Letters, Summer 2010

Letters, Summer 2010

Readers respond to the Spring 2010 issue.
Jane Greer


We received 65 letters in response to UU World editor Christopher L. Walton’s invitation to respond to the Spring 2010 issue’s features “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” by Paul Rasor and “We Must Change” by Rosemary Bray McNatt. The articles discuss Unitarian Uni­versalism’s status as a mostly white, upper middle class, highly educated denomination in an increasingly multiracial and multicultural America. Several longer responses appear on page 30. We have dedicated this column to a sampling of other responses to those provocative articles.

Celebrating our faith

The article “Can Unitarian Universalism Change?” (Spring 2010) by Paul Rasor was intellectually well done, but without practical ideas. The next article, “We Must Change,” by Rosemary Bray McNatt, was more on target.

The picture of a Chalica celebration on page 42, in the News section, shows exactly what we should be doing. We need to have our own rituals and history without borrowing from other religions. We need to emphasize our own spirituality, humanity, and faith.

Francoise Bennett
Somers, New York
UU Fellowship of Northern Westchester

Worrying too much

I agree with Rosemary Bray McNatt that “Unitarian Univer­salism has a specific, sometimes alienating culture.” I disagree with her thinking that “we must change it.” The problem is that every culture is specific and every culture is alienating to someone. The only way for a culture to be non-specific and non-alienating is to disappear.

We spend far too much time worrying about our culture, what colors we are, whether we’re growing, whether everyone is perfectly comfortable with everything, and far too little time feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and trying to stop America’s insatiable war machine.

Lee Thorn
Tucson, Arizona
UU Church of Tucson

Field of dreams

When Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation erected our current home in the mid-1990s, it was a tremendous act of faith. Not everyone favored such a move. One of our members, an executive with a chain of movie theaters, gave us a slogan inspired by his profession. He dubbed our site, literally carved out of a cornfield, “Our Field of Dreams.”

We did build it, and they have come. Let the world know we’re out there, keep an open mind towards those newcomers who many not be exactly like us, and I’m confident the rest will follow.

William Burpee
Springfield, Illinois
Abraham Lincoln UU Congregation

Messaging the masses

In the churches where I have been a member, I would estimate that about 80 percent of their membership is college educated and most have higher degrees. Our sermons are geared for these highly professional people. I once invited a co­worker to attend a UU service with me. He was an average person with a sense of inquiry but no degree. He came twice but then told me that the minister quoted a variety of people that he’d never heard of and therefore felt that he didn’t belong.

Therein lies the problem: how to get our message across to the masses, not just the elite. If we don’t, we will always be on the fringe.

Richard A. Hoffstedt
Spring Lake, Michigan
All Souls Community Church

Class issues

As long as Unitarian Universalism focuses on diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, we will continue to fail in our efforts to achieve true diversity. The missing component in our view of diversity is class. I suspect that a close analysis of our few non-white, non-European members will reveal that almost all are members of the well-educated, wealthy elite, much like the majority of members. If we are truly to be a universal faith, respecting the inherent worth and dignity of everyone, we need to discard our obvious class-consciousness. Once UUs do this, we will be on the road to true diversity in every sense of the word.

Dale Plummer
Norwich, Connecticut
UU Church of Norwich

When we become multicultural and multiracial, we’ll have to deal with people who won’t all be upper middle class. Even though we have the best intentions, we subtly let blue-collar people know they’re not welcome. For instance, though we stand to socialize during coffee hour, food servers and retail workers may prefer to sit during time off. We offer “UU University” at General Assembly, but how welcoming a term is that to someone who has only earned a GED? We insist on ethical eating, forgetting people who juggle their bills each month can’t afford local organic food. People who clerk at big box stores and shop at Safeway can live by Unitarian Universalist principles, too. We’ll need to remember that for the multicultural, multiracial, and multiclass twenty-first century.

Sheila Smith
Corvallis, Oregon
UU Fellowship of Corvallis

Their loss

I think that if all the world’s peoples strived to live by the Seven Principles we have articulated, we’d all be a lot better off. We have a strong and persuasive message of “right-living.” If this doesn’t appeal more to people of other faiths or cultures, and we really can only grow by attracting people from other religious disciplines, it’s their loss, not ours.

Robin Gausebeck
Rockford, Illinois
UU Church of Rockford

Preaching to choir

I have no problem with being as parochial as any other church—or synagogue or mosque—but if the leadership is so hot for multiculturalism, open a little ministry in a mall that attracts “diverse” shoppers. Some churches do that. Hand out a little bag of dried fruit or something healthy with church information printed on the back of the package. Maybe some churches will pick up some new congregants. More likely than preaching to the choir!

Judith Isaacs
Maple Shade, New Jersey
UU Church in Cherry Hill

Holding our own

Looking at what is happening in Europe, where our roots are, one finds a wholesale lack of interest in and involvement in formal churches. Traditionally Catholic nations, such as France, Spain, and Italy have very little real dedication to church life. The northern Europeans and Scandinavian countries have almost no churchgoers.

What we are doing (and according to statistics, holding our own at) is preserving our culture fairly successfully. We need not try to bring a new or old message to a world that no longer seems to want it. Diversity in our membership is probably not in the future. Let’s not feel that we are failures; let’s relish the vitality and relevance of our own beliefs for those who have chosen us.

Bettie Rogers
Middletown, New Jersey
UU Congregation of Monmouth County

Prison pressures

“UU culture” becomes an almost obsolete phrase in a prison environment where our religion is reduced to its principles in action. Prison, which is more like a pressure cooker than a melting pot, brings a mixture of different people with different cultures and traditions together and forces them to coexist in one place.

There may be differing opinions among other UU prisoners, but for me, “UU culture” is a non-issue. My hope for our congregations is that they will become so thoroughly integrated that it will be a non-issue in the free world as well. Good luck!

Christopher Santiago
Kirkland Correctional Institution
Columbia, South Carolina
Church of the Larger Fellowship

Not enough heart

UU churches must continue to welcome everyone while seeking alternative ways to do multiculturalism. We should partner with community churches and organizations on projects of common concern and values. We must roll up our sleeves and get involved, experiencing multiculturalism as an equal and active participant. We must share in the real work of building community.

Too often, UUs want to talk about diversity rather than actually experiencing it. We issue statements and do our “charity work” from a safe distance, hiding out in our churches with others like us. We are too many words and not enough doing; too much head and not enough heart. This is what must change if UUs are to be relevant in our multicultural society.

Doris Ewing
Springfield, Missouri
First UU Church of Springfield

Diverse friends

As someone who was born with multiple, physically apparent birth defects, I found it noteworthy that all the discussion of diversity in the spring issue never referred to my particular group, and also left out all non-theosophical peoples, gays and lesbians (regardless of ethnicity), as well as all forms of secular non-believers.

I encourage anyone reading this to try being a whole lot more diverse about the meaning of diversity. It should be obvious that your congregation becomes more diverse only as a result of your personal friends becoming more diverse, not the other way around.

Charles Peterson
Colorado Springs, Colorado
All Souls UU Church

Compatibility issues

In “We Must Change,” Rosemary Bray McNatt postulates that Uni­tarian Universalist culture is the primary reason that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are not becoming members of our congregations. Although I can agree that differences in the music we listen to, television programs we watch, stores we patronize, and our education and income level may be alienating, I don’t think these are the primary reasons they are not attracted to our denomination.

Most African Americans and Hispanics are from Christian backgrounds. When they attend our worship services will they find anything that is familiar or comfortable? Will there be any readings from the New Testament? Will there be any hymns they recognize? Will they feel comfortable around atheists, agnostics, or pagans?

Perhaps we should ask ourselves if we would feel comfortable attending Evangelical Protestant services to which we had been invited because they wanted to increase their diversity.

Lorraine Anderson
West Windsor, New Jersey
UU Congregation of Princeton

Personal theology

One of the fundamental aspects of UU culture that sets it apart from all other religious traditions is that it challenges each of us to search, study, and discover for ourselves how to define our own personal “theology.” This is not only a challenge, but a responsibility.

In contrast, I think that most people simply want to be told what to believe. They do not want to accept this responsibility—they do not want to rise to this challenge. So, for many people in this world, they would not feel comfortable in the UU culture, with the intellectual and spiritual freedom that it creates.

Kirk Cobb
White Bear Lake, Minnesota
White Bear UU Church

Sticking with science

If we give up our base as people of reason and science, as well as love and acceptance, we have lost what makes our movement special. I do not think I should change to accommodate people who don’t use reason and science to frame their beliefs.

William Wolfers
Venice, Florida
UU Congregation of Venice
UU Church of Buffalo, New York

Spreading the net

Let us make it crystal clear that we are not confining ourselves to “incorporating” or “assimilating” Hispanic and black Christians. Our inclusive fellowship must invite Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, and members of other religions. The Unitarian tradition and legacy contains invaluable resources for envisioning “universal religion.”

Daniel Chandler
Evanston, Illinois

Members or mission?

We divide our church life into two parts: those who are members and those who are our mission projects. We too often handle mission by reaching down to the ones in need rather than reaching out to them as brothers and sisters. Yet, it is those whom we seek to serve who we should be seeking as members in the full fellowship of the church.

Some are very different and in ways that we are not sure we like. Are we willing to sit in a church next to a felon, invite her or him to be a leader? Are we willing to give a long-term unemployed person full fellowship? Are we willing to invite the family whose children are all from different fathers? Instead of asking what colors or nationalities we need to round out our congregations, we need to focus on who we need to invite to hear our message.

Jack W. Rogers
Federal Correctional Institution
Estill, South Carolina
Church of the Larger Fellowship

Saving the earth

Unitarian Universalism can and should be a faith with a mission—to save earth’s sociobiosphere from threatened destruction and head it toward a more glorious future. Making the movment more attractive to people who don’t wish to join in this mission is not an acceptable path to growth in membership.

P. Roger Gillette
Salem, Oregon
UU Congregation of Salem

Related Stories