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

Why I’m still a Christian

If there is anything that makes some of my fellow Unitarian Universalists more uncomfortable than my military past and probably future, it is my willingness to call myself, both in public and from the pulpit, a Christian. I remember one day in particular that a parishioner in my internship congregation came up to me after a sermon and said “David, wonderful sermon… but you sounded almost like a Christian there at the end.”

I replied, “Almost? Well, I guess I’ll have to try harder then, won’t I?” That parishioner and I had an enlightening discussion in which he realized that though I consider myself a Christian, it was certainly not the kind of Christianity that he had rejected when he left the Catholic Church. I will never forget a few weeks later when the same parishioner came to me and told me he had done some thinking and he was “okay” with my Christianity. What was for him a serious moment of growth was for me one part awe, one part funny, and one part feeling condescended to.

At least he decided he was “okay” with my being both a UU and a Christian. Not everyone is.  Each of the times UU Christians have been called members of a “fringe religious movement within a fringe religious movement”, I think about stones and glass houses within this supposedly non-creedal UU faith tradition.  I have encountered many of my fellow UU’s who find even my use of the title “Christian” for myself mildly offensive. 

To be clear, my Christianity is about as heretical from the mainstream church as it gets… to say nothing about my distance from many of the more conservative iterations of the Christian faith (or the conservative tradition I was baptized in). One of the aspects of my Christian Faith that I find amazing is that when I have private conversations with many mainstream Christian ministers, I find that many believe similar things to what I do… but they often do not feel they can take those stands publically for fear of denominational reaction. I have born witness to private ministerial confessions of doubts of the trinity, to confessions of universal salvation, and to rejection of the resurrection as literal truth. Among the reasons that I am a Unitarian Universalist is that this non-creedal faith allows me to hold publically and prophetically many of these Christian theological “heresies” without fear of reprisal from the formal structures of my faith tradition… even if I do have to have the occasional conversation with a UU who can’t understand why I still call myself a Christian.

A couple of hundred years ago my Christian theology would have gotten me tied to a stake and set on fire, as it did for at least a few of my theological predecessors. Now, I am part of a religious tradition that grants me the freedom and responsibility to go where the theological spirit listeth, to continue listening for the voice of the divine, and to share my theology not in the hopes of conversion, but in the hope of inspiration.

Perhaps it would be best for me to lay out some of what I mean when I say “I am a Christian”. Admittedly, there will be those who say that my theology is either non-Christian or that it is Christian Heresy. In the first case… you are entitled to your opinion, but that’s between me and God. Have a care when you try to speak for God. In the second, I will give you my answer before hand… Thank You! Calling me a heretic as compared to where much of modern Christianity has found itself is high praise, and I revel in it. Unless you make an interesting argument, I will probably not post responses to this article than follow either of these trends. Simply put, I have been down both of those roads and find they do not really lead anywhere.

I believe in the radical unity of God. What I mean by that is that everything in the Universe is a part of God. God is in the air we breathe and the ground we tread upon… in the stars above and the atoms at the heart of all things. God is in us, and through our lives we can give expression to God. When as a child in a Southern Baptist church I “Invited Jesus into my heart” what I really did was recognize that God was always there, always a part of me… and I just had never seen it before.

I believe Jesus was a man, born of a woman (Mary) and a man (Joseph) who walked this earth and taught based upon a deep and profound understanding of this radical unity that is God. He had such a connection with the divine within us and all around us that he connected to other people in ways that were miraculous. The power of that connection to God and to others inspired healing in some, and inspired faith in many. Both Jesus and the people he ministered with understood what was happening through the world-views and religious-views of the time, and that is why many specific details of the writings from that time have to be re-understood in today’s world. But the implications of his connection to God and to others is, I believe, timeless… and has profound implications for our world today. I believe it is that depth of connection that Jesus had with the radical unity that is God that we call “Christ”… and it does not surprise me that some confused Jesus with God because of it.

I believe that to be Christian is to recognize that connection/communion with the radical unity of God that Jesus manifested, and to feel or aspire to that same communion ourselves.

I believe Jesus was a teacher, a prophet, a minister, a healer, a model for life and ministry… and that he had a depth of connection to the radical unity that is God that few have ever come close to, and perhaps no one has ever equaled. The Buddha came close, and perhaps understood that connection better… and many others have experienced it to varying degrees. I have felt that connection to God in prayer, watching a sunset, and holding the hand of someone as they die. However, Jesus did not encompass all that is God… and his essence was that of a man. That man died on the cross… and the resurrection that his disciples witnessed came from the depth of their connection to him. I am sure they experienced him after he died on the cross… in a more profound but similar way to how I continue to experience some those to whom I was spiritually close who have died. This resurrection of Jesus had nothing to do with the forgiveness of sin for the early church, and it has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sin for me. It is simply part of life and the divine… and Jesus is far from unique in that.

I believe the trinity is one attempt to understand the complexity of a God that is all and is in all… and not necessarily a bad one. I would have gone with God the Father, God the Mother, and God the Child myself… or the Progenitor, the Comforter, and the Potential (Has Been, Is Being, Will Be). However, the trinity as classically stated is just another metaphor for a God that is and will always remain beyond human comprehension in its completeness. Anyone who tries to make their image of God more than such a metaphor is, in my opinion, crossing over into the realm of Idolatry. I personally operate with many working metaphors for God… and remember constantly that they are all woefully inadequate to encompass “totality inclusive of time and conceived as a realm of meaning.” In fact, our metaphors about God probably tell us more about ourselves than they do about God. Perhaps the best metaphor for God is the one the Hebrew Scriptures give… “I AM”, or being itself.

I believe whatever happens to us after we die happens equally. This is not to say that I do not believe in Hell, because I certainly do. I just don’t think that Hell is dependent upon our heart to stop beating before we experience it. Millions, perhaps billions of people are walking this earth right now trapped in the grips of Hell. Some are trapped in hells of alcohol and substance addiction, some are trapped in hells of depression, of mental illness, of abuse. I know that those few years after Bosnia for me were like walking through a level of hell, if a mild one compared to others. In depression and suicide research, I have heard a description of feeling that you are trapped a thousand feet deep in a well… so deep that you have no hope of ever seeing the light and cannot even imagine finding a way out. So you just sit down and die.

I contend that the person who feels that depth of hopelessness is in Hell long before their heart stops beating. The idea that Hell is something separate from our human condition on this earth has been used as an excuse not to address the hells that are all around us. Finding your way out of the hells we experience is a religious generic imitrex ingredients imperative not for some afterlife, but for this life. The mission of the Christian church should not be to help people avoid a metaphysical hell after death, but to help people find their way out of the depths of the hells they are experiencing while their hearts are still beating.

Just as I do not believe that Hell is a metaphysical place we will arrive at after death, neither do I believe that the Kingdom (or Realm, in more gender neutral language) of God refers to a metaphysical afterlife. When Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom of God, I believe he was talking about a state of being… about a commitment to peace and justice, a commitment to honoring God, living with the sacred trust of faith, and loving our fellow human beings with depth and compassion. The greatest description I have found of the Kingdom of God to this day (imperfect though it is) is in the Unitarian Universalist Principles, though I know that is not what they thought they were doing when the committee drafted them. In reality, however, the Kingdom of God is a set of commitments and a state of being that, if it comes to fruition in enough lives will become an inspirational spark that will transform the world, transform history, and transform what it means to be human. Many of those “prophets” that have inspired my life, theology, and ministry are those in whom I see reflected the Kingdom of God… Buddha, King, Gandhi, Barton, David, Socinus, many, many others… and of course Jesus of Nazareth. None of them manifested the Kingdom of God perfectly alone, for I believe that we can only truly see the Kingdom when it is manifested by many of us, together in community. For such reason were we called into ecclesia… or to be a church.

What happens after we die will take care of itself… with two caveats. First, I believe that whatever the afterlife is like (and I do believe that we continue even after our hearts stop beating) it will happen for all of us equally. Now, where I am fuzzy on this is that it is possible that what we carry with us in this life, we carry with us in the next. If your spirit is troubled in this life, (if you are stuck in, say, a hell of addiction or of fear) it is possible that you carry those with you. Not that you are stuck with them for all eternity (for I believe that the afterlife is one of change), but that what we experience in this life matters. In this way, there is a reason beyond the beating of our hearts to help people find peace, forgiveness, and love in this world. This is why atonement and redemption matter far more to us as humans in this world than they could possibly matter to God. We seek forgiveness for our trespasses not because God needs it, but because we do.

Second, we should not worry too much about what the afterlife is like… for I believe the radical unity that is God extends even beyond this temporal plane. I do not believe that a loving God leaves any of his children in hell forever… and that we are called to help one another find peace, justice, and forgiveness. In this way, both the “Kingdom of God” and the hells we humans can become trapped in are not metaphysical places we go after we die, but rather realities we experience and can create here on this earth that have the possibility of going with us when we throw off this mortal coil. And, of all the great questions about faith, God, and theology… this is the only one we are guaranteed an answer to, for we will all die.

Now you may notice that though I have made many references to scripture in the New Testament, I have not made any quotes… and that has been on purpose. I believe that the writings that were bound by the 2nd Century Church in the Canon represent a median of that early church’s attempts to make sense of the life and death of Jesus, and to support the building of Christianity as a new religious movement and not a subset of Judaism. The Hebrew Scriptures represent a people’s struggle to understand their relationship to God and to one another. Neither are the Word of God. They are the words of humans seeking to understand God. There have been many such words of humans that seek to understand God, and to the amount that each of them is inspirational to me or to many millions of others, they constitute my understanding of scripture. I do not have to agree with everything I consider to be scripture. I disagree with much of the Gospel of John, and yet it has inspired me to much of what I do believe about God, about Jesus, and about faith. However all such “scripture” is the word of humans attempting to understand God and ourselves.

I believe the “Word of God” is found in the “Creation” itself. When you see the interconnection between the smallest atoms and the largest galaxies, you are seeing the Word of God. When you see the intricate movement of life from microbes to Mammoths, you are seeing the Word of God. When you recognize that for all our differences, we humans and all things are bound together in an “interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part”, you are seeing the Word of God. To believe that mere human words can come to represent all of the totality that is God is, again, to move into the realm of Idolatry.

And as the universe is ever-changing, ever moving, ever growing… so too is the Word of God and the words of humans that God inspires. Even more importantly than a changing growing Universe (and God, for that matter) is the reality that our human understanding of God (and of ourselves) is forever changing and growing. The Canon that humans created can be sealed by the traditional Christian Churches, but the Canon of all that God is can never be sealed. In truth, I believe that the sealing of the Christian Canon was a mistake, and such is one of my many heresies for which I am profoundly grateful I can no longer be set on fire. I prefer new meanings for being “on fire for your faith”.

As God is always changing and growing, as the Word of God is always changing and growing, as Scripture is always changing and growing, as human understanding of all of the above is always changing and growing… so too should part of our ideal be to be changing and growing. To not be changing and growing is to stagnate or decline… and such is a metaphor for death while trapped in a deep well of hell.

As such, even this articulation of my theology and my Christian identity is but a moment in time, and will be developed and revised each and every day of my life. I believe it is not my theology that makes me a Christian, but what I am called to do with that belief… in that I find Jesus of Nazareth as one of the primary models of my life.

I understand my ministry as not being “about” Jesus, but in the tradition of Jesus. I consider him the founding minister in my tradition of being a minister. Now, I hope my ministry will last quite a bit longer than his did… but the combination of a ministry of compassion and prophetic justice, of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and of using the example of living as best I can to inspire others to listen to my words and thoughts about life, the Universe, and Everything is my hope for my ministry. I see in Jesus’ ministry a commitment to the marginalized, to forswearing undue reward and adulation, and to standing up against hypocrisy and injustice. I see in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth a mission to call people to a radical new way of living, of loving, and of being with one another and God, on this earth and perhaps beyond it… and I see him calling our attention to the possible catastrophic consequences of not reforming what it means to be human. I see him dining with “tax collectors and sinners” rather than placing himself on a pedestal. I see him healing the sick and giving hope to the hopeless. It is in that example that I find a calling for life and for ministry… and an acceptance that there are costs for this kind of ministry, perhaps even life itself (not necessarily a metaphor for a ministry in a wartime military.)

It is in all of these ways and more that I am a Christian… and I hope you can see in this theology why there is no religious community I could practice my faith in other than Unitarian Universalism. Perhaps I am on the fringe of the fringe… but I am reminded that this is also where Jesus found himself in his society and culture, and I am content with that. Inspired even…

Yours in faith,


8 Thoughts on “Why I’m still a Christian

  1. Hi, David:
    I enjoyed reading this post very much. I found it in search of UU Chaplain resources for a service we are planning in April. This is the only way I can think of contacting you. Could you please send me an e-mail? If possible, I think you would be a good source of ideas/resources for me.
    UU Fellowship of Mankato, MN

  2. Donald Wilton on Monday March 8, 2010 at 13:21 +0000 said:

    I find it interesting to find another universalist theist like myself even if the tenets of my belief differ from yours. I believe in afterlife, but closer to the military acceptance of the relationship of population pressure to war. One causes the other and I believe that it makes a good cause for defining who becomes a ghost. I can alter my life to put myself into that category, which explains why I’m a member of the local UU church. I think that population pressure causes who survives death. I hope that my alteration of my life in using cognitive behavioral tools fits in with the teachings of the greater leaders like Jesus and Ballou.

    I understand why you feel the way that you do. I have found faith easier to deal with once I accepted life after death since the over-rationalization that I find at the core of Unitarian only thought leaves me out. I have found that the radical inclusion side of the theological debate includes me and includes your thoughts on faith.

  3. Hello all,

    I would like to own a couple of things in this article.

    First, I know the tone of the article is somewhat defensive. That is partially intentional and partially just a place where I am in relation to my Christian identity at the moment. There is an interesting aspect of being a UU Christian, in that you often feel beset from all sides… some of your fellow UU’s question your religious identity, and quite a few non-UU Christians question that identity. I do not think I am alone among UU Christians in feeling that defensiveness… although I’m not certain I intended to show it as clearly as this article does.

    We always have more work to do in learning about ourselves.

    Second, a few of my mainstream Christian ministerial colleagues have commented to me that they have taken some mild offense at the implication I made in the article that my entire Christian theology is heretical. The reason for their offense is that they hold some of the same views as I do (and do so publically) and do not believe those views to be heretical. I agree.

    There are two places in my theology where I beleive I diverge from many of these moderate to Liberal Christian colleagues… and where I should have placed the emphasis. The first is that I do not believe that Jesus had an inherent divine nature. The second is my style of engaging with scripture, including its broad definition.

    I want to thank my colleagues for their engagement… it means the world to me!

    Yours in Faith,


  4. David,
    So glad you’re part of our big UU tent! Delighted that you’ll be a military chaplain! (Wish you could come to our base!) I was raised in Bible-Belt Christian churches and angrily rejected it all as a young adult. Though it’s taken a long time to come back around to embracing the good in the religion of my childhood, thanks to my experiences in a variety of UU congregations I now comfortably add “ethical christian” to my hyphenated religious identity.

    I found so much to relate to in your article (theologically and emotionally), including that feeling of defensiveness you expressed in your follow up post. I hope you’ll find more and more acceptance from UUs and traditional Christians alike. Thanks for sharing with us all.

  5. Donald Wilton on Tuesday March 9, 2010 at 13:38 +0000 said:

    From my readings of the Bible I think that it is possible to infer that there is no divinity inherent for Jesus.I refer to what I think of as his labor status.

    We know that he was a carpenter. At the time carpenters could not physically have trained outside of the union since the nails used were unlike what we know today. We use spikes that are round and have a flat head. At the time that Jesus lived and worked, nails were flat wedges of metal, thin triangles. Nailing such a strip of metal is impossible without lots of training. Only after 7 years of apprenticeship could he have been a carpenter. Further the modern concept of a scab worker was impossible . Since you needed the training, the membership in the union was the proof that you had succeeded as a man and as a carpenter.

    Since we know that he was referred to as a Master, it is logical to assume that he was a Master carpenter, like Norm Abrams of Norm Abrams Workshop on PBS. Calling somebody a Master in common parlance would have been unthinkable in that eras context. This provides some understanding of why he was considered different from the standard preachers preaching new theories (of which there were many). As a Master Carpenter called to ministry from a highly successful career (who retained his title during his career) he had greater status than did the ordinary preacher.

    I also think that this explains the reticence of the Roman Empire to kill him when he got difficult, and the position of Herod. I suspect that Herod was used to strip him of his Master’s title, making the execution by the Romans possible without inciting civil unrest. Killing a Master carpenter would have caused massive protest regardless of his religious positions. With the interference of Herod who didn’t have to condemn him to death (though I know that he knew what would happen to Jesus if he removed his protection), the Romans could avoid massive civil unrest.

    I think that part of the reason for the attachment of divinity to Jesus is that his success permitted his use by the pagan sacrificial rites of the time, the 30 pieces of silver and the ritual hanging by the Judas of himself. The combination of his unprecedented success without execution early on in his career and the pagan ritual nature of his death gave the followers the chance to grow his post death religion bigger than was normal for others who fell into the category.

    My current two cents.

  6. David,

    I am both excited to have a friend in faith and equally sad by our shared experiences.

    As a born and raised (and now Candidate for Ministry) UU, it has been one of the most painful experiences to feel pushed out of my own UU communities when the journey (that they encouraged me to be on) did not lead me where some would have hoped, expected, or are comfortable.

    As I prepare for the MFC next December I sometimes wonder if I will have to defend my faith. I do not like identifying myself as a Unitarian Universalist Christian – for me this suggests that Christianity is not part of our tradition already; it is. I have taken to saying that I am a Universalist. On some days I will say I am a Universalist Unitarian.

    If asked, I explain that my faith begins and often ends in the stories told and lives shared in the Bible and in the guide of Jesus. There is room for other influences which I welcome, but in this, I am a Universalist. That\’s our history and, while I wonder if there is still room for it today, I am hopeful.

    It helps my own journey to hear your thoughts and experiences here too.

  7. Kimberly,

    I wanted to share my experience around being a UU Christian with the MFC… by stating rather clearly that, in my case, it was not an issue. I was pretty clear that my identity includes Christianity, and I was pretty clear in my theology as presented in the theological conext essay and in the sermon that I preached.

    I prepared for questions such as “How can you, from your Christian Identity, minister with Congregations that are primarily non-Christian?” or “What is it in your past that ties you to your Christian identity?”

    Simply put… neither those questions nor anything like them occured in my interview with the MFC. In truth, I got the sense that because I had danced with this issue so much, the MFC felt I had already done my work. Because I came with a fairly well articulated theology that had connections deep within both Unitairan and Universalist history, they were confident on that particular question before I even walked into the room.

    Theologically, they were more challenging on my theology of war, of theodicy, and of the areas that I meld multiple traditions.

    I do not know what your experience with the MFC will hold, (and I wish you all the relief from MFC anxiety in the world) but perhaps it will ease your mind to know that, in my case, my Christian identity was never an issue.

    Yours in Faith,


  8. Thanks, David, for that very interesting article. I have read a few of your other articles in the past (I found you through the Positive Deism forum), and each time I read one of them I find myself so much in agreement. We’re probably not completely in agreement; but then, we ARE two different human beings! We’re close enough as not to make a difference, at any rate. I consider myself Unitarian and Universalist, but not “Unitarian Universalist” if that makes any sense. But I am rather eclectic in my beliefs, so that I find a lot of agreement with various religious systems (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, etc). I think that Gandhi is reported to have said that he was Hindu, and Muslim, and Buddhist, and Christian, and Jewish. I feel the same way. Anyhow, I appreciate your articles; I’ll have to try to visit your site more often.

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