When Your Religious Group Is Comprised Mostly of Upper Middle Class Educated Whites, Your Religious Group Has A Thin Theology (and UUism Is Not Alone)

All due respect to those who are trying to argue the other side, but can we be a little bit honest with ourselves.

If UUism doesn’t have a thin theology, why isn’t there a UU congregation in Southeast Washington, D.C.? Joplin, Missouri? Within 50 miles of Philadelphia, Mississippi? Within 100 miles of Dodge City, Kansas?

If UUism doesn’t have a thin theology, why do a number of  UU-raised youth who leave the church end up in other churches?

If UUism doesn’t have a thin theology, why are so many UU churches really just revolving doors?

Thin theology is not just about what is preached from the pulpit. It is about how a church reacts and interacts with the community around it. And, let’s keep it real, for too long the only community that mattered to most UU churches was the community of upper middle class, educated whites. If the community around the UU church changed, the UU church moved so it wouldn’t have to change/adapt.

Most UU theology is thin because it is still race, class, culture, and education bound. And it will continue to be thin (and small) until it recognizes the “inherent worth and dignity” of those who don’t fit its traditional demographic.

 

Coda: UUism isn’t alone in this. I think a major reason for the decline of the mainline Protestant denominations can be attributed to the same phenomena.

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11 thoughts on “When Your Religious Group Is Comprised Mostly of Upper Middle Class Educated Whites, Your Religious Group Has A Thin Theology (and UUism Is Not Alone)

  1. I don’t think your argument follows; there are, and have been, deep structural evangelistic problems. You could easily ask why no church in the rich, dom-white Dallas exurb of Frisco, Texas. (One answer: it grew quickly when few churches were planted.)

    But for the record, Liberty Universalist still exists, independent of the UUA, within that radius of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

    http://www.facebook.com/libertyuniversalist

    • Hi Scott.
      Never have I been so glad to be wrong! It’s great to hear about Liberty Universalist…thank you for the link.

      I think the structural problems have a great deal to do with the thinning of theology. If UUism hadn’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater—continued to be in discussion with the rest of liberal, Protestant Christianity—I don’t think there were be the lowest common denominator when it comes to things Associational.

  2. Interesting that I was going to mention Liberty Universalist as well – I know a couple of the members, and know one of the leaders (who is also the leader of an official UU congregation). Certainly the UUA has problems with church planting (to put it mildly) and new church surport, so I’m always impressed with any new congregation shows up.

  3. All we are really saying is that, other things being equal, effort pays–that to the extent that organizations work harder, they are more successful. What could be more obvious? Moreover, at least in principle, the results of hard work are independent of theology. Thus, we are convinced that many of the declining American liberal denominations, for example, could grow if they could somehow get their current members to work at bringing in new members the way strict denominations do. Keep in mind that, although demand is smaller at the more liberal end of the spectrum than in the more moderate niches, liberal demand also is very underactivated. Hence, if liberal groups such as the Unitarians or Episcopalians could count on most members devoting four hours a month to door-to-door canvassing, they would grow a lot! The trouble is that these denominations are unable to motivate such efforts because in practice religious effort and theology are connected. Contrary to the complaints of disingenuous critics that our approach reduces religion to nothing but marketing, we have consistently argued that the inability of the liberal denominations to market themselves effectively is rooted in their doctrines–only vivid conceptions of an active and concerned supernatural can generate vigorous religious action.

  4. Pingback: Solidarity with Muslims, holiday preparations, E.T., and more UU blogging « uuworld.org : The Interdependent Web

  5. I pointed out something similar on Fb, and you called me self righteous…

    It is nice to see us in agreement. We need to take diversity of both thought and culture far more seriously.

    Also, of course our theology is thin. We are spread so thin, trying to include something for everyone, that there is no hope of depth. Until we choose to stand for something, we cannot offer most people anything to get excited about.

    • I’ve tried three times to post a reply; and three times it has failed to post. So I’m assuming that this means I’m not supposed to reply.

  6. The problem isn’t Theology, it’s language. Among UU’s highly educated NPR listeners, not just upper class but educated poor, get to let their hair down and speak to other educated people without the worry they won’t be understood. There are shared cultural references and interests. For this very reason when someone from a different social class or education level arrives at a UU church they are surrounded by friendly people actively having conversations over their heads with no common cultural context. It unintentionally makes newcomers from a different background feel ignorant and excluded, they may even decide defensively that UU’s are just plain pretentious and they leave.

    I don’t know what UU’s can do about it. I have a foot in two worlds being a fairly well educated and cultured fine arts graduate, and working as the educated poor in the working class with peers at work who just as smart but may only have a high school education and a different cultural reference. The thing is that on the part of the UU’s there is a sincere desire to reach out and be more inclusive, there is no intention to offend or exclude. It’s nice for me to have a group of people where I can relax and talk with others who have similar education, conversations I feel starved for outside the UU circle. But that is the very thing that makes it exclude entire demographics of people. Should we be more mindful how we speak, to try to somehow relate to one another in a way that doesn’t exclude by language, interests, or cultural references? I don’t think that’s possible, and if it were tried it might be construed as talking down to different demographics which would probably be worse. I don’t know the answer to this problem, just that it is the problem and not a problem with the principals or the theology itself.

    Before the merger of Unitarians and Universalists the two contained distinct demographics of social class and education, the Universalists being more proletarian. Somehow the culture of the Unitarians persisted after the merger and the culture of the Universalists waned. Perhaps the answer is a revival of the Universalist roots. It is difficult to know how this could be done.

    • “Before the merger of Unitarians and Universalists the two contained distinct demographics of social class and education, the Universalists being more proletarian. Somehow the culture of the Unitarians persisted after the merger and the culture of the Universalists waned. Perhaps the answer is a revival of the Universalist roots. It is difficult to know how this could be done.”

      This is partially incorrect. There is far less distinction in the social demographics between the Unitarians and the Universalists. What there was was a distinction in geography; Unitarians tended to be the urban religious group, and the Universalists were in the less urban areas. If you look at who went to Universalist churches, they tended to be the higher classes in the towns they were in.

      But, of course, I think this is an issue of theology.

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