eg. we needed to dump the joint UCC affiliation so that we could be real UU’s).

    To be blunt, I view you as fully UU in your identity. And unfortunatly some others may view you as “blurry”. And this has to do with much more than where you choose to go to seminary, but could also include other expectations about conforming to the UU “brand”, being a “team player” on official denominational statements, or being too cooperative with other liberal denominations.

    A fascinating question for us to ponder is this. If we are so radically inclusive, universal, and non-creedal, why is it that identity issues consume so much of the energy in our association of congregations? As you’ve noted elsewhere, other congregational religious bodies (including some liberal ones) do not devote this much energy to identity issues, but still have coherent identities.

  3. “If we are so radically inclusive, universal, and non-creedal, why is it that identity issues consume so much of the energy in our association of congregations?”

    The simple answer to that question is that U*Us are not nearly as “radically inclusive”, universal, or indeed non-creedal as they claim to be. Ditto for *welcoming*. . . There are no shortage U*U “Welcoming Congregations” that are far from genuinely welcoming to visitors or even U*Us who do not “fit in”. How many U*U “Welcoming Congregations” would *really* be welcoming to a Christian-oriented Log Cabin Republican?

  4. Kim—

    I am relieved you didn’t think my comments were an attack on you.

    But I do think you are wrong to automatically associate “UU identity” with a knee jerk desire to keep the club closed except to “people like us.” In fact, I have been pretty outspoken against the often closed culture of many of our congregations—particularly on class and caste issues. As a working class lay person I know from experience how off putting—even hostile—the reception can sometimes be. And I am completely in favor of breaking out of worship conventions, including music and prayer, which confine us to a cultural ghetto. That is why I was so active in Peter Morales’s Presidential campaign—he seemed to have a real grasp on this problem, although the solution certainly cannot come just from Beacon Hill. Change needs to happen in congregations. The UUA can only facilitate that change.

    When I talk about UU identity, it just means a grounding in our history and theological development. We have always been a living, evolving religious movement. But if we don’t have good road maps showing us how we got here, it’s hard to know how to move forward without just degenerating into “the religion that lets you believe anything.”

  5. When I met David Bumbaugh of Meadville Lombard in 2004 I told him of my experiences with the Swedenborgian faith. I may have mentioned that it reminded me of the Jesus Freak Children of God cult that handed me an ordination certificate for the gospel ministry in late 1971. But I also wanted to ask David about the late Lester Mondale. He brought to my attention a book written by Mondale entitled Preachers In Purgatory which I have since purchased and read.

    I wish your question had been “what the hell is UU identity?” Using all the punctuation in your question is considered having lost your cool and resorting to profanity. Profanity and profaning the temple are probably also integral parts of organized religion as it creates new growth. In that sense the Knoxville Church shooter and Ricky Rodriquez were both murderers and prophets. This too is UU identity.

    You also use the phrase “what exactly is UU identity?” There may be many things but there is never an exactly that all will agree to be exactly.

  6. Hell wasn’t the word I was going to use. And since I didn’t want to offend all sensibilities, it was better for me to use the symbols than to use the real word.

    I think most people get my meaning.

    And you may be right, there may not be (and probably isn’t) many things that make up UU “identity” that all will agree upon. As such I think it’s a term that should NOT be used, especially as it will mean different things to different people.

  7. In response to the question of “What is UU Identity” first, we need to acknowledge this is a term being used right now with regard to institutions, not people. It would be silly to say “I’m a UU Identity minister/congregant.” As a staff member at one of the UU Identity schools, I acknowledge my partiality on the subject. The issue here is not about the worth and dignity of students being dependent upon where that particular student attends seminary, the issue is about our movement continuing to have schools dedicated to preserving the history and traditions that truly are unique to our faith tradition. I cannot speak for the seminarians that go through our UU Identity schools because I am not one of them, but the value goes deeper than preserving what has been to include crafting what our faith tradition CAN be within the context of the values that are shared by many faiths as well as that are unique to UUs.

    The question ought not to be framed in the context that UU Identity schools are perceived as better than non-UU identity schools, but that they are necessary to the continuation of our faith tradition. I need to stress here that if the focus is on preserving our past, alone, we are a dead faith. Inherent in the success of our schools is the success of our faith to meet the challenges of this ever-changing and over-burdened world. Beyond this UU Identity or Not UU Identity issue, I’m not sure if people are hearing the larger context here: mainstream seminaries across the board are in trouble and our two schools are no different. Will Unitarian Universalism continue without identity schools? It is likely, but at what cost?

    I’ve answered as a blogger and as a staffer, and now I’d like to answer as a lay leader in a congregation: people who have grown up in the faith and have experienced the faith in more than one context will most likely be successful regardless of where they have attended seminary. But, what I have found as someone who has witnessed a great number of sermons by a variety of people, the thing I value the most about the education our ministers receive (at least at the school where I work) is the ability to talk to an entire room. These ministers learn to preach to a group of people who hold (and very tightly, I might add) diverse theological perspectives, and from that sensibility are able to create congregations that understand how to work with the difference rather than through it. They also are adept at taking this skill beyond the walls of the sanctuary and into the communities where they live.

    Finally, this is not an “either/or issue,” but a “both/and” one. I won’t pretend that I don’t have a definite opinion. In fact, as our church heads into search, I know that if we had two candidates, equally matched, and one attended the identity school and one did not, I know where my preference would go. Still, the breadth and depth of our movement depends upon the breadth and depth of our leadership—wherever they may study. But, those other schools naturally have a wider pool of support to draw on than our UU identity schools. So the question is not which institutions are better, but which are dependent upon the support of the people in our faith tradition.

    • In response to the question of “What is UU Identity” first, we need to acknowledge this is a term being used right now with regard to institutions, not people.

      Respectfully, I don’t have a clue what you mean by this, uuMomma. I’ve scoured the UUA website and googled endlessly and nowhere other than in your statement do I find UU identity restricted to institutions and held to be inapplicable to individuals. Also, your statement here is the only place I’ve seen “UU Identity” used as an adjective. Please help me understand what you are saying and where the grounding is for the approach and terminology you present.

      I do understand your position of preference for our UU schools (“that they are necessary to the continuation of our faith tradition“) but I don’t get how that position is related to your opening statement.

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