I went over to Martha’s Vineyard today to visit with Uncle Bob and Aunt Martha one more time before we move to California. Uncle Bob, a life-long Unitarian (he grew up in All Souls Church in Washington, D.C.), asked me, “So, do you think Unitarian Universalism can grow?”
“Yes, I think it can grow,” I said. “But I’m not sure it will grow.”
This got us started on a long discussion of what is needed to make Unitarian Universalism grow. Uncle Bob, who worked as an executive at GTE for many years, understands marketing. He said that he thinks the big challenge for Unitarian Universalism is to come up with a short, easily remembered summary of what we stand for.
“Well, I think we could do that,” I said.
“OK,” said Uncle Bob, “but no one has done it yet.” He added, “What you come up with has to be short, pithy, and easy to remember.” We both agreed that meant that the so-called “seven principles” were not adequate for our purposes, because they are too long, don’t really say much, and are difficult to remember.
“How about this,” I said. “First, from our Unitarian side, we know that there is an essential unity to everything, to the universe. Second, from our Universalist side, we know that the destiny of all people is bound up together, and therefore we work for the salvation of all humanity. Third, we are post-Christian, which means that although we come from the Christian tradition, we don’t accept any of the traditional Christian creeds and doctrines.”
Uncle Bob didn’t like the term “post-Christian.” “I don’t know what that means,” he said. This is supposed to be a short, easy–to-remember definition, and so we don’t want to have to engage in a lot of explanation. I said that he was right, but what I wanted to do was make sure that we affirm the Golden Rule as a basic moral principle. Then Uncle Bob added another point: we affirm freedom of conscience. I wanted to phrase it that human beings have freedom of will (i.e., I wanted to affirm Arminianism), and we went back and forth on what exactly we meant by this.
We argued all this back and forth for a good three quarters of an hour. We never got to the point where we completely agreed on exact wording, but we came to a general agreement on four points. Here’s how I would summarize these four points (Uncle Bob would put them differently):
- We affirm the essential unity of all that is. [Unitarianism]
- The destiny of all people is bound together, so we work together to save the world. [Universalism]
- We follow the Golden Rule, not creeds or doctrines. [Non-creedalism]
- We have the freedom and the responsibility to shape ourselves and the world. [Arminianism]
Obviously, any such short list is not meant to be comprehensive, it is only meant to give a concise summary; if people are still interested after hearing the short summary, we could then trot out the “seven principles” or whatever else we might wish. Equally obviously, such a list is not meant to be binding on anyone — you don’t have to use this list, it’s just another possible tool to use to help explain who we are to newcomers.
I am not entirely happy with this list — some of the individual points are too wordy, and not memorable enough. And maybe four points is too many to remember. But I think we’re getting close to meeting Uncle Bob’s challenge — close to having a short, easy-to-remember list that would help us to explain the core of our religious faith to newcomers.
What do you think?