The General Assemby Object
'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.