Saturday, July 08, 2006

Being too "Christian"

Periodically, I hear that some people in my church think that (a)I, or (b) the church service or (c) the UUA have become "too Christian." Try as I might to be a good minister, open to input from all, what this accusation elicits in me is exasperation.

Let me just remark that I'm not a Christian, and, while the denomination as a whole has more openly recognized that it has Christians in it since 1980 or, that's not a real change, only an attitude adjustment. But there's no doubt about it, the worship in our churches has changed.

I've asked people what, exactly bothers them, when they say, "This is too Christian," and what they seem to mostly mean by that is either that we take Christian Holidays too seriously (Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve.) or that the church has become too devotional. They don't use that term, I hasten to say, but when given the opportunity to talk about what they don't like, they cite practices which are devotional rather than intellectual, which use a language of reverence rather than the language of academia, and which are liturgical (the work of the people) or ritualistic rather than pulpit or sermon-centered.

We celebrate a couple of Christian holidays, the Jewish High Holy Days, and at least one Pagan/Earth Centered day each year. We celebrate a couple of national holidays (Thanksgiving and Memorial Day), and three or four "Change the World" days, MLK's birthday. Earth Day, Gay Pride, and the UUSC's Justice Sunday. We publicize these special days in advance so that those who don't care for those themes or the traditions they come from can take a Sunday off. It's ok with us if people take days off. It's not so ok with me when people say we ought not to celebrate Christian themes on Christmas Eve or remember the sacrifices of war on Memorial Day. If you can't stand to hear the word resurrection, no matter how it is defined, just say, "I'm going on a walk this morning," when Easter rolls around. But please don't complain about the church being too "Christian" because we celebrate Easter once a year, among many other celebrations.

The devotional aspect of the service is a little harder to avoid, but neither does it last a long time. I know that some UU's don't pray, and that 20 years ago, the fact that some (most?) UU's didn't pray meant that there was never a public prayer offered in worship. That's certainly a change, and change is difficult, but we never pray "Christian" prayers, we never pray "in Jesus' name", so our practice of praying is simply not, "Christian." It could be called (broadly) theistic or simply devotional, but to call it Christian would be seen by Christians as ignorant, and by this minister as "reactive." The addition of prayers and other ritual and devotional practices to our worship has been, in my opinion and the opinion of the majority in the church, a good thing. Nobody has to believe it, nobody has to participate, and it's ok that a minority doesn't like it. Different strokes (and different parts of the service) for different folks. But please, don't call it "Christian".


LaReinaCobre said...

This has come up on my blog before (when I first started it), and one of the things I realized was that although my church is not "christian" anymore, it LOOKS very Christian to this person who had never stepped foot into a Protestant church in her life before becoming a UU.

I don't think that this is what your complaining parishioners are referring to (probably not), but most UU "churches" I know are quite churchy. Roger Kuhrt commented recently on my post UU Cadence about ways to make a UU church LOOK different from what we expect Christian churches to look like.

For my part, I skip the Easter service, but I do attend the Christmas service because it's become a tradition with me and my friends (none of whom are Christian). So I think it's possible to not be Christian and still appreciate the Christian services. If not, these people could be in need of some healing. None of my friends who attend or I are "recovering" or abused former Christians so we are not carrying that baggage with us.

Christine Robinson said...

It is possible...enriching, even, to appreciate the stories and style of Christianity (and Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) even though one doesn't believe all those traditions teach. And you are right that folks who are so hurt that they can't appreciate, or even tolerate, the reminants of the faith of their childhood are in need of healing, not ministerial exasperation. It's a challenge for everyone!

Richard said...

Sometimes I think exasperation might not be a terrible thing. It suggests that there's actually listening going on. Strangely, I belong to the UU church that considers itself "Christian," and we have (wait for it) almost endless debates about the same thing (the universe of the debates is only slightly smaller). People do complain about whether we are too Christian or not Christian enough, ditto with the prayers, ditto with whether there is any meaningful difference between us and any other (liberal) Protestant church, or any other (humanist) UU church, and occasionally (with no justification in my mind) any Jerry Falwell service). We argue about whether we should light a chalice (or if having a stained glass window with a large golden chalice is enough), or if we should have more communion services, or if it's ever okay to end a prayer in Jesus' name, or "change" the words to the Lord's Prayer/Prayer of Jesus, when and if God might be called he.

Rule number one-- no one is ever happy. Rule number two-- someone, somewhere, believes that he or she is having a sacred point of view overlooked because someone else's is included.

I can only tell you that we had a Monday (MONDAY!!) night service once (ONCE!) for Mary Magdalene, and this caused our head deacon to quit on the theory that it was too Catholic because we were praying to saints. I pointed out that we never called her a saint, and that even if we were going to be strict sola scriptura Protestants, all the materials in the worship service were in the Bible.

That wasn't enough. She was a saint (somewhere, even if we don't have "saints" in that sense). We had a worship service about her (so we must have been praying to her, right?). We were turning into Anglo-Catholic Episcoplians (let's leave aside whether this is a good or bad thing, and leave aside that there's a UU church that matches that description).

Did I mention it was service held on Monday?


Kim said...

Richard said, "...believes that he or she is having a sacred point of view overlooked because someone else's is included.

Here is the crux of the matter. No matter how much you say that including someone else doesn't mean your viewpoint is being slighted, many people just don't get it. In a church where everyone's opinion is a minority opinion, we should be better at this. Everyone wants to be the majority opinion, but they don't think so. But what does it look like to be a majority versus minority? No one seems to be thinking it through. If everyone's opinion is a minority opinion, and it is, then everyone will have to be satisfied with a minority of the attention/style in a service, meaning the majority of what you hear/see will NOT APPLY TO YOU! That's what being a minority means. It means MOST of what you see and hear will not be your style. Then, of course, we tend to assume that the one style that bothers us most is now getting the majority of the attention.... It's only human....

boyinthebands said...

Hmm, Richard. I think I've heard of a church like yours.

Braidwood said...

My church is way too theistic. You and my minister should get together.

Actually, I love the Christian traditions around holidays but I think I would walk right out if they started saying, "In Jesus name..."

Personally, I like experiential services and that is what most of the people in my church like. Which is why I think the earth centered spirituality events are so popular at my church.

I am continually suprised at how Christian and theistic the UU discussions on the blogosphere are. I'm really glad my UU congregation is not like that. Although I'm also glad that my church offers vespers for gay Catholics.

Is this whole "UU theology" thing a push by the ministers or what?

Turtle Mountain said...

It will take decades for Unitarian Universalists to evolve and to create this new religion. There are many members who are not UU at all, who voted against its creation, and for whom a creedless religion is a bewildering oxymoron. Our church voted against the merger, for years did not pay its fair share to UUA, and to this day has not changed its sign from "First Unitarian Church" to "First Unitarian Universalist Church." It is Protestant Christian without the committment attached. That is to be expected. Fear and resentment are human, but they mend and change by the third generation.

Steamhead said...

Is this whole "UU theology" thing a push by the ministers or what?

Not likely. From what I've observed, UU ministers are following their congregations in the move to a more theistic practice, or perhaps moving along the path simultaneously. I've seen a lot of older, resolutely humanist, members made very uncomfortable by this move, but the churches I've been in where it happened are growing. Someone is responding to this change, and they're joining our churches.

In fact, if we're going to call them "churches", I think people have a right to expect something that fits into the European Christian tradition. If we're going to offer something radically, different, then we need to come up with a different name for our congregations.

SJD said...

I came to the Unitarian Universalist Church because of its postition on issues I believe are right and fair-like women ministers, open acceptance of gays, no creed rquired and because so many members are searching for some kind of truth. I like being where others are searching. I know I haven't found my answers yet, but at age 73, I am still searching. I don't want to throw our everything about the Christian church. It would be almost impossible to do so as the ideas of Christianity/Catholicism permeates western civilization. It is so much a part of us that we are almost unaware of the way it inserts itself into organizations, ball games, classrooms, novels, magazines and speeches. Even when religion is not the point, biblical quotes are easily spotted everywhere. But in the Unitarian Church, no one says, "Say this creed and accept it all" or you can't be a full fledged member of this church. They say come and join us in a search for truth even if the "truth" we each find is different. That is the best we can do in this spiritual journey that so many of us are on. And I am so glad to be where I can do it without criticism. If some of the service is not what I would choose, so be it. I am still free to complain, go someplace else or accept that there is beauty in the seeking of some kind of spiritutal truth even if it is not my way. So I am grateful for what I receive each week.

Bill Baar said...

I visit our local big box Church and always struck how unChristian it feels... It feels more like a TV studio and when they talk of Christ it's Jesus the therapist and financial guide rather than savoir.

Our UU Church feels more like the Dutch Reformed Chruches of my grandparents and while there is no cross, tradition hangs heavy over the place.

Turtle Mountain said...

Very simply:

Are we - as we advertise - Unitarian Universalist fellowships - or are we Unitarian churches? You can not have it both ways without lieing for political advantage.

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