29 March 2005

Christian and Non-Christian Unitarian Universalists -- Anti-Oppression Implications

On 23 March 2005, Paul Wilczynski wrote the following:
"As Unitarian Universalists we do get nervous around Jesus. One church member recently said to me that whenever I mention Jesus, he 'winces.' I expect that he is not alone. Why is that? If I were talk about Buddha, you would be interested, at worst puzzled, but I doubt that you would wince."

I suspect that part of the reason for the "wincing" isn't theology, but may be better understood using anti-oppression work that we've done in other contexts.

Even with the increased visibility and vitality of UU Christianity within the UUA and growth of UU congregations with UU Christian emphasis, I don't think anyone would think that Christianity gains you much power or privilege in many UU congregations. It's quite the opposite ... saying you're a Christian in many UU congregation will bring you puzzled curiosity at best, scorn at worst.

These attitudes towards Christianity within UU congregations are a reversal of the attitudes one would find outside UU congregations where Christianity is privileged with respect to other religions.

Non-Christian folks in our congregations who hear about the non-UU versions of Jesus and are immersed in a Christian-centric culture for the 166 hours each week that they are not in a UU church may instinctively "wince" when they hear "Jesus" mentioned in a UU pulpit (even if the "Jesus" is a UU version of Jesus and not Jerry Falwell's Jesus).

UU Non-Christians who are prone to "wincing" need to remember that our UU Christian friends (and liberal Christian friends like our UCC cousins) didn't create this world where Christianity has unearned power and privilege. Like everyone else in North America, we are all inheritors of a situation that was around before we were born. The responsibility that we non-Christian UUs have is to acknowledge this situation in the spirit of love and not blame our UU Christian (and other liberal Christian) friends for a situation they did not create nor desire.

UU Christians need to remember that they are walking in the door of a church wearing a garment of "power and privilege" that was not freely accepted but rather forced on them by our wider North American culture. UU Christians joining a predominantly non-Christian UU congregation are (unknowingly?) engaging in anti-oppression work by giving up unearned power and privilege granted to them by the wider culture. This is the theological equivalent of an adult advisor working with youth where the advisor gives up some of the unearned privilege that comes with being an adult.


PeaceBang said...

An interesting analysis, Steve, but I'm not sure it works very cleanly for those of us who are life-long UUs and dedicated in humanist UU churches. We're not really "walking in the door" with privilege: we were in the building with everyone else the whole time.

Steve Caldwell said...

"I'm not sure it works very cleanly for those of us who are life-long UUs and dedicated in humanist UU churches. We're not really "walking in the door" with privilege: we were in the building with everyone else the whole time."

Being a Christian in the United States provides one with unearned power and access ... much in the same way that being white, male, or heterosexual does in the United States.

Unitarian Universalist congregations are unique in that we attempt (sometimes successfully ... sometimes unsuccessfully) to address these anti-oppression issues.

Being a birth-right UU raised in a Humanist UU congregation doesn't really change the fact that the North American society that our UU congregations exists in grants special privileges to the following groups:

** white

** male

** heterosexual

** Christian

** able-bodied

These power and access inequities exist outside the walls of our UU congregations and their influences affect everyone in our congregations, even those who were raised as UU.

Just because a UU congregation is gay-friendly doesn't mean that we cannot ignore the hetersexist influences of the wider culture.

Just because a UU congregation respects all faith traditions without putting Christianity on a pedestal doesn't mean that we cannot ignore the Christian-centric influences of the wider culture.

So ... unless you're living in a vacuum with no contact whatsoever with United States society, you are metaphorically "walking in the door" with privilege granted to you by our wider non-UU culture if you are identifying as a Christian in a UU congregation.

Chalicechick said...

It looks like my comment was eaten, so I will say it again:

1. Why can't we talk about fundamentalist atheists? Are we assuming they don't exist or are we just not supposed to talk about them? If they don't exist, what distinction do you see between logical positivists and fundamentalist atheists?

2. Those rules are pretty much universally applicable as far as anti-oppression goes. After all, everyone is oppressed someplace. Would you say that if we were to change the references to athiesm in those rules to references to Christianity, that you follow those rules as applied to Christianity? If not, why not?


Steve Caldwell said...


I will answer your comment here on my blog here: