Letters, Winter 2009

Letters, Winter 2009

Readers respond to the Fall 2009 issue.

Jane Greer


Carlton Pearson

I just finished reading Kimberly French’s piece on the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar and Bishop Carlton Pearson (“The Gospel of Inclusion,” Fall 2009). Wow! What an inspiring story of the challenges of the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Lavanhar says it all: “If we don’t make this kind of thing work, we’re in jeopardy of becoming a small, parochial church that appeals to just a tiny slice of the NPR audience.” Amen, brother!

Jane Middleton
Richmond, California
UU Church of Berkeley

As a lifelong UU, I was deeply moved by “The Gospel of Inclusion.” It was great to see how a “really really white” church was challenged along race and class lines. More important for me was how the church was challenged on spiritual lines—to welcome a pro-Christian view. One aspect of having grown up UU is that I don’t see the Christian church as something innately oppressive. Based on the stories I have heard from fellow UUs who grew up in oppressive environments, I understand why people feel that way, but it doesn’t mean Christianity should be completely rejected. It would be great if UUs could wrestle more openly with this issue. At some point, we need to get past the knee-jerk rejection of all things Christian in order to really grow and thrive.

Paul Bennett
Brooklyn, New York
Unitarian Church of All Souls

General Assembly

Shame on you! Initially, I was in disbelief then outright angry upon seeing the inequity in the captions under the four photos in the General Assembly article on page 41 of the Fall 2009 issue. Three of the four captions referred to the professional contributions that the four very talented individuals brought to GA; why couldn’t it have been the same for the Rev. Mary Harrington? Your caption referencing Harrington’s diagnosis of ALS and the accommodation that was made for her was thoughtless and totally irrelevant. Harrington came to GA to preach at the Service of the Living Tradition and to offer her skills and talents just as the others featured in the photos. There was absolutely no need to reference anything but that.

Patty Cameron
GA Accessibility Coordinator
Winchester, Massachusetts
Winchester Unitarian Society

The editors reply: You’re right, and we’re sorry.

After working with my church for three years to have the Statement of Conscience on peacemaking adopted by the 2009 General Assembly, I was extremely disappointed that the assembly sent it back for refinement.

This statement should have been passed immediately. Don’t you remember how many years America was bogged down in the quagmire that was Vietnam—followed by the vast desert of Iraq? Now the folly of war is pursuing us up the jagged mountains of Afghanistan. Let us do what we can to make it known that our denomination does not support war.

Charlene Petrie
Portland, Oregon
Eastrose Fellowship UU

Public or private?

In “Reach Out to Become a ‘Public’ Church” (“Forum,” Fall 2009), Michael Durall correctly notes that we are not public enough in our congregational life. However, I would disagree with him that a free and responsible search for truth and meaning is an internal search. I believe if this search is responsible, then it must be outward and publicly focused. The search for truth becomes the grounding for our individual values, but unless these values are lived fully in our lives they are, indeed, meaningless. By living our values publicly, we accept responsibility for those values.

The Rev. Paul Langston-Daley
Glendale, Arizona
West Valley Unitarian Universalist Church

Michael Durall makes an excellent case for our congregations becoming more public. Even though I agree with much of what he says, my issue is how he relegates the spiritual needs of the congregation to secondary status.

One reason congregations often talk a good game around justice issues, but don’t always follow through, is that we do not tend to our spirits, either individually or as congregations. When we seek justice without a foundation of the spirit, the justice work can be and often is unsustainable.

For me, it is always a question of balance. When we tend to our spiritual lives, seeking the truth that fills us with passion for life and for our fellow humans, that passion can then guide and fuel our work for justice in the world.

The Rev. Rob Moore
Keller, Texas
Pathways Church

UU growth

Unitarian Universalism has a core message beyond our current vital work for multiculturalism and pressing social issues: individual conscience, personal spiritual quest, and felt connection expressed as compassion in the world.

But some people are finding this message insufficient and are advocating what is essentially a corporate model of growth for growth’s sake to make the product more attractive to more consumers. UUA President Peter Morales speaks of “growth as a moral imperative akin to feeding the hungry” (“From the New President,” Fall 2009). Really? Why? To share exactly what message?

In another article, Michael Durall (“Reach Out to Become a ‘Public’ Church,” Fall 2009) suggests that we jettison our Fourth Principle, stating that “‘a free and responsible search for truth and meaning’ is the quintessential private spirituality and may be detrimental to future growth.” But other denominations and or­ganizations already do equal, if not better, social work than we do, so why would someone bother to affiliate as a UU for that reason? Isn’t it our bona fide religion, grounded in weekly church services, the faith that honors both reason and the spirit, that makes Unitarian Universalism our denomination of choice?

Ellen Lawrence Skagerberg
Santa Rosa, California
UU Congregation

Controversial ad

The content of the Freedom From Religion Foundation ad on the inside front cover of the Fall 2009 edition implies stupidity and gullibility on the part of people of faith—the many in this world who derive comfort, guidance, and joy from their religious beliefs. In my opinion the contempt conveyed in this ad is in depressing conflict with UU World’s mission and with our denomination’s goal of loving, open-minded inclusion.

R.S. Villanueva
Sarasota, Florida
UU Church of Sarasota

I was delighted to see the FFRF ad. Welcoming these kindred spirits is in keeping with UU World editor Christopher L. Walton’s “From the Editor” column: “If Unitarian Uni­versalism is to offer a religious home as broad as our message, we will have to learn to stretch.” In fact, it’s not even much of a stretch. Thoughtful atheists, agnostics, and humanists have values and support goals nearly identical to ours: separation of church and state, women’s rights, marriage equality, human responsibility for saving our planet, and so forth.

Chuck Berry
State College, Pennsylvania
UU Fellowship of Centre County

The FFRF stand is beyond atheism or agnosticism. The organization ad­vocates an anti-religious stance, which seems to be in direct contrast to the very purpose of UU World as a magazine for a religious movement. I stand in the pulpit week after week and look out at the faces of good people who are striving to live their lives in accord with the teachings of our great and historic faith. Shall I tell them that this free faith is not worthy of their devotion? Including this ad in the pages of UU World would seem to send such a message.

The Rev. Cecilia Kingman
Seattle, Washington
Cascade UU Fellowship

I find a disquieting values discrepancy between the FFRF ad and the article “The Gospel of Inclusion.” I fully agree with the sentiments of the quotes in the ad and strongly support separation of church and state. However, I find the ad divisive: It divides the world into us and them, we the enlightened atheists versus those who believe in something we don’t. On the other hand, the Gospel of Inclusion is just that, inclusive. Even though I cringe at the words “God” and “Lord,” I feel included and that I would be welcomed.

Herb Foster
Princeton, New Jersey
UU Congregation of Princeton

As UU World’s business manager, I am responsible for all aspects of advertising in the magazine. We’ve received letters from people representing the entire range of opinion about whether the Freedom From Religion Foundation ad should have been published, and whether we should have communicated (as we did) that it was a mistake to publish it.

UU World’s role is to promote the UUA’s mission and principles. Our advertising policy states that we seek advertisers “whose missions and goals are consistent with the principles, goals, and practices of the UUA and its member congregations.” Consequently, it says we “reserve the right to reject advertisements that are inconsistent with the UUA mission, the nature of the magazine, or the editorial and visual integrity of the magazine.”

The problem with the ad was not the advertiser, and it certainly was not the ad’s support for the rights of atheists. The problem was that this ad negatively and very broadly characterized “religion” and “faith” in ways that were guaranteed to sound to many of our readers like an attack on Unitarian Universalism. For UU World to publish an ad from an outside organization condemning religion is inconsistent with the UUA’s mission to serve its member congregations.

UU World does not have a policy of excluding non-theistic points of view in the advertisements it accepts or in the articles it publishes. As many people pointed out, atheists and agnostics are well represented in our congregations. But tone matters, and the tone of this particular ad conflicts with the UUA’s commitment to the “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” This is why, in hindsight, I concluded that this particular advertisement fell within the range of ads that, according to our policy, should be rejected.

In retrospect, this controversy would have been avoided had I worked with the advertiser to craft an advertisement that invited people of like mind to support them without using polarizing language about religion in a religious publication.

Scott Ullrich
Business Manager, UU World

See below for links to related resources, including a summary of letters to the editor (“Mailbox”) and blog reactions (“Blog Roundup”) to the Freedom from Religion Foundation ad.

Related Stories

Companion Articles


Correction 11.17.09: In an earlier version, we stated that the Rev. Paul Langston-Daley was minister of the UU Fellowship of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He now serves the West Valley UU Church in Glendale, Arizona.