This question was asked me by a parishioner after she read Dr. David Bumbaugh’s article in the most recent issue of UU World. The article is entitled “The Unfulfilled Dream: We Neglected the Universalist Challenge of Restating Our Core Convictions in Contemporary Terms.”
Here is the reply I sent to my parishioner: “Like David, I was a Christian Universalist before I was a Unitarian Universalist. I’m going to answer your question, but I have to back up and take a run at it.
I think Dr. Bumbaugh is right that (in my wording) diversity is sometimes an idol in our movement. The beauty of Universalism is the claim of a common destiny for all human beings. When diversity efforts arise out of that theological claim, they are more authentic than growth-plan diversity.
Here is where I disagree with Dr. Bumbaugh. I think our diversity work already is rooted in the Universalists’ claim of a common destiny for all human beings.
As I see it, every Sunday a Unitarian Universalist congregation is like a model of the whole world. I identify as a Humanist Christian. There are atheists, agnostics, Pagans and Buddhists in my church in Danville, just as there are all these people living side by side in the real world. We come together to celebrate our shared humanity with an eye on the notion, as David Bumbaugh wrote in his article, that “we are all children of the same great love, that we are all fated to a common destiny, that nothing any of us might do will serve to sever us from that great community, and, therefore, there can be no division of the human race into sheep and goats.” When we gather every Sunday, Christians and Pagans, Jews and Humanists and all the rest, we are a snapshot of the result of such a visionary theology.
Now, certainly we fall short of that vision too. When we climb into our pulpits and backhandedly demand allegiance to agnosticism or atheism, we betray Universalist theology. So, too, when we quietly force out one movement or another because they are either ‘too spiritual’ or ‘too atheistic.’ Ours is not an easy theology to practice.
But the question is, can we worship together every Sunday with authenticity? I believe the answer is yes. I don’t think we’re spiritual dilettantes, and here’s why. As a Humanist Christian, I want to hear from my loved ones in other traditions. Their insights will inform me, though I do not need to be on that same path. I have, for example, drawn great insight from Taoist writings and from atheist philosophers. I’m not on their path exactly, and I never will be, but what they have to share helps me in my effort to live authentically. I also have the responsibility to bring what I find in my own tradition back to the congregation. And the congregation has a responsibility not to get a rash every time Jesus’ name is mentioned.
I like being a Humanist Christian as a Unitarian Universalist because it seems important to me to be able to celebrate our shared humanity and hear from others even as we pursue our own spirituality. The struggle is and will be, what do we have in common? What is the theology which brings us together? We have to keep exploring this question.