Theological disunity

In a previous post, I looked at some areas where Unitarian Universalists have a great deal of theological unity. Now I’d like to turn to four areas where there is far less unity.

(1) Unitarian Universalists are not in agreement regarding a fundamental ontological claim of process theology. To oversimplify, process theology asserts that God is in the process of evolving. Therefore, a Unitarian process theologian like Charles Hartshorne might call the concept of omnipotence a “theological mistake”; God cannot be omnipotent because God is in process. By contrast, many Unitarian Universalists today will argue that if you’re going to talk about God, one attribute that God must have is omnipotence; this is the foundation for many arguments by Unitarian Universalist atheists or humanists showing that God must not exist.

This represents fundamental theological disagreements about the nature of God, and about the nature of reality (ontology).

(2) Unitarian Universalists are not in agreement regarding one key component of most liberation theologies. Continue reading “Theological disunity”

Quote of the month

From the article “Flea market capitalists: disaffected and disenchanted,” by Arthur E. Farnsely II:

Disaffection is not going to be repaired by politicians, business leaders, or pastors trying harder. Over the decades the modern West has built a consumer society in which people get more personal choices and lifestyle freedom in exchange for a loss of community, tradition, and stability. We are still interdependent, of course, but the connections are complex, malleable, idiosyncratic.

Some people still live in tight-kint communities; others are lucky enough to have the education and money needed to pursue their “lifestyles choices.” But the people at the bottom have limited choices, and some choose to be left alone. Flea market dealers are an extreme example of this segment, but poor and lower working class people all across America have tenuous relationships to the institutions of family, school, business, and government.

A recent Pew study confirms the rising number of people who claim “no religious affiliation.” People are also increasingly choosing “no political affiliation.” (Many people who say they are politically independent reliably vote conservative or liberal, but this only proves the point — they have opinions but resist membership commitments.)

— in Christian Century, 23 January 2013, p. 25.

If you want to adequately explain why people are choosing to have no religious affiliation, you have to take into account the effects of consumer capitalism on the way we perceive and live in the world. We expect to have choices these days, and institutions of any kind limit the kinds of choices we have come to expect as consumers.

Golden haze

Carol and walked down to the waterfront in San Mateo. It was a beautiful evening. It’s the rainy season, so the hills across the bay are now a soft green. The setting sun glinted off windows of houses far up in the Oakland hills. And a beautiful golden haze hung over the waters of the bay.

“It’s the golden haze again,” I said to Carol. We’ve been seeing this for the past week or so: cold, still air has settled down over the area, trapping pollutants in the wide bowl formed by the mountains surrounding the bay. The people who monitor air pollution have been detecting high levels of fine particles, and because of that all wood fires have been banned most days this week. The air quality index has been moderate to unhealthy. That’s what has caused the golden haze.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. We kept walking, watching the shorebirds, and the play of light on the water.

Written on Monday, posted on Saturday; I’ve been slowed down this week by a cold this week.


Two nearly identical houses across the street from us went on the market today. An artist couple had been living there, but finally they decided to sell.

I was out in our driveway putting racks on our car. I saw a couple pushing a stroller come up to the first house, and I heard a well-dressed woman, presumably the real estate agent, tell them, “We’re not quite ready to open yet. Come back in half an hour.”

When I came back from picking up some plywood, the houses were obviously open. Two or more cars a minute drove slowly down our dead end street, slowing down when they reached the two houses. The sign out in front of the first house said, “Treasure behind door #1.” I didn’t bother to see what the sign in front of the second house said.

Carol went over to look. She said that paintings done by the artists who used to live there are hanging on the walls. She overheard someone say, “…but they won’t appreciate that much because they’re on the wrong side of….” We are on the wrong side of the tracks: gardeners and artists and cab drivers and ministers live down this street; many of us are renters, and the majority of us aren’t white.

But these houses are going for less than half a million, an incredible bargain in the Bay area housing market. So the people keep coming, amazed to find houses for so little money.

Jan 19 2013

Theological unity — a conversation

On Thursday, January 31, Amy, the senior minister at our church, and I are going give a class on theological unity within Unitarian Universalism. We’re starting our class with an online conversation about the topic. And I’m going to begin my side of the conversation by listing five areas where I think Unitarian Universalists already have some degree of theological unity:

(1) Women and girls are as good as men and boys: During the 1970s and 1980s, Unitarian Universalism, like many liberal religious groups in the U.S., went through the feminist revolution in theology. We came out of those decades with a very clear theological consensus: when it comes to religion, women and girls are just as good as men and boys.

(2) Human beings must take responsibility for the state of the world: The Unitarian Universalist theologian William R. Jones has argued that humanists and liberal theists have come to resemble each other in that both affirm the radical freedom and autonomy of human beings (“Theism and Religious Humanism: The Chasm Narrows,” Christian Century, May 21, 1975, pp. 520-525). Today, we have a wide consensus that, whether or not we believe in God, none of us believes some larger power is going to come fix up our problems for us — if humans made the mess, it’s up to us to fix it.

Continue reading “Theological unity — a conversation”

Another approach to fundraising

Looking for some new inspiration around fundraising? Amy pointed me to an article on the Nonprofit Hearts Web site titled “Asking Kindred Spirits for Money.” The author, Rich Snowdon, works as a coach for nonprofit leaders.

His approach to nonprofit fundraising aligns well with the approach to congregational fundraising set forth by Ed Landreth in his consulting practice, and in his book Fundraising with a Vision. As a former salesman, it’s what I’d call a soft-sell approach, emphasizing relationship-building over the long term, rather than squeezing the most money possible out of people in the short term.

The most useful part of Snowdon’s article may be the many hypothetical fundraising conversations he writes — what do you say to different kinds of donors? — where might those conversations go? It’s a long article, but definitely worth reading — to read it, click here.

Why UU youth programs suck

Our model for youth ministry in Unitarian Universalism sucks. The reasons why it sucks begin in our recent history, and in our current responses to the social changes going on all around us.

History first: Our model of youth ministry is an amalgam of three old models; none of the older models is particularly relevant to today’s world.

(1) First, there is the core model of youth ministry dating back to around 1900, when the Unitarian and Universalist denominations (along with many other denominations in mainline Protestantism) decided that persons in the age range of about 14 to about 20 had different religious and spiritual needs than adults — they did, that is, if their families were wealthy enough to keep them in school through their mid-teens; and since mainline Protestants were the ruling elite in the United States at that time, many mainline Protestant families were wealthy enough to keep their kids in school up to or even past the age of 16. By contrast, families in the Black churches and “ethnic” Catholic churches were less likely to keep their children in school up into their mid-teens, and those churches were less likely to have youth ministries that looked like mainline Protestant youth ministries.

This first model of Unitarian and Universalist youth ministry is rooted in entitlement and privilege that is based in unconscious membership in a religious elite that ruled the United States to serve its own purposes and values.

(2) The second layer of youth ministry emerged in the 1950s, when mainline Protestantism was at its peak in the United States. Continue reading “Why UU youth programs suck”