Concerns, vindicated

I’m not much of a fan for the Stand Up for Universalism day held today. I debated whether I should write or not, and yes, I know that other people feel warmly towards it.

For one, I don’t drum up support for a book launch uninvited and without an advance copy. The book launch is, at root, a commercial effort and the whole affair has been good for sales. How it benefits the truth remains to be seen. Which brings us to . . .

Two, oops — seems the author denies being a universalist. To which I add: I told you so.

Three, the kind of universalism that people identified with him — the one I know and love — has been run roughshod in the UUA for as long as I can remember. No fair trying to get (back) on the wagon now. And it’s positively unfair to suggest that people drawn to Rob Bell will find a welcoming home in any but perhaps a dozen churches in the UUA.

My diagnosis: Stand Up for Universalism looks like a whistful lament about has been lost in Unitarian Universalism, and the recognition that it has at least as much, if not more, theological weight and emotional resonance than what is considered mainline within the UUA. But that argues more for Universalism independent of the UUA than within it.

And how, at last, can I celebrate that?

15 Replies to “Concerns, vindicated”

  1. I don’t think Stand Up for Universalism Day had much to do with the Unitarian Universalist Association or its churches. Most of the people I know who are Universalists are not members of a UU church. I happen to be a UU, but mostly because I’d rather hang out with people who are not religious enough than people who are too religious, if you know what I mean. I hope that a God-centered Universalism — maybe even a Christ-centered one — will make a comeback in the UUA. I think there are some glimmerings of hope in that regard, especially since most of the hard-core secular humanist/atheist UUs seem to be older folks, whereas the young people seem to be more interested in spirituality.

    As for all the hullabaloo surrounding Rob Bell’s possible universalism — his universalist leanings, not belief, as seems to be the case — at least this media event may give some attention to Christian Universalism and its vocal proponents. See my article, “The Unsung Heroes of Christian Universalism”: http://www.ericstetson.com/2011/03/the-unsung-heroes-of-christian-universalism/

  2. As someone who did participate kinda through tweeting, writing a blog post, I don’t recall telling other folks to come to a UU congregation cuz we’re the real Universalists and folks who like Rob Bell’s message will like UU congregations.

    Conversely, the UU folks I’m seeing on twitter are talking about what they believe. I think this is an important distinction. Someone talking about what they believe is not the same as telling someone else they will like our faith better than the one they call their own, but your post puts out there that today was filled with a bunch of UUs telling people that if the like Rob Bell, they’ll just adore Unitarian Universalism and they have to come check us out. That’s not what I’m seeing out there.

    I can only speak to the experiences in my congregation as its the only UU congregation I’ve been a part of, but the picture you present here and in other posts just doesn’t match up with what I’ve experienced in my congregation.

  3. It was an event coordinated with the release of his book. It, at least, implies a congruence with his readership, especially when combined with a theme commentary by Peter Morales at the Huffington Post.

  4. I can understand your feelings. It does seem a bit like sour grapes, though. Is there nothing to celebrate in seeing a mainstream conversation on universalism?

  5. We coordinated the event w/ the book because people are talking about the issues of universalism — and there’s several different meanings to that term. The call for speaking up first came from the blogosphere pews and other leaders responded. I’ve read the book. There’s a lot in there that would appeal to a number of UU folk. There’s a lot that won’t. Universalism is bigger than a single denomination – thankfully! — just as God is bigger than a single religion & love is bigger than we can imagine.
    As one of the co-creators of the event Speak Up for Universalism, again, in response to a call from the blosophere pews, and as someone who’s read Rob Bell’s book, we’re not off the mark to talk about varieties of universalism now and anytime.

  6. Kudos to Rev. Naomi King and other UU leaders who started the Speak Up for Universalism effort. My comment was not intended to marginalize the role UUs have played in what’s happening today, but only to point out that lots of other Universalists besides just UUs are speaking up for Universalism today, and indeed every day. I think it was a logical and fruitful idea for UU leaders to encourage people to speak up for Universalism in conjunction with the release of a megachurch pastor’s new book which wrestles seriously with the possibility of universal salvation. I hope and pray that voices for Universalism will gain volume, strength, and acclaim within the UU churches.

  7. Scott, I FB’ed a lot about this today. And enjoyed reading other UU (and some Methodist friends too!) talking about a range of universalist beliefs. What Rob Bell believes or not pales besides seeing lots and lots of people talking about a universalist theology–some theist, some christian, some humanist. I completely and utterly despise chalica, but this I found both fun and enlightening, and perhaps more importantly hopeful. Yours, in abiding love, Roger

  8. I thought that ‘Stand Up for Universalism Day” was more taking advantage of the publicity for the book than being publicity for the book,. although certainly there’s a thin line between the two. (So, what day should Universalists pick for next year? 🙂 ). The pre-release response to the book certainly reminds us of the extreme reaction that some folks do have for Universalism, and I do mean the Universalism of Ballou, Murray, and Clayton,.

  9. Next year there will probably be more UUs and more of their ordained religious leaders celebrating Chalica than this year. Anybody care to make the same prediction about Stand Up for Universalism Day?

  10. @fausto That’s really an appalling thought. We have a rich tradition and theology and we avoid it for a manufactured holiday. People are looking for answers and real theology, and we’re going to offer a Chalica celebration?

  11. Totally missed the fact that there was a “Stand Up for Universalism Day” — and a quick Web search shows nothing except this post.

    And why March 12? Hosea Ballou’s birthday is April 30, Judith Sargent Murray’s is May 5, Caleb Rich’s is August 12, Elhanan Winchester’s is September 30, and John Murray’s is December 10. Any of those would make a great day to celebrate Universalism (and would also cover several different theological positions). In fact, it could be a kind of code among Unviersalists: “Hey, I’ll be partying on April 30, and you?” “No way man, I’m no unitarian ultra-Universalist, it’s December 10 for me.”

  12. Could we also have a “Stand Up for Unitarianism Day” as a way to reintroduce some of THAT rich theological heritage? And it wouldn’t take long for the Universalists to rediscover Restorationism (my own preference) if this got settled enough to deepen over time. I’ll have to look up Paul Dean’s birthday, I guess. Although since mine is April 30th, Dan, that code wouldn’t totally work for me.
    Oh, wait — Naomi might be saying we can even have more than one type of Universalism, depending on the situation.

    But the one type to which I am FIRMLY and irrevocably committed is the one in which Unitarian Universalism stands as a refuge for people driven out elsewhere. If Rob Bell’s book launch turns too nasty, he’s welcome here.

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