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. Much like Jess has already stated, the term Post-Christian in and of itself seems to express accurately what UU’s are about. I’m relatively new to UUism (and religious history in general), but my understanding of UU history is that it had its origins in Christian Protestantism.

    I think one of the main problems here is that people are trying to put a label on something that by its nature is attempting to defy definition (UUism) in the world of religion. I think that when Ms. Hayes included the term “Christian” in “Post-Christian” it created too much definition, and it will probably move the average observer to conclude that UUism is a lesser known division of Christianity. I think the term Christian is just too big a word in this context, creating more problems in its attempt to provide a definition. Would it make more sense to get away from religious language in our attempts to create a simple definition for UUism? Were there any good ideas created by the so-called “elevator speech” campaign a few years ago?

    “Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.”
    Quote-“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-

  2. One will never adequately summarize Unitarian Universalism, what it means, what it is, and who believes what in a quick capsule summary. Post-Christian is its own meta-narrative, which is why it’s impossible to pin it down with any degree of exactitude.

  3. Unitalian: While the UUA staff gets their lumps for forgetting that we’re an association rather than an one voice denomination; in this particular issue, I think their thinking reflects a good portion of the membership. Reading the thread here and you see a few folks who don’t see why some UUs and the culture at large would think “post-Christian” an insult.

  4. Maybe the problem with this term “post-Christian” is that there is no agreed upon definition (at least within UU circles) of what a Christian even is.

    Also, as a non theologian (just an ordinary ol’ lay person), post-Christian doesn’t sound rude or insulting to me at all, so I’m wondering if it’s even true that “regular” people would be offended by this. That’s kind of a big assumption to make.

  5. h sofia wrote on 14 August 2008:
    -snip-
    “Also, as a non theologian (just an ordinary ol’ lay person), post-Christian doesn’t sound rude or insulting to me at all, so I’m wondering if it’s even true that “regular” people would be offended by this. That’s kind of a big assumption to make.”

    Perhaps we should frame our remarks as “I” statements and speak from a personal view.

    That’s what Scott did when he said he was hopping mad.

    But much of the blogosphere commentary isn’t about personal feelings but rather speculation on what others might be thinking or feeling in response to the term “Post-Christian.”

  6. Steve: I note you start with suggesting we do “I” statements and then you move on to the opposite by stating that “much of the … commentary” without using “I feel” or even making note of the specifics – a lot of us have done commentary, are you referring to us all?
    Wikipedia (not a great source) gives two meanings to “post-Christian” where they
    state “In this sense, PostChristian is not a negative term” and “not regarding it as an epithet whatsoever”. It seems clear to me the author of this wordage assumes that most readers need to know that no negative or epithet was intended in those definitions. And to me, why else add that unless the author thought many of the intended readers would assume it was offensive or about the “death” of Christianity?
    So where do we draw the line with reported offensiveness? Is this the “brown bag lunch” discussion again?

  7. Steven R wrote:
    -snip-
    “Steve: I note you start with suggesting we do ‘I’ statements and then you move on to the opposite by stating that “much of the … commentary” without using “I feel” or even making note of the specifics – a lot of us have done commentary, are you referring to us all?”

    I should have quoted some examples of what I’ve seen and what I’ve felt it has meant. However, the three places online where this has been discussed are the following that I’ve read are:

    http://radicalhapa.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/uupost-christian-i-agree/

    http://infidelity.blogsome.com/2008/08/14/unitarian-universalists-as-post-christians/

    This thread on Scott’s blog.

    An example of the “non-I” statement about this in the comments of a reader on another blog would be a person saying that Post-Christian sounds snotty to people who don’t know what it means and this blog commenter assuming that the group of folks who don’t know what the word means would include most readers of the Washington Post.

    To reframe this as an “I” statement, it might look like this:

    “I think(or feel) that ‘Post-Christian’ sounds snotty and I’m concerned that others might get the same impression.”

    Personally, I really don’t know the typical level of theological literacy in the Washington Post. I used to live the DC metro area and I used to read the Washington Post regularly but I have no current knowledge of where the readership is with respect to religious terms. Perhaps that would come through a long-term sampling of letters to the editor?

    I don’t think the UUA spokesperson intended the term to be offensive. And I feel that the definition that she provided in the article is an accurate description of who we are today theologically.

  8. I’m concerned that one of our UU denominational pathologies is that we already are far too free with our “I” statements. In the really big picture, it’s not about us. Our dependence on “I” statements often encourages us to lose sight of that.

    To borrow Martin Buber’s vocabulary, the cure for this might well be more “thou” statements. Not only in context of the the “I-thou” relationship between the believer and God, but also in the context of building a connection between the self and the “other”. For example, if someone wants to describe the entire UU denomination as “post-Christian”, how would he or she say it, not using the first person to describe “us”, but when speaking to a “thou” who is a Christian, either inside or outside the denomination?

  9. Steve says, “I don’t think the UUA spokesperson intended the term to be offensive,” and I’m sure that’s true.

    However, he goes on to say, “and I feel that the definition that she provided in the article is an accurate description of who we are today theologically,” and that’s where I disagree. It may indeed accurately describe where a majority of us are today theologically. It certainly seems to be the direction in which at least some of the prophetic visionaries at 25 Beacon (or at least some of them) would like to lead us, as well. But it also seems to be contrary to recent trends in the younger cohorts of our ministerial college, who in many ways offer a glimpse into our future, and it does injury to the diversity and integrity of all that we are to describe all of us that way. A spokeswoman speaking publicly on behalf of all of us to the outside world ought to know better.

  10. Isn’t the problem that Unitarians (I’m from the UK) shouldn’t define themselves by anything that vaguely resembles a theological position. It never works, it always fails to encompass the diverse beliefs held, and whilst it’s generally too specific to be true, it’s usually also to vague to be helpful.

    Outsiders don’t want to know what we believe in, they want to know who we are, and how to characterise us. In the case of born-again Christians that is best summed up by their belief in a personal saviour Jesus, in the case of British Unitarians, it’s their quest for religious meaning, in reason, freedom and tolerance – I guess UUs aren’t that dissimilar.

    As far as I can see, it’s the journey that defines the Unitarian experience, so that’s what we should be promoting. And not using theological terms at all.

    As an aside, if the Christians all left to join the UCC, and the humanists left to join Ethical Culture Societies, surely the next two largest sub-groups would have the same sorts of arguments and disagreements.

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