Monday, September 19, 2005

The General Assemby Object

There's been some debate in the Inquirer newspaper about the General Assembly Object. The main part of the Object is this:

'To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.'

After much wrangling this wording was accepted in 2001. This has been controversial. Mainly people have complained about the 'God' and 'liberal Christian' bit. So we're back to the tiresome Christian - non-Christian debate. Sigh.

I'd like to side-step this debate a little and approach this from another angle.

First I'd like to say that it is a good thing to have an 'Object' or something similar. I don't find the word 'Object' very inspiring. 'Seven Principles' is a little pit better, but not much. But I think its worth doing the hard work of saying what we are, as Unitarians.

I think it is very interesting to compare the Object to the General Assembly Council Vision statement, adopted in 1993. This reads:

'Our Unitarian vision is to provide free and enquiring religion through the worship of God, the celebration of life, the service of humanity and respect for all creation. Unitarians will be a leading voice and example of liberal faith in Britain; providing welcoming and growing centres of inspiring worship and inclusive community, enriched by world faith traditions; committing ourselves to prophetic witness and social justice.'

The first part of this is exactly the same as the Object, except for the addition of the 'liberal Christian' bit. But what I find more distressing than that is the dropping of 'committing ourselves to prophetic witness and social justice.' I think if we were centred on that, we would be less concerned with such arguments about words.

We really need to find a better way to deal with our theological diversity. I'm sick of Unitarians snipping at other Unitarians. 'You need not think alike to love alike' said Francis David. That is the centre of our faith, and I feel like we forget that.

I'd prefer to have an Object that said:
'The Object of the General Assembly is:
To promote a liberal and radical religion committed to prophetic witness and social justice, rooted in our own Unitarian tradition and open to the insights of all humanity.'

This is a work-in-progress. But I think the way to avoid the 'liberal Christian' thing is to talk about a religion rooted in its tradition (though not exclusively). I like to say something like this because it starts with what we have in common. We are all Unitarians, in communion with one another, and all those saints that have gone before us. I myself as a theistic Unitarian may consider myself rooted in the teaching of William Ellery Channing and James Martineau. However a humanist may consider themselves more rooted in people like Clinton Lee Scott and Curtis Reese. We are all Unitarians, rooted in our tradition, but some of us choose to be rooted in different parts of our tradition. I think this allows for each of us to be rooted in the Unitarian tradition in different ways. For some people this will mean being rooted in the liberal Christian tradition, but for others it will mean something very different. And however we're rooted, we should all be committed to prophetic witness and social justice.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Elevator speech

As Unitarians, we don't have many religious obligations - but one of them is to work on an elevator speech. Yes it sounds quite American, but "lift speech" doesn't quite sound right. It is an American phrase, presumably from the business world, and I have been made to think about it by reading a sermon by William Sinkford and listening to a sermon by Gini Courter at ConCentric. These are the two most senior people in the American Unitarian Universalist Church right now.

An elevator speech is basically a 30 second speech. You get in a lift with someone, the door closes, and they ask you about your Chalice badge/T-shirt/tattoo. You say, 'It's the symbol of my faith, I am a Unitarian.'
'Oh, what's that?' they say.
You have 30 seconds until they get out of the lift to explain your strange faith. What do you say?

I nearly had this opportunity recently. It was on my flight from Chicago to London. The person sitting next to me asked what I had been doing in the States. I told her I had been going to a Unitarian young adult conference in Iowa. Unfortunately she didn't say, 'Unitarian - what's that?' So I didn't go any further. I didn't want to be pushy, and let's face it the last thing anyone wants is some nutter trying to convert them sitting next to them on an eight hour flight. Anyway she told me she was going on a 'mission' to Africa so I kind of assumed she was well settled in her faith. But then again, you never know.

Anyway, I've been working on my elevator speech. This is what I have so far.

Most Christians believe that Jesus was divine, but Unitarians believe there's divinity in all people, and in some sense all things too. We believe that all people have sacred worth and can reveal religious truth. All people, regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation or religion have inherent worth and something to teach us about God. We believe we should join together in radical communities that work for justice and freedom for all people and the Earth and walk together in our spiritual searches by joining our souls together in worship and our minds together in dialogue.

I encourage you to work on your own elevator speech.