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.


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8:39 am  
Anonymous Mike Killingworth said...

Many thanks Stephen for this piece.

As a lay preacher, I needed some inspiration for an address and your thoughts on "prophetic witness" provided it :)

12:20 pm  
Anonymous No Shaira Law Here said...

I hear of people bearing witness to the views of a Prophet every day, and then some of them go and blow themselves up.

They also believe in a form of radical religion and social justice - exept their version means imposing Sharia Law on everyone.

so what is meant by prophetic witness in your context, please?

What is the difference?

3:06 pm  
Anonymous mike killingworth said...

NSL, if you knew anything about Islam, you'd know that it expressly forbids suicide, arguably in stronger terms than Christianity does.

In another sense, "prophetic witness" means "walking the walk" - and in particular having the humility to accept that Truth may be found anywhere, but that Authority in itself cannot guarantee Truth.

5:52 pm  
Anonymous no sharia law here said...

some people believe it is their islamic duty to become martyrs, and will be rewarded as a shaheed (martyr/witness) they are not committing suicide from their perspective.

"walking the walk?"
what walk?
The Lambeth Walk?

8:41 pm  
Anonymous Bursting Bubbles said...

They're all Dead White Married Men, with a university level education.

This does not inspire me at all living in a modern liberal secular democracy.

10:14 am  
Anonymous mike killingworth said...

NSL, some people believe that owning a fast car allows them to drive fast when it's dangerous to do so. Your solution to that, by analogy, would be to ban fast cars.

"Walking the walk" - as opposed to "talking the talk"....

5:10 pm  
Anonymous no shaira law said...

mk, you are off at a tangent

only you have mentioned imposing a ban as a solution to anything

i haven't

my question was about prophetic witness and radical religion

3:57 pm  
Anonymous bursting bubbles said...

Some observations:

NSL asked what prophetic witness meant in the context of this post, making a strong contrast with some who pursue this activity to the extreme.

Instead I see what I perceive as sarcasm "if you knew anything" and missing the point with the car ban.

What about an explaination of the core message of "we respect other people and their views" and about not imposing our views on them.

Killing to pursue an aim - whether prophetic witness or not - has to be the ulitmate imposition.

4:42 pm  
Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

I agree that we need to move past the Christian/non-Christian debate and start moving towards sharing what it is that inspires and transforms us. We are missing out on opportunities to affect each other.

5:26 pm  

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