Classism and UUs
My wife and I are working class UUs. We are letter carriers for the U.S. Postal Service. We have been members of the Bull Run Unitarian Universalist congregation since 1985. I served as co-chair of the search committee that brought our current minister, and I am currently the vice president of our board of directors. During all of those years and through all of that service, I have never felt isolated, unappreciated, or alienated—until I read the article “Not My Father’s Religion,” (Fall 2007). Who is Doug Muder to assume that because I am part of the working class that I am not living my bliss? I do my job because I choose to, not because it is a necessary evil. Part of living your bliss is doing what you enjoy, and I enjoy being a letter carrier. I check up on the elderly couple on my route. I’ve notified authorities of accidents, domestic disputes, and even child neglect. My “necessary evil” has not only helped my community, but afforded me a comfortable life.
Curiosity got me in the door of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. What has kept me there in the midst of a lot of folks with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees is this: They truly believe the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism, and they live them. My minister may have a doctorate while I have only a high school diploma, but she and I stand as equals.
Mary Ellen Mayo
If UUs in particular and people on the left in general are to appear as anything but hopeless, overeducated eccentrics to the working class, then attitudes must change. You must come and meet us workers where we are, and not make us think that you look down at us. If UU congregations can become as open to even the most liberal Christians as they are to gays, transgendered people, and Buddhists, it will be a happy day. I am not holding my breath.
If workers cannot live up to the lofty demands of individualism and self-realization demanded by our UU culture, they have found ways of coping with the limited choices and opportunities with which they are faced. Workers soon learn that any one voice is rapidly slapped down. They recognize their power was in cooperation and solidarity.
From the beginning workers in this country have bound together for fraternal mutual aid societies, unions, political parties, and community organizations in which their united voices may be amplified and their power multiplied. That spirit of solidarity and mutuality reflects the basic principles of the UUA, including the respect for the dignity of every individual; the search for justice, equity, and compassion; and even the web of existence of which we are a part.
We have the language. Now we need to find ways to incorporate it in our congregational life.
Crystal Lake, Illinois
As a young Latina living in New England and a recovering Catholic who has always had way too many questions for most religions, it was a blessing when I found the Unitarian Univeralist community. I am grateful for that. On the other hand, when I go into my church and speak with the other members, I can’t completely identify because 95 percent are upper-middle-class professionals and white. What makes me even sadder is when I do see people come in that aren’t at that socio-economic level, I know how they might feel uncomfortable.
Derry, New Hampshire
Muder ends with these words: “So this is what the question comes down to for me: Does Unitarian Universalism say something about life or just about life in the professional class?” But this is not at all the question. The question is, “Is our theology true?” For too long, Unitarian Universalists have taken it as given that we must speak to every background, and that we should adjust our theological language to appeal to a wider part of the world. But this is not a given. We should be honest in our convictions, and welcome with open arms those who find those convictions helpful and true. Otherwise, in our attempt to speak to everyone, we speak to no one. For myself, I shall continue to believe and preach that the holy is abun dant love, no matter if that message appeals to everyone or just to me.
The Rev. Matthew Johnson-Doyle
High Plains Church, UU
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Diversity is a principle that is rooted in ecology. From an ecological perspective, diversity is always relative to a particular ecosystem whose stability depends upon the degree of diversity within its boundaries. No one expects prairie plants to thrive in an oak forest or sunfish to survive in a salt water marsh. The reality is that within the context of a liberal, professional culture, UUs are quite diverse. We certainly are theologically more diverse than any other church. In addition, we have more women and more gay and lesbian clergy than any other denomination. And while the numbers are small, many of our congregations do include racial and ethnic minorities.
I am not advocating exclusivity. We have a moral obligation to be open and inclusive so that when those not like us come to visit they are welcome. But the time has come for us to stop doing a guilt trip on ourselves for being who we are.
During a lay service I led a year ago on Labor Day, I discussed how workers today (myself included) are increasingly losing ground: overworked, underpaid, and feeling isolated in a society fracturing along class lines. After the sermon, a person whom I respect essentially said that in today’s globalizing marketplace workers just need to get used to the predicament I described.
If we are going to grow as a denomination we need to offer a more inspiring and relevant message to beleaguered working people. In our new Gilded Age, the best way to begin doing that is to meet them where they toil in the maze Muder describes and be with them in genuine solidarity.
Muder over-simplified the lives of the working and professional class individuals in his article. There are people in the working class that enjoy what they do and people in the professional class that do not. There are people in the working class that make a decent living and those in the professional class that are barely scraping by. I am a child of professional class parents. I did not have unlimited chances to screw up before succeeding as a professional. And I do not follow my bliss to work each day. I work because I have bills to pay and responsibilities to meet. The differences Muder describes do not neatly fall along class lines. And Unitarian Universalism cannot define itself by them.
Thanks to Kimberly French for the excellent and informative article on Carolyn McDade (“Carolyn McDade’s ‘Spirit of Life’”). I’d long wondered about the life of one of my favorite hymn writers.
However, I have to disagree with McDade if she “doesn’t expect [her songs] to appeal to men.” Virtually every member of our congregation considers both “Spirit of Life” and “Come Sing a Song with Me” as two of the best-loved of our hymns. I’ve always considered “Spirit of Life” to be the closest thing we have to a UU national anthem.
Don’t sell yourself short, Ms. McDade; one doesn’t have to be a feminist to love your work.
Edward L. Jaffee
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