As Unitarian Universalists, we welcome people from all faith traditions, but I can’t help but feel, as a Christian, that I am free to believe in Jesus, as long as I keep my mouth shut.
I understand why a lot of UU’s don’t want to hear about Christianity, it’s everywhere! In our schools, in our politics, even on our money! While the Christians have done a really good job getting their name out, they need to work on their message. Remember Pat Robertson blaming Katrina on homosexuality? How about Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker from the 80’s? Let’s not forget the Westboro Baptist church! When you say “Christian” these are the images that come to mind first, not Jesus or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Christians have become like the circus, there are a lot of really talented acts, but everyone talks about the clowns.
The problem is those claiming to be Christians the loudest, tend to live it the least. They often say, “As a Christian, I believe that…” which is like saying, “I don’t mean to sound racist, but…” They are about to saying something that is “Unchristian,” twisting scripture to further their personal agenda or delivering a message that boils down to, “we are right, you are wrong” with no room for arguing.
THIS is why people have issues with many Christians, there is no room for discussion. When asked a difficult question, an adamant believer is likely to respond with “That is the way it is” instead of “I don’t know, can I think about it?” and exploring difficult questions within their faith. By avoiding these questions, they instill a sense of distrust between the faith and the faithful, just like when a politician dodges a question in a debate. Sure, politicians do it, but do you trust them?!
So when I say I’m Christian, many of my fellow UU’s think of the pig-headed zealots and look at me like I’m crazy for still believing that garbage. The problem is, I was never taught that garbage.
In high school my favorite band was XTC. In the 80’s they had a pop hit called, “Dear God” which contained all of the standard atheist rants: How can a loving God allow the innocent to suffer? If you love us, why is there a Hell? Stuff like that. I brought a copy of the song to my Sunday School teacher and asked if we could discuss it in class. She said yes and we had a great discussion about faith and suffering and more than once I heard, “I don’t know” from her. When I confided in her later that I didn’t think she would be brave enough to play that song for the class, she replied “An unexamined faith is not worth having.” I wouldn’t know until a few years later that she was paraphrasing Socrates, but that statement resonated with me and made my faith stronger. That was the atmosphere I grew up in. I was encouraged to explore my faith, coming to the conclusion that the teachings of Jesus were more important than the name. I saw the Old Testament in a historical context is some parts and metaphorical in others. It was a story of how the Jews struggled to overcome adversity and gain their freedom and the New Testament let them know not to become what they fought against.
When I hear “Christian”, I hear that someone values the compassionate teachings of Christ and I bet that most UU’s would agree with those teachings. The problem is that the name associated with them has a bad reputation. If you were to take these teachings (love your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, compassion for all) and present them without the name of the teacher (a blind taste-test as it were), I am positive that even the most anti-Christian UU would agree with them. That’s right, 4 out of 5 atheists prefer Jesus.
“Christian” isn’t the only word that tests poorly for UU’s, words like “Holy,” “Prayer,” “Evangelism,” and “Salvation” are generally met with a lot of cringing. Even “god” with a lower case “g” tends to make the old school Humanists flinch. But these are religious terms and Unitarian Universalism IS a religion, how are we supposed to grow spiritually without the vocabulary? We’ve done a pretty good job exchanging “pray” for “meditate” or “moment of reflection”. “God” used to be “higher power” but that has morphed into terms like “Spirit Of Life” “Great Mystery” or my personal favorite “the Ultimate”. “Holy” has been replaced with “sacred” or “divine” and to be honest, I find these to be suitable replacements, but the terms “salvation” and “evangelism” still haven’t been translated and I think I know why.
Salvation conjures up images of heaven, a concept that many UU’s have dropped, despite our Universalist heritage. For those new to the faith, Universalism was a liberal protestant denomination that believed salvation (going to heaven) was universal. God was like Oprah, “You get to Heaven! You get to Heaven! EVERYBODY GETS TO HEAVEN!” I love the idea of this Oprah-God, after all if She really loves us, and we cannot earn our way into heaven through good works, how does she determine who gets in and who doesn’t? She doesn’t! We all got in, all we had to do was want to go. Through the years, Universalism became less concerned with life after death and more concerned with life on Earth. After all if we are all going to heaven, we’d better learn how to get along on Earth since we’ll be spending eternity together. Universal salvation became about creating a Heaven on earth. If we are able to do that, we have achieved salvation, but instead of individual salvation, it’s the salvation of the whole human race! So in that context, I can get behind the term “salvation.”
When you hear “Evangelist” and you think of charismatic preachers on television Sunday morning, in their expensive suits, shouting into the microphone while sweat and tears stream down his face. Demanding that you not only become saved, but that you buy the “I’m Saved” t-shirt for $24.95 (plus shipping and handling). The word “evangelism” has a lot to overcome, but I want you to think about it just a little differently. What if that guy who was trying to get you to believe what he believes was a UU minister? What if instead of a sweaty white man yelling that you were damaged good and going to Hell, it was a black woman with rainbow dreadlocks telling you that she loves you for the person that you are? Shouting with joy that we need to respect and love every person in this world, black, white, gay, straight, liberal conservative, Muslim, Christian, no exceptions! Asking for donations for standingonthesideoflove.org and their mission trip to Montana to help a high school dealing with GLBT teen suicides. Would you like to see that? I sure as Hell would! I want every single person to know about this faith and that there is room for them right here and now! That we have indeed been waiting for them. Do you know what that feeling is called? The feeling that you want to share your faith with others? That you want them to feel the same love and joy that you do? “Evangelism.” Not so bad if you really think about it, we’re just used to it coming from some unsavory characters.
We all have a past. All of us have things in our past that hurt when we are reminded of them and words are great reminders. The challenge is to let go of what we were taught so many years ago and to rethink, to question what those words really mean and to find the good within their meaning. There is some real joy in salvation, even if it doesn’t involve heaven. Being an evangelist is more about pride than brow-beating and prayer is your connection to your spirituality, whether that spirituality is based in western or eastern tradition. Keep examining those words that give you pause.
The unexamined word is not worth hating.