“Get back to Jesus” – my experience with the Unitarian Universalist Church
I decided after visiting the most recent UU congregation that I needed to explore this faith a little deeper. Just like any church out there, not all churches are created equal or alike, and you can’t make a blanket statement about such a broad range of viewpoints, focuses, and groups of people who are within the same category. Just like all Protestant, Pentecostal and Catholic churches are not all alike, the people are different, and the feel is different with Unitarian Universalist churches as well. So although I had one visit to a Unitarian Universalist Church, I have since then watched online, listened online and plan to attend at least one more church that has a different location, size, and feel to it.
For those wondering about the Unitarian Universalist faith, it is a theologically liberal religion characterized by its support for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” A syncretic religion with Christian roots in the United States and Canada from the merger of Unitarian and Universalist churches.
Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual’s theology is a result of that search and not obedience to an authoritative requirement. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.
Historically, both Unitarianism and Universalism have roots in the Christian faith. Contemporary Unitarian Universalists espouse a pluralist approach to religion, whereby the followers can be atheist, theist, or any point in between.
It is slightly different from the strictly “Unitarian Church” which is a specific type of nontrinitarian Christian theology. It is nontrinitarian in that it holds that God is only one person, in contrast to the doctrine of the Trinity (God subsisting as three persons). On a side note, the Trinitarian doctrine was not fully established as we now know it until the 4th Century. Yet these same separate view points still serve the same God. This was a decision concluded by men well after the scriptures were written and came to that conclusion by piecing together certain scriptures as it is not fully stated anywhere in scripture. When it comes down to this, it makes me realize that we don’t have all the answers to these types of theological questions, and no absolutes on anything that continually change over the course of time.
My visit to the Unitarian Universalist Church:
This particular church I visited February 13th, 2011 was a small and struggling congregation. It was very liturgical with it’s service format, recited their beliefs formally as we do with our own formal readings, had “sharing time” or as Christian churches call it, “testimony time”, sang hymns from a hymn book, took an offering, and had those same types of people who valued their traditions. It was a particularly older congregation that was struggling with finances and growth. It reminded me of so many other Christian churches I’ve either visited or attended at some point in my life at this same point in their story. The people that make up a congregation determine what will happen at any given time and in the future. This congregation was primarily made up of much older people who had been there for a very long time. There were several older gentlemen in their late 60’s or early 70’s who were definitely throwbacks to the Woodstock experience, wearing headbands and wild 60’s-ish patterned shirts. And there were little old ladies wearing church dresses who were faithful to their beliefs for their entire life. There were your average run of the mill people too. There were also a few middle aged people, but other than the children, I did not see a young person under 35 except one or two, and from what I could gather, this was a congregation that was stagnant. They were having their annual financial drive Sunday and from the reports and announcements made upfront and by those in the seats, they weren’t meeting their financial goals. This is no different than any other Church I’ve ever known of. Congregations like this are more like a social club, a routine, a fellowship hall, but also made up of people who have no vision, passion, no goals to grow, no outreach to bring in new families, young people, or as we call it in Christian circles, “using our spiritual gifts” to minister to others. They are primarily made up of “takers”, not “givers”, and people who sit in the pews week after week, year after year, never doing anything but receiving. It’s a bit selfish once you think about it. And Christian churches have these same types of people. I’ve seen this before. I’ve visited other churches like this before. It’s full of people who don’t’ want to make any effort except for a few hard working individuals who do all the work. It lacks passion. There are no servants except for a few people who end up burning themselves out and become jaded because no one else is helping. It’s full of people who come there for their weekly fix, to take, but not to give back, even in the offering plate. It is no different from any Christian church like this. It’s made up of people who either exhibit the same traits and lack the same motivation.
This was only one congregation of many Unitarian Universalist churches though, so I realize that I can’t base any conclusion on one experience. However, what I did gather from this UU faith as a whole after studying further on this religion, listening to other online sermons, reading up, and looking at several other church websites, is that their values are the same. They are very focused on serving the community, on having community together, and reaching out in ways that extend beyond their church walls. They are open to all people without judgment. There are some churches in the UU faith that have more focus on one particular faith than another. There are some more open to Christianity, and some more focused on Eastern Philosophy and Religion, some more New Age, and some very Liturgical or Informal. The general population of those attending each church will determine that. Not every congregation is alike. But from what I learned so far on this particular brand of faith, there are many similarities to pure Christian faith with many of the same teachings. In fact, I would go as far as saying most of them do embrace Christianity fully, but also glean from other religious philosophies that as a whole, wouldn’t conflict with Christian views if you took the “Christianese” talk out of the equation; it’s the same subject matter. Their main motto in a nutshell is that all are welcome, all are valuable, and all deserve to be loved and respected no matter what their lifestyle, beliefs, race or nationality and so on. Sounds Christian to me. Sounds like Jesus to me. The more I learn though about UU, the more I realize how much it IS like Jesus and what He came here to teach us, how we should live and treat others. And yes, I would go as far to say that many people choosing this faith have accepted Jesus as their Savior and are in all terms “saved” as Christians would put it. They’re no less saved than any Christian who has chosen to do this. And there are probably some in these many congregations who aren’t saved, who haven’t really embraced Jesus, just like in many Christian churches. They are just open to other view points in order that the whole person will be enlightened and made better. It’s less about rules, and more about the journey. That reminds me so much of the Jesus I know and what He said.
My experience with this faith has left me to the following thoughts:
I think it’s when we start bringing in rules people must follow that religion screws it up. It makes me really think about what being a Christian really means, what salvation really means, and what being “saved” really means. It makes me really think about what knowing God really means, and what “knowing” Jesus really means. Is it a trip down to the altar to get saved? Or is it a choice to follow after Him and what He taught? Regardless of the packaging? Is this what it all comes down to in order to “know God”? To be saved? It makes me want to reiterate the very words of Jesus to people who have forgotten what He actually said about living life, serving and loving God, about the Kingdom of God, and about having “everlasting life”. I think that when we start becoming “religious”, to me, that means “law”. And when our focus becomes so much about “law”, we lose our focus on “love” which is the main message of Jesus. So if we really boil salvation down and “knowing God”, Jesus pretty much told us what we need to do in order to do that. If people are doing that, how can anyone judge their salvation? (Which we shouldn’t do anyway. Only God is our spiritual judge.) “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:6-7 I think if we base it all on this, following Jesus, knowing Him, embracing His character and His teachings, living our lives to please God with Jesus as our example, I would say that means knowing and accepting Him no matter what “religious” label you want to put on it. He came to shout out who God really was and what was most important to Him.
This has brought me to a conclusion that is probably going to ruffle a lot of religious folk’s feathers. I hope they can let go of the rule book and grasp my main point here. Especially if they are those who think it’s an all or nothing, believe what I believe, road to Heaven. I think it’s possible to be “saved”, to know God, to accept Jesus and inherit eternal life in religions that are not orthodox Christianity. I also think that all of us continually sin. We just like to focus on the more visible sins like adultery and homosexuality to feel better about our hidden sins. We all have them, and yet we all claim to be saved as we live through the struggles of these sins, still claiming to know Jesus, and to be serving God. Some of us will struggle with them our entire lives, daily surrendering them to God. Some of us will continue to live in these sins, not realizing we are, yet on the same path as those we throw stones at who may not know it about themselves yet either. So why is someone else’s sin any more separating them from daily living for God than mine? And what is the real measure of sin? That has changed over the decades. We used to embrace slavery. Now we don’t. We used to embrace polygamy. Our social views have changed. Our theological & denominational views have changed. How are we any more right today about the beliefs of our faith than we were 2000 years ago? Were the early followers sinners for having different beliefs than we do today? Is man the judge of sin? Or is our heart’s condition judged by God within us? I think we all know, we all feel that tug, when something we are doing or thinking isn’t quite right. As a whole, I think as Christians we’ve become so focused on sin instead of life, love, and servanthood, that our main reason for becoming a Christian is just to stay out of hell, and we can only do that if we follow all the rules….rules that are mostly enforced over history by authoritative control freaks who abused God’s Bride. This is the opposite of what Jesus taught us. And I think He would still be crucified today by the same church claiming to serve Him. He is more than the nutshell we’ve put Him in and defend at all costs. This is when we’ve crossed the line of knowing Him, and serving our flesh. Because living for religion is about the flesh. Living for Jesus is about the Spirit. Our need for conclusions and absolutes separate us instead of bring us together under the same One God.
My study of the early church history has also led me to believe that man has dictated many things that Jesus would have never intended with our organized religion. The power trip and need to control people is why religion is even in place and to consolidate beliefs into one general synopsis to keep people in line. It’s authoritarian. However, many of the early churches had no hierarchy like this, no governmental control like we do now, and were probably more focused on the actual teachings of Jesus than the way we have been led to believe. This is something most church going folk are in denial of. They don’t even really know much about the early formation of the church and its early leadership, (many of who were corrupt, power-hungry control freaks, even murderers) or how the Bible was even written. I think it’s a safe bet, that if you believe, look at and follow the teachings of Jesus, his example, what he said, how he lived, you have embraced Him. And if you have embraced Him, you are saved. Isn’t that what He said anyway? Why are we splitting hairs?
He also said the Kingdom of God is within you. It’s not just about some forever after place, it’s about the here and now really. It’s how you live your life and affect those around you. It’s not about how long you prayed today, or how many scriptures you read, or how much you put in the offering plate, or how many times you went to church this week because that is religion. It’s about how you love and live in a way that pleases God, and how you have put that first place in your life. Jesus was that example. That is why God sent Him, so that we could know God, know what was most important to Him. Man has just screwed that up with religion and arguing over who is right or wrong. It’s time the Church gets back to Jesus. Really gets back to Him. If you read nothing else in the Bible, no Old Testament, nothing beyond the four gospels that reflect the life of Jesus, the main message that we base our Christian existence on is the very life and words of Jesus. Bottom line, I think that’s really all we need.
I don’t’ like the word “Religion”. I don’t like that we even have to categorize our beliefs with that word, like when people ask “what Religion are you?” But I understand that our shallow human existence needs it. There are so many answers about God I still don’t have. I will never know everything. But I do know that those who are absolute and say they know everything they need to know are fooling themselves and arrogance does not please God. Those who believe in God, the creator of Heaven and earth, primarily believe in the same one God. We all want the same things primarily. I think we need to connect more with others outside our choice of faith. But we don’t. We only want to associate with those who are like us. Even within Christian denominations. I think it’s ok to have different view points on certain things. There is something for everyone and we are all on this same journey. I just don’t understand why, that after 2000 years, we still have the amount of fighting, judgment and separation we do in the entire Body of Christ. It tells me that we really don’t know Jesus. We’re still living as Pharisees.
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mohandas Gandhi
If we are who we say we are, then why isn’t the world as a whole recognizing Jesus in us? We need to get back to Jesus. Otherwise, what’s the point of labeling ourselves Christian? I think the Christian religion has swayed way past the original intent of Jesus Himself. We’ve made a corporate debacle out of it. And we need to get back to what His life was all about teaching us. We are not martyrs in His name. We are a big joke to the world because we don’t even know Jesus. These are the thoughts that my experience with the Unitarian Universalist Church have left me with.