THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INDEPENDENT AFFILIATES
Recent UUA Board actions in regard to the independent affiliates of the UUA were a lively topic of informal discussion at the 2007 GA in Portland. Information from several sources is summarized here, including especially the Board activity reported in the UUA Annual Reports 2007 and www.uuworld.org reports. This topic will be revisited by the UUA Board at its October 2007 meeting.
A “Congregations Come First “ initiative proposed by a team under moderator Gini Courter aims “to explore ways to remove organizational obstacles to congregational health and vitality”. One of these obstacles was considered to be “that our congregations are not served by Independent Affiliates operating in isolation or being an alternative for congregational life” (both quotes are from Annual Reports 2007, pp.2-3), so they are all forced to reapply for their status. The letter which was sent announcing this move to the leadership of the Independent Affiliates of the UUA by Paul Rickter as UUA secretary can be found at http://www.uua.org/aboutus/governance/boardtrustees/letters/26969.shtml ; it makes clear that from the first the intent was to withhold independent affiliate status from many of the existing organizations. After the decision that Independent Affiliates must reapply for that status, the Board discussed conversations with organizations which wish to (re-)affiliate with the UUA.
The significance of the Independent Affiliates controversy is not obvious at first. To portray their role schematically, let us consider the external organization of the UUA as a vertical branching diagram, in which branching takes place from a node at the top of the diagram, representing 25 Beacon St. The first branching is from the central office to the districts. The second branching under each district divides it into congregations (in most places the significance of cluster organization is so limited that clusters are ignored here). Under each congregation there is a final branching for individuals. The main information flow is vertical; in fact, it is mainly downward, with much less information going from congregations to the districts and the central office than comes downward from the central office. In some senses, of course, since congregational decisions depend on available information, such information flow is closely related to control relations.
Many UU congregations function in isolation, and the involvement of most members does not go past the immediate congregation. On the other hand, for those members whose interests pertain e.g to a particular area of religion, religious philosophy, international activity or association, we can picture a second sort of connection which may be considered as horizontal. These members often are vitalized by connections to others, mostly inside but also outside the UUA, on such special topics as humanism, Christianity, Jewish heritage, Buddhism, etc. About sixty such horizontal connections exist in practice. These topics are served by what from the UUA central office point of view are known as the Independent Affiliates. Although they are not all of equal interest to everyone, they provide an important part of the theological richness and ideological diversity of modern Unitarian Universalism. They offer an affiliation between individuals which is distinct from and not controlled by the vertical central stem of information flow.
For an example of the role of the Independent Affiliates, let me take the case
of a liberal Christian who finds himself in a UU congregation in which there is little interest in that orientation. (For clarity, the present writer has never been a member of a Christian church, but speaks rather from his observations of membership patterns.) That person, cast entirely on his own resources and those of a minister if there is one, can either shift to another UU congregation which is more oriented to Judeo-Christian tradition, search with little guidance for external connections, or remain frustrated and isolated from the sort of liberal religious connections which he has probably already left a Christian congregation to search for. The existence of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship provides connections, publications, specific UUCF events at GA and elsewhere, internet connections to discussion groups and blogs, connections to UU Christian ministers, etc. The possibility of such a diverse religious and ideological network across congregations, now under attack, has been a strength of modern UUism.
Unitarian congregations have offered the community aspects of the connections inherent in the maintenance of a congregation and its activities, which might be seen as local horizontal connections, and the input of local ministers can leaven local resources by pointing members towards UUA and external resources. The more distant horizontal connections have provided religious and intellectual associations of a richness and variety which only the largest local congregations can provide. This sort of multiple connectedness is one of the more attractive aspects of UUism, in contrast to hierarchical religious groups in which the flow of decisions and doctrines is exclusively vertical and downwards. Where the more distant connections are weakened or even abolished, the religious, intellectual, and ideological connections that draw thoughtful people into association are weakened. Such weakening of the horizontal connections approximates the UUA system to a vertical hierarchical one which most members have already rejected in their decision to join a Unitarian-Univeralist congregation.
. The decision of the Board of Trustees that each of the independent affiliates loses its status and must apply for reaccreditation is not pro forma. Until renewed recognition is acquired, none of these organization is recognized by the UUA as an affiliate organization. However, those organizations already enrolled in a UUA benefit program remain enrolled through December 2008. Only two out of the seventeen applicants which had requested independent affiliate status at the April 20-22 Board meeting in Boston were granted such status, the Council of Unitarian Universalist Camps and Conferences, and the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (see Jane Greer’s article in http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/23524.shtml for May 7, 2007). On June 25, two more independent affiliates were granted affiliate status. These were DRUMM (Diverse and Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries), and Universalist Convocations, a consortium of Universalist conventions. Associate status was granted to the UU Women’s Federation, the UU Service Committee, and the UU United Nations Office. The applications of the Partner Church Council, the UU Ministry to Earth, and the UU Small Group Ministry Network were tabled for consideration in October.
It is striking that not a single organization which focusses on religious or ideological aspects of UUism has been approved. Tom Stites notes in his report of the present status of this decision that these organizations thus lose the ability to arrange GA workshops, to gain recognition by listings in the UUA directory, and to have discounts for advertising in the UU World, as well as other benefits. See his report at http://uuworld.org/news/articles/31344.shtml A summary of these events is provided by T.S. in the fall 2007 UUWorld at p.53.
This action of the UUA threatens to weaken the independent intellectual streams in modern UUism. Some of the formerly affiliated organizations will adapt, others may die. For anyone who is not comfortable with my presentation of this conclusion, many of the above arguments, and other related ones, have been developed in a different way in a series of blog-posts by a Massachusetts minister (LT) at the address http://www.thelivelytradition.blogspot.com, in the posts with the titles (in reverse chronological order, as is usual on blogs) “One Meaning of the Independent Affiliate mystery” on June 7, “Serving Congregations?”, “It does not follow”, “More on the IA Mystery - Going a Little Deeper”, “Why the Independent Affiliate Mystery matters”, and “The Independent Affiliate Mystery”, which includes a list of the rejected organizations as of that date, and the form which organizations had to return in reapplying for independent affiliate status. On July 5, LT posted two later comments stating one hypothesis about the target in these proceedings, which indeed was suggested in private discussion at GA.
As stated in the preceding summary of Board activity, the Board’s actions have been rationalized on the ground that they will better serve congregations. This is a specious argument, as has been well argued by The Lively Tradition’s posts. Actually, the opposite is true, since the Board’s actions will make it more difficult for congregations to receive input from religiously diverse UU sources. At the present time, a weakness of the independent affiliates is that they are not well known to those who do not attend GA, so that they do not develop as extensive participation as they potentially could have. The independent affiliates are capable of providing a much richer leavening of religious diversity and information to UU congregations than has in general been available. For this reason, the existence and activity of especially the religious units among the independent affiliates should be made better known to congregations, rather than weakening their connections to the UUA.
a minor point (maybe), but IAs have allways had to be re-certified every year. that's not new.
This is a different sort of process, since it was clear from
the first letter sent to the IAs that not all applications would be accepted, and the rate at which any have been has been glacial.
My friends in Cola say it is miserably hot down in SC now. Good luck in cooling off.
Thank you for stating much more clearly what many of us were attempting to say. The lack of any theological focus you refer to is what I am upset about. Maybe I am, as people tell me, paranoid to read this as another attack on we irrational God-talkers, but it sure feels like that to me. Every day, it feels more and more like there is a second, silent clause to the sentence "We have no creed", "... and YOU better not have one, either!"
Thank you for your comment, Joel. I hope that you have seen Chris Walton's review of a work on liberal theology in the fall UU World. Chris includes important comments on the neglect of theology in the modern UU movement. I chose to focus on the religious IAs because they seemed
most central; many of the others also have important roles.
I don't really see how the UUA argument that it serves the congregations is specious. The UUA wasn't invented to manage a bunch of independent affiliates and isn't well organized to do so. Many groups functioned fine before becoming affiliates and will function fine afterwards. Losing affiliate status will hardly change anything for the groups I've been involved with, some of which are theologically-based. I don't read any theological attack into this action whatsoever, and considering the range of orientations represented among the decision-makers, it would be difficult to pin down which theology was under alleged attack.
People also speculated, absent any real data, that this was a move against the small band of polygamists. I.e. that it wasn't theological at all, but motivated by social mores. A case can be spun for either of these two different accusations, but not one that is currently convincing to me. I'll stick to Occam's Razor: the UUA's purpose is to support congregations, not independent organizations, and the realization finally dawned that they were diverting a limited supply of resources and attention away from the one toward the other. I'll change my mind when someone on the decision-making team steps forward and says that anti-theology/anti-polygamy was a deciding factor (or a memo to that effect turns up). Until then, we're just feeding our various paranoias and complaints with speculations and conspiracy theories, absent any actual convincing data.
I think the comparison to hierarchical organizations is suspect. The UUA is not trying to eliminate theological and ideological discussion. If anything, it is saying that it has no real place in the particular discussions and that they should take place under some other rubric than the UUA, which is designed to assist congregations. UUs who wish to carry on such discussions are welcome to create their own organizations--something that we have ALWAYS DONE--and there are no repercussions whatsoever for doing so. The UUA will not excommunicate people who participate in independent UU organizations that discuss Buddhism, Neo-Paganism, Christianity, Humanism, etc. It won't fine congregations that allow such groups to meet in their buildings or sue organizations that use the title "Unitarian-Universalist" in their names and publications. There is no witch-hunt afoot. These conversations have always taken place outside of the UUA (as well as, at times, within it), UUs have always organized themselves in ways outside the UUA, and the UUA is hardly synonymous with UUism. The UUA is just one bureaucratic institution designed to serve UUism in a particular way, not the Vatican of our religion.
I don't want the day to come when the UUA is somehow in charge of UUism. If anything, I'm happy enough to see the affiliates maintain their separateness. To me, THAT is what assures theological diversity in UUism--the inability of the UUA to do a damn thing about our activities in CUUPS, UUBF, UU Christian Fellowship, etc. As long as the independent affiliates are ill-fitted into the fundamentally congregational structure of the UUA, they are at risk of undue influence by the UUA. If anything, this is a devolution, not a flexing, of power on the UUA's part as they give up any oversight of dozens of potentially competing organizations. Both parties are probably better off without each other.
Jeff W. - You make some important points, not all of which I can address at this time. Your argument would be stronger had the UUA not eliminated IA participation in the workshops at GA. The positive effect of the IAs depends on their visibility, which has been small. To make it more expensive for them to maintain visibility and a presence at GA will be something that some IAs can deal with, but will eliminate the participation of a number for which the expense is excessive.
LF, I agree that some groups will be hurt by their decreased role in GA (as well as favored access to UU World). This move does contain some negative implications for all IAs (not just the theological ones), and you're right to point that out.
I just don't think that loss of GA/World privileges is a sufficient reason for the UUA to have maintained the IAs, nor do I think it is sufficiently punitive for such an action to be part of a hidden conspiracy to reduce theological discussion in the denomination. The loss of privileges is a blow but I don't think a fatal one, at least for the majority of IAs; for those that do die out, well, all I can say is that it isn't the UUA's job to protect them (or, at least, that isn't how the UUA understands itself). If the UUA wanted to squash theological discussion and extra-UUA organizing, surely trying to gain a much firmer hold on the IAs would be in order, or, conversely, much more aggressive measures to destroy such groups. Merely saying "we don't think you're part of our mandate, you'll need to stand on your own feet" isn't exactly a stand-out in the history of religious persecutions.
Actually, everyone does get hurt a little in this scenario, including the UUA. The IAs lose some privileges and will have to develop ways to make up for them. I don't think this is an impossible task: many IAs have flourishing newsletters, email lists, local and national groups and meetings, and so on. Some have budgets that will allow them continued access to UU World, while others will have to be more creative. I suspect there are ways of brokering agreements with the UUA to hold events and host displays at GA.
The UUA, meanwhile, is subjected to a roasting by disgruntled members of IAs--perhaps a majority of the denomination at this point. Conspiracy theories run rampant and the UUA drops a notch in everyone's estimation, developments that the UUA surely foresaw (UUs are nothing if not predictable in our ability to rise righteously to the occasion and discover how powerful institutions have trod upon our sacred rights).
Personally, I find the specter of loss of GA privileges over-rated: the number of UUs who attend is a fraction of the denomination and I wonder how many solid members IAs really pick up annually at the event. As for visibility as a way of influencing the internal UU debate, I think that's a good point. This is something that groups will have to adapt to, but it strikes me as an opportunity for innovation. Maybe an umbrella group really will emerge like the UUA hoped, with more established IAs tutoring newer ones on methods of advertisement and recruitment, while newer, hungrier ones come up with innovative strategies that older, more sedate IAs can appropriate. I'm not sure how likely this is, but it does exist as one possibility if enough people see the value of it.
Last point: the groups MOST likely to weather the storm of GA exclusion are precisely the theological ones, both because most of them are sizable and because they have reasons for organizing (i.e. common theological interests) that are compelling and create in-group cohesion. Lack of GA privileges isn't going to cause the dissolution of UUBF, UUCF, CUUPS, etc. The UUA leaders surely know this--after all, most of them are themselves MEMBERS of IAs, including assorted theological ones. So the argument that this is an assault against theological groups seems very shaky to me.
Jeff, I thank you for your comments, some of which are very well taken and would have caused me to write otherwise at points if I had had them before posting. I don't think either of us can read the Board's mind. Your interpretation is weakened, however, by the fact that the Board did not decide to let all IAs stand on their feet.
What is happening is a selective process; some applications have been accepted, others rejected, some we don't know about, and the process at the present rate could take years. Some of the presently disqualified groups are even substantial sources of financial support for UU activity. A number support UU professionals in important ways. This process has not been well thought out or managed. I hope that the
Board will reconsider it at the October meeting.
You're right that the decision to let a few IAs remain does complicate the situation, although--because of the nature of the ones that have been allowed in vs. those on the outs--I don't think it weakens my primary argument: that it's difficult to accurately paint all this as an attempt to shut down unwanted theological discussion/religious practice. But we're indeed unable to read the minds of the board and we'll need to wait for further developments before we can tell for sure exactly what is going on. It's certainly something I'm very curious about and I hope we get a better sense of it with time. And, whatever conclusions or speculations we wish to support at this moment, I think we can probably all agree that things CERTAINLY could've been handled better. . .
Two points, Jeff- first, how much of a drain were the IAs on the UUA staff, that they needed to be weeded? It seems to me that all Boston had to do was read the application, and rubberstamp it "approved" or "disapproved". "Management" of the IAs wasn't required.
Second, recognition of the IAs grants exactly that- recognition. When UU ministers publish essays declaring the "death of God", and that faith-based religion lacks intellectual rigor, believers question their welcome. It's nice to have SOME indication that the ridicule one frequently receives when speaking of a supernatural Divinity is not official policy.
Jeff, I discussed the religious groups because I think they have something special to contribute to the congregations and to the organizational structure of UUism. The current mess makes it more difficult for them to do it. My main argument is that the result of the Board policy is negative, not that it was planned to be what it is. The same is true for other IA groups such as the UU historical and professional organizations, but they are less central to the enterprise.
LF: I agree.
Joel: I don't know how much of a drain the IAs were. Apparently, enough that they needed to be weeded, since they were in fact weeded even though the UUA surely knew it would catch flak for the decision. I trust they know better than us what they have time for and what they don't.
I know you feel some question as to how welcome you are. Let me assure you that every single interest group in UUism feels the same way. For every time you feel possibly unwelcome as a theist (aren't you a Pagan? I can't keep everyone straight), there is an equally valid instance of non-theists feeling unwelcome. Neither side holds the moral high ground on this issue and few seem to be aware of the similarly touchy feelings on the other side, or, at least, to care all that much. Both are sure they are the more persecuted, both are blind to how their complaints alienate the others.
Personally, I don't think the UUA should be in the business of "recognizing" theological sub-groups so that they feel better about themselves. That includes atheist or similar sub-groups. The UUA should be in the business of serving the member congregations as is its mandate, and should stay the heck out of the way of other perfectly legitimate groupings of UUs (such as CUUPS, UUCF, etc). I was a member of a theologically-oriented IA long before it became an IA, the change meant very little to me, and the new "disestablishment" won't change much either. I don't need the UUA to affirm my theological stance and indeed it's probably the last organization I would ever ask to do so.
Last thought: who cares if it is UUA official policy to ridicule believers in Deity (not that it is, of course)? The UUA is not the boss of us. I don't know where people get the impression that they're our overlords. Bill Sinkford's opinion counts exactly nothing in how I understand myself as a UU, and if he feels my theological opinions are distasteful, he can take a long walk off a short pier. The UUA, while certainly large and visible, is just one UU organization amongst many and has no control over what we are allowed to think or how we are allowed to worship.
It's not a question of wanting UUA recognition to validate my beliefs; no such organization could if I wanted them to- and I don't. The question is why should I remain a member if they don't want me? After more than ten years, I'm very close to a tipping point. I may yet formally resign my membership, cancel my pledge, and instead donate the money to dedicated funds at church that cannot be dipped into for UUA dues or expenses.
Joel, I'm not sure how you would resign your membership in the UUA. Not to split hairs, the UUA is made up of member congregations, not individuals. You aren't a member of the UUA, you're (I assume) a member of a church that chooses to affiliate with the UUA. Indeed, the UUA DOESN'T want you as an individual, nor does it want most forms of non-church organizations--it wants your congregation. In order to fall out of the UUA structure, you'll need to either resign from your church's membership list (otherwise they are liable for dues for you) or convince the church to leave the UUA (it's possible--there are unaffiliated Unitarian and Universalist churches out there). This may affect your voting status at church, of course, as you're likely aware.
I'm not certain how to reconcile your last two posts about wanting recognition vs. not caring about recognition. All I can say is that you're as close to the tipping point as any number of people who are your theological opposites. Everyone seems to feel certain they are unwanted and that the UUA is dominated by the opposition party, whatever it may be. I'm still unclear why people look to the UUA for recognition/affirmation/whatever.
I'm not trying to belittle your feelings here. It's just that I hear the exact same rhetoric and conviction from so many differing, even opposite parties. . . Among the people I know who are the most vocal and staunchest opponents of what they feel is persecution of their particular theological persuasion by the UUA, one is an atheist, one is a Neo-Pagan, and one is a (non-Trinitarian) theist. Each is fully convinced that Beacon Street and all its imagined powers are arrayed against their specific positions.
I'm not sure we're still on target here with what LF (and CC by proxy) wanted to discuss. My apologies if I've taken the discussion off subject.
One correction to Linguist Friend's post: Although initial reports said that the board deferred its decision about the Small Group Ministry Network until its October meeting, in fact the board rejected its application for renewal. The uuworld.org story about the board's June decisions was corrected July 17.
Also, the board clearly has at least one particular requirement in mind, and has only approved groups that appear to meet it: Each independent affiliate is an umbrella organization for similar but distinct organizations.
Philo, thank you for the correction and clarification. I was afraid that I could have missed important intervening information.
Jeff, there are no proxies on this blog, to say the least.
Jeff- I wasn't sufficiently clear in my earlier post- I was considering formally withdrawing from my congregation and cancelling the pledges so that the money would not be used for UUA dues, and then donating that money to dedicated funds within my congregation that may not be used for UUA dues.
There's no difficulty in reconciling my posts- *IF* I'm going to remain a member, I want to feel welcome; if I'm not welcome, I don't want to be a member. My one and only reason for joining our church was for theological discussion- every other function can be had at the local Democratic Party HQ. I facilitate a spirituality small group here; our group has members who have left the congregation as a whole and do not attend services. If, when Rev Clear leaves All Souls, he is replaced by someone like Davidson Loehr, I'm gone too.
Joel's last comment prompted to wonder why more UUs don't just start up new churches? Muslims and non UU Christians do it all the time. It's not easy, but since so many UUs seem to have a feeling of "this church doesn't meet/barely meets my needs," one solution I'd say is to start a little something else with like-minded people.
Even if it's just a weekly gathering in the backyard of someone's house. That can be church, too!
Hafidha, of course splintering is very characteristic of the Protestant tradition from which UUism stems. The impulse to start new churches comes when there is doctrinal rigidity and no place within the existing church for variant thinking. In the case of UUism, ubiquitous and chronic negativism towards all theology can serve as an adequate replacement for doctrinal rigidity as an irritant, in some congregations. The IAs to some extent provide an alternative forum and information source for those who are not satisfied in their theological search in their local congregations, where you get points for mowing the lawn and running the rummage sale. This diminishes the likelihood of fractionation. However, the UUA creates a problem for itself by making that safety valve role of the IAs less functional.
There is also the point of view Jeff has presented here, which sees in the individual the main relevant unit to be satisfied. In this area, I can function well on my own - if I want to know about Christianity, I read the Greek NT; if I want to know about Judaism, I pull the Talmud off the shelf in my living room; if I want to know about Indian religion, I pull the Rig-Veda off the shelf and work through the Sanskrit. Most people do not have those information sources. For them, religious information comes from the religious organization and the minister, in the vertical axis. The horizontal axis provides more specialized information sources in particular religious directions. People like Jeff and I, who are both scholarly types, have our own sources of information as basis for decision. If access to groups such as the IA organizations is obstructed, they are not an available source of information for many people who lack scholarly resources. These people are thus limited to the local and congregational resources and UUA resources. In that situation, the emphasis on the individual as self-contained and self-adequate is not realistic.
When I need information about Christianity, Judaism or Indian religions, I look it up in a book or on the internet, or I ask a friend who is a believer if I know one.
To be frank, I'm really mystified by your response.
Why does this seem like such a repudiation of Paganism to you when CUUPS is being treated like every other religiously-affiliated IA?
You seem to be taking this all really personally.
CC, you are starting to have a decent set of references (I like your 11th ed. EB). But a lot of the stuff on the Internet is crazy, or accurate as of 1850, or even as of 1650. Probably the Humanists and the UUCF seem to do the best job of providing information in this group. If I were in a small town in Iowa, they would provide a decent orientation as to where to look, rather than wandering for years, parched and starving in the wilderness of the Internet.
Could you give me an example of something crazy or that outdated about religion on a well-respected website? (Not a post in response to something, an actual article.)
But even pretending I don't know what website is well-respected, if, say, I want information on Judaism and I go to google and type in "reform Judaism," the first response I get is the website for the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest organization of Reform Synagogues in America, a page that includes a very informative "What is reform judaism" link prominently displayed.
If I don't know that the URJ is a reasonable source for information about reform Jews, I can google it and find that it is indeed a very large organization that is talked about as if it were an authority.
(For a comparison of what the big organization of a church looks like compared to a small splinter group, google "PCUSA" then google "Presbyterian Church in America")
Are you saying that whatever information UUs for Jewish Awareness could provide is better?
who learned a little bit about Reformed Judaism this morning.
I don't believe it to be aimed at Pagans per se, but at believers of all stripes, CC. And I'm not alone; as I mentioned above, two members of my small group have left the church because they, too, felt they weren't really welcome. And there have to be many more that I don't personally know; we have no problem recruiting new members, in numbers large enough to have doubled the size of the congregation in the last ten years- but we never actually get any bigger. We have a large RE program, and give graduates small scholarships for college, and retain virtually none of them. By the time I finally manage to memorize a new member's name, (I admit I'm terrible with names), I hear they've quit and joined one of the liberal Christian churches around us because they were sick of the Christian-bashing. And every day we seem to get just a little richer, a little whiter, and a little more politically liberal. This may be unfair, but I really think that if Moveon.org had a brick and mortar location nearby, they'd steal a third of our membership; if they had a program for recovering Catholics, they'd steal another third.
There are several things that make it more difficult for me personally. For one, I really, really like Rev. Clear, and would hate to leave while he's there. Of course, he won't be there forever, and he may tire of the calls for more Bush bashing and Christian bashing. (he's the high-road type)And, of course, not being a Christian I can't just go to one of the liberal Christian churches down the street.
I didn't mean to hijack your thread. And the theological IAs not being in the first group reinstated is most likely not any repudiation of them, as Jeff said- although their not being in the first group does emphasize the status of God as an "optional extra". And I'm probably sensitive right now because there's been another round of building-a-theology-in-a-world-where-god-is-dead lately, and well... if I were any good at sitting down and shutting up, I'd still be a Baptist.
Actually, the present ability of the different groups in this respect seems to vary greatly, as I implied above in pointing out two from which I usually get valuable material at each GA. I will cheerfully confess that I have had in mind partly a potential role for the IAs in this discussion. Some of them fulfill it well at this point, and some of them don't do it as well as possible.
If you know that something is a well-respected web-site, you have already solved your information quality problem, at least on the average. In the past I have run into unfamiliar web-sites stating baldly e.g. that the revered Presbyterian scholar Bruce Metzger was an incompetent scholar and unorthodox Christian. Noone well informed would say either, but there are a number of such sites.
Joel, that deserves more of a response that I can give it at this point. Suffice to say, my church isn't like that about faith and one hears churches like yours talked about as if they are terribly unsophisticated.
You're welcome to come check it out on the Sunday in DC, though if you and your wife have bigger plans for your anniversary weekend, I can understand that.
LF, yes, some sites, especially fundmentalist sites, have crazy stuff. That's why you have to consider the source, and google the source to make sure the source is well respected and knows what it's talking about. You don't have to be a scholar to know that some people have enemies and said enemies are unlikely to give a balanced viewpoint.
But anyway, I think my point stands that you don't have to be a scholar to inform yourself about other people's faiths without the help of an IA.
who, if she wanted information on Christianity, wouldn't start with reding the bible anyway, in Greek or not. The sacred text of a religion is really important of course, but you only learn how you interpret it, to really begin to get a religion, you have to look at how members of the faith are interpreting it.
CC, there are many usable sources for information about religions. I welcome information from some IA sources; they are not of equal quality. But they have the potential to make that sort of a contribution.
How members of a faith interpret their own holy texts is important, no doubt; but for much of the last two thousand years it was a crime for Christians to read the Bible, so that interpretation does not have much tradition behind it. Sometimes the members don't understand the texts, and sometimes they have or prefer inaccurate versions of the texts, or of history. I was astonished to see an official Greek Orthodox NT publication (I have it) in which it was claimed that the Hebrew Masoretic text of the OT was translated from the Greek Septuagint in the middle ages (sic). History and belief are different issues. I start from history myself, which limits plausible religious assumptions.
That depends on what questions the seeker is trying to answer.
My guess is the average person who becomes interested in Christianity isn't looking for exactly what the bible says (which is available everywhere anyway.)
For scholarly research, yes, primary sources are great, though wikipedia has the translation of the Septuagint dated properly and the Greek New Testament does not.
But my guess is that the average UU who has a question about Christianity is asking not:
"When exactly was the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek?"
"Or what is the exact and precise wording of..."
My guess is they are asking something more like:
"How can Christianity give my life meaning?"
"What did Jesus actually say about gay people?"
"How do I forgive my wife for cheating on me?"
Or something like that. This information is available online and through secondary sources than wading through the bible trying to figure it out for yourself, though again, you don't have to be a scholar to do that either.
IMHO, Fundamentalist christianity is going through the bible, trying to tease out the literal meaning of every single word.
Liberal Christianity is what liberal Christians say it is and looking at things through the interpretation of liberal christianity, accepting that the bible is imperfect anyway, so the cultural and religious traditions of Christianity are a big part of the meat anyway.
My guess is that UU seekers are more likely to be Liberal Christians.
I love it when you two argue.
In researching the life of Dr. Otto Strasser, a refugee from Hitler's wrath, I ran across a letter from Dr. Charles Joy, Lisbon, USC, dated 14.2.41 (days after he had Deutch design the chalice symbol). Strasser was saved by someone in Lisbon. Do any correspondents have a comment?
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