When we think of religious differences that divide people, we usually think of major religious traditions: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. However, the major religious divisions today are no longer between faiths, but rather along the spectrum from reactionary to progressive. For example, it has long been obvious that progressive Jews, Christians, and Muslims have more in common with one another and with Unitarian Universalists than they do with the most reactionary members of their own faith.
Most UUs do not call themselves Christians, but we have much more in common with members of the United Church of Christ (UCC) than UCC members have with fundamentalist Christians. Just look at our common attitudes towards science, acceptance of sexual diversity, marriage equality, and openness to people from other faith traditions like Islam and Judaism.
In my own time as president, I have stood hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder with religious liberals from many faiths as we have born witness for environmental justice, voting rights, anti-racism, immigration reform, and marriage equality. We have marched together and we have gone to jail together. The truth is that religious liberals get along easily together. Religious reactionaries reject all others and seek to destroy them.
Religious liberals from all traditions share not only common values, but also a common cosmology. We believe what science tells us about the age of our universe and evolution. We see the religious tradition into which we were born in the context of history and culture. We don’t believe our tradition is true and that others are false, rather we see our tradition more like our native language. The fact that I spoke Spanish before I spoke English does not make Spanish better. Being raised Christian does not make Christianity better than Islam or Hinduism.
Of course, we UUs have a long practice of respecting multiple traditions. That openness to others goes back to the Transcendentalists in America and the Unitarians in Transylvania. Our congregations are filled with couples who come from different religious traditions.
While this cooperation and acceptance is wonderful, I am convinced that it is not enough. We have entered into a new era where we have to do more than tolerate one another, more than appreciate one another, and even more than work together for compassion and justice in the public arena. I believe that the future of liberal religion is inherently multifaith.
We have to learn to reach out together to a new generation that is rejecting traditional religious institutions. It isn’t enough to bring our members together in the public arena—we have to go to the public arena and spread liberal religion. Liberal faith groups have an exciting opportunity to work together to engage the millions of religiously unaffiliated who share our values and our aspirations. These millions seek spiritual community and a spirituality that is multifaith at its core.
This year’s General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, is a historic opportunity to advance multifaith partnerships. GA’s theme is “Heart Land: Where Faiths Connect.” We will have leaders from other faiths. Among those planning to attend are Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ); the Rev. John Dorhauer, president of the UCC; and the Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement. We are in the process of inviting others. Stay tuned to uua.org/ga.
Unitarian Universalism has long been a “multifaith faith.” As such, I believe we have a unique opportunity to bring faiths together and to lead a multifaith movement. This is exciting work.