Post-Christian?

I’m hopping mad.

In a quotation given to the Washington Post for a story in yesterday’s paper (“Unitarians Keep the Faith After Attack in Church“) we have this from UUA public relations director Janet Hay Hayes is quoted has saying:

The denomination considers itself “post-Christian,” she said. “We include the teaching of Jesus and we appreciate the wisdom of the Bible, but we don’t limit our sources of inspiration to the Christian faith.”

I’ll pass on the “the denomination considers itself” part as writer’s shorthand for something we take with quite a bit of nuance. But “post-Christian” is a theological delimiter that singles out and minimizes Christians within Unitarian Universalism. It’s not a term of pluralism but triumphalism, and has no place in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s official communications.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 45, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

66 thoughts on “Post-Christian?

  1. Dear Hopping,

    In your fury, I think you’re projecting triumphalism. Really. Sure, there are some UUs–a distinct minority–who might feel that way. But the vast majority don’t and aren’t.

    Offer some alternative language. What says that the movement comes out of Christianity, but is far more than Christian (and even not mostly Christian) today. I think that “post-Christian” was being used in the way that post-modernism was, initially, as a means of delineating a distinction that’s important. “Christian-plus” doesn’t cut it. “Extra-Christian” would be wildly misheard and misunderstood.

    Not easy since it needs to be succinct, too. You know how the media likes long explanatory exposition….

  2. @Patrick. how about this: “Unitarian Universalists, seen as a whole, do not share a common scripture or theology. We include people that adhere to distinct religious tradition, some who blend them and others who create new ones.” Christianity doesn’t get the poke.

  3. @Jess. Since when is the UUA — as distinct from the UCA or AUA — a theologically professing body? The very act seems to be a violation of the covenant that holds the diverse opinions in the UUA together.

  4. There was a comment held in moderation that agreed with my position and took it further. This is a good time to repeat my policy of not allowing anonymous comments without a legitimate email address.

  5. I’m not “hopping mad”, but I agree with your observation about triumphalism. It sounds smug, dismissive and condescending toward the enduring Christian traditions that many of our members and congregations still observe.

    We may no longer be exclusively or even predominantly Christian as a whole, but liberal Protestant Christianity is the religious tradition within which we arose and which I would argue) still most heavily informs our practices and values. (In fact, for much of the 19th century, the Us and Us pretty much defined liberal Protestant Christianity, at least in the English-speaking world.) We have not left all of Christianity behind, as the term “post-Christian” implies, but only the views of some (but not all) Christians that there is no truth to be found outside Christianity, and that all of Christian teaching is divine truth — and we left those ideas behind long before a majority of us ever stopped identifying ourselves as Christians.

    I would say we are Christian in origin but eclectic and inclusive in practice.

  6. One of the purposes of the UUA, at least in practice, is to be a public face for the Association as a whole, and when you’re a religious movement, that includes making broad statements about theology, or what the movement actually stands for. This is one of our big roadblocks to becoming a larger movement than we are — we don’t like it when people speak for us on any level because of our diversity of belief, and yet there is a necessity for clear and simple language that can be used in general terms to describe what we are, particularly in today’s media.

    That said, I don’t find “post-Christian” to be clear or simple, and while I might agree with aspects of the term’s academic or theological definition in describing Unitarian Universalism, I think the term itself is unnecessarily negative and dismissive, especially when heard by those who are not versed in its history. I can understand why someone might use it in this way, but I think it’s a bad choice.

  7. I think using terms such as “post-Christian” and making comments such as “far more than Christian” implies that Unitarian-Universalism has somehow evolved into a more advanced state of spiritual awareness / understanding than that which Christianity offers.

    The previous UK Unitarian website used to have a heading that went something like “Christian or more than Christian?”, and I often wondered whether the same people who invented this term would see it as acceptable if other denominations used “more than Unitarian”, “more than Muslim”, “more than Buddhist” to define themselves. Similarly the same could be said for terms such as “post-Islam”, “post-Judaism” etc.

    Such language carries with it a value judgement and certain negative connotations – and it reflects badly on a community that proclaims its love and respect for all faiths.

    But this language is a sad reflection of wider issues within Unitarian-Universalism.

    First, there is the ongoing debate over UU identity which is more often than not framed only in terms of “why we are not Christian” (and the counter, “why we are Christian”). It needs to move beyond this in some way.

    Second – as part of this – there is the question of whether Unitarian-Universalism has fully detached from the Christian family, or really can. If it has or does so in future, then when it speaks on Christianity it is speaking as an outsider rather than an insider. Like it or not, this has certain implications as it is more common and acceptable for criticism / less sensitive use of language to come from within, than from without.

    Ultimately, this whole issue is tiring and something that diverts attention from the path of personal and spiritual development – and in turn, leads to people such as myself, who see Unitarian-Universalism as their natural home, seeking community somewhere else.

  8. I did email her. I kept it really short but said essentially “I get that this is arguably a theologically accurate term, but it makes us sound like jerks when one sees it in the morning paper. Please don’t use it.”

    CC

  9. I don’t think it’s even arguably accurate.

    “Post-Christian” implies that we have cast Christianity aside. We haven’t. There are Christian UU individuals, covenant groups, and even entire congregations. Even more may no longer identify as Christian per se, but still retain many Christian ideas, values and worship elements. A significant and growing proportion of UU clergy consider themselves Christian.

    Forget what we sound like to outsiders; when 25 Beacon officially says the denomination is “post-Christian”, within the denomination it sounds like they are also describing a normative view that the many UUs who are still Christian or Christian-sympathetic no longer belong. That is both inaccurate and needlessly divisive.

  10. I never cared for “post-Christian” even when I knew that the person saying it knew what it meant … if we’re post-Christian, are we also post-Humanistic and post-Atheist and post-Pagan?
    what is the UUs facination with negative wordage anyway?
    Cant we just say something like “pluralistic religious views”?

  11. The UU church where I have been a member the longest (and where I am still a member), is a Christian church that is affiliated with the UUA. When the UUA makes statements that the denomination is post-Christian, the members of my church experience this as a kind of rejection by the wider religious community that insists it includes us. The kind of emotional tug-of-war this creates has consequences. Some neighboring UU churches embrace the post-Christian rhetoric, and insist that our church is not a real UU church because our liberalism is Christian, and a real UU church must be post-that. Within our congregation, the post-Christian label encourages some to advocate for a departure to the United Church of Christ. And at this point, I am increasingly tired of asking for a place at the table and being treated like the un-wanted step-child whose pressence is tolerated but not truly included. Would we all be better off if the post-Christian division were cleanly done?

  12. How about Other than-Christian? or perhaps Anti-Supranatural, or even, Simpson-like (Homer not OJ), just not Protestant-lite, which seems to be popular with some our clergy.

  13. Although I agree that the wording may be fixed for journalistic purposes, I think that there is some truth in it, and I am sorry if people who identify both as Christians and as Unitarian Universalists feel marginalized by it. From my point of view, the question is whether Unitarian Universalism is Jesus-centered or not, i.e. if the central concern of UUism is to answer the famous question: “Who do people say that I am?” (Mt 16, 13-16). I think that UUism is not concerned by that question, although many individual UUs may be. That means that the “movement” has moved somewhere else in the religious landscape. I disagree with Matt that “post-Christian” means “higher” or “deeper” than Christian. It means simply what it says: that it comes “after” Christianity. There is no discussion that the roots of UUism are strongly placed in the Christian tradition and history. No innuendo about quality intended.
    Finally, there is scholarly support for the “post-Christian” labeling. The prestigious Penguin “Handbook of Living Religions” (1991 editions) places Unitarianism (it is a UK edition) in the “Post-Christian Western denominations” subsection of the “Marginal Traditions” section within the Christianity chapter. I think it is a fair description.

  14. One further point to note is that the Quaker movement is having a similar debate about identity – and there are moves towards a more pluralistic approach – but on reading their blogs, official literature etc, it seems the debate is less divisive and far more positive, thoughtful in the language used.

  15. With regards to the Quaker debate over Christian vrs. Post-Christian identity… I believe that the tone is different among Quakers because the structure of the Religious Society of Friends is vastly different from the UUA. There is no central authority, no single Quaker denomination, nor any movement to have an office that can speak for the entire Society of Friends. Thus nobody’s opinion seems at all official. Additionally, individual meetings tend to line up with the Quaker denomination (or a combination of denominations) of their choosing, based upon where they fit on the Quaker theological spectrum.

    I find it interesting that the respondents to this blog who approve of the post-Christian label have not (so far) reflected upon the quandry this language poses for Christian churches affiliate with the UUA. Last time I counted, there were about 30 Christian churches affiliated with the UUA, which is about the same size as some micro-denominations like the Swedenborgian Church or the Schwenkfelder Church, and thus a sizable minority within the UU family.

    So I call out these questions, and would be fascinated by your responses. How does the post-Christian label include these UU Christian congregations as equal partners in an association of congregations? If this label does not include us, how would you recommend that we deal with the use of this label? Would you find it preferable for clarity of identity if such churches were part of a different liberal denomination? Has it been a mistake for these churches to be part of the UUA? Why or why not?

  16. How about Other than-Christian? or perhaps Anti-Supranatural, or even, Simpson-like (Homer not OJ), just not Protestant-lite, which seems to be popular with some our clergy.

    We are emphatically not either “other than Christian” or “anti-supernatural”, for the simple reason that there are not only some UUs but also entire UU churches who would be excluded by either of those descriptions. The use of those terms to describe ourselves, not to put too fine a point on it, is exactly the sort of unconsciously oppressive behavior that our AO programs are designed to combat. It would be more accurate and inclusive to say “Christian and more”, or “originally Christian, but no longer exclusively so”. My feeling is that any description of ourselves that would exclude a 19th-century Unitarian or Universalist, if one were to miraculously appear in his or her customary pew on a Sunday morning, would be inaccurate. They are the ground from which we grow and remain powerfully valid archetypes for who we still are.

    Likewise, although you can find plenty of Homer Simpsons and even a few Lisas at any GA, we are not all that way — but I assume you are being facetious.

    I think it would be more accurate to call ourselves “Protestant-on-steroids” than “Protestant-lite”. Our oldest congregation, First Parish Church in Plymouth, Mass., is the one founded by the Mayflower Pilgrims. When they departed Holland for the New World, their pastor John Robinson, a leading scholar of the early Reformed Protestant tradition, delivered a famous farewell sermon in which he warned them not to become too fixed in their thoughts or beleifs, saying: “The Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from his holy Word.” These words are inscribed at the front of the Plymouth sanctuary. This belief in the unfolding, progressive nature of Truth, and the corresponding duty of the individual to discern it for him- or herself without intermediation, is not merely a uniquely UU bromide, but also a touchstone of all Reformed theology. It predates Channing’s “Unitarian Christianity” and Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” by more than 200 years and the Humanist Manifesto I by more than 300 years, and I would argue that it leads directly to them.

  17. Okay, here’s the definition of the term as compiled by Rev. Dan Harper, a minister in our movement who I see use it regularly:

    post-Christian (post-kris’chen) n. [A 20th C. back-formation from Christian.]
    1. Someone whom Christians would say is not a Christian, but whom non-Christians consider Christian; applied by Gary Dorrien and other scholars of religion to Unitarian Universalism and a few other groups that were formerly considered to be liberal Christians. 2. One who tries to live according to Jesus’s teachings, but who choses to distance himself/herself from conservative or fundamentalist Christianity by refusing to be called “Christian.” 3. In certain cases, a non-theist or atheist who follows the ethical teachings of Jesus.

    adj. 1. Pertaining to or derived from the moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings of Jesus, but retaining an openess to other moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings. 2. Heretical, not adhering to traditional Christian creeds; especially including the heresies of unitarianism and universalism, which are still considered heterodox by most mainstream Christians. 3. Post-modern (q.v.) interpretations of Christianity.

    While I personally don’t like the term, the bolded part in the adjective form (my emphasis) describes the Unitarian Universalist movement to a “T,” including our Christian-centered member churches. The very first part of the noun form describes every UU Christian I personally know — since they reject the idea of the Trinity and embrace Universal salvation, most Christian churches would call them heretic, and yet non-Christians would consider them Christian for their values.

    But again, the format of the term itself, especially if you don’t have ready access to this definition, I find unnecessarily negative. And now we’ve beaten this poor horse to death. ;-)

  18. That’s only Dan’s definition.

    IMHO it’s inaccurate, because it omits the fairly obvious negative connotations of the prefix “post”, meaning “after”. It’s also inaccurate because what it does describe could also describe many “liberal”, “progressive”, or “inclusive” Christians who would be indistinguishable except for their willingness to call themselves “Christian”, but that willingness or unwillingness has nothing to do with the meaning of “post”.

    I would suggest instead, “1. (n.) A person or group that was formerly, but is no longer, Christian; especially, one that has rejected Christianity due to its perceived errors, omissions or invalidity. 2. (adj.) Of or pertaining to such a person or group.”

  19. This is an aside… Jess has stated that Universal salvation would be considered a heresy in most Christian churches, but my experience has been quite different. I have found this theological position well supported among many Brethren, Catholic, Episcopalian, Quaker (Wilburite/Conservative, Hicksite/Liberal, and Gurneyite/Orthodox), and United Church of Christ congregations. They may not make universal salvation central to their theology, but neither is it heresy. It is often considered a probable eschatological outcome of the wider purpose of God as reflected in scripture, reason, and tradition.

  20. “A pluralist religious community, with roots in liberal Christianity.”

    How does that sound as an alternative?

    As an alternative description of who we are, it’s very good.

    (As an alternative definition of “post-Christian”, not so much.)

    Jess has stated that Universal salvation would be considered a heresy in most Christian churches, but my experience has been quite different. I have found this theological position well supported among many Brethren, Catholic, Episcopalian, Quaker (Wilburite/Conservative, Hicksite/Liberal, and Gurneyite/Orthodox), and United Church of Christ congregations.

    From my own experience I would add Presbyterians, Disciples and Beanite Quakers.

  21. I have a question-and this is not a criticism or snipe at anyone, but regarding the congregations which are Christian, why do they (or why do their members) stay with the UUA? Just curious…

  22. NDM – You ask why Christian churches in the UUA remain in the UUA? Some in these congregations ask the same questions in the face of a larger denomination that is ambivalent to their existence. For the most part the churches in question have a history of being Unitarian and/or Universalist, but in the traditional Christian sense of both those words. Some are the result of early 20th century mergers between Unitarians and Congregationalists; or Universalists and Congregationalists. The reasons given for remaining in the UUA often boil down to history. Sometimes there is also a concern that non-Trinitarian christology would be unacceptable elsewhere, or that other denominations do not have a sufficient emphasis on universal salvation.

    In the case of the church where I’ve been a member, history has been a huge issue. Plus, we also bring together a membership where some people are Trinitarian Universalists, and others are Unitarian Christians. It’s a different slice of the diversity pie than most UU’s are accustomed to. There are quite a few in my home congregation who increasingly advocate for withdrawal from the UUA, and affiliation with the United Church of Christ. But will our non-Trinitarian members be welcome in UCC-land? Many are not convinced that this will be the case. So as a whole, we end up feeling chronicly misunderstood, and somewhat spiritually homeless, and with no obvious place where we “fit in”.

  23. Further to what Derek said, the fact is that the UUA is the — and the only — authentic, historic home of both Unitarian christology and Universalist soteriology. For example, the Independent Christian Church (UU) in Gloucester, Mass., has been Universalist since 1779, when John Murray planted the church, and King’s Chapel (UU) in Boston has been Unitarian since 1785, when they deleted the trinitarian references from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

    It may be awkward when UUA staff act on behalf of all of us as though we all think authentic Unitarianism and Universalism are embarrassments, like the crazy old aunt in the attic who keeps muttering nonsense and refuses to die and let us inherit her estate. However, like the crazy aunt, UUs who still hold to the older traditions have no other home. In fact, they blazed the trail for the rest of us. Why should they leave us now? And where else could they go?

    Purely in terms of conforming to our denominational identity, it would be less impertinent to ask why our Humanists who object to God-talk don’t just leave the theist-infested UUA and join the Ethical Culture Society. Ironically, to ask that question of Humanists would probably also be seen as more intolerant and less tolerable than asking it of UU Christians.

  24. Besides the question of where would UU theists really go – as there’s really not that many alternatives for them; why would the UUA want to get rid of 25% (the self-described Christians, Jewish, and theists) of their members?

  25. Steven R, I love the idea of being post-atheist, post-pagan, post-buddhist, etc. as you suggest. I hope that we can one day overcome this attachment to Old Religion(s) and become, as a global movement, a fresh path for the new millenium and the new society. Meanwhile we keep discussing about being multifaith or plurichristians or metahumanists, or whatever impossible mixture comes to your mind. I call it pouring new wine in old skins.

  26. Jaume – Since the 1950′s there have been those who said that what humanity needed was to cut ties with the Old Religions, and to forge some fresh path into a new millenium and a global religion (look up Ken Patton and the failure of his Charles Street Meetinghouse). So far this quest for one religion for a new world has come to nothing. What the critics of so-called “new wine into old wineskins” have failed to miss, is that their own supposedly global theologies are just as divisive as those of any of the Old or New Religions. Every religion comes with a set of beliefs, and a set of disbeliefs. And no religion has shown itself to be universal, although Christianity and Buddhism have shown amazing capacities to adapt to very diverse cultures. Mainstream UUism can not claim the global scope of either of these Old Religions. With religion, I say pick a good vintage and drink deeply. Avoid the stuff which says it is generic wine (claiming to be wine in some general sense that is neither red, nor white, nor Champagne, nor Port).

  27. Just to throw something else into the mix…….lots of evangelical (as opposed to fundamentalist) churches are universalist in both theology and practice. And even a number of fundies believe in universal salvation, they just don’t talk about it out loud.

    As to the “post-Christian” title. I hate it. I like what Unity says “We are Christian and more than Christian.” To me that honors both our history and our present.

  28. Would it be an accurate description of Unitarian Universalism that we are so “Protestant” and so committed to the individual freedom of belief that “God,” “Jesus” and “Christianity” became “optional” and not “mandatory” in our congregations?

    The Barna Group also recently published a book titled “unChristian” that talks about the “image” problem that Christianity has when viewed by outsiders. You can read an excerpt of this book here:

    http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Excerpt&ProductID=288

    Unfortunately, the public face of Christianity that shapes how this faith is viewed in North America isn’t Rev. John Thomas, Bishop Spong, or the UU Christian Fellowship. It’s usually someone less welcoming. Even the Evangelical Christians at the Barna Group realize that Christianity has an “image” problem in our society.

    That may be why the UU spokesperson was using the term “Post-Christian” acknowledge the history of where we came from while also trying to avoid the existing negative associations with the word “Christian.”

  29. Would it be an accurate description of Unitarian Universalism that we are so “Protestant” and so committed to the individual freedom of belief that “God,” “Jesus” and “Christianity” became “optional” and not “mandatory” in our congregations?

    I think so.

    But I don’t like the normative view of Christianity that you then proceed to argue for just because the worst elements within it have given Christianity as a whole an “image problem”. It allows the worst, most perverted elements of Christianity to define the whole. That is as offensive and libelous to most Christians as, for example, calling Islam a violent religion would be to most Muslims. It also completely ignores the “liberal” Christian movement the we ourselves led for most of a century, or its more recent “progressive” expressions. Most Christians would instead call the offensive elements misguides, or Pharisaical, or even antichrist, rather than letting the worst elements of Christianity define them — including especially the liberal ones who remain among us.

    I also want to return to the observation that defining our entire denomination with a term that excludes a sizable plurality of its members is inherently oppressive. It’s not that we need to define the negativity out of the term with the proper semantic sleight-of-hand so that we can validly apply it to ourselves; it’s that most people who hear the term hear negativity, not refined semantics. And it’s also that, no matter what benign definition of “post-Christian” we might settle upon, a significant minority of UUs including many of our founding congregations still would not meet the description.

    When we do use the term, then, we need to do it far more carefully that we typically do. Even if the term accurately describes a majority of is, it is inherently oppressive to apply it normatively to all of us. Anyone who speaks against racism or sexism or homophobia should be able to recognize that in a heartbeat. If you can see the difference between saying, “The United States is a white nation”, and saying, “The population of the United Sates has a diverse and shifting racial mix, a majority of whom at the moment are white,” you should be able to see the difference as it applies to “post-Christian UUism” as well.

  30. On 5 August 2008, Fausto wrote:
    -snip-
    “But I don’t like the normative view of Christianity that you then proceed to argue for just because the worst elements within it have given Christianity as a whole an ‘image problem.’ It allows the worst, most perverted elements of Christianity to define the whole. That is as offensive and libelous to most Christians as, for example, calling Islam a violent religion would be to most Muslims. It also completely ignores the ‘liberal’ Christian movement the we ourselves led for most of a century, or its more recent “progressive” expressions. Most Christians would instead call the offensive elements misguides, or Pharisaical, or even antichrist, rather than letting the worst elements of Christianity define them — including especially the liberal ones who remain among us.”

    The Barna Group isn’t a bunch of atheists or other non-Christians reporting that Christianity has an image problem in North America especially among folks age 16 to 29 — both Christian and non-Christian.

    The Barna Group researchers are Evangelical Christians who are reporting this issue out of concern for the long-term health of Christianity.

    One doesn’t have to like this image problem but one does need to acknowledge that this image problem exists.

    If the social science work done by the Barna Group is accurate, there is a lot of work to do to counteract this image problem. Otherwise, folks like Bill Donohue and John Hagee get to define the public face of Christianity.

  31. The point isn’t that an evangelical polling outfit has identified an “image problem” for Christianity.

    Steve, the point isn’t that there are some Christians who are misguided or hypocritical or Pharisaical or even Antichrist. Of course there are. The New Testament itself warns against them.

    The point is that other people are willing to slander and vilify the whole of Christianity by knowingly, wrongly characterizing it by its worst and least characteristic elements.

    The point is that we UUs who purport to value rationality and fairness shouldn’t fall for that just because we see others doing it. And even more, that we have no business perpetuating that sort of behavior by participating in it ourselves. In our religious language, that’s violating the Fourth Principle, in which we “covenant to affirm and promote … a free and responsible search for truth”, and violating our many congregational covenants that pledge devotion to truth. In a more widely spoken religious language, it’s also violating the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness. In a blunter, more secular idiom, it’s a self-indulgent, dishonest lie.

    Yes, it’s that grave. No, people of integrity in any religious tradition just don’t do that.

    And we damn sure shouldn’t compound the transgression by relying upon that false witness as a justification to abandon our own denominational heritage, and to demean, marginalize and exclude the significant plurality of our own members who still follow it. In our religious language, that’s violating the First and Second Principles in which we “covenant to affirm and promote … the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations”. In a more widely spoken religious language, it’s also violating Jesus’ commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself”. In more secular, political terms, it nurtures exactly the same attitude and employs exactly the same methods as racism, sexism, or any other form of institutionalized (and often also, therefore, unwitting) bigotry.

  32. Scot

    Janet Hay should be given a chance to respond to this blog thead. Often people who dislike Christianity have had a bad experience of one kind or another – there is probably a valid reason for her position. One of my favorite people abandoned Christianity after her sister died a horrible death from cancer.

    Also, many UUs do not appreciate that there are zillions of liberal Christians out there – the liberals just do not get as much tube time as the … others. How many times have I heard a UU say Christians are this or that, and it is something very right-wing. (I was a liberal Christians for a long time – they are really neat people.)

    Best wishes

    Dudley

  33. Matt mentioned: a “more advanced state of spiritual awareness / understanding than that which Christianity offers.”

    Erm.

    As someone who is (admittedly) just barely scratching the surface of the myriad layers of Christian mysticism, I’d say that Christianity (and its parent faith Judaism – and bear in mind I say “parent faith” for lack of a better term at the moment but I’m sure I’ll find one later) has a really amazingly advanced state of spiritual awareness and understanding as it is.

    It can be extraordinarily mind-blowing, in fact. Sometimes I have to stop in my tracks and just look at the spiritual insight of the Jewish people, these insights and teachings that have lasted as long as they have and continue to inform and support people’s lives to this day and will continue to do so into time…..and when I do that, I almost can’t wrap my brain around it.

    I do wish, however, that UUs were just a wee bit more open to ambiguity, mystery, intuition, that kind of thing. Not all UUs are “closed” to it, but so very many just seem to want to analyze everything to death and not just sit with something (like a rose, for example, or a sacred story from Scripture) and let it speak to one on its own terms – instead of trying to mold it to form one’s own expectations or desires.

    Sounds really Buddhist, doesn’t it??

    Since it is very late and I’m tired (and slightly buzzed from the brown ale I was nursing earlier – mmmmmmmmmm) this probably made very little sense at all.

    :)

  34. Hrm. As a non Christian and non academic/seminarian/minister, I did not take offense to the term “Post-Christian.” Considering the audience Hays was talking to, I think it is reasonable. She also qualified what SHE meant by “post-Christian,” which I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone in any of the comments disagree with. When it comes to wording, I think we UUs are the ultimate nitpickers.

  35. Perhaps it would be better to say that UUism has moved from “not exclusively Christian” to “not primiarily Christian” in the last century. It’s explicit in including
    Christianity in the UU mix, but also accurately portrays the relatively small role Christianity plays in public UU statements.
    Part of the problem with the term “post-Christian” is that it’s detractors, and quite possibly the folks who coined the term, are still locked into the paradigm of “one Right Way” thus for them being “post” is merely “non” with a pedigree. Whereas the reality is that Christianity is alive in the UUA, just that it plays a fairly small
    (although stable) role.

  36. I look at this as a PR opportunity, in which case Janet Hay blew it big time. How many typical Americans have even heard the term post-Christian, let alone have the first clue as to what it might mean? It sounds like a breakfast cereal. Her subsequent clarifying remarks are fine in my opinion, but “post-Christian” sounds so weird, so negative and so arrogant, I have to believe that the typical reader will remember that term more vividly than anything else she says. Again with the definition by negation. Oy gevalt.

  37. My father–a practicing UU from about ’63 to ’69 and very involved for a time in Denver… who is certainly one of those hundreds of thousands of UUs on polls but not rolls–called today and brought this up.

    He’s not a Christian. Wasn’t raised one, either. Rather, he was one of those happy humanist Agnostics in the movement of the ’60s. Still is.

    He decried Hayes remark. He felt it was inaccurate, unless UUism has morphed beyond his recognition (it hasn’t), and that it was execrable PR. Bad. Bad, bad, bad.

    This was a big opportunity moment to label UUism for people. NOT as “liberal” (because the vast majority of Americans are theologically ignorant and hear the term as politics, not religion), not as “post-Christian,” because it sounded unwelcoming to Christians, which is flat wrong.

    I’m back to where I was. I understand the intention of the term (I think), but it was an inept use of it because it really blew the PR moment (as well as igniting this fracas).

    I’d offer “We are a welcoming religion of many faiths, where tolerance is an ideal, a practice, and a work in progress.”

    Matt’s version is great–but I fear it’s not cast in language that’s as open to the average reader and the media. I’m trying at this point for something that’s accurate (but not precise–a PR soundbite is not a place for pedantic precision), enticing, is put in positive terminology, and where the language doesn’t require unpacking by the average reader. “Pluralist” does. We need not explain our Christian roots in the first salvo, nor do we need to justify them or excuse them. They are… and when someone’s interested enough to ask for more, then that’s the moment to give some of that, I think.

  38. _______________________________________________________________
    Thank you for your email inquiry.

    I’ll be in Knoxville through Monday, August 4th, and I won’t be able to check email reguarly. I’ll respond as soon as possible after I return.

    In the meantime, if you need general information assistance please contact Sabe Graham at sgraham@uua.org or 617-948-4652. If you’re calling from the media, please contact John Hurley at 617-948-6131 or jhurley@uua.org.

    Thank you,

    Janet Hayes
    Public Relations Director
    Unitarian Universalist Association
    Boston, MA 02108
    (617) 948-4386
    _______________________________________________________________

    Was the only answer I got.

  39. Derek, the Charles Street Meetinghouse religion was a global religion for the Boston neighborhood. Apparently nobody beyond 10 square miles knew or cared about that “universal religion”. It was a nice experiment but it was ultimately irrelevant, and it vanished like smoke when its minister moved elsewhere to pursue his preaching career.

  40. It sounds like a breakfast cereal.

    Hee hee. I can just picture Ned Flanders serving his kids “Post Christians” and milk. I’m thinking something like the satanically pagan Lucky Charms, except instead of oat runes you would have oat Alphas and Omegas, and instead of magickal symbols on the marshmallows you would have silhouettes of apostles, saints and Reformers. Kids could learn their church history by guessing who was who before chomping on their heads.

    I’m even imagining a “Post Heretics” spinoff with marshmallows representing, say, Spinoza, Servetus, David, Socinus, Hume, Arius, Origen, Hus, Wycliffe and so on — but I bet it couldn’t command any shelf space in the major supermarket chains.

  41. Tracie the Red, I’m not sure you read my post in full, but I certainly wasn’t implying that Christianity doesn’t have an advanced state of spiritual awareness / understanding, or that it doesn’t have a myriad of layers. I was commenting on what I personally felt ‘Post-Christian’ suggested about its relationship with ‘Christian’.

    And this leads back to the wider debate. I do think what emerges from this whole debate is an increased awareness that how we interpret language is largely shaped by our own position and background – naturally a significant proportion of UU Christians are going to find Unitarian-Universalism defined primarily as ‘Post-Christian’ as offensive (to varying degrees). And naturally also, those who feel less affinity with and a certain detachment from Christianity, will perhaps not be able to understand why it may offend others and may even see it as a positive-affirmative term.

    I think particularly in communities like Unitarian-Universalism – where different faiths / philosophies are interacting and where identity has become highly individualised – then the use of language becomes increasingly important. And it can be divisive if used without thinking over how it will be percieved (I readily admit to have been guilty of this myself in the past).

    So perhaps there needs to be a heightened state of sensitivity – perhaps it goes with the territory. And perhaps, as Patrick says, using neutral, pretty ambigious terms such as ‘Pluralist’ for shorter media soundbytes would suffice?

    One last brief point, if I look over to the Quakers again – what I like is that they often frame their own identity debates in terms of ‘my liberal Friend’ or ‘my evangelical Friend’. It would be good if UUs come up with some similar way of emphasizing unity / fraternity in diversity, although I’m not exactly sure how.

  42. Jaume – not many in the Boston neighborhood cared about the Universal Religion either….But the church did last 5 or more years past the original preacher, so it didnt quite vanish like smoke. And while that experiment was deemed a failure – it’s hard to say if it was the idea, the way it was presented, the location, the minister (who I read was rather abrasive) or what. On the other hand, lots of late 1950s and early 1960s Universalists did indeed embrace the concept. (I know this because I’ve talked to some of them). Why did that fail? Not enough of them? the merger? they werent post-Christian enough? They were too post-Christian? (trying to get back on topic with these last lines)

  43. It is thorny, how to be as accurate as we can be, when of necessity communicating in shorthand.

    My totally inadequate summary statement is that by the time of the consolidation, Unitarian Universalism has moved from being a liberal Christian church to being a liberal church with Christians. And humanists, and Jews and Buddhists and various others…

    The problem for me is that we not only are a liberal church with Christians, but that our whole ethos is Protestant, our unspoken metaphors arise from the tradition, and whether humanist or Buddhist, or whatever, our debt to our Christian roots is incalculable…

    In ten words or less?

  44. I wonder if there is a tension between how the “leadership” wants to see the church and how the membership sees itself? I have experienced similar frustration in the UK – there seems to be a basic aversion to acknowledging any kind of Christian identity, despite Unitarianism’s roots being very much grounded in Christian soil.

    What this really reminds me of though is European politics. In Europe, there is the vision of the politicians, and the vision of the people. The people have rejected the European Constitution through referenda on various ocassions, but the politicians keep dressing it up and putting it to the people in different clothes because they know better than their citizens, don’t they.

    This is what this smacks of – a (largely, I bet) self-selecting elite deciding their “vision” is superior to that of the little people. And in doing so they will ultimately destroy the very institution they claim to stand for.

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