My experiences and musings recently have caused me to think about what my religious community really is - in theology-speak - ecclesiology: the study of 'church.'
In an evangelical Christian understanding the community is united by faith in Jesus: and a particular understanding of what that means.
In our Unitarian communiy I believe we understand the Divine Mystery as infinitely complex, and can choose to follow whatever spiritual teacher speaks to our condition. Rabbi Jesus remains my primary teacher, but this is not true for all of my fellow Unitarians.
So what unites us? What defines our community? What makes our gatherings of conversation and prayer unique?
The problem can be that very little unites us. Very little call us out to be different from the surrounding society. Often we can be a mirror, or microcosm, of the surrounding world. We are no different from the world outside. There are advantages to this. We are not limited to a conservative agenda tying us to the past, so can keep up with the changes in the relationship between women and men, and understandings of sexuality, and experience of religious diversity. But there are also big disadvantages.
Can you run a church the same way you run a society? I ask the question, because this is what I see happening. We use words like 'freedom' and 'tolerance' but can these things mean the same thing is greater society that they do in a church?
In society I am prepared to tolerate offensive opinions. I am prepared to tolerare racist and sexist opinions in the sense that I don't think people should be arrested, removed from society, just for having those opinions. We should try to convert them, but if we cannot, they should not be removed from our secular society.
But in religious community I think we are called to a higher standard. I think we are called to be more accountable to the damage we do to each other. That is what community means. If someone expresses offensive or hurtful opinions in church then they can expect to be called to account for those opinions, and ultimately I believe could be asked to leave if they are doing real harm to our community. In church our freedom is much more moderated by our responsibilities and our dedication to tolerance is moderated by our dedication to love.
I am beginning to run out of patience with the argument that our Unitarian community's dedication to tolerance means that we have to tolerate expressions of opinions that are deeply out of step with our community testimony. We do not. We must call people to be responsible for words they use that are dangerous and hurtful. This is difficult, very difficult. But we need to do it, with as much love as possible.
If our faith community stands for something, if it exists at all, it must representing a call to a deeper, more loving, more chanllenging way of life. We are called to love each other, and we are called to be accountable, and we are called to listen to the witness of the community. I have no patience with Unitarians being rude to each other, arguing in the letters pages of the Inquirer. We are called to be better than that.
Our lives must preacher louder than our lips.
Whether we like the words 'God' or 'Christian' or not is entirely irrelevant if we do not love each other.