Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Than Merely Liberal?

What unites our faith? While it may be tempting to point to the seven principles as a base-line foundation upon which our congregations sprout and grow, we must not forget that self-defined Unitarians and Universalists around the world infrequently turn to this religious patchwork for identity or inspiration. In his brief narrative history of Unitarian Universalism, David E. Bumbaugh suggests that a common historical thread – though often selectively constructed and imagined – binds our tradition to its early Christian and European heritage. With new manifestations of our faith cropping up in Burundi, Uganda and Kenya – to name but a few – the argument of continuity grows tenuous and fragmentary, however. Is it our position on the fringes of mainstream religion – that prophetic call to a progressive faith – that ultimately defines our denominational being? Are we merely religious liberals, whatever that term may connote or suggest?

These questions, I believe, deserve serious attention, especially as the cultural, ideological and demographic sea changes of our day reconfigure preconceived notions of majority/minority positions. With (political) liberalism no longer marginalized or cast in defensive shadows, how does our self-identity shift? Today in lecture, Prof. Ronald F. Thieman provocatively called for the development of a critical stance to authorizing discourses, practices and expectations in our own religious communities. Where should we look for an outside perspective: evangelical Christianity? What are the consequences of (post)Protestantism’s emerging minority status (both numerically and intellectually) vis-à-vis Islam and Catholicism?

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