‘We cannot offer the cheap grace of eventual societal perfection in times of systemic desolation,’ writes Nancy McDonald Ladd.
When I was in college, in the early 1990s, the minister of my Unitarian Universalist church invited four members of our young adult group to join him in a Sunday service to talk about our newly branded “Generation X.”
Almost everyone in the church that day had lived through or come of age in the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Like many UUs, they revered the musicians, writers, and organizers who broke with conventions to open up new ways of living. They had experienced the feeling that a new age was dawning. For us twentysomethings that era was just part of our parents’ story. Our dismissive take on the past—and, I’m sure, our relative pessimism about the future—led one parishioner to ask, “Why are you so down on the Sixties?” One of my peers replied: “Because we saw how they turned out.”
We were playing a bit to type, of course; how little we knew about the recent past! (Our panel was also narrowly cast: we were four straight, white, able-bodied college students or recent graduates.) But we were telling the truth when we said that we could not relate to the optimism that seemed to fuel “the Sixties.”
Nancy McDonald Ladd’s new book After the Good News: Progressive Faith Beyond Optimism is the first work of UU theology in which I’ve recognized my own frustration with liberal optimism. It’s a great read, mixing memoir and probing insight. The excerpt that appears in this issue (page 24) focuses on the hazards of perfectionism in progressive churches, especially as it undermines our attempts to confront the realities of racism. “We cannot offer the cheap grace of eventual societal perfection in times of systemic desolation,” she writes, urging us to try on a humbler, more honest, and more forgiving faith.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah.