At least for me it is.
The aspects of Universalism and Unitarianism that inform my religious life are Christian and my Christian faith is distinguished by Universalism (and to a lesser degree, the ethos of Unitarianism.) If you’ve read my blog much, you’ve gathered that. Yes, of course, I know that most Unitarian Universalist aren’t Christian and perhaps don’t want to be. But if so many people are pining for the hundreds of thousands of “lost” Unitarian Universalists that the recent Pew study suggests live in the United States — of which we know almost nothing — then who’s to say that there’s not a significant corpus of silent and unknown Unitarian and Universalist Christians out there, perhaps even a majority? Or more to the point, I’m hacked off that it’s acceptable to verbally minimize the import of Unitarian and Universalist Christians and not expect pushback.
Which brings me back the all-to-familiar refrain, following by Fred L. Hammond, the eponymous author of A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi, who wrote
If we see ourselves as a denomination that means that we are a denomination of a specific faith tradition such as Christianity. Yet, we no longer identify as a Christian faith. We may have people who honor their Christian heritage and identify as Christian but Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.
I think this is fundamentally an error, and he’s only the most recent — and far from the most grating — to make it. Rather, it is that the Unitarian Universalist Association is not a Christian organization. But the UUA and Unitarian Universalism are not the same thing.
The Unitarian Universalist Association is essentially a service and coordinating body, not an ecclesiastical organization. Consider this: if the UUA Board of Trustees — even the General Assembly itself — adopted a resolution which defined what a Unitarian Universalist is, how would we collectively act? I suspect there’d be howling from the rooftops. And before the howling, quick calls from many quarters that their particular constituencies not be excluded. Basic questions of membership and leadership are invested in the congregation and that’s detailed in the UUA bylaws. Doctrinal teaching, too? A particular church can make that call; the UUA can’t. (Which, for instance, is why I flinch when the president of the UUA gets deliberately “pastoral.” Bill Sinkford isn’t my pastor.)
But informally, because it has had the coordinating power and bridged congregations, ministers, schools and other institutions including the independent/cast-off affiliates, the UUA has had more power to shape congregational internal identity than it could ever hope to acquire. That’s going to change. The promise of distributed social networks — welcome to this blog! — and a deliberate constriction of role by the UUA means that the constellation of Unitarian Universalism is going to get bigger.
Even if we weren’t liberal, and generally comfortable with pluralism, we would still have to describe ourselves — inasmuch as that’s possible — in a plural way. If someone asks, we’ll have to continue to hedge and give caveats and realize that the dreaded “elevator speech” can’t mean anything more than a dictionary definition or a personal testimony. In other words, I don’t expect to say you’re a Christian if you’re not, and I demand you not write me out because you prefer to paint in broad strokes.