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Showing posts from 2013

What does it mean that Unitarianism does not start with an experience of revelation?

Last week on the way back from a few days in the Lakes I stopped by in Kendal to visit the Quaker Tapestry . I found some inspiration in the history of George Fox and the early Quakers, as depicted in the various panels. I was struck by George Fox seeking answers to his questions until his inward revelation that "there is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." As I pondered this I reflected on the differences between Quakers and Unitarians. Quakerism has a more definite and clear story of its beginnings - and I think significantly, Quakerism started with an experience of revelation. In fact most religious paths start with an experience of revelation, major religious traditions, like Islam, and often divisions of religious traditions like Methodism or Zen/Chan Buddhism, begin with some formative, experiential experience of revelation/truth. What does it mean that Unitarianism does not start with an experience of revelation? How does it aff

LOVE IS ... [censored]

OK, this is a weird one, folks. I was wandering around Google street view, as you do, and checking the street view of my church. I could see that is was a relatively new shot as it has our (relatively) new noticeboard on. I zoomed into the noticeboard to get a better look. I recognised that it had the temporary sign up that said, "LOVE is the doctrine of this church" - but what was weird was that everything but the first three words were blurred out. Take a look: Everything else is clear enough on the noticeboard. You see "LOVE is the..." but rest of that looks like it's been deliberately edited out like they do with everyone's faces on Google street view. I can't think for the life of me why anyone would do this. How curious. 

Disappointed in Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams has always seemed like he has the potential to be a great Christian leader. There's a lot of great things about him. But he has disappointed me. He spoke recently about whether he had let down GLBT people in his time as Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. But it actually wasn't this issue that has disappointed me. It was only reading about this talk in an article recently that I realised something that happened several months ago: he has become a member of the House of Lords. I'm quite disappointed in that. A few years he spoke at the University of Manchester and his talk was, of course, excellent. He spoke about the place of the Christian community as offering a radical alternative to the mainstream society - witnessing to a different set of values than the materialism, hierarchy etc of society (this is from memory so I'm just recalling a rough impression of what he said). I got up at the end of the talk and asked a question. I said that I totally

For every child born yesterday

For every child born in Britain yesterday, I wish them a happy, long and meaningful life. I wish them the right to grow up with all the joys of childhood and a stable and happy family life. I wish them the right to privacy as a child and as an adult. I wish them the right to marry whomever they happen to fall in love with. I wish them the right to choose their own religious or spiritual path. The right to be an atheist, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Buddhist or anything else. The right to choose their own vocation, based on their own individual skills and inclinations, to contribute to the world in their own way. The right to choose their own political opinions and the right to vote. The right to choose to be a solider or an anti-war protester. The right to become the Head of State, if they have the skills for that role, and the people agree and vote them in. Is it so crazy to wish that for every child born yesterday? Isn't every child born equal? Shouldn't eve

Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives

Although it's already been out for about eighteen months, I've only just found out I've been published in a book. Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives edited by Loraine Hutchins and H Sharif Williams is a reissue of an special edition of The Journal of Bisexuality . It contains my essay, "Bi Christian Unitarian: A Theology of Transgression." If you've got a spare 85 quid (I know) you can get it from Amazon here .

Reason needs tradition

This is partly a second part of my review of William Murray's book on Religious Humanism , partly an ongoing set of thoughts I've been having for a while. Murray's chapter "The Responsible Search for Truth" talks about the important place of reason in humanism. He writes, "The important thing is to be a reflective and reasonable person who does not accept beliefs as true simply because they are taught or because someone or some group believes them. On the other hand no one can possibly verify everything, so we are all dependent on the results of the work of others." (99) I agree with this entirely but I'm not sure we Unitarians, or religious liberals, have thought about it enough. About 100 years ago some liberals talked a lot about "scientific theology" - and I think there's something to be said for this. So often liberals look to science as a symbol for what they want to do in religion: not rely on received dogma but encourage exp

“Reason and Reverence” – A Ponderous Book Review

The last time I was in the States, five years ago (almost to the day in fact) I bought this book from the Unitarian Universalist Association bookshop on Beacon Hill, Boston: Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21 st Century by William R Murray I glanced at it sunbathing on Boston Common, and have not really looked at it since then, until about a month ago when I started reading it in preparation for a class I was teaching on humanism at my church. So this is just some ponderous thoughts I’ve had while reading it, in reaction to some of the ideas. I have previously on this blog been a bit critical of humanism within Unitarianism, so it was about time I gave it a good hearing. It was helpful to understand how humanism began and grew with American Unitarianism, but I’m still puzzled by how it came to British Unitarianism, there’s a lot I don’t understand about the development of Unitarianism in Britain in the twentieth century. What interests me mo


The Annual Report is out. And for the first time it includes the total number of members of Unitarian churches in Britain. The number is 3468. This number is both small and declining. It's down from 3560 last year. That's a down 92 people, 2.5% in one year. And a drop of 7.5% in the last five years. The membership numbers are not a completely accurate count of Unitarians. One congregation, for example, seems to have failed to report membership numbers this year. The number of Unitarians is probably a bit more than this. But the overall direction is what's most important. Here are the numbers over the last few years: 2005: 3952 2006: 3754 2007: 3711 2008: 3642 2009: 3658 2010: 3672 2011: 3560 2012: 3468 Of course this only tells some of the story. Not every congregation is declining. In fact looking at the numbers 38 congregations are in fact growing, 78 are static and 50 have declined in the last year. It would be more meaningful to look at tho

Are Christians being persecuted? No.

Yesterday saw what was, I think, a pretty sensible ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on the "Christian discrimination" cases. It seems reasonable that people should be able to express their faith, but in a way that is moderated by other issues, such as health and safety. If I say my faith means I have to constantly juggle knives doesn't mean I should be able to do that while being a nursery teacher. Of course some Christian conservatives have been pushing this agenda as part of a "Christian persecution" narrative that bares no relation to reality, but seems to fit with their worldview. It is, though, a bit of an insult to people in other parts of the world who are genuinely persecuted for their beliefs. The attitude, I think, comes from a place of entitlement and privilege. Take the case of a registrar who does not want to perform civil partnerships. Even if you accept the idea that civil partnerships are incompatible with Christian faith (w

"Sharp fall in young ministers"?

That was not the headline yesterday. The headline yesterday was "Sharp fall in young police officers."  And it was about the freeze in police recruitment which has meant, not surprisingly, that there are a lot fewer police officers under 26. What interests me is the assumptions behind this investigation. The assumption is that this is notable, if not regrettable, that we have fewer young police officers. Some people will often say "aren't police officers looking young?" as they will often say to me "aren't you rather young to be a minister?" And yet it seems to be seen as a good thing to have young police officers. My question to the Unitarian community is: when did we see a headline that said, "Sharp fall in young ministers"? There very clearly has been a fall in young ministers, perhaps not sharp, but nevertheless significant. When did anyone notice this? When did anyone think this was worth noticing or regretting? The evidenc

"Respectability" is overrated

This follows on from my last two posts, in a similar, but slightly different tact. As well as moving away from a language about "values" and "diversity" I think what the Unitarian community really needs to do is move away from the pursuit of "respectability." Now we don't talk a lot about "respectability" but I think it nevertheless remains a strong undercurrent in our culture. Again these thoughts are emerging partly out of my study of Unitarian history in Britain. Even since the Great Ejection of 1662 we have been, for the most part "reluctant dissenters." Unlike more radical groups like Baptists and Quakers who took a more principled non-conformist stand, English Presbyterians had a deep desire to remain part of the mainstream, to be an alternative parish church and to work hard to be as respectable and mainstream as the Anglicans. For a while in the early days of Unitarianism there was a more deliberately radical, sectar