Internal diversity of Islam

Rizwan Mawani, a Canadian scholar, has published a new book titled Beyond the Mosque: Diverse Spaces of Muslim Worship. I’m interested in the book because according to an interview by Religion News Service, Mawani provides insight into the internal diversity of Islam:

“The challenge of writing a book like this is that there are exceptions to almost every universal we try to proclaim upon the Muslim world. I’m always hyper conscious about asking ‘Is this sentence true for all Muslims? And if not, how do I modify it to reflect a pan-Muslim experience?'”

Mawani looks at the diversity of architecture (as you’d expect from the title), but other kinds of internal diversity as well — such as how ritual practices are constantly evolving, thus providing insight into diversity over time. But, according to the interview, Mawani also tackles some hot-button issues, such as the issue of gender:

“[T]here are communities like the Alevis [with 25 million adherents], found mostly in Turkey, who don’t define themselves as Sunni or Shia, where men and women pray side by side in spaces called cemevis, and oftentimes even interspersed with one another. Because in Alevi theology, God doesn’t see the body. All he sees is the soul of the believer, and gender is ultimately dissolved.”

Although in the West, we typically divide Islam into Sunni and Shia, Mawani found diversity beyond this bipartite division. For example, many of the first Muslims to come to North American were probably neither Sunni nor Shia:

“Another interesting thing to consider is how Islam came into North America. If we look at the earliest migration of Muslim communities, we of course have West African slaves, many of whom we now know practiced Islam. Many of them probably brought a form of Sufi Islam. So though Sunni Islam is the predominant form of Islam in the U.S. today, it’s not necessarily how America got introduced to Islam.”

In the interview, Mawani also touches on the geographic diversity of Islam, pointing out that one in three Muslims worldwide come from South Asia. I was particularly interested in Mawani’s comments on how to find Muslim diversity in North America; a Web search for “masjid” is going to exclude some significant Muslim diversity:

“If you live in a big city, especially, there are lots of opportunities to engage or even work with various Muslim communities. Obviously you can do a Google search and walk through your neighborhood looking for mosques. But you may need to research other names. There are masjids, of course, that are used by Shia communities, but they also have spaces known as an imambara or matam or husayniya or something else, depending upon which part of the world that community comes from. There are many Sufi and mystically inclined spaces in many cities, so searches for words like tekke or zawiya or khanaqah can unearth communities in our own area that we may not be familiar with.”

Read the entire interview here.

Buying the book: Do the author a favor and do NOT buy from Amazon, because they drastically cut how much money the author receives per book. Instead, I recommend buying all your religion books from the Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago. They do not yet have “Beyond the Mosque” in stock, but you can special order it here.

Non-affiliated Unitarian Universalists

A myth that has wide currency within Unitarian Universalism (UUism) today tells the story that every Unitarian Universalist (UU) must be affiliated with a congregation. This “myth of the affiliated UU” has become one of the stock myths told by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and by many UU ministers.

Let me tell you why I think we should stop believing in this myth.

Years ago, when I was serving as a volunteer on-call chaplain at a hospital in Massachusetts, I visited someone who called themselves Unitarian. Without going into any confidential details, I can say this person was a member of a non-UU religious congregation and was quite happy about that, but still considered themselves a UU. As a chaplain, I of course accepted this person’s religious self-identification, and hoped that they would be able to use that religious identification in their healing process.

Only later did it occur to me that I knew of a fair number of other people like that person in the hospital — people who called themselves UUs but who didn’t, for whatever reason, belong to a UU congregation. Then the Web took off: I was a member of Church of the Larger Fellowship as it turned into an online church, and then I started this blog, and participated in a lot of online conversations, and I came into contact with a lot of people who call themselves UU but who aren’t part of a congregation. Really — a LOT of people.

We need a name for these people. I’m going to call them “non-affiliated UUs.”

Non-affiliated UUs are definitely UUs, but they aren’t affiliated with any congregation. They aren’t even affiliated with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which is a happy home for a great many UUs, but which doesn’t suit the needs of lots of other non-affiliated UUs. I’m going to guess there are thousands, even tens of thousands, of non-affiliated UUs.

In the early days of Unitarianism and Universalism, you were a Unitarian or a Universalist if you said you were one. For many years, the American Unitarian Association accepted individual memberships. As for Universalists, there were lots of them who lived in rural areas or on the frontier where there weren’t any Universalist congregations. Read a book by Hosea Ballou, or a sermon by William Ellery Channing, and — bingo! — you could call yourself a Universalist or a Unitarian.

There’s a relationship between the current myth of the affiliated UU and the way we began funding UU institutions in the mid-twentieth century. From the UUA’s inception — in 1961, when the Unitarians and Universalists consolidated — the UUA as an institution received much of its revenue from per-member assessments levied on congregations. At the same time, ministry became an increasingly professionalized profession, typically requiring an expensive education that made economic sense only if the minister could count on a guaranteed income from working in a congregation. Thus, the myth of the affiliated UU became a convenient myth for both UUA staffers and lay leaders, and for parish ministers.

But the way we funded UU institutions in the mid- to late twentieth century no longer works. Too many UU ministers complete their expensive education only to find that they can’t find a job that will allow them to pay off their debts. (Not surprisingly, many people training for ministry are now turning to community ministry, so they can find non congregational jobs that will allow them to pay off their educational debt.) As the number of members of UU congregations decreased, the UUA finally gave up on the per-member assessment model, and has turned to assessments based on total operating budget of congregations.

Yet too many UU ministers and UU leaders continue to cling to the myth of the affiliated UU. This myth is taking on a destructive form: “You can’t be a REAL UU unless you’re affiliated with a UU congregation.” As a result, people who could be non-affiliated UUs are deciding that Unitarian Universalism doesn’t want them. In other words, the destructive form of this myth is forcing too many people to become religiously homeless.

Unitarian minister Theodore Parker made a famous distinction between the transient and the permanent in religion. He said that we sometimes cling to things that we think are an essential and permanent part of religion, but which are actually inessential and transient.

Being a member of a UU congregation is a good thing for many people. But congregations are a transient, inessential feature of Unitarian Universalism. You don’t need to be affiliated with a congregation to be a UU.

What is permanent about Unitarian Universalism? That you live an ethical life. That you challenge yourself to use your reason to engage with religion. That you allow yourself to doubt. That you allow your religious attitudes to change and evolve. That you value the Western religious tradition of which anglophone Unitarian Universalism is a part, while remaining open to insights from non-Western religious traditions. That you are in conversation with other UUs.

That last point deserves elaboration: How can non-affiliated UUs stay in conversation with other UUS? Through “sudden villages,” conferences and gatherings of a few days or a week where you get to meet other UUs face-to-face. Through reading UU writers, and listening to UU podcasts. Through online contacts: social media, blogs, email, whatever.

And how can UU institutional leaders welcome non-affiliated UUs? By sponsoring “sudden villages” that don’t require affiliation with a UU congregation. By supporting community ministers, those ministers who aren’t serving in a congregation. By allowing themselves to be in conversation with non-affiliated UUs, even when those conversations challenge core-but-transient assumptions about what constitutes a UU. By giving financial support to efforts that reach out to non-affiliated UUs (e.g., independent podcasts).

Above all, UU institutional leaders can welcome non-affiliated UUs by ceasing to retell the myth of the affiliated UU.

Coming up: How to be a non-affiliated UU….

Family tree for Unitarian Universalism

Drew asked about a “family tree” for the Unitarian Universalism, and as it happens I had drawn one back in 2003, so I revised it and sent it to him. It might be of interest to others:

Simplified family tree of the Unitarian Universalism

This family tree is based on a revisionist interpretation of Unitarian Universalist history, and therefore some explanation is in order.

First, this family tree shows Transylvanian Unitarianism as quite separate from North American Unitarianism. This is based on my reading of Earl Morse Wilbur’s history of European Unitarianism; Wilbur dearly wanted to connect Transylvanian and North American Unitarians, but the few connections he documents may be summed up as: maybe a few English-speaking Unitarians read a few books about Transylvanian Unitarianism. When you look at the two Unitarian groups today, some of the differences are more pronounced than the vague theological similarities: the Transylvanians have bishops, their religion seems more narrowly ethnic, etc. Thus, I depict the two groups as quite separate.

I understand North American Unitarianism and Universalism as being reactions against aspects of Calvinism. Thus I show both groups as having roots in Calvinism.

North American Unitarians came in large part from the New England Standing Order churches; there wasn’t enough room to show the small but important influence of Joseph Priestley and a few other early Unitarians who brought their Unitarianism from England, rather than getting it from Boston. Thus I show the major event in the beginning of North American Unitarianism to be the split between the conservatives — people like Jonathan Edwards — and the liberals — people like Charles Chauncy, a split which took place after the Great Awakening. However, the first openly Unitarian congregation in North America was King’s Chapel; originally affiliated with the Church of England, it became Unitarian in 1785, long before any of the Standing Order churches openly declared themselves to be Unitarian.

The beginnings of North American Universalism are a little more tangled. John Murray and George DeBenneville brought their Universalist beliefs from England when they came to live in the coastal cities of the New World; that history is well known. But there’s another history, well documented by scholar Stephen Marini and others, of how Universalism also arose in central New England, often in formerly Baptist churches. Thus I show Universalism as having some roots in Baptist traditions; this is perhaps most evident in the institutional structures (or lack thereof) of early Universalism. Then too, it is important to mention John Murray’s marriage to Judith Sargent; she came from a prominent and wealthy New England family, and both her family connections and her own intelligence contributed a great deal to John’s eventual success as a Universalist standard-bearer.

By about 1825, both Unitarians and Universalists were well established in North America. But the boundaries of both denominations remained somewhat porous. In the early nineteenth century, Unitarians sometimes cooperated with the Christian Connexion denomination (not show in the family tree). In the late nineteenth century, a small group of ministers split from the Unitarians to form the Free Religious Association, and in a few cases they brought their congregations with them; some of those congregations reportedly never rejoined the Unitarian denomination (though I’ve never been able to document that myself). Then around 1900, some Icelandic Lutheran churches in the prairie provinces of Canada switched to the Unitarian denomination; at least one other formerly Lutheran church, Nora Church in Hanska, Minnesota, also joined the Unitarians.

However, Unitarian boundaries were not completely porous. When William Jackson, an African American Baptist minister, tried to join the American Unitarian Association in 1860, bringing his congregation with him, he was carefully kept out.

In Universalism, the porous boundaries become most evident in the late nineteenth century, a time when many Universalists became enamored with spiritualism. Then spiritualism became an organized religion, and some Universalists, such as minister John Murray Spear, left Universalism to become Spiritualists. But again, the boundaries of Universalism were not completely porous. A splinter group of Primitive Baptists (Baptists who, among other things, refuse to have musical instruments in church, relying instead on a capella singing) adopted Universalist beliefs, probably after having read books by Hosea Ballou, the great Universalist theologian. But there has been very little interest in exploring the commonalities between Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBU) and Universalists, or for that matter Unitarian Universalists (the PBU-UU connection between may seem more robust theologically than the connection between Transylvanian and North American Unitarians; but the class difference is far greater).

As for the racial boundaries of Universalism, they were slightly more porous than those of the Unitarians. The Universalists accepted Joseph Jordan, an African American and former Baptist minister, into fellowship and ordained him in 1889. However, the racial boundaries were not all that porous: there remained little denominational support for African American Universalists outside of a couple of congregations in Virginia, and individual Universalist congregations in the South remained explicitly segregationist up into the mid-1960s.

The late nineteenth century saw a growing number of connections between Unitarians and Universalists ; this is symbolized on the family tree by Eliza Tupper Wilkes; she was ordained a Universalist minister, but worked for both groups at different times, and founded both Universalist and Unitarian congregations. There were also strong connections between both the Unitarians and the Universalists with the Congregationalists. During the early twentieth century, there were Universalist congregations that merged into Congregationalist congregations, and both Universalist and Unitarian congregations that federated with Congregationalist congregations. Some of the federated congregations still exist; they are one congregation in real life, but on paper they also exist as two separate congregations, and when you join a federated congregation you decide if you’re joining as, e.g., a Congregationalist or a Unitarian.

In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universalists consolidated (the legal term is “consolidated,” not “merged”). This now seems inevitable to us here in North America, but groups like the Khasi Hills Unitarians in India, or the Universalist churches in the Philippines, had no corresponding group to merge with.

Finally, it is worth remembering that several features of contemporary North American Unitarian Universalism which today seem diagnostic in helping to identify who’s a Unitarian Universalist are actually recent innovations. The “seven principles,” the widespread use of the flaming chalice in worship services, the water communion service — all these grew out of the feminist revolution of the 1980s, a revolution led by people like Natalie Gulbrandsen. Feminist theology has helped drive us further away from groups like the Primitive Baptist Universalists, while driving us closer to the United Church of Christ (UCC), a very liberal Christian group that is the inheritor of the old conservative New England churches from which the Unitarians split in the early nineteenth century. The UCC and the UUA today are close religious relatives, sociologically, politically, and demographically. The UCC and the UUA cooperated to produce the innovative “Our Whole Lives” comprehensive sexuality education program; politically, UCC churches are often to the left of UU churches; demographically both groups a dominated by white college-educated professionals. The only big difference today is that more UCC members believe in God than do Unitarian Universalists; though that too may be changing, as a friend of mine who’s a UCC minister says that most of the children and teens in her church are professed atheists.

PDF of the family tree.

Clergy hit a new low in perceptions of ethics and honesty

Gallup has been polling people in the U.S. since 1977 about perceptions of the honesty and ethics of various professions. These Gallup polls rate the perceived honesty of professions as “very high/high,” “average,” or “very low/low” (with the obvious addition of a choice for “no opinion”).

In Gallup’s most recent poll about perceptions of the ethics and honesty of various professions, the nursing profession again tops the list, with 84% of people giving them a “very high/high” rating, 15% giving them an “average rating,” and 1% giving them a “very low/low” rating.

By contrast, only 37% of people give clergy as a profession a “very high/high” rating for honesty and ethics; 43% give an “average rating,” 15% give a “very low/low” rating, with the remainder offering “no opinion.” In their report, Gallup made a special note of the decline in the perception of clergy honesty and ethics:

“Gallup has measured Americans’ views of the clergy’s honesty and ethics 34 times beginning in 1977, and this year’s 37% very high/high rating is the lowest to date. Although the overall average positive rating is 54%, it has consistently fallen below that level since 2009. The historical high of 67% occurred in 1985. Positive views of the honesty and ethics of the clergy dropped in 2002 amid a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, and although positive ratings rebounded somewhat in the next few years, they fell to 50% in 2009 and have been steadily declining since 2012.”

However, although the Catholic sexual abuse scandal is foremost in many people’s minds, evangelical Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton notes that there are other clergy scandals affecting some people’s perceptions of clergy. Throckmorton specifically mentions the recent accusations of clergy financial misconduct at Harvest Bible Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch near Chicago: when some whistle-blower bloggers made those accusations public, rather than addressing the accusations, Harvest Bible Church sued the bloggers for defamation. Throckmorton contrasts Harvest Bible Church with Willow Creek Church, another big evangelical Christian megachurch which recently ousted its founding pastor after credible allegations of misconduct; subsequently the entire leadership team resigned, realizing their leadership had been compromised by their poor handling of the allegations, and realizing that the church needed to get a fresh start. (Throckmorton’s most recent blog post about Harvest Bible Church, which links to the Gallup poll, is here.) We could add more examples from outside evangelical Christianity of how organized religious groups respond poorly to accusations of ethical lapses and dishonesty: the many accusations against the Church of Scientology and their opaque responses come immediately to mind.

One thing that I get from Throckmorton’s post is that poor governance goes hand in hand with decline in trust in clergy. And we should distinguish governance from polity. The hierarchical polity of the Roman Catholic Church should in theory be more effective at removing unethical clergy than our Unitarian Universalist congregational polity; more than one unethical Unitarian Universalist minister was able to continue their unethical ways because the Unitarian Universalist Association cannot prevent a local congregation from hiring whomever they want as minister. However, all too often the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy covered up clergy misconduct. The Unitarian Universalist Association, by contrast, has recommended that search committees carry out careful background checks of potential new clergy hires; in Unitarian Universalism, the failures in governance too often take place at the local level, representing the biggest weakness of congregational polity is dealing with ethics; but on the whole, despite the weakness of its polity, Unitarian Universalists have a somewhat better record of dealing with clergy misconduct than the Roman Catholic Church. Again, my point here is that no type of polity is immune from ethical lapses; the real issue is good governance practices within whatever polity a religion might have.

I suspect, therefore, that the decline in the perception of clergy honesty is linked to a wider decline in trust of organized religion — a decline that in many cases is deserved. Lay leaders and clergy, regardless of our polity, need to be scrupulously careful about maintaining good governance practices that are transparent and that strengthen accountability; and when ethical violations arise, we need to address them quickly and transparently.

Battling implicit bias

Questions have been raised about the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a psychological test which purports to find implicit bias in individuals. Olivia Goldhill, writing for Quartz, an online business journal, reports that the IAT has a low reliability, or test-retest, score; where perfect reliability would score as 1, and strong reliability would score as 0.7-0.8, the race IAT has a reliability score of 0.44, or unacceptable. Goldhill also reports that several meta-analyses have found that the IAT is a poor predictor of behavior.

I have my own criticism of the well-known race IAT, which you can take online at the Project Implicit Web site. I took this test online, and scored as having a low to moderate bias in favor of African Americans. As much as I’d like to think I’m Mr. Egalitarian, I had a problem with the test: it required me to make fast judgments about low-resolution photos of facial characteristics, and I know myself well enough to know that I have poor facial recognition ability — I once passed my mother and younger sister on the street and only recognized them when I realized that these two women were laughing at me — so any test that requires me to recognize facial characteristics is not going to produce accurate results.Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the actual test, I’m still skeptical of using tests for implicit bias to implement organizational change. In my experience, that’s not the way organizational change actually happens: it’s not as easy as administering a test, identifying who has implicit bias, and then watching the complete eradication of bias. If it were that easy, we already would have eradicated racism, sexism, etc.

“What the ‘Bias of Crowds’ Phenomenon Means for Corporate Diversity Efforts,” an article by Liz Kofman (a change management consultant with a doctorate in sociology), suggests a different path towards changing organizational biases that I find more pragmatic. Writing for Behavioral Scientist, an online non-profit magazine, Kofman identifies three recommendations for organizations wishing to get rid of bias.

First of all, Kofman suggests that we “focus on changing processes, not people.” In other words, forget all those training sessions where you make individuals in the organization confront their inner biases; instead, change your organizational processes to reduce chances for bias. Why don’t more organizations do this? I suspect it’s because it’s much easier to hold a workshop on implicit bias than it is to do the hard and detailed work of changing organizational processes. It’s fine to hold those workshops, and Unitarian Universalist congregations wishing to address bias should continue to offer, for example, the excellent “Beloved Conversations” class developed by Mark Hicks at Meadville/Lombard Theological School. Just don’t expect one workshop to take the place of lots of rather boring but necessary detail work.

Kofman’s second recommendation is to “prioritize process change and stick to it.” She points out that this is not easy; it takes “organizational will and discipline to implement and sustain … new processes.” Furthermore, Kofman says, an organization needs to focus on a few key process changes, making those a priority; otherwise, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with too many changes and then nothing happens. Prioritizing process changes, and sticking to them, has proved to be an insurmountable problem for most Unitarian Universalist congregations I’ve known: lay leadership changes from year to year and so priorities change from year to year; new and attractive projects arise and draw attention away from ongoing projects. It’s easier to do that high-profile capital campaign, or to add solar panels on your building, than it is to stick to the hard work of implementing new organizational processes designed to reduce racism and sexism.

And this brings us to Kofman’s third recommendation: “provide resources and incentives for change management.” Because “everyday processes influence the bias of crowds” in any organization, you need to change those everyday processes; but too often there are not resources to help people change those processes, in addition to which there’s little incentive for change. Take for example a Unitarian Universalist congregations which wishes to become less white. Clearly, one thing you’ll need to do it completely overhaul the intake process — how potential members are greeted on their first visit, the processes used to integrate newcomers into the congregational culture, and so on. All that is hard work, so one critical resource required for change will be staff time, from both paid and volunteer staff; and because staff time is a limited resource, other projects will have to received fewer staff hours. And how will you provide incentives for those staffers, particularly for the volunteer staffers? None of this is easy.

To summarize: While Implicit Association Tests might be fascinating, they are probably not particularly useful tools for implementing organizational change. Instead, congregations seriously committed to, e.g., becoming less white, should pay attention to the change management technique of process change.

Decline, or….

In a recent story posted on UU World, the house organ of the Unitarian Unviersalist Association (UUA), Chris Walton reports that “UUA membership rises for first time since 2008.” The increase is tiny, though — up only 980 members to 148,242; less than a tenth of a percent. Because this could be within the margin of error, we’ll have to wait and see if decline continues again next year; at this point it’s safest to say that at best overall membership remained flat this year.

In bad news, the ongoing decline in religious education enrollment continued: numbers of children and youth are down 2,557 to 40,269; this decline is less than one percent, but it continues a ten-year trend of decline, so that we’re down about 27% since 2009. Searching for reasons for this decline, Chris points out several possible factors: lower birth rates beginning in the mid-1990s (Chris fails to mention the additional drop in birth rates during the Great Recession); people no longer bringing their children to organized religion; and, adds Chris, “our basic model may no longer work,” citing the popular “Death of Sunday School” paper by Kimberley Sweeney.

I would add that children today are a white-minority age group while UU congregations remain dominated by white people. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that there is a certain amount of racism that keeps young families with non-white members out of many UU congregations.

But in my opinion, financial factors are having the biggest impact on dropping religious education enrollment. First of all, the cost of nonprofit employees keeps going up (due to rising insurance costs and other factors), so congregations are less and less able to afford qualified religious education professionals. Second of all, the UUA budget has been contracting, and there simply isn’t money to develop the kind of religious education resources that we need for today’s kids — resources like videos, games, apps, etc. Third, today’s parents are used to having a wide range of choices for their children, and most congregations can only afford to offer one class per age group (or, when money is really tight, one intergenerational worship service for everybody).

In my opinion, two big forces that are pushing us into decline: demographics and finances. If you look back in history, the Great Depression offered similar challenges: people weren’t going to church as much, and there was no money; and during the Great Depression, large numbers of Unitarian and Universalist congregations closed their doors forever. I fully expect to see a growing number of Unitarian Universalist congregations close their doors forever as demographics and finances do their work.

Nevertheless, I think individual congregations can take positive action so that they don’t have to close their doors. There are obvious steps to take, none of which is rocket science, but none of which is easy. First, engage in hard-headed and realistic financial planning, and plan now what staffers and what programs you will cut first, and plan how to deal with the aftermath of those cuts — if you’re lucky you won’t have to make those cuts, but if you do have to make cuts you’ll have a rational management plan in place. Second, stifle white dominance so non-white people can find space in your congregation — and if you’re not sure how to take the first step, go read Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility. Third, figure out how to customize your key programs and ministries so you can serve people who want more than one choice on Sunday morning — not just worship services and Sunday school, but Forum and adult classes and supervised play and maybe a Navigators program and social hour with decent coffee and more.

Change is coming. We better learn how to manage it.

Power and sexual harrassment

Under the headline “The Role Power Plays in Sexual Harassment” (Tuesday, Feb. 6, page A13) Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal reports on a series of five studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bernstein also interviews a number of psychologists to explore the question: What makes some men abuse their positions of power to sexually harass women?

According to Bernstein, psychologists are finding that men who exploit their power to harass women “typically share specific personality traits. Their power amplifies proclivities they already have.” Those traits include:
— men who felt powerless in the past are “most likely to pursue an inappropriate workplace attraction or exhibit harassment behavior”
— men who have so-called “hostile masculinity” tend to “find power over women to be a turn-on”; these men are often narcissists
— men with what’s known as “impersonal sexuality prefer sex without intimacy or close connection”; these men often have multiple sex partners; their lack of intimacy with sexual partners may go back to experiences of abuse as children
— men with sexist attitudes are also likely to harass or assault women

Bernstein quotes Dr. Neil Malamuth, professor of psychology and communication at the University of California, Los Angeles: “It’s not automatic; it’s not that power corrupts. It’s a certain type of man who uses his power in this way.”

From my perspective, it’s both interesting and not surprising that men who abuse power to sexually harass women share certain personality traits (and I wouldn’t want to limit this to men: there are also women who abuse their power by becoming sexual predators). In my work cleaning up congregations after sexual misconduct by religious leaders, I have sensed shared personality traits in those leaders who abuse their authority. But I’ve never had enough distance from the problem to be able to adequately articulate what those personality traits are, so this is a helpful list of personality traits to look for.

Who gets to make a hymnal?

While working on a sabbatical project, I discovered that Louis F. Benson, in his book The English hymn: its development and use in worship (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, George H. Doran Co., 1915), lists nineteen U.S. Unitarian hymnals published in the thirty-four year period from 1830 to 1864. Nor does Benson claim this is an exhaustive list; indeed, he focuses almost exclusively on hymnals published in and near Boston (you can read this list below).

None of these hymnals was published by the American Unitarian Association (AUA). In some cases a large congregation compiled their own hymnal, which other congregations then adopted; more often, an individual editor or group of editors compiled a hymnal as a speculative venture, hoping that congregations would purchase it. In fact, the AUA didn’t publish its first hymnal until 1868.

In the twentieth century, the vast majority of Unitarian (and later Unitarian Universalist) hymnals were published by the AUA, and then from 1937 on by the Unitarians and Universalists together. In the post-World War II era, I’m only aware of two hymnals that were not published under denominational auspices (excluding one-author or one-composer hymn/song collections, such as those by Rick Masten).

So the vast majority of Unitarian Universalist congregations today use a denominationally-produced hymnal. Why is this? Partly I think it’s because copyright law has become much more strict in the past century; anything published after 1922 is probably covered by copyright, and it can be difficult and expensive to track down copyright owners and buy permission to reprint their text or music; it’s going to take a large-ish organization to have enough resources to deal with copyright challenges. But also I believe we have all bought into the notion that the only “real” hymnal is one published by the denomination.

What if one of the large Unitarian Universalist congregations put together a new hymnal? The hymnbook compilers would face significant challenges posed by copyright issues. To balance those challenges, the ease of self-publishing and the rise of print-on-demand would make layout, printing, and distribution extraordinarily easy. Technical and legal issues aside, wouldn’t it be nice if Unitarian Universalist congregations had a choice of hymnals? — at the very least, we could expand the number of our song choices.

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And for those who are interested, I’ll append a very incomplete list of Unitarian and then Unitarian Universalist hymnals, so you can get a sense of the great variety of hymnals that were once available. (I apologize for not researching Universalist hymnals, but this has been too much of a distraction from my sabbatical project as it is; I can’t justify procrastinating any longer.) Continue reading “Who gets to make a hymnal?”

My rant for the day: Patriarchy dies hard

Let me climb onto my soap box….

All these troubles in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA): yet another senior denominational positions is filled by a white man; the first Latino president of the UUA gets defensive about this fact and then resigns; people of color in the denomination call for a national teach-in about white supremacy; the president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), who is a white man, holds forth online at great length, and somewhat incoherently, on hiring practices in the UUA; 130 members of the UUMA sign a petition calling on ministers to refrain from bringing lawsuits against other ministers in the middle of UUMA grievance procedures (a petition that was responding to a legal action by a UUMA member against other UUMA members to prevent ministers from talking about a colleague who allegedly committed sexual misconduct); a Unitarian Universalist minister pleads guilty to child pornography charges.

In the course of all these troubles, many Unitarian Universalists are openly addressing the problem of racism and white supremacy. This is a good thing.

And in the course of all these troubles, far fewer Unitarian Universalists seem to be talking about sexism and patriarchy. Maybe because all the candidates for UUA president are women. In a couple of weeks, we are sure to elect a woman as the next UUA president and therefore we have conquered patriarchy. Right?

Patriarchy within the UUA has not died. Nor is it in its death throes, nor is it even in the process of dying. All these years I’ve been going to political rallies and hearing people assert that all oppressions are linked. So guess what: patriarchy and white supremacy are linked. We cannot talk about one without talking about the other.

As a minister of religious education — that is to say, as someone who is doing “women’s work,” because taking care of children is not “real ministry,” it’s just “women’s ministry” — I can tell you that patriarchy is alive and well in the UUA. Sunday school enrollment has been dropping since 2005, even though demographically there are more and more children out there. Why? Sunday school enrollment has been dropping because in the UUA as a whole, and in most individual congregations, when money gets tight we pull resources away from children and youth ministry so that we adequately pay the patriarchal positions — the president of the UUA, the senior denominational positions, the parish minister.

We do this both because of patriarchy, and also because of white supremacy. In much of the U.S., non-white children are now the majority. If we adequately fund children’s ministries, we might bring more kids into our congregations. If we do that, not only are we saying that “women’s work” is important, we are also opening the doors to a lot of non-white people. Both these things are equally threatening. Patriarchy and white supremacy die hard.

I know, you’re sick of hearing me rant. OK, I’m off my soap box now. And I promise to reduce my ranting in the future, because the last thing we need is another rant from yet another white man.

Religious Diversity in Silicon Valley

(Excerpts from a talk I gave at the UU Church of Palo Alto)

Over the past seven years, I’ve been exploring the religious diversity of Silicon Valley. This project started out because I was supporting the middle school class that goes to visit other faith communities. But over the years, it has taken on a life of its own, and has helped me better understand the role of religious organizations play in strengthening democracy, and it has also caused me to substantially revise my definition of what religion is.

So that’s what I’d like to do today: explore religious diversity in Silicon Valley, and maybe go on some interesting tangents.

And I’m going to start off by setting a limit around this exploration: I’m NOT going to look at solo practitioners of religion, or individual spirituality. This happens to be an important limit, since we are in an era of anti-institutionalism in which an increasing number of individuals refuse to identify with any organized religious community, even when they profess to have some kind of individual religiosity.

The role of faith communities in democracy

But I AM interested in exploring religiosity as it is expressed in a faith community, because I believe that faith communities can help sustain democracy. James Luther Adams, a theologian and sociologist, studied the role of voluntary associations — including faith communities — in democracies, and he concluded that they played a fundamental role in keeping democracy healthy. Among other things, he studied the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s (he even visited Nazi Germany himself in the mid-thirties), and found that one of the ways that the authoritarian Nazi regime came to power was by severely limiting voluntary associations. Thus Adams found that the right of free association is in fact critical to democracy; free association is critical at keeping authoritarianism in check.

This should be a major concern for us in the United States today. What we saw in the past two presidential administrations was a willingness to extend the powers of the presidency to an unprecedented degree; the rapidly rising use of executive orders is perhaps the most prominent example of this. The current presidential administration seems to be further extending the use of executive orders, further extending the powers of the presidency, and this administration seems to have tendencies towards centralization of power and decision-making in a smaller group of people. This should cause us to pay attention to the possibility of rising authoritarianism. This is coupled with a wider cultural tendency: some of the greatest popular culture heroes today are people in the business world who rule their business as authoritarian regimes, and these authoritarian business leaders are taken as positive examples to be emulated.

I find these trends and tendencies to be moderately alarming. Out of my alarm, I think, springs my deepening interest in voluntary associations such as organized religion. Although there is a lot of talk today about “resistance,” such talk strikes me as promoting a negative or passive approach, which is doomed to fail. Instead, I would like to promote positive responses to authoritarian trends; rather than merely saying, “Authoritarianism is bad,” I want to be able to say, “Here are some interesting and fun things we can do that strengthen democracy.”

And one of those interesting and fun things we can do to strengthen democracy is to celebrate the vibrancy of religious diversity, as it expressed in faith communities.

What is a “faith community”?

When I talk about “faith communities,” I mean something quite specific. A “faith community,” in my definition, is a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality. This definition is tailored for the U.S. context; it would work less well in certain European countries where there are still established churches funded by the government; and it would work less well in certain East Asian contexts where religion is less tied to voluntary associations.

But here in the United States, there is a strong connection between religion and voluntary associations, and defining a “faith community” as a voluntary association in which people have come together around matters of religion and spirituality — this definition proves to be useful and interesting.

At this point, you should be asking yourself: “What does he mean by ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’?” It may look like I’ve been avoiding a firm definition of these terms, but as it happens, I do have a fairly precise definition in mind, a definition which works well in the context of a discussion of religious diversity, a definition which is primarily functional but not ontological or metaphysical. Therefore, from a functional standpoint, I’m not going to insist on a strong distinction between “religion” and “spirituality,” because in our democratic society we don’t have a distinction between these two terms that is widely accepted.

Here’s my functional definition: “religion” is what we point at when we say the word “religion.” This may sound like I’m avoiding the issue, but I’m not; I find that mostly when I point at something that looks like religion, most people will say, “That’s religion.” Sure, there are things that we point at which we can’t get wide agreement on as to whether they constitute religion or not. If I point at Scientology, some people will say, “That’s a religion,” and others will say, “That’s a massive con game.” So my definition does not have really crisp boundary lines. But mostly, when I point to a Christian church or a Jewish synagogue, or a Shinto shrine, or a Sikh gurdwara, or a Hindu temple, or Humanist gathering, or a Neo-Pagan ritual, most of us are going to say, “Yes, that’s something to do with religion.” We may go on to say, “That is a kind of religion that I think is disgusting or heretical or appalling,” but we acknowledge that it is religion.

Now I want to go a little farther, and place religion in a broad category that includes various kinds of cultural production. This broad category also includes the arts; and I would include organized sports as an art form, too. I find it helpful to think of religion as part of a broader category of “Arts and Religion,” and there has been some interested scholarly study of how certain art forms and certain sports activities look a great deal like religion.

To sum up, then: a faith community is a voluntary association that does religion, where “religion” is defined as what I point to when I say the word, and where religion is part of a broader category of cultural production that we can call “Arts and Religion.”

And I think you will find all this becomes very useful when we start looking at religious diversity. So let’s do that — we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s start looking at religious diversity in Silicon Valley.

Religious Diversity in South Palo Alto and Midtown

Let’s begin with our immediate neighborhood. Recently, I went looking for all the faith communities near our congregation, in a rectangle one mile wide by mile-and-a-half long, bounded by roughly by Oregon Expressway to the north, El Camino Real to the west, San Antonio Road to the south, and Highway 101 to the east. I came up with more than thirty faith communities that met regularly within this rectangle. I was astounded at this number — that’s a lot of faith communities located in such a small area.

Now let’s look at the religious diversity that is represented in this rectangle.

Denominational diversity

When Americans think of religious diversity, they usually think of how many denominations they can find. So we’ll start with denominations, though really the concept of denomination really works best for Protestant Christianity, and not so well for other types of faith community. Here are the denominations represented in this rectangle:

— 9 mainline Protestant Christian faith communities
— 1 Roman Catholic faith community
— 1 Orthodox Christian faith community
— 12 other Christian faith communities
— 1 Post-Christian faith community (that’s us)
— 4 Jewish faith communities
— 1 Muslim faith community
— 2 Buddhist faith communities
— 4 New Religious Movements (one of which would probably identify itself as Christian)
———
— 35 total denominations identified

The amazing diversity of Christian faith communities

Not surprisingly, the majority of these faith communities are Christian, as is true of American society as a whole: most of the faith communities in the U.S. are Christian. But don’t make the mistake of lumping together all these Christian faith communities as some kind of monolith. Christianity arguably has as much or more internal religious diversity as any of the major world religions; you could make a strong case that Christianity is as diverse or more diverse than either Hinduism or Orisa Devotion, and that’s saying a lot.

Compare, for example, an Orthodox Christian worship service, with its incense and chanting and elaborate decorative arts and music — compare that with the simplicity of Quaker silent meeting for worship. Or compare the social structure of Roman Catholicism, with its tradition of strong central authority, with the radically decentralized congregational polity of the Disciples of Christ. Or compare the cool emotional tenor of Lutheranism to the ecstatic worship of some Pentecostal groups. Compare the religious narratives of the Latter Day Saints, with the religious narrative told by a liberal Baptist church; the Latter Day Saints draw on the Bible and the Book of Mormon, whereas the Baptists are going to limit their narrative to what they find in the Bible.

Religious liberals and secularists often close their eyes to the religious diversity within Christianity by reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” This is a mistake on two levels. First, it trivializes the vast differences in Christian beliefs about God and Jesus. If you believe that all Christians believe the same things about God and Jesus, remember the amazing diversity of Christianity; so I’d challenge you to rethink that belief, because it doesn’t hold up.

There’s a second problem with reducing Christianity to one statement: “Christians believe in God and Jesus.” To do so reduces Christianity to a belief system, but no religion can be reduced to a belief system. The scholar Ninian Smart has come up with seven dimensions of religions. These seven dimensions are:

1. the practical and ritual dimension
2. the experiential and emotional dimension
3. the narrative dimension
4. the doctrinal and philosophical dimension
5. the ethical and legal dimension
6. the social and institutional dimension
7. the material dimension (which includes the arts and material culture)

So even if it were true that all Christians believe exactly the same thing about God and Jesus, you cannot reduce religion to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension, while ignoring the other six dimensions. Now it is true that you will find some religions emphasize one or more of these seven dimensions, and certainly Christianity emphasizes the doctrinal dimension. (Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that most atheists are very similar to Christians, insofar as they emphasize the doctrinal dimension of religion.) But that being said, the person who is serious about investigating religious diversity needs to take into account all dimensions of religion — not just the dimensions that most concern them, but all dimensions.

For those who wish to study religious diversity seriously, a helpful analogy might be made between Christianity and arachnids. Now, there are people who are creeped out by spiders, and these people have some level of arachnophobia, that is, an irrational fear of spiders. Ssimilarly, there are secularists, atheists, and even some Unitarian Universalists who have some level of “Christian-phobia,” an irrational fear of Christianity.

When an arachnophobe sees a spider, they become immediately and irrationally fearful and say, “Ugh, a spider, step on it!” Compare the arachnophove to someone like Jack Owicki, a very knowledgeable amateur student of arachnids — when Jack sees a spider, he is able to appreciate it for what it is, classify it by family and genus and maybe even species, and determine its place in the wider ecosystem. If you want to be serious about studying religious diversity, you have to act towards Christians the way Jack Owicki acts towards spiders; in other words, don’t let your irrational fears get the better of you.

Diversity of race, ethnicity, language

Next, let’s consider the fact that many faith communities deliberately limit themselves in one way or another by linguistic, racial, and/or ethnic boundaries.

This is a troubling concept to many Unitarian Universalists, and other religious liberals. We like to think that our religion should be open to everyone, and one of our ideals is that we would like our faith community to reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our immediate surroundings. When we do this, we are following the example of Protestant Christianity, from which historically we emerged. Protestant Christianity, like Catholicism and Buddhism, is proselytizing religion: it seeks to draw new people in. Proselytizing religions assume that everyone could join their religion, and they actively figure out how to incorporate new people. Compare this to a religion like Zoroastrianism, which does not actively seek out converts, and doesn’t have an established procedure for accepting converts.

Thus we find that different faith communities have quite different approaches to racial and ethnic diversity: some strive for diversity, some avoid diversity. And this also makes clear that we should not automatically assume that our own religious assumptions translate to other faith communities.

And in fact, it is useful and very interesting to look at faith communities in terms of what racial, ethnic, and/or linguistic groups they serve. Let’s start by looking at some of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of faith communities in South Palo Alto:

— 2 faith communities aimed at Korean Americans (Bridgway and Cornerstone), including both Korean and English speakers
— 4 faith communities consisting primarily of those born Jewish, including many who speak or read at least some Hebrew
— 1 faith community aimed at Chinese Americans (Central Chinese Christian), apparent emphasis on Chinese speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Russian Americans (Holy Virgin), apparent emphasis on Russian speakers
— 1 faith community aimed at Japanese Americans (Palo Alto Buddhist Temple)
— 1 faith community consisting primarily of Gujaratis (Hatemi Masjid)
— 1 faith community aimed primarily at blacks (University AME Zion)

— We also find 2 Pentecostal faith communities that are multiracial both in their ideals and in practice (Abundant Life and Vive Church).

As it happens, most of the remaining faith communities in South Palo Alto, including our own faith community, are Anglophone congregations that are mostly white racially. But we should remain aware that there are ethnic white faith communities, too; for example, there are still some Roman Catholic parishes that cater to one specific white ethnic or national group, such as Irish Americans or Italian Americans.

In short, we can categorize faith communities by which linguistic group, which racial group, and/or which ethnic or national group they predominantly serve. This becomes particularly important in certain religious traditions, such as Therevada Buddhism, where individual faith communities will serve one linguistic and/or national group, for example, a Cambodian Buddhist faith community or a Sri Lankan Buddhist faith community.

Further ways to categorize faith communities

Let’s take a step back, and review some of the ways we can categorize a given faith community:

We can say which broad religious tradition they consider themselves a part of.

Here in the U.S., we can often categorize by denomination.

We can categorize by dominant socio-economic class.

And by now you may well be thinking about other ways to categorize different faith communities.

— Stance on same-sex relationships: If you know something about mainline Protestant denominations, you will know that local churches may differ as to whether they accept LGBTQ persons or not; so there might be two churches of the same Christian denomination fairly close to one another, one of which if fully accepting of LGBTQ persons, and another of which condemns homosexuality as a sin. You can find similar divisions on LGBTQ persons in Buddhist and Jewish and other faith communities.

— Worship style: We can also categorize faith communities by the style of their services. Are they informal, or formal? Are they friendly, or reserved? Look up faith communities on Yelp, and you will find them rated based on these categories.

And there are still other useful ways to categorize faith communities.

Finding religious diversity near you

All this is actually leading us to a super important question:

How do you go about finding faith communities near you?

Living here in Silicon Valley, of course we think that the best way to find neighboring faith communities is by doing a Web search. There are two main problems with this: first, the Web is generally not a trustworthy source of unbiased information about religion; and second, it can be hard to find geographically targeted information about religion on the Web. There is another problem: Some faith communities have no Web presence at all, either because they are trying to avoid notice, or because it just isn’t a priority for them.

Fortunately, there is one pretty good source of localized information about religion on the Web, and that is the online review site Yelp.

Here’s how to generate a geographically restricted listing of fatih communities using Yelp.

Bring up Yelp.com on your Web browser. In the search box labeled “Find” at the top of the screen, type in “Religious Organizations.” In the search box labeled “Near,” type in your location. And voilà: Yelp generates a little map of your area, and a list of religious organizations that have reviews.

Now there are problems with Yelp: there are often duplicates of the same religious organization under slightly different names; the category of religious organization includes things that I would not consider a faith community; some faith communities are not listed on Yelp; their geographical restriction works only moderately well. But overall it’s better than any other online resource, and it’s a great starting point. Yelp may help you will turn up faith communities that do not have a Web page, or only an obscure Facebook page, faith communities that you might otherwise miss.

So: you can start your Web search with Yelp. But online resources will only take you so far, and should be supplemented with on-the-ground research, such a driving or walking in the area, and asking friends and neighbors if they know of any additional faith communities.