Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why do so many people say...

"If only UUism was more theistic/atheistic/Christian/activist and agreed with me, then surely we would have more members?"

I know it's the human urge to think "If only I explained my position well enough, surely everybody would think like me."

But is "rational, good, people can disagree, and often do" really such a difficult concept? Lack of understanding of that seems to be the heart of this issue.

This is one interesting thing about living near an urban area with lots of flourishing UU churches. We have more and less theistic churches, more and less Christian churches, more and less activist churches, and some are more popular than others, but no one category particularly wants for members.

My particular conception of God doesn't work well with theistic services, and I like my activism to be focussed toward charity rather than politics, and it took awhile to find a church to match, but I did. My church is proof that humanist, less political churches can succeed. But all I have to do is drive in to the city to see a Christian UU church and a quite political UU church that are flourishing, too.

Even on the blogosphere, we have UUs who've left because we aren't theistic enough AND UUs who have left because we are too theistic.

The discussions about race and class issues as reasons the church is smaller have a fair amount of truth to them, but I never know what to do about those. I have a strong yen to say "If we're mostly white and educated, can't we just be who we are?" I don't want to exclude people, but I don't want to pander either, and many of the ideas for making ourselves seem welcoming to people with different cultures seem pandering to me.

At the same time, looking at UU churches and a map, it seems clear to me that UU churches of all theological stripes do well where there are lots of wealthy and educated people. So perhaps trying to make our faith appeal to the less wealthy and less well educated would help us grow.

Still thinking about these things.

CC

13 comments:

Bill Baar said...

...many of the ideas for making ourselves seem welcoming to people with different cultures seem pandering to me.

Funny you write this. I just wrote my ministers with a few examples I thought especially embarrassing.

It would be humiliating to invite friends from one of the targeted groups to Church, and then have them discover they were objects to enrich my life with their difference. I'd hate to think workmates or neigbors would feel I consider them as anything other than friends, or colleagues.

kim said...

If we made UU more comfortable for less-educated, working class people, would it then become less comfortable for highly-educated professional types? Is it possible to make it comfortable for everyone? Culture is made up of so many little subconscious things, that how would we ever catch all of the things that make one group comfortable and another uncomfortable, if we did decide to change them?
I have a friend who claims to just LOVE diversity of cultures: I think she likes diversity of clothing and food but wants everyone to agree with her worldview. I don't think that's unusual, not because they're bad or selfish or bigoted people, but because our own worldview is invisible to us, because it's the filter we see the world through, and it's transparent and seems self-evident to us. It's not so easy to change something we can't see.
After all, this invisibility of our own filters is exactly why we NEED programs and workshops and courses to eradicate our own prejudices. UUs do those workshops. We have anti-racism workshops and anti-homophobia workshops, and general "ism" workshops.
So, where is the line between trying and pandering?

Robin Edgar said...

:Why do so many people say... "If only UUism was more theistic/atheistic/Christian/activist and agreed with me, then surely we would have more members?"

Well there's this thing called "market share" CC, so it stands to reason that since the American religious "pie" is overwhelmingly theistic and Christian, U*Uism probably would have more members if U*Uism was more theistic and Christian. That being said, U*Uism would probably have more theists and Christian-oriented Americans if it at least had the decency and common sense to deal forthrightly with the anti-Christian and more broadly anti-religious intolerance of the fundamentalist atheist faction of "Humanist" U*Us. Does that sound logical to you?

Bill Baar said...

Kim...just treat people with respect...don't worry about their education levels or what not... treat everyone with respect... not as objects to enrich you because they're different.

Chalicechick said...

(((Well there's this thing called "market share" CC, so it stands to reason that since the American religious "pie" is overwhelmingly theistic and Christian, U*Uism probably would have more members if U*Uism was more theistic and Christian.)))

Maybe. You are leaving out the concept of "Market Saturation," though.

I pass five Christian churches on my way to work alone. That's five places where theists and Christians can go if they want to and feel welcome as theists, just on my way to work. (A local Congregational church, Lutheran, Presby, Mormon and Baptist, if you're curious.)

I want theists and Christians to be able to come and feel welcome in my church, too. (And they presumably do. The last survey I saw showed that slightly over half the members of my church were theists. That's hundreds of people. Adult RE teaches multiple bible study and Christianity classes every school year.)

At the same time, Christians and theists have a lot of places to go.
And the Christian UU church close to me is actually smaller, despite its clear welcoming of theists. So yeah, I reject the notion that making ourselves more theistic would necessarily mean a big improvement in our numbers.

Besides, congregationalism is what we do. I like knowing there are different UU churches for people looking for different experiences. If I wanted a more traditionally Christian church, I know which church I'd go to in my area. If I want a pagan experience, I know where to find that, too.

Why would we want to replace that diversity by becoming one more Christian church in an area that already has plenty?

CC

SC Universalist said...

I drive a half mile to work and pass 6 Churches, NONE of them welcome my theist and Christian views. Even back when Universalists and Unitarians called themselves strictly Christians, they weren't welcomed by other denominations - and those same U and U views 200 years later later would find tough going in most Christian Churches.
I'm not saying that we need to make UU more in tune with my views (although I probably wouldnt object too loudly if yall wanted to do that) - but let's keep in mind that there are plenty of UU theists who have no other place to go either.

PG said...

Speaking of marketing, did you see the WaPo article on how "Baptist" has become too toxic a brand for churches that are not politically conservative?

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks for saving me the trouble of pointing out to CC that no shortage of theists, and a certain number of Christians, cannot in fact "fit in" to the Christian churches that she passes on her way to work. I think CC is out-of-touch with some of the realities of the U*U World as a result of living in a major metropolitan area where there are more than a small handful of U*U churches available to attend.

"I like knowing there are different UU churches for people looking for different experiences. If I wanted a more traditionally Christian church, I know which church I'd go to in my area."

Right. . . And what about people looking for "different experiences" , to say nothing of acceptance of theists, in those many places in the U*U World where there are only one or two U*U congregations within reasonable distance?

:If I want a pagan experience, I know where to find that, too.

In some parts of the U*U World you might have to cross a few state lines to find a U*U pagan experience, or a Christian-oriented one for that matter. . .

For the record I did not state that U*U churches should be more Christian-oriented. I suggested that they should be less anti-Christian and anti-theistic. there is a difference.

moreover said...

I recently read (and highly recommend) the book by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi: The Great Derangement. One part deals with how he went undercover and joined a hugely successful if ideologically evil Texas megachurch. What fills these pews? 1) People are (as sociologists can prove) lonely and disconnected on an unprecedented scale. 2) They hurt. Financially, emotionally, they suffer from evil jobs, endless commutes, they have little life outside their consuming drudgery. Addiction also figures prominently.
These churches are effective, Taibbi writes, not because of their often ludicrous ideologies but because the offer real support in those areas of affliction. They are also good at retaining folks because they form small groups inside their larger settings (sometimes called 'tribes') where people get connected through bible study etc with a regular subset of the same few people. It combines the pleasure of being part of a large group or movement (the stadium effect) with the joy of really getting to know well a few people who embark on the same journey.

So I guess if a church wants to grow it must first make a visitor feel welcome as a person and then have a mechanism where s/he gets involved and makes lasting acquaintances. I'm told that nowadays most visitors have long checked out a church online (read sermons, been to belief net etc). So their question is: Are these my people? and not: Do they believe what I believe. A genuine welcome should be able to work across cultural and ethnic divides. But those remain strong hurdles.

Chuck B. said...

I agree with you moreover!

Now forgive for getting a little annoyed here, but....

The language against inclusion that's going on here sounds very similar to the arguements that racists have made against integration. Usually the smarter ones don't start with the sterotypes, they make insincere arguments about the percieved "discomfort" of minorities or how they "shouldn't have to change" in order to promote inclusion: an argument for defacto racism.

Now that kind of attitude is pretty repulsive, in general, but to argue that when we are talking in the context of faith and religiousity of a religion that promotes to stand on the side of civil rights and inclusion is down right disgusting.

This still is the faith of Viola Liuzzo, last I checked.

Are we talking about a religon or a country club? I mean if this is a private club then fine. If not, then maybe the members who are so uncomfortable with active inclusion have a diffierent interpretation of our principles concerning parts
1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
7 )Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Now an argument that you can follow those ideas and still be exclusive is about as irrational as the reasoning in Pleassey v. Furgesson, and also about as anti-UU.

Maybe those who are so uncomfortable would be best served by joing the World Church of the Creator. That group would certainly agree with their positions on not welcoming those who are not white.

Its really a sad day that there are those UU's who would even hint against actively seeking such diversity.

Chalicechick said...

(((Usually the smarter ones don't start with the sterotypes, they make insincere arguments about the percieved "discomfort" of minorities or how they "shouldn't have to change" in order to promote inclusion: an argument for defacto racism.)))

I don't know if this makes me one of the dumber ones, but I didn't make either of those arguments.

I've seen enough clumsy UU attempts to reach out minorities, be it gay people wigged out by "Welcoming Congregations" or African Americans confused that we felt like we had to celebrate Kwanzaa, to be concerned. I'm wary about "reaching out" unless we're really sure we know what we're doing, and not at all sure that we do.

It all reminds me of how when George Allen was running for one of my state's Senate seats, his campaign had a celebration they called "ethnic day."

I don't mind making changes if they would actually help people feel comfortable as opposed to making us feel better about ourselves for having tried. My own experience is that much of what churches do even just to reach out to visitors sort of scares me. I've never picked up a yellow mug in my life.

CC
who gets that on the whole, the "welcome to my church, let's make small talk, come meet my friend" routine helps people feel welcome and that she's in the minority on that one. But she's not at all sure that the gay/minority/low-income folks who see us fuss about how welcome they are and wonder if we're looking at them as a person or a demographic don't have a point.

Bill Baar said...

That hour at Church each week is my most culturally homogeneous.

Work, shopping, a night class, everything else in metro chicago means rubbing shoulders with a much more diverse crowd of folks.

Go next store to Wheaton Illinois and Wheaton College and you'll find a center of relgious publishing and they're doing translations into all sorts of non European languages. Look at those signs in front of the Churches and you'll see services in all sorts of languages (not just Spanish).

One thing the Evangelicals do, that we don't do much, is learn to speak those languages.

Mark K. said...

This is something I've never really understood how UUs can grapple with effectively.

I'm Christian, and my denomination is now Metropolitan Community Church because I was tired of "my people" being accessories in liberal mainline churches. The same happened to other folks who were different kinds of minorities in a particular congregation, so I wouldn't blame African Americans or people who are poor or whomever for choosing to avoid that also. For myself, I deal with the situation better now that it's an ecumenical question for me instead of a fraternal one.

I have a theology of the Body of Christ that guides me in that, though: different members of the same Body, called to gather in specific places at specific times, yadda yadda. I haven't seen a functioning analogue in UU thought...which to my eyes makes it seem like congregational dynamics must be one even larger, messier minefield, because all the blame and credit go the individuals involved.

(As an aside/postcript, I have always been darkly amused that white, educated churchgoers always see diversity as "how do we get 'them' to come here?" instead of, you know, going over to where "they" already are. Street runs both ways...)