Contents: July/August 2002
Several readers expressed admiration for the cover story excerpted from Proverbs of Ashes by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, but many of the 65 letters we received about the March/April issue took exception to the headlines we wrote. "How could you allow such a distorted, offensive, and clueless presentation?" asked the Rev. David Keyes, interim minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City, California. The Rev. Dr. Chris Schriner, minister of the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fremont, California, wrote, "I have frequently critiqued orthodox Christianity, but it seems important to express our critiques respectfully. Christianity is a complex religion, and not all of its members interpret Jesus' death in the same way . . . but the cover squib seems to tar all followers of Jesus with the same broad brush."
Bob Minick of Rialto, California, had nothing positive to say about Christianity. "Bible-believing Christians have not twisted the story at all, except as it was twisted in the first telling," he wrote, offering John 3:16 as his proof-text. Unitarian Universalist Christians disagreed, however. "Couldn't you at least have called it 'Violence and Doctrine: How Some Christians Twist the Meaning of Jesus' Death'?" asked Sue Clark Certain of Atlanta, Georgia.
Yes, and we should have. We meant to take aim at one doctrine, not an entire tradition the tradition in which Unitarianism and Universalism have their historic roots and we appreciate our readers' clarification.
The March/April cover story, "Violence and Doctrine" by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, was the most powerful piece I have ever read in UU World. My mother lived the "suffering is good" philosophy. As an adult, I have unconsciously been trying to move away from that. Brock and Parker have helped me, and also touched my heart.
"Violence and Doctrine" brought home to me how many of us, particularly women, have unwittingly absorbed teachings that prevent us from living to the fullest. The article vividly illustrates how important it is for women to tell their own stories and find their authentic voices. I am so glad you gave space to this feminist perspective. It makes me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist.
Rebecca Ann Parker writes: "All these ways of seeing Jesus on the cross ended up sanctifying violence against women and children . . . You couldn't look on the man of sorrows and give thanks to God without ending up a partner in a thousand crimes" ("Can Sacrifice Save?" March/April). If this is so, then I am a partner in a thousand crimes. As a Christian survivor of child abuse and domestic violence, I have often looked upon this man of sorrows and joys and given thanks to the Creator for his solidarity with me and his living presence in every experience. The loving Social-Gospel Jesus only goes so far for me when the heart itself is broken.
Nevertheless, I appreciated Parker and Brock's perspectives and admire their faithful efforts to liberate both the message of Jesus and women on the frontlines who take this message into our hearts.
The Rev. Elaine Bomford
Among the sources of the Unitarian Universalist tradition are "Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves." How does this mesh with the cover banner: "Violence and Doctrine: How Christianity Twists the Meaning of Jesus' Death"? Any Christian, including myself, seeing the picture of Jesus on the cover of the March/April issue, might be forgiven for seeing this as an Easter edition. "Christians Need Not Apply" would have been a more apt banner.
The article asserts that Christianity's notion of vicarious atonement is responsible for violence within families. Really? Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and humanist families are not equally prey to this pathology?
If the authors and editors had had input from actual UU Christians, they might have found a broad range of faith stances on the question of atonement. Some of us reject the notion. Perhaps I should be grateful for these crumbs from the table. I would be if you didn't present such a toxic caricature of the faith.
David A. Neal, Jr.
Arrogant SwipeIt is one thing for someone to offer theological criticism of one's own faith tradition, as Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock, who are Christians, have done in their excellent book Proverbs of Ashes. It is quite another for a denominational publication to take a broad swipe at an entire tradition based on one theological tract within that tradition.
The cover line, "How Christianity Twists the Meaning of Jesus' Death," implies that someone somewhere knows the "true" meaning of Jesus' death and is in a position to judge a tradition as to its correctness in theological interpretation. In another guise, that would be labeled "fundamentalism." I thought we were growing out of this old-fashioned UU proclivity for Christian-bashing.
The Rev. Ken Jones
Different PathDo Rita Nakashima Brock, Rebecca Ann Parker, and the editors of UU World see all of Christianity as inherently violent, as teaching sacrifice, obedience, dominance, and submission in human relations, and presenting violence as saving? At times the excerpts speak specifically of the doctrine of atonement, but titles such as "Christianity's Victims" and sentences like "I recognized that Christianity had taught me that sacrifice is the way of life" seem to accuse the religion as a whole.
My experience of Christianity is so very different from this portrayal. What I have found in the last three years as I move into Christianity from a lifetime of UU Humanism has been a stronger sense of my own value as a person, not a diminished one. Feeling assured of God's love, I don't take belittling comments from people to heart. It was through Christian ministers and, yes, the image of the cross that I have learned to listen better, not to turn away from others' pain, and to realize that I don't have to fix their lives for them. I have found in Christianity more or less the opposite of what the excerpts describe.
I want Unitarian Universalism to "provide a space that holds people in those experiences of religious impasse or opens a space beyond that religious impasse," as Parker says in the interview ("Your Maxims Are Proverbs of Ashes"). When my experience challenged my tradition, I didn't know if I could remain a Unitarian Universalist, since I'd never heard that there were contemporary UUs who were Christians. Eventually I heard of the UU Christian Fellowship and have been working since to let people know that there can be room in Unitarian Universalism for those who find themselves on a Christian path.
A Better Defense
Although redemptive self-sacrifice does play a psychological role in devout Christians' lives, the abuse of power infanticide, murder, submission seems part of a universal genetic code. I very much doubt that a "value overhaul" of Christianity is going to be sufficient to protect little girls and boys from neighborhood rapists, or wives from murderous husbands.
Bolstering self-defense training may have more practical value in protecting and even saving young lives than tweaking doctrine. To say the problem falls primarily in Christianity's lap is aiming far too narrowly. Our churches and schools must teach boys and girls to stick up for themselves, to escape abuse when they can, and to shout, run, and fight when being assaulted.
Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker's challenge to the "theology of redemptive suffering" is a breath of fresh air. I would go further, however, in identifying those who suffer from a theology of redemptive suffering.
Men developed the theology of redemptive suffering. Fathers sent their sons to war. Fathers developed laws of inheritance that gave their property to the oldest son, relegating the younger sons to the life of the church or the military. Wouldn't it be logical and reasonable that men justified the actions of their fathers and their own suffering by developing a theology of God the Father sacrificing Jesus his Son for the sins of the world?
We sin when, generation after generation, we fail to develop a peaceful world. We sin when we deny men and women their natural sexual expression. We sin when we force our sons and daughters into predetermined roles that they would not freely choose. The Roman historian Sallust said, "Myth never happened; it happens every day." The myth of the father sacrificing his son never happened, but it happens every day.
The Rev. Glenda C. Walker
Robert Gerzon's article, "Sacred Anxiety" (March/April), provides a useful understanding of the inner voices that affect all of us. But I think he did a disservice to those of us suffering from major mental illness in giving short shrift to pharmacological and behavioral approaches.
If I did not take antidepressants to control my depression, under the care of a wonderful psychopharmacologist, I would not even begin to be able to hear the natural or sacred voices that are so important to my being. Without the regular guidance of my pastoral psychotherapist, it would be tougher for me to recognize and celebrate those voices. I chose a pastoral psychotherapist (working from a liberal Christian perspective) specifically because of his ability to help me in my spiritual growth.
Robert Gerzon offered eleven "Keys to Serenity" in a special sidebar (March/April), but I didn't quite find the one I was looking for. The eighth came closest, advising "Help support a national political response that refuses to play hatred's game and instead explores ways to get to the root of the fear and hatred that threaten our planet," but something a little closer to my neighborhood was missing.
What I sought was fortunately revealed eleven pages later in Donald E. Skinner's UU Trend story, which says that an increasing number of UU congregations are joining the movement inspired by the late Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation. Working with a broad base of people in a local community and dealing with community problems, as the IAF does, can also reduce anxiety. Community organizing can provide the tangible progress often missing from national or global endeavors or from simply living the harmonic, exemplary life of righteous action. I have never been more serene since I began working with The Metropolitan Organization, Houston's IAF organization, even though I have not yet persuaded my fellow congregants to join.
The news article about the police shooting of Robert Woodward in the West Brattleboro, Vermont, church ("UU News," March/April) was disturbing and left a number of unanswered questions: Did the police use excessive force? Aren't we a faith that strongly disagrees with capital punishment? Robert Woodward got the death penalty without a trial and there has apparently been little congregational or communal outcry about his killing. Why? From what I read in the article, I cannot sympathize with the killing of a man who didn't threaten anyone, except for himself.
See the follow-up article in UU News, page 44. The Eds.
The Little People of America designate 4' 10" as the dividing line between a dwarf and a normal sized person. So, as a man who stands exactly 4' 10", I feel I can offer a unique perspective on Dan Kennedy's commentary about achondroplastic dwarfs ("An Unexpected Connection," March/April). I am a living paradox: the largest dwarf, and the smallest normal sized person.
I used to think of it as a curse. A dwarf is subject to discrimination, rejection, abuse, and even worse the attitude of superiority palpably projected by those of more height. There are no dwarf anti-discrimination laws or affirmative action, no cultural heritage, no fellow dwarfs even within one's own family. Women, gays, African Americans, farmers, and truck drivers march on Washington to demand rights, and the media responds with respect. If 100,000 dwarfs marched on Washington, can you imagine the media's response . . . or your own?
But now, I view my height as a blessing. From where I stand, I can see that the inherent worth and dignity of every person does not depend on any inherent trait. In fact, our traits can prevent us from seeing our inherent worth and the inherent worth of others. The beauty queen, the wealthy heir, and the 6' 6" high school student are rewarded for their traits, and so they are in danger of developing a sense of self-worth based not on their humanity but on their beauty, their wealth, or their ability to slam-dunk basketballs. But inherent worth precedes inherent traits.
Due to an editing error, the May/June "Looking Back" column ("Samuel Gilman, Early Champion of Southern Unitarianism," page 64) gave the wrong date for the founding of the American Unitarian Association (AUA). The published article said, "Gilman was called to serve the liberal Archdale Street Church, founded in 1817, four years before the American Unitarian Association." The article should have said, "Gilman was called to serve the liberal Archdale Street Church, founded in 1817. He launched the Charleston Unitarian Book and Tract Society, 'the first organization in the United States for the circulation of Unitarian literature,' in 1821, four years before the establishment of the American Unitarian Association." The AUA was, in fact, founded in 1825.
Several photographs in the May/June issue were credited incorrectly. The portrait of the Rev. W.H.G. Carter, held aloft by the Rev. Morris Hudgins in the cover photograph and in the photograph on page 25, was painted by Ruth Rolfsen. A photograph accompanying Starita Smith's essay ("His Rightful Place," page 31) was taken by Dutro Blocksom. A photograph accompanying a UU News article about a memorial to martyrs of the 1965 Selma civil rights campaign (page 47) was taken by Frank Siteman. A photograph of the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi accompanying a UU News article about a lecture series on Islam (page 50) was taken by Stacy Morrison. A photograph of the sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati ("Spiritual Landmark," page 55) was taken by John Spiess. We regret the errors.