Respect for Christianity Here
I need to make an apology for my part in the “This I Believe” service this past Sunday.
I did the multigenerational portion of the service that I titled “Why UUs Don’t Have a Catechism.” My idea was to explain why we have “This I Believe” services when many Christian denominations would not because there are things you need to believe if you are a more orthodox Christian (the varieties of Christians is way too much to tackle in 5-7 minutes). My intention was to be concrete and show the children a copy of the Bible and tell them that this is the source book for Christian belief. Most of them can’t read well enough to understand what is in the Bible. So I told them that the way some Christians teach this book to make it easy to understand is through catechisms. I pulled a few sample questions and answers out from the Westminster Catechism for Children. I asked the adults who studied catechism as children to say the answers they remembered to those questions. There was a little laughter here because there was a diversity of responses depending on which Christian church they grew up in. I then said something about how the Bible isn’t the only book that has answers to these questions. I picked up a Quran to show them saying it has different answers to some of those catechism questions. I also picked up a copy of Darwin’s works to show them it also has different answers to some of those questions. The point I wanted to make to the children was that we as Unitarian Universalists don’t pick one book and only read and believe it. We try to read each one, study it and come up with our own answers following our own understanding of what makes sense to us. I tied that into the theme of the day, hearing three examples of people doing just that.
I was both surprised and distressed to find out some people who were present felt that their Christian beliefs and values had been majorly disrespected by the way I spoke with the children.
That was not my intention and I deeply regret any way I sent that message to Christians or others in our midst who felt that I was denigrating their beliefs.
One important lesson I’ve learned in learning how to dismantle white supremacy is “intention doesn’t excuse impact.” The fact that I didn’t intend to insult some people in the congregation doesn’t excuse my actions that did. I need to reflect on what happened and what I can learn from the results of my actions.
I grew up with an anti-Christian prejudice in a strongly humanist Unitarian Fellowship in Newark, Delaware. I followed my parents’ scientific humanist views. Being a minority view in a dominant Christian culture created both defensiveness and wariness in me toward Christianity.
During the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Unitarian heritage congregations like my UU Fellowship were not very tolerant or friendly to those with Christian beliefs. That began changing starting with the Women and Religion reforms during the late 1970’s and anti-racism work in the 1990’s.
Going to a Unitarian Universalist seminary that was part of a consortium of Christian schools that permitted cross registration allowed me to take Biblical history classes with the Lutherans, Process Theology with the Franciscans, and New Testament with the Baptists. The multi-religious climate of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California helped me a great deal to work through my animosity toward Christianity from my childhood. Once I could start engaging Biblical texts as metaphor and story rather than as theological proofs, access to meaning in them opened up for me.
Today I sometimes use Biblical texts in my preaching on Sunday morning. I lean more that way during the Christmas season and Lent moving toward Easter. The Jesus I’ve learned to love isn’t the suffering savior as much as the disrupter who rails against oppression and victimization. The Jesus I love is the one who forgives the despised and persecuted and challenges the privileged and mighty. I embrace Jesus as part of a Jewish prophetic tradition that seeks justice, mercy and peace like an ever flowing stream. Religion should be about making peace, seeking justice and encouraging people to learn how to love and respect each other.
What I deeply regret is not speaking words of love and appreciation for each book I held up. The structure of the humanism of my childhood was built on a Biblical foundation. I learned deep devotion to the divine chanting the name of Allah with the Sufis in the Redwoods of Mendocino, California. Darwin opened my eyes to how beauty can evolve through natural and sexual selection built on random processes. Each book has so much to offer all of us no matter what we believe and don’t believe.
My promise is to become more aware of my childhood anti-Christian conditioning that can sneak through my intentions and have a negative impact. Leah Purcell, our director of religious education and family ministry, is a wonderful partner for me to check this tendency – and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to consult her last week as she was on sabbatical that ends next week.
And I’m not alone. I got many positive comments this past Sunday about what I did with the children, especially by those who were happy for me to confirm their anti-Christian bias.
I look forward to the day when those who are not Christian in our congregation would catch what I did and be just as concerned as the Christians, seeing the harmful impact even though they may not have felt personally offended. When we can be that sensitive and generous with each other, we will be fulfilling the beautiful vision of Unitarian Universalism many of us seek to develop here.