Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology


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Understanding the difference between representing your beliefs and representing Unitarian Universalism.

One of the first challenges I faced in learning how to respond well to THE QUESTION “Just what is Unitarian Universalism” (asked most often by my more conservative Christian colleagues) was learning to separate with authenticity my own beliefs from my understanding of Unitarian Universalism.

This is one of the primary obstacles that we face in introducing others to liberal faith, and in my experience if it is not handled well it can be misleading and disrespectful of our liberal faith tradition. It is also the place where I have found I am most likely to “lose” the interest of the conservative Christian questioner, and be dismissed as something too “weird” or “cultish”.

Simply put, the idea of a religious faith based in covenant (sacred relations) and not in creed (codified beliefs), or the idea that liberal faith is how you come to your beliefs and not the beliefs themselves, this idea is so alien to many of the people asking THE QUESTION, in my experience, that I might as well have just said that I am a Klingon. That is understandable, because it is sometimes hard for those sitting in our pews to accept that the beliefs they personally hold so dearly are not Unitarian Universalism.

So, one of the early steps in being able to answer THE QUESTION is to look really closely at what you personally believe, what Unitarian Universalism is to you, and where the two connect, cross, parallel and diverge. There are some resources that can help you with this, and if you are interested I can share them with you. Also, speak to your minister and others and hear their answers. One of the keys to understanding our UU liberal faith movement is to realize how different, and how similar our answers to THE QUESTION may be.

The second step is to listen to very closely to the question that is being asked, and being very clear about what question you are answering. What I have learned to do is to ask the questioner, “Are you interested in hearing about my personal beliefs about life and God, or are you interested in learning more about the liberal faith movement of Unitarian Universalism?” I have realized that just by asking this clarification question, I have in a subtle way begun to introduce Unitarian Universalism, and for many questioners I will already have blown their minds. The idea that there is a distinct different answer between what I believe and what my religious denomination/association/movement is all about can be shocking. It is a good attention grabber.

By laying out these answers as separate possibilities for discussion, I often get them to ask to hear about both. As I am passionate (and even a little evangelical) about both questions, having that door be opened by the questioner for them is wonderful, while still respecting what they have entered into the conversation for.

Being prepared for both questions requires that, long before THE QUESTION is asked, I needed to do some serious discernment and differentiation in my own beliefs and faith journey. As we continue with this series, I will share the answers to THE QUESTION that have come from that discernment, and the differentiation between my own beliefs and the faith movement that has given me the tools and foundation to discover them. That discernment and differentiation continues, and I hope it always will. Learning how to answer THE QUESTION well is in itself a voyage of spiritual discovery.

Yours in Faith,


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One Thought on “THE QUESTION (Part 2)

  1. Patrick McLaughlin on Friday September 26, 2008 at 16:48 +0000 said:

    This is–more or less–the subject I preached on July 20 here at my home congregation, under the title “Wrong Question.”

    I offered this;
    What I believe and what you believe is interesting. We Unitarian Universalists help each other figure out what we—individually—believe. But we accept that our beliefs are quite diverse because as long as those beliefs encourage us and help us to be in the ways that we are committed to, and to act accordingly, they’re all acceptable in our congregations.

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