“Where Are We Going”
By Reverend Tom Capo
Here is a future of Unitarian Universalism: Chalice Man and his Friend, the Flame, save people from fundamentalist beliefs and spread the message of Unitarian Universalism to all those in need of our free faith telling everyone that they meet about a faith home where people can responsibly search for truth and meaning without creeds or dogmas.
Actually, this probably isn’t the future of Unitarian Universalism. But what is?Lots of Unitarian Universalists are shaping a vision for our faith right now. At the 2014 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, our yearly denominational meeting, this rule, Rule G2.3, was passed:
“The Association declares and affirms its special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all of its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavor without regard to [race] racialized identity, ethnicity, gender expression, gender identity, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family and relationship structures, age, language, citizenship status, economic status, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed.”
Now at first read, there might not seem to be anything particularly radical in this policy, which was voted upon and passed after due process by General Assembly delegates, but let’s look at it a little more closely. What does affectional orientation mean? Affectional relationships are what families are built on—the relationship structures within a family. What we most commonly think of is a monogamous relationship between two people being the foundation of that structure. Rule G2.3 by stating regardless of affectional relationships, family and/or relationship structure, declares and affirms Unitarian Universalist’s special responsibility, and that of its member congregations and organizations, to promote the full participation of persons in all its and their activities and in the full range of human endeavors, including our polyamorous families, many of whom have been “in the closet” in our denomination and congregations for years. Many years back, when I was attending the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute held each year at Lake Texoma in Oklahoma, I first became aware of a movement within our denomination for recognition and acceptance of relationships of committed adults that involved more than two people. Polyamory, or ethical non-monogamy, is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. 30 years ago when I first heard of this, I was shocked and not a little concerned that Unitarian Universalism would get a kooky reputation if we affirmed this kind of relationship. The rumor at the time was that the Unitarian Universalist Association put an end to the affiliate organization designation because the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamorous Awareness had applied for status as an affiliate organization. So flash forward to the present. What has changed? And why did the delegates of member congregations at GA vote for this new rule by an overwhelming margin? You might think that they didn’t know what they were voting for, and for some that might be true. But I believe that people in our denomination are realizing that we cannot draw a circle around ourselves that excludes those who have similar beliefs and values simply because of some specific difference that might make some people within our denomination uncomfortable. It took us some time to draw a circle that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. It took us a while to include pagans. Each time we draw the circle larger, it is uncomfortable. But as I mentioned in last week’s sermon, it is in the tensions, the differences between us, that we have the opportunity to grow and understand more about ourselves, more about what it means to be a human being, more about what it means to be part of a beloved community. And my friends there are members in many of our congregations who are in polyamorous relationships, including at least one minister I know of. Are we going to ask these people to stay in the closet, like so many of our GLBT and pagan friends have had and still have to in the larger community? Can we see and imagine openly accepting all those who join us, including those who define their affectional relationships differently than many of us?
This is quote from an article in Boston Magazine, June 2014:
“[Peter]Morales [President of the Unitarian Universalist Association] hopes his fellow UUs can learn to share their church a little more zealously—for the sake of the church, of course, but for humanity, too. “I’m still convinced that people need community,” he says. “I mean, they do. This is not news.” And although he’s turning to marketing to save his religion, he hopes religion can save us from marketing. In a classically dry UU manner—no exclamation point, no flourish—Morales says that this culture of ours, the one he and most religions are scrambling to offer an antidote to, is “ultimately very unsatisfying.” So maybe more spirituality, more religion, more something is the answer? In a way: “People need something that’s deeper than the banality of consumer culture.” Amen.”
I have to admit when Peter Morales was elected as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, I thought that he would affirm the status quo. I did not expect that he would encourage Unitarian Universalists to push the limits of what we had been doing for the past 40 or 50 years. But I have been pleasantly surprised. He was part of the development of the Unitarian Universalist ends—in other words, what is the UUA is working toward and putting resources toward for its members and member congregations. Here are the end statements of the UUA Board of Trustees, this is what they are working toward:
“A healthy Unitarian Universalist community that is alive with transforming power, moving our communities and the world toward more love, justice, and peace in a manner which assures institutional sustainability. Congregations and communities are covenanted, accountable, healthy, and mission driven. Congregations and communities are better able to achieve their missions and to spread awareness of Unitarian Universalist ideals and principles through their participation in covenanted networks of Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities.
Congregations and communities are intentionally inclusive, multigenerational and multicultural.
Congregations and communities engage in partnerships to counter systems of power, privilege and oppression. Congregations and communities have and use Unitarian Universalist Association resources to deepen the spiritual and religious exploration by people in their communities, to enhance the ministry of their members and to improve their operations. There is an increase in the number of people served by Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities. There is an increase in the number of Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities. There is an increase in the number of inspired ordained and lay religious leaders equipped to effectively start and sustain new Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities. Unitarian Universalist institutions are healthy, vital, collaborative partners invested in the future of Unitarian Universalism, its principles and theologies.”
Again, looking a little more closely, a phrase that stands out for me is: “Congregations and communities have and use Unitarian Universalist Association resources to deepen the spiritual and religious exploration by people in their communities, to enhance the ministry of their members and to improve their operations.” What does that mean? Deepen the spiritual and religious exploration? Well, to me this means that our denomination is looking for new, more effective ways to encourage us to responsibly search for truth and meaning individually and collectively. The UUA is putting resources into teaching spiritual practices by writing curricula that are available free online, by encouraging all the various fellowships to be involved in the vision of our future—from the UUs for Jewish Awareness to UU Mystics, to the UU Christian fellowship, the UU Buddhist Fellowship Sangha, the Huumanists, the Covenant of UU Pagans and others--, and by developing spiritual direction resources. This year I will be attending a UUA sponsored workshop to train ministers as congregationally based spiritual directors—this intensive program will require me to attend three three-day seminars to earn the certification, after which I will start offering group spiritual direction groups here at DUUC. In these groups, people will have the opportunity to explore issues of living in the world as an atheist, a theist, a pantheist, a polytheist, a Buddhist, a non-traditional Christian, a spiritual but not religious person, or whatever theology each person in the group embraces. Each person who is a member of one of these spiritual direction groups will have the opportunity to sit together and consider issues that are close to their heart, that are impacting their lives and that are impacting this church—looking at these issues from different perspectives, not to change each other’s theologies or philosophies, but to expand each person’s own understanding of the people around them, as well as expanding their own world views. And intentionally providing a safe space to authentically examine everyone’s perspective will grow our hearts, minds, spirits. But only if we have imagined it, thought about it, planned for it, and take part in it.
“In 1979, the then-president of the UUA, Gene Pickett, observed in his inaugural address: “The deeper malaise lies in our confusion as to what word we have to spread. The old watchwords of liberalism–freedom, reason, and tolerance–worthy though they may be, are simply not catching the imagination of the contemporary world. They describe a process for approaching the religious depths but they testify to no intimate acquaintance with the depths themselves. If we are ever to speak to a new age, we must supplement our seeking with some profound religious finds.”
Unitarian Universalism has flirted with “finds” for a long time. Gene Pickett and others in the 35 years since his inaugural address have encouraged us to not only seek, not only use the old watchwords, but to try to spark the imagination of those within and outside our churches by expressing what we stand for and believe, not what we don’t stand for and don’t believe. People who are looking for a faith home want to know all we have imagined and thought about, not just what we have discounted and rejected. Who we are is more than who we aren’t. Yes, we are known for our social action, but we are more than just a social justice club. We need to articulate what we stand for theologically, then go outside these walls and tell somebody! We will never be manipulative, like the many evangelicals who believe that aggressively converting people to their faith is part and parcel of their mission, but we can, with passion and excitement, say “This is what I value.” “This is what Unitarian Universalism stands for.” “I am a Unitarian Universalist.” We can say to the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the shunned, and those seeking a spiritually open place: “I know a safe place where you can be who you are, regardless of [race] racialized identity, ethnicity, gender expression, gender identity, sex, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, family and relationship structures, age, language, citizenship status, economic status, or national origin and without requiring adherence to any particular interpretation of religion or to any particular religious belief or creed. Come with me to my Unitarian Universalist church, where you will be loved for who you are.”
The following is from an essay, “Reimagining the American Dream”, by Unitarian minister, the Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell:
“Unitarian Universalists, though few in number, can be the yeast in the loaf. However, let us be wary of the usual distractions and follies of our movement. It’s grown-up time now. We [can] no longer prioritize petty quarrels about how “religious” our language should be, conflicts between the humanists and the more spiritually inclined, or squabbles about who is in charge. The mission of the church is not to meet our needs; the mission of the church is to heal our world. It is to give ourselves to something larger than ourselves. Ironically, when we give of ourselves in this way, we find that our deepest needs are met.”
Are we ready to “find our deepest needs met?” We will have to put aside some things to do that. We will have to let go of the distractions, the “golden calves” of Unitarian Universalists of the past. We must be radically open to new ideas, new imaginings of our shared future, we must fearlessly grow in spiritual and emotional, as well intellectual, depth. We have to be ready to heal the world. I believe we can be. It is your decision, because this is your church and I hope you will share some conversations around Unitarian Universalists as healers of the world. We, as Unitarian Universalists have the potential to be a religion for our time.
Walt Whitman wrote:
Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
healthy, free, the world before me.
Henceforth I ask not good fortune –
I myself am good-fortune;
strong and content,
I travel the open road.
I inhale great draughts of space;
the east and the west are mine,
and the north and the south are mine.
All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women,
You have done such good to me,
I would do the same to you.
Whoever you are, come travel with me!
However sweet these laid-up stores-however convenient this dwelling, we cannot remain here;
However sheltered this port, and however calm these waters, we must not anchor here;
Together! the inducements shall be greater;
We will sail pathless and wild seas;
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail.
Forward! after the great Companions!
and to belong to them!
They too are on the road!
Onward! to that which is endless,
as it was beginningless,
to undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it.
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you --
To know the universe itself as a road –
as many roads-
as roads for traveling souls.
This, my friends, is how I see the journey before us. Traveling souls, onward and endless, knowing the universe, and its many possibilities, as the road before us. Afoot and light-hearted, making our own good fortune, content and strong, we take to the open road of Unitarian Universalism together.