Monthly Archives: February 2005

How about that…

…a group of evangelicals has produced a new gender-inclusive Bible.

The bi-weekly magazine Christian Century continues to be my source of choice for news about liberal religion, particularly in the area of same-sex marriage, the intersection of politics and theology — and feminist theology.

In the most recent number (March 8, 2005), Christian Century reports that Zondervan, a publishing house with a bit of a tilt towards the evangelical side, has just issued a new version of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), called Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which uses gender-inclusive language. Politely, Christian Century refrains from mentioning that the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the Bible, used by many liberal Christians, accomplished the same thing years ago. (Christian Century also refrains from mentioning that the allegedly liberal New York Times has stopped using gender-inclusive language, but I am happy to point that out.)

The report adds that “The TNIV text… was produced by an independent committe of evangelical schalors whose members are associated with institutions such as Wheaton Graduate School….” Those of us who live in and around Geneva know Wheaton College well, in part as the alma mater of Billy Graham, and in part as our near neighbor.

The old New International Version used to be the Bible I recommended to Unitarian Universalist youth and young adults who were interested in reading the Bible on their own. I always thought the NIV translation was clearer and less academic than the New Revised Standard Version. But a few years ago, I stopped recommending the NIV because it didn’t use gender-inclusive language.

So I’m one of the people who welcomes this new version of the Bible — and if a young Unitarian Universalist in your life decides he or she wants to read the Bible, it looks like the TNIV would be a good translation to recommend.

I can’t resist adding that our little church here in Geneva has been working on including women in positions of prominent leadership at least since 1893, when the church called its first woman minister. I also can’t help but wish for a gender-inclusive translation of the Bhagavad Gita, but maybe there is one out there that I haven’t found yet.

Theodore Parker online

On my reading list for today is Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973/1985). I know, I know, I should have read it years ago. But that’s not the point.

While reading Daly, I remembered that Theodore Parker wrote some prayers that referred to God as both Mother and Father. Now where did I see those prayers? — I couldn’t remember, so I tried searching the Web. And I found a complete edition of the 1862 printing of Parker’s prayers online at this University of Michigan site.

This is a University of Michigan Web project of publishing American literature online. Pages are viewable as graphic images of the actual pages from a book, or as html text. Many of Parker’s other books are also available through this same Web site, along with many other 19th C. books that might be of interest to religious liberals today.

Alas, Parker’s prayers were not nearly as progressive as I had remembered. He made a good start, but he didn’t completely break away from patriarchal imagery (see e.g. pp. 59-60). Nonetheless, I thought you might want to know about this incredible online resource.

Spring watch

Transcendentalist that I am, I’m always watching for signs of the turning seasons. Yesterday I was walking along the Fox River here in Geneva, near the wastewater treatment plant, when I heard a dozen or more male Red-winged Blackbirds giving their familiar “konk-a-reee” song. While these are undoubtedly birds that have wintered here, that was the first time this year I have heard them singing. It’s too early for the males to be setting up breeding territories, but their songs said that spring is not all that far off now.

Today I watched as a wintering Eastern Bluebird foraged along the river behind the Kane County office building. He was hawking low to the ground, flying out from a series of low perches, but I couldn’t tell if he was feeding on insects or some other invertebrates. He also spent some time feeding on Staghorn Sumac berries left over from last summer. He made a pretty picture, the rusty red of the berries matching his breast, and contrasting with his bright blue back and wings in the late afternoon sun.

A guide to “new religions”

Most Unitarian Universalist ministers get four weeks of study leave each year. I’m taking a week of my study leave through Wednesday, March 2, to work on a couple of writing projects. But this also means I have a little time to catch up on my reading list.

At the top of my pile of books right now is New Religions, A Guide: New Religious Movements, Sects, and Alternative Spiritualities, edited by Christopher Partridge, and published in 2004 by Oxford University Press. There are entries on some 200 new religious movements, as well as essays on relevant topics like “Contemporary Sufism,” “Fundamentalisms,” and “Astrology.”

I’m especially fond of the overall organization of the book, which groups new religious movements together based on the traditions out of which they have grown. Thus there are sections on new religious movements with roots in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Indian religions, religions of east Asia, indigenous and pagan traditions, western esoteric and New Age traditions — and, best of all, new religious movements which have roots in modern western cultures. In this last section, you’ll find entries on “Thee Church ov Moo,” Scientology, and the aforementioned essay on fundamentalisms.

You’ll find the Swedenborgians, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists included in the chapter on new religious movements with roots in Christianity. However, Unitarian Universalism is not considered a new religious movement. No real surprise — from the point of view of sociology or comparative religions, we Unitarian Universalists look very much like mainline Protestant denominations.

This could be a useful book for Unitarian Universalists, especially those of us living in regions where the Christian conservatives dominate. Read this book to get a precise definition of what a “cult” is, so that next time someone tells you your Unitarian Universalist church is a “cult,” you can explain why that is not true — and furthermore, why we are not even a new religious movement.

(By the way, there’s an essay in the book on “Prosperity Theology” as an alternative spirituality — guess Rick Warren isn’t quite as mainstream as some had hoped.)

The power of Universalism

No doubt you’re already aware that this is a big year — the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Hosea Ballou’s monumental Treatise on Atonement, still the most influential of all books of Universalist theology. But you may not realize that Universalism still has the power to stir up quite a ruckus. Turns out two evangelical Quaker pastors from western Indiana, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, published a book titled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person back in 2003.

Just as happened with Hosea Ballou, Gulley and Mulholland’s thoughts on God’s love provoked lots of hate. Chuck Fager tells about the ruckus Gulley and Mulholland have raised in a review of their book in the online journal “Quaker Theology.”

I know you’ll want to read the whole article, but to whet your appetite, here are the opening paragraphs:

“Almost two hundred years ago, Hosea Ballou foretold what would befall two Quaker pastors in Indiana, Philip Gulley and his good friend James Mulholland, in 2002: ‘To profess universal salvation,’ Ballou wrote, ‘will subject some to excommunication from regular churches; others to the pain of being neglected by their neighbors; others to be violently opposed by their companions . . . and a man’s enemies will be those of his own house.’…

“Ballou wrote this about his own time, and the controversy generated by the ideas contained in his magnum opus, A Treatise on Atonement. In it Ballou, an early New England Universalist, made a case that Unitarian-Universalists [sic] today claim as one of their founding classics.

“That was in 1805. But Ballou’s words were indeed prophetic: Since Gulley and Mulholland put forth their work, all hell has broken loose in the Hoosier state….”

I’ve just ordered If Grace Is True, and their new book, If God Is Love, just out last year. Needless to say, I bought both books from the Seminary Coop Bookstore — thus supporting co-ops and independent booksellers!

From the March issue of the Pioneer

Excerpts from my latest UUSG newsletter column

This month, I thought I’d offer some random thoughts and observations that have been accumulating in my files.

— The National Institute for Health recently released infant mortality rates for this country for 2002, and for the first time in 60 years, infant mortality rates have risen. I find this a matter of some concern.

— In announcements in the Sunday morning worship services, I said Lindsay and I are ready to implement intergenerational worship every week if that is the pleasure of the congregation. The response to this suggestion ranged widely. A few people, including both parents and empty-nesters, said they’d like to give it a try. A few people said they’d rather leave UUSG than have regular intergenerational worship. Other responses ranged between these two extremes. (To give a wider perspective — one or two Unitarian Universalist congregations already have fully intergenerational worship services, while a handful of others have decided to actively discourage families with children from participating in their congregations at all.)

— I continue to be fascinated by the way this congregation refers to children and teenagers. The preferred word here at UUSG for these people seems to be “students.” Members of the congregation who are under 18 years old are referred to as “student members” in the UUSG bylaws. I have even heard two and three year olds referred to as students. I remain uncertain how to understand what it means to name people in terms of one limited role they may play. Personally, I prefer the term “young people” as it helps me remember these are persons who have inherent worth and dignity.

Requiring the “7 Principles”?

In the most recent issue of the UU World magazine, a letter writer states:

“…to me, if you don’t accept the Principles and consider life’s hard questions using them you are not truly a UU.”

It’s always worth going back to the original source when you want to test strong statements like this. So let’s go back to the original source for what the letter writer calls the “Principles.”

These principles come from section 1 of Article 2 of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Article 2 as a whole is titled “Principles and Purposes.” Unfortunately, most people seem to stop reading at the end of section 2.1, and forget to read the rest of the Principles and Purposes.

But it’s really worth going on to read section 2.4, which I quote in its entirety below:

“Nothing herein shall be deemed to infringe upon the individual freedom of belief which is inherent in the Universalist and Unitarian heritages or to conflict with any statement of purpose, covenant, or bond of union used by any congregation unless such is used as a creedal test.”

In other words, the letter writer has gotten a little mixed up — the Principles and Purposes explicitly state that individuals have freedom to believe what they wish. Furthermore, nothing like a creed may be used as a test to determine who is, and who is not, a Unitarian Universalist.

It’s not easy being a part of a non-creedal religion in a culture like ours which is so heavily dominated by creedal religions. We do have boundaries, but we don’t draw our boundaries using any statement of belief. It’s not easy, but it’s also our greatest strength. Let’s try to remember that, and hold on to that.