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?

In Order To “Save The World” You Have To Have A Gospel…or Why Join The Church Instead of Amnesty International?

Rev. Dan Harper, over on his blog Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, reports this from the first day of Ministry Days:

Morales tried to evade the question by saying he felt it was the wrong question to ask; many people had tried to answer that question without success so we need to stop asking it. But then he went on to say that Unitarian Universalism must be concerned with social justice work, with making the world a better place, with (and I think used these or similar words) “saving the world.” But to say we want to save the world is to assert that we have a central belief. And I think many Unitarian Universalists would agree with Morales: what we believe in is saving the world through social justice work.

In his response Dan very gently asks the question that I’m going to ask not so gently…if social justice work is our center, how’s that working out for us? Aren’t we so focused on social justice work so we don’t have to do the really hard work of spiritual justice? In other words, don’t we do social justice work so we can avoid theology?

If social justice work is our center, why should anybody join a church instead of Amnesty International? or Greenpeace? or the ACLU? or PFLAG and Human Rights Watch?

In order to “save the world” you must have a gospel. So, what’s the UU gospel? What good news do you give that Amnesty, Greenpeace, the ACLU, PFLAG and Human Rights Watch don’t?