Skip to main content

Called Out

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.


Anonymous said…
It is all well and good promoting freedom and tolerance but as you say, there is a limit.

However, when defining that limit, the power will lie ultimately with those who are offended and those with the position to do something about it.
Bill Baar said…
Can you give some examples?

Of what should be called out?
Anonymous said…
Satanism? Fascism?

Not these even exist within Unitarianism.

Liberal ramblings?
PeaceBang said…
I'll answer for myself, in case Stephen doesn't want to. Some things that should be "called out" in our congregations: Catholic-bashing, smug self-righteousness and claims of uniqueness that are based in ignorance and willfull misunderstanding of other religious traditions, sexism, backstabbing, snide, half-veiled homophobia, nasty politics and dirty play around money and church assets, unkind, voiced assumptions about people's motives... are you all telling me that the only thing way for a Unitarian to sin is to dabble in SATANISM or FASCISM? You don't think we have our own liberal fundamentalism and fanaticism? And other besetting sins?
PeaceBang said…
Stephen, I also wanted to mention that I've been working on a sermon about Love as a primary value even over Freedom, and you've helped me shape my thoughts. Thanks.
Robin Edgar said…
Well said Stephen.

Needless to say I concur. . .

Popular posts from this blog

From liberalism to radicalism

I've been reflecting recently on the journey I've been making from liberalism to radicalism, and how I'm beginning to see it as a necessary evolution if you're not going to get stuck in a kind of immature liberalism that fails to serve both you and the world. By liberalism I mean ideas and movements that emphasise personal freedom and not being restricted by the patterns of the past. By radicalism I mean ideas and movements that emphasise justice, solidarity, and liberation from oppression. Yes, I'm using broad categories here. Let me give an example. Let's talk about sexual liberation in a Western context for example. We can talk about women getting more agency over their bodies; gay and bi people being able to have sex with one another and marry one another; we can talk about the work of overcoming shame around sexuality. All of that is liberalism. It's good stuff. It's still ongoing. So we might ask the question "where next for sexu

Am I an activist?

  I remember being at some protest outside the Senedd once, and someone introduced me to someone else, and said, "Stephen is an activist." I remember thinking - am I? I don't know. What does it mean to be an activist? Who gets to use that title? Am I an activist because I turn up at a few protests? Or do I have to be one them organising the protest to be an activist? Do I have to lead? Do I have to do the organisational work to be an activist? Because the truth is that since I moved to Cardiff I have kept myself at the periphery of a lot of activist groups. I go to meetings, I hear about things, I turn up at protests, but I have rarely got really fully involved. Why is that? It's not for the reason that I don't have time. I do, in fact. But often I sit in these meetings and protests and think "Is this effective? Is it worthwhile? Is it going to produce something at the end of it all that is worth the effort?" I suppose, coming from the world of church I

LOST and theology: who are the good guys?

***Spoiler alert*** I'm continuing some theological/philosophical reflections while re-watching the series LOST. One of the recurring themes in LOST is the idea of the "good guys" and the "bad guys." We start the series assuming the survivors (who are the main characters) are the "good guys" and the mysterious "Others" are definitely bad guys. But at the end of series 2 one of the main characters asks the Others, "Who are  you people?" and they answer, in an extremely disturbing way, "We're the good guys." The series develops with a number of different factions appearing, "the people from the freighter" "the DHARMA initiative" as well as divisions among the original survivors. The question remains among all these complicated happenings "who really are the good guys?" I think one of the most significant lines in the series is an episode when Hurley is having a conversation with