Why the Seven Principles Must Change

The sermon below was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, at 10:00 a.m. The sermon text below is a reading text; the actual sermon contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2011 Daniel Harper.

Sermon — “Why the Seven Principles Must Change”

I’ll be talking this morning about Section C-2.1 of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association, or the UUA. That section is titled “Principles,” and I’ll be talking about the first half of these principles, which have come to be known as the “seven principles.” If you’d like to see these principles while I speak, you can find this section of the UUA bylaws in the gray hymnal, on an unnumbered page just after the preface.

Let me tell you a little bit of the story of how the seven principles came into being. The first set of UUA principles were adopted in 1961 when the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated. In the 1970s, the feminist revolution swept through us Unitarian Universalists, and we came to realize the extent to which we had always envisioned liberal religion in male terms. By the late 1970s, it had become clear that the old UUA principles were clearly sexist in their language, and even in their assumptions. It was time to revise them.

In 1981, a revised version of the principles was presented to General Assembly, which is the annual meeting of elected representatives from congregations. This first revision had removed gender-specific language and, not surprisingly, given the preponderance of humanists within the UUA, had also removed all references to God. As you might imagine, this revision ignited one of the innumerable battles between humanists and theists, which threatened to mire the whole process in endless and acrimonious debate. So General Assembly voted to create a special committee to come up with another revision of the principles. That special committee sent out innumerable questionnaires, got lots of good suggestions, developed another revision of the principles, and then sent out that revision to be reviewed again, and got more good suggestions. They presented their findings at the next General Assembly, in 1982, and they led scores of small group discussions. They wrote another draft, sent that draft out to all congregations, created a new draft that was debated at the 1983 General Assembly, and then finally presented a final draft to the 1984 General Assembly, which was amended. Their painstaking attention to process paid off when General Assembly approved the revised principles in a nearly unanimous vote. Since this was a revision of the UUA bylaws, a second vote was required at the next General Assembly in 1985, and again the revised version of section C-2.1 of the bylaws passed with a nearly unanimous vote.

Since then, the revised principles have served the UUA reasonably well. But ten years ago, in 2001, Rev. Walter Royal Jones, who chaired that committee charged with drafting the new principles, noted that the principles might be due for some revision. Jones said, “We should not be surprised at some restiveness. On the one hand, some are uneasy with what they see as a kind of creeping creedalism in the way we use [the principles]. On the other there is a perception of incompleteness, with important, arguably necessary, empowering assumptions about cosmic reality and our particular place in it” that were left unsaid. Jones goes on to note that some people are dissatisfied with an overemphasis on with the emphasis on the individual, such that “the creative nature of community and interdependence are only tardily and inadequately acknowledged.” (1)

Or you might think about it this way. The 1980s was a decade when the selfish “Me Generation” of the 1970s was moving into the selfishness and extreme individualism of the 1990s and 2000s. Notions of some greater good to which humanity should aspire were replaced by naked greed and extreme individualism, and that naked greed and individualism led to crises like the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s, and the financial meltdown and Great Recession of the late 2000s. We adopted the revised UUA principles with the best of intentions in 1985, but they were a product of their times. So let us cast a critical eye upon them, and think whether they might need revision yet again.

 

1. Let me begin my gentle criticism by talking briefly about the literary quality of the seven principles: they haven’t any. The prose style reminds me of those mission statements that get generated by committees — you know, long involved mission statements where you try to please everyone, and include every suggestion that is made so that no one is offended. Of course, that’s exactly how the UUA principles were created: by a committee, who over a period of years tried to include every reasonable suggestion that was made so as not to offend anyone.

A lack of literary quality in such documents is not necessarily a bad thing. The seven principles are really a part of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and we expect bylaws to have a certain legalistic quality to them. Reading bylaws should be like reading the book of Leviticus in the Bible — the legalistic precision necessary to set forth rules and regulations should result in a document which will put you to sleep when you’ve got insomnia. When you’re writing bylaws, you expect to sacrifice poetry for legalistic precision.

Unfortunately, the seven principles try to combine poetry into the necessary legalistic precision. The result is a document that can sound mildly impressive when you read it out loud, but the attempt at poetry interferes with legalistic precision, and so the principles never seem to call us to account. The mix of poetry and legalism leads to a long, involved, and imprecise statement.

Compare the seven principles to the five points of Unitarianism set forth in 1886 in a sermon by Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke: “The fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the leadership of Jesus, salvation by character, and progress onwards and upwards forever.” (Clarke’s five point of Unitarianism, although never officially adopted by the American Unitarian Association, were adopted by many Unitarian congregations, and continued in use for most of a century.) There’s no vagueness in Clarke’s five points of Unitarianism. He says what he means with clarity, precision, and real depth of thought. Mind you, I would argue with every point he makes — I would never affirm the masculine fatherhood of God, for example — but I can admire the precision and economy with which he affirms that we have to refer to something that is greater and better than we are as individuals, and I can admire that he doesn’t beat around the bush. By contrast, I find a good deal of beating around of bushes in the seven principles.

Perhaps the primary virtue of Clarke’s five points of Unitarianism is its brevity. The problem with the seven principles is that they go on for so long that I always forget some of them; to make it worse, the seven principles are only half the matter, and then you have to read the six sources — the other half of that section UUA principles — as well. Because the seven principles go on for so long, it’s really hard to remember any of them. Usually, the only one we all remember is that one that says something about the inherent worth and dignity of each individual, which unfortunately tends to get reduced to, “MY inherent worth and dignity, and don’t you forget it!”

 

2. This brings us to my second gentle criticism of the seven principles. Walter Royal Jones put it this way: in the seven principles, “the creative nature of community and interdependence are only tardily and inadequately acknowledged.” I would put it this way: the seven principles come across as overly individualistic and selfish.

I will admit that a good bit of the selfishness of the seven principles comes from the uses to which we put them. I have witnessed more than one fifth grader say that they should get to do whatever they want because of their inherent worth and dignity. I have witnessed more than one adult say that their congregation should bow to their individual wishes because affirming the democratic process means they get to have their way. And that principle that encourages of spiritual growth in our congregations often gets interpreted to mean that other people should grow so that they can reach our lofty spiritual level. In short, much of the selfishness in the seven principles comes from the way we misinterpret them.

But this problem in turn arises because of the ease with which the principles are misinterpreted. Compare the seven principles to the Washington Declaration of the Universalist General Conference of 1935, which ends with the bold statement that we avow faith “in the power of men of good-will and sacrificial spirit to overcome evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God.” This is a short, bold, and unambiguous statement that is more difficult to interpret for selfish gain; I would love it if the seven principles said that we are people of good will would are willing to sacrifice much in order to overcome evil.

Actually, Section 2 of the UUA bylaws does include one distinct and direct call to action, which sadly never gets quoted. That call to action comes in Section C-2.4, the non-discrimination clause, and it reads as follows: “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, ethnicity, gender, disability, affectional or sexual orientation, 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.” If we took this clause seriously, we would be a different congregation. For example, if we took this clause seriously, every door and every room on this campus would be accessible to wheelchairs at all times. Right now, they are not. Until we revise the seven principles, we would do well, I think, to pay far more attention to this non-discrimination clause.

 

3. This brings me to my final point today: the seven principles don’t adequately address what I might term the Miss Marple philosophy of life. Miss Marple is a fictional detective, the literary creation of mystery writer Agatha Christie. In Christie’s books, Miss Marple directly confronts evil and what she calls “wickedness.” Here’s a brief taste of the Miss Marple view of life, taken from the novel A Pocketful of Rye:

“‘It sounds rather cruel,’ said Pat.

“‘Yes, my dear,’ said Miss Marple, ‘life is cruel, I’m afraid.’”

Miss Marple knows that often life is cruel, that evil and wickedness are abroad in the world, and that it is up to persons of high moral and ethical standards to do battle with evil and wickedness. Miss Marple understands that life might be a little less cruel if we would all stand up to evil and wickedness.

Actually, I think all of us would agree that evil and wickedness are abroad in this world, even if we wouldn’t use Miss Marple’s terms. This is why so many of us in this congregation work so hard for social justice. I’ll give you some examples of how people in this congregation fight against evil and wickedness in the world. Homelessness is an evil, and every September our congregation fights homelessness by hosting Hotel de Zink, an emergency shelter for people who are homeless. Global climate change is an evil caused by us human beings, and our congregation fights global climate change through our Green Sanctuary program — and you will notice that we now have photovoltaic panels on our roof to help reduce our carbon footprint. Loneliness and lack of human contact are an evil endemic in today’s isolating society, and we fight those evils together with our various small groups and our caring network. So you see, in our congregation, we are already fighting evil and wickedness.

While the seven principles do include weak statements to support our existing work of fighting evil and wickedness, I would prefer a stronger statement. If Miss Marple were rewriting the first of the seven principles, she would say:

“…It’s very wicked, you know, to affront human dignity.”

Or we could simply make a more general statement, something along the lines of the Washington Declaration of the old Universalists: “We affirm the power of people of good-will and sacrificial spirit to fight and to overcome evil, and to progressively establish an earth made fair and all her people one.”

Fortunately, we do not have to wait for the seven principles to be revised. Here in our congregation, we have our own unofficial affirmation of our faith, our own reason for being. We say that we aim to transform ourselves, each other, and the world. We take it as a given that we are transforming ourselves, each other, and the world, for the better. In Miss Marple’s terms, we are standing up to evil and wickedness in the world. But we also aim to strengthen our selves, and we aim to support and strengthen those around us. This fight for a better world, for an earth made fair and all her people one, is not an easy fight. It requires strength and courage.

If you find the seven principles to be useful to you as you fight against evil and wickedness in this world, I hope you’ll continue to rely upon them for strength and courage. We need to draw on strength wherever we can; my gentle criticisms are not intended to do away with the seven principles, but rather to revise them so that they may strengthen and encourage us even more. We are all in this together — you, me, and even Miss Marple — we are all standing up against evil and wickedness, we are all drawing courage from one another, we are all struggling together for that earth made fair with all her people one.

Notes:

(1) History of adoption of the seven principles from Warren Ross, The Premise and the Promise, Boston: Skinner House, 2001, pp. 91-100. Jones quotes on pp. 99-100.

(2) Miss Marple quotes taken from Agatha Christie, A Pocketful of Rye, 1953.

“Option D”

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 worship services. As usual, the sermon and story below are reading texts. The actual sermon as preached, and story as told, contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon and story copyright (c) 2009 Daniel Harper.

Story — “The Golden Calf”

This is an old, old story about the ancient prophet Moses. Moses was the man who led the Israelites out of slavery, and helped them escape into the desert. They wandered in the desert, looking for a land to call their own. At last they camped at the base of Mount Sinai.

Moses climbed up Mount Sinai, up to the very top. At the top of the mountain, the god known as Yahweh spoke to him. Yahweh said, “All of you Israelites are going to be my special, chosen people. I will take care of you, and you must promise to obey me over all the other gods and goddesses.”

Moses went back down Mount Sinai to tell the Israelites. It’s always good to have a god looking out for you, so the Israelites agreed to obey Yahweh. Moses went back up Mount Sinai. “They all promised to obey you,” Moses said to Yahweh.

“Well, just to make sure,” said Yahweh, “I’m going to appear at the top of this mountain as a dense dark cloud, filled with thunder and lightning. You come back up the mountain, and all the Israelites will know that I talk to you directly.”

Moses went back down Mount Sinai. Yahweh appeared at the top of the mountain as a dense cloud. Moses went back up the mountain to talk with Yahweh. The Israelites watched.

Moses entered the dense cloud at the top of the mountain. Yahweh told Moses about all the rules and laws the Israelites would have to obey. Yahweh started with ten basic laws, the Ten Commandments: no stealing, no murdering people, no lying; and a law saying the Israelites weren’t allowed to worship any other god or goddess besides Yahweh.

Moses brought the Ten Commandments down to the Israelites. But there were still more laws. Moses had to climb up and down that mountain quite a few times to bring back all the laws.

Once Moses stayed on top of the mountain for a really long time. The Israelites thought Moses and Yahweh had abandoned them. The Israelites decided to make a new god. They took gold and made it into the shape of a calf — a golden calf. They invented a new religion to worship the golden calf, and had a big party to celebrate. Just as the party was really getting going, Moses came back down the mountain.

“What’s going on here?” Moses said. “Don’t you remember that you promised not to worship any other gods?”

The Israelites looked a little shamefaced, but no one apologized.

“Who’s on my side?” said Moses angrily. “If you still like Yahweh best, come with me!” A few people joined him. Moses made sure they all had swords, and then told them to go and kill anyone who was still worshipping that golden calf.

And they did.

This is a strange story. Moses had already told everyone that killing was against Yahweh’s laws, so when he killed people didn’t he break Yahweh’s law? On the other hand, wasn’t it stupid for the Israelites to make a golden calf, and then worship the thing they had just made?

I think this story is supposed to make us stop and think about religion. I think this story is telling us: don’t do something because someone tells you to, or because everyone else is doing it. Seek out the truth, hang out with other people who think for themselves, and remember how easy it is to make mistakes.

[Exodus 31.18-32.25, with reference to the events of Exodus 19-31. I used the New International Version when writing this story.]

 

Sermon — “Option D”

Get out your number 2 pencils. Do not let your mark stray outside the oval, and check off at least one, but no more than one choice. Are you ready? Here’s the question:

Do you believe in God? Choose one of the following: (A) Yes. (B) No. (C) Don’t care or don’t know.

Many, maybe most, people in our contemporary Western society believe those are the only three possible answers to that question. Do you believe in God? Yes. No. Don’t know or don’t care.

Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, and humanist fundamentalists like Richard Dawkins, would deny that that third option exists — they believe you have to answer yes or no — they live in theological world that operates solely under Boolean logic.

Unitarian Universalists, on the other hand, want option D: All of the above. Since Western society does not give us option D, we take our number 2 pencils and fill in all three ovals, which does tend to mess up the scoring of this particular multiple choice test. This morning, I would like to tell you a little bit about how we came to be this way — why it is that we refuse to restrict ourselves to simplistic answers to the question, Do you believe in God?

———

Let me go tell you a little bit of the historical story behind our Unitarian Universalist attitudes towards God.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Unitarian ministers like Francis Ellingwood Abbott and Octavius Brooks Frothingham caused a ruckus within Unitarianism by preaching “Free Religion” — what we today would call religious humanism [Dorrien 2001], although they still used words like “Christ” and “God.” By the end of the 19th century, free religionists were everywhere: Eliza Tupper Wilkes, the Unitarian preacher who first spread Unitarianism here in Palo Alto in the 1890s, was one of those who allied themselves with the Free Religion position in the Western Unitarian Conference. [Tucker 1990]

By the 1930s, John Dietrich and other Unitarian and Universalist ministers were preaching what they had come to call humanism — religion with humanity at its center, not God. The humanists found themselves engaged in active debate with the theists, people like William Wallace Fenn, Unitarians and Universalists who felt no need to dismiss the concept of God. In the first half of the 20th century, the debate between the theists and the humanists was vigorous, sometimes stupidly acrimonious, but often quite fruitful.

But not all Unitarians and Universalists could be characterized as either humanist or theist. There was E. Stanton Hodgin, who had been minister at the radical Los Angeles Unitarian church, and then minister at the fairly stodgy New Bedford, Massachusetts, Unitarian church. When Stanton Hodgin was asked to sign the Humanist Manifesto in 1933, he refused — he didn’t want religion reduced to anything that remotely resembled a creed. And when Hodgin wrote his autobiography in 1948, he gave it the title Confessions of an Agnostic Clergyman — he refused to let himself be put into a theological box.

I give you some of this history so that you realize that the conversations between the humanists and the theists have been going on in Unitarianism and Universalism for one and a half centuries. Plenty of smart people have participated on both sides of these conversations. If one side could prove the existence or non-existence of God, they would have done so by now.

Let me move ahead in time to 1973, when William R. Jones published his controversial book titled Is God a White Racist? In that book he made a crucial advance in the debate between humanists and theists, which he further clarified in his 1975 article “Humanism and Theism: The Chasm Narrows.” [Note 1] Jones said that the battles for liberation — liberation of African Americans, liberation of women, liberation of third world peoples — would force theists to a position that he called “humanocentric theism.” Getting rid of the theological jargon, what Jones meant was simple: There are two basic types of theism. First, there’s the theism that says that everything is God’s will, and humanity has little or no freedom of decision. Second, there’s the theism that says God exists yet we human beings have freedom to make decisions — and that being the case, this second type of theism, humano-centric theism, functionally looks very much like humanism. Jones is African American, and he was active in the Civil Rights struggle; speaking as a humanist, he almost seems to be saying: Instead of arguing about whether God exists, let’s just acknowledge that humanists and theists are different, move beyond that, and work together to end racism.

Let me jump ahead to 2002. In that year, Carole Fontaine, a Unitarian Universalist who is professor of Biblical studies at Andover Newton Theological School, posed an interesting question: What will it take to form a global conscience for planet Earth? Part of her answer was that theists and humanists need to work together. And she contended that we Unitarian Universalists are uniquely placed to build bridges between traditional theists and secular humanists so that, for example, we can do human rights work together. Thus, Fontaine believes we Unitarian Universalists need to “reconstitute Jesus as a human rights guy…. I like Jesus. He’s my guy. The fact that he’s executed on trumped-up political charges — I mean, he’s the Stephen Biko of the first century. We can work with this!” [Note 2. Fontaine 2003.] So Carole Fontaine goes a step further than William R. Jones — not only should humanists and theists be working together on social justice — but those theists and humanists in Unitarian Universalist congregations, already so experienced in humanist-theist dialogue, have a special role in the wider world, because we are the ones who can get the traditional theists and the secular humanists to work together.

Now you begin to see why we Unitarian Universalists want to choose option D. There are those who believe in God; there are those who don’t believe in God; there are those who don’t know or don’t care; and then there’s us. We do all of the above, and that is our unique strength, that is the unique contribution we have to make to the world.

———

We Unitarian Universalists refuse to be boxed in by either-or theological choices. James Luther Adams, perhaps the most prominent Unitarian Universalist theologian of the twentieth century, started out as a traditional Christian. He became a Unitarian and a religious humanist at about the same time. Later on in life, he thought of himself as a theist, a liberal Christian; although he was a very liberal Christian, active in feminist critiques of God-images. When I look back at my own religious journey, I have been successively a non-traditional theist, a non-traditional humanist, and now I call myself a religious naturalist; as a religious naturalist, I can use God-talk or not as I wish, and still be theologically consistent. Someone once asked a Universalist minister what it was, exactly, that Universalists stand for. “We don’t stand,” he said, “we move.” [Fisher 1921]

And this brings us back to that story I told at the beginning of the worship service, that old, old story about Moses and the golden calf. You remember the story: Moses and the Israelites make promises to the god Yahweh; in return for Yahweh’s protection, Moses and the Israelites promise (among many other things) to refrain from killing each other, and to refrain from worshipping other gods or goddesses. Yet when Moses is gone for a while, the Israelites start worshipping a golden calf, and then Moses kills a whole bunch of the Israelites for doing so.

Before I go any further, I have to make something clear to those of you here this morning who might be new to Unitarian Universalism. We Unitarian Universalists do not take the Bible literally, any more than we take Shakespeare literally. Did Moses really go up onto Mount Sinai and speak to a god whom he called Yahweh? Yes and no. Did Macbeth really see Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”? Yes and no. In each case, there is a literal answer, an answer which is fairly trivial and ultimately rather boring; and there is also a non-literal answer, an answer which relates to moral and spiritual truths, and it is in answering this latter question that we can be transformed at our deepest levels of being.

We Unitarian Universalists have traditionally understood the story of Moses and the golden calf to be a story calling upon us to reject idolatry. Let me explain one way we Unitarian Universalists might define idolatry:

When the Israelites made the golden calf, they were guilty of idolatry: instead of coming to terms with the complexities of moral and ethical thinking encapsulated in the laws of Yahweh, the Israelites tried to take a set of religious concepts that were really quite complicated and subtle, and they tried to reduce those concepts to something that was showy but empty and useless. When Moses ignored the law of Yahweh that prohibited killing, so that he could angrily kill anyone who worshipped the golden calf, he was guilty of idolatry. He took a set of religious concepts that were complicated and subtle, and he cut out all the parts he didn’t like. So Moses ignored the law against killing so that he could enforce the law against worshipping another god; and in one of the Bible’s moments of supreme irony he exchanges one form of idolatry for another form of idolatry. Both types of idolatry are the same in that they place undue significance on something of little or no significance.

(I cannot resist digressing here for just a moment to point out that the usual American method of reading the Bible is the first form of idolatry. Most Americans, when they read the Bible, take this complicated, layered, fascinating collection of literature written over a period of thousands of years, and reduce it to simplistic moralism. Most Americans read the Bible the way they’d read the latest thriller by Dan Brown, when we should be reading the Bible the way we read Shakespeare, reading it as literature that offers something to everyone from the groundlings to the most sophisticated intellectuals.)

Historically, we Unitarian Universalists have resisted idolatry with all the power of our beings. The Unitarians of my grandparents’ generation realized that the crosses that had appeared in some Unitarian churches were idols — symbols that had taken on undue significance. My aunt and uncle belonged to the Unitarian church in Lexington, Massachusetts, and in the late 1940s that church developed a really beautiful Christmas eve service, where the whole church started out in darkness, and gradually a few candles were lit, then a few more, and at the end of the service everyone was holding a lit candle and the combined light of all those individual candles lit up the whole church. As this candlelight service evolved, someone threw in a dramatic moment when an internally-lit cross rose up in front of the pulpit — a nice piece of theater, a sort of dramatic reminder that Christmas is central to the Christian tradition. And so for some years, that internally-lit cross would rise up on Christmas Eve — until the year when they decided that the symbolism was heavy-handed, that it was a form of idolatry. So that big old cross got stuffed in a garbage can, and placed in front of the church, where (it is said) it provoked a great deal of comment about those Godless Unitarians among certain more literally-minded residents of the town.

I remember the first time the minister introduced the flaming chalice into a worship service in the Unitarian Universalist church I grew up in. I was sitting next to my mother, a lifelong Unitarian, and as he lit the match she muttered under her breath, “Graven images” — which is an old-fashioned way of accusing that minister of idolatry. I don’t think the flaming chalice is inherently idolatrous, but if we place undue significance on what is essentially an insignificant object, then it becomes idolatrous. The flaming chalice began as a symbol used by the Unitarian Service Committee during the Second World War, and really it is a symbol of our commitment to social justice work. This congregation’s habit of extinguishing the chalice strikes me as tending towards the idolatrous, as placing undue significance on a very simple symbol.

Another obvious example of something here in our church which can be interpreted as idolatrous is the branch which hangs in this room. I don’t mind having a branch hanging on our wall; it’s a nice piece of decor. But when I am uncomfortable when I hear people attributing symbolic significance to that branch; that, it seems to me, is placing undue significance on what is, after all, just a branch. And I’m sure some of you disagree with me, and you will politely let me know about your disagreement after the worship service. We need polite disagreement if we are to keep ourselves from falling into idolatry. Because people like me — mystics who want to get rid of all symbols — we can create another kind of idolatry, an idolatry of simplicity where we try to place undue significance on plainness and complete lack of ornamentation.

Anything can become an idol, a graven image, a golden calf. Even if we got rid of all the symbols, our whole building could become a graven image, if we place undue significance on it. We don’t even need a building in order to be a congregation; all we need is each other, and the search for truth, and a commitment to make the world a better place.

The golden calf was an crude attempt to fix the truth in a calf made of gold. Let us be sure that we do not try to fix the truth in some material object — the truth will not be held in a golden calf, nor in a flaming chalice, nor in the branch, nor in this building. The truth may be held for a time in a community of people, as long as that community of people remains flexible and willing to evolve. We may be comforted, for a time, by our building, or by the flaming chalice, but do not confuse such comfort with truth. Truth and comfort are united only in a community of people. If this building crumbles into dust, we will still be able to take comfort in each other, we will still be able to take comfort in this religious community, we will still know the truth that we can change the world for the better. We gain strength from each other, from our shared religious community; and we take that strength out beyond our community to heal a world that desperately needs healing.

———

Do you believe in God? Choose one of the following: (A) Yes. (B) No. (C) Don’t care or don’t know. (D) All of the above. As Unitarian Universalists, our choice is clear: we choose option D. We choose to remember that we have debated this question for a century and a half, with very intelligent people arguing for very different answers, and we no longer expect a definitive answer. We choose an answer that puts us in a unique position to help heal the world. We choose to resist an idolatry that would limit us to simplistic answers to religious questions.

 

Selected References

Dorrien, Gary. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1805-1900. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
Fisher, Lewis Beals. Which Way? A Study of Universalists and Universalism. Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1921. [p. 9]
Fontaine, Carole. “Strange Bedfellows? human Rights, Scripture(s), and the Seven Principles.” Journal of Liberal Religion, Winter, 2003; www.meadville.edu/journal/2003_fontaine_4_1.pdf accessed October 2009.
Hodgin, E. Stanton. Confessions of an Agnostic Clergyman Boston: Beacon Press, 1948.
Jones, William R. Is God a White Racist?. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973, 1997.
———. “Theism and Religious Humanism: The Chasm Narrows.” The Christian Century, May 21, 1975, pp. 520-525.
Tucker, Cynthia Grant. Prophetic Sisterhood: Liberal Women Ministers of the Frontier, 1880-1930. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1991.