Boy, this is something I've given a lot of thought to, gone back and forth on.
- To recognize anyone who self-identifies as a UU, as a UU, is too broad for me.
- To refuse to recognize anyone who is not currently a member of a UU congregation, as a UU, is too restrictive for me.
The Potential UU
I met someone recently who self-identified as a Unitarian Universalist. How exciting! We got to talking, and although I found her a fabulous person, who has the potential for being a UU, I would not describe her as being one currently. Why?
* she had never joined a UU church
* she had only visited a UU church once; found that congregation disorganized, and never visited another
* she had never read anything substantive about Unitarian Universalism
* knew nothing of our history or theology
All that she knew was that we were not Christian and had freedom of belief. She also likes New Thought, Unity, etc. I suggested she take that beliefnet test, not because it's a significant arbiter of religious belief, but just as a starting point. Her top was UUism, followed by some of the usual suspects.
So, I believe she has great potential to be a Unitarian Universalist. However, I do not believe she is a Unitarian Universalist.
And on the other side: Unitarian Universalist as Identity
I was born into this religion. Its values are so deeply ingrained in me, they are a part of my identity. Isn't that something we want with our children? Not to raise them in a way that Unitarian Universalism is not merely a choice of churches in the area, but something that becomes part of their DNA, that affects how they see the world, a way of being? Progressive, missional Christianity struggles with this; I think we should, too. What is Unitarian Universalism itself? Is it a system of beliefs/non-beliefs, the club we belong to at the moment, a history, or a way of life?
For my children, for myself, I want it to be a way of life. The Way of Unitarian Universalism.
Then, too, there is this:
Ordination vs. Membership
At some point in the foreseeable future, I hope to be fellowshipped, then ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister. Once I am, unless de-fellowshipped, I am forever an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. Even if I do not have a church, I will be recognized as a UU minister, by other churches, by my colleagues, by our association.
So how can we say that once a UU minister, always a UU minister, but once a Unitarian Universalist ... "well, only so long as you maintain membership in a UU church." ?
Now, balancing back the other way ... there sure is a lot more involved in becoming that UU minister. An M. Div. degree, CPE, internship, numerous gatekeeping functions throughout the fellowshipping process and you're still not an ordained UU minister until a congregation makes you one.
Contrast that with: come forward in a service (perhaps you didn't even have to attend a new member class), sign your name in a book, hear some pretty words (but you probably don't have to state any words of commitment), receive a carnation. Back to your seat, now. You're a member of our congregation and hence, a Unitarian Universalist.
So, do we just leave it like that? Easy in, easy out? No real commitment required from you to become a UU, but your identity as such is just as ephemeral?
I do not attempt to answer here what a Unitarian Universalist is. I will answer what I would like a UU to be. For this, I've thought about other religions -- to be recognized a Catholic, you've gone through rigorous religious education, baptism. To be recognized a conservative Jew, you've gone through rigorous religious education, a test that you must pass, a ritual bath, a ritual circumcision or symbolic blood-letting.
I'm not proposing we embrace the latter.
What I would like to see --
A Unitarian Universalist has:
* Taken classes in Unitarian Universalism: history, theology, polity
* Been encouraged to journal/pray/meditate/study how this fits with their personal journey
* Taken classes that specifically deal with their local church: its history, mission, what will be expected of them, and what they should expect in return.
* Had a one-on-one conversation with the church minister or the membership person (who takes their position seriously) about why they want to join the church, why they want to be a Unitarian Universalist, and how they will live under the church's covenant.
* Joined a Unitarian Universalist church -- both receiving and giving words of covenant and commitment.
Just as when a church ordains me, that ordination will be recognized by other churches, even after I leave the ordaining church, so should the identity of one as a Unitarian Universalist be honored even if one leaves their "conversion" church.
(They still fall under the rules governing membership in joining a different UU church -- still need to learn about that church, its covenant, have the conversation, and go through a joining ritual -- but their identity as a Unitarian Universalist remains in effect until they say, "Nay.")