Promoting Our Liberal Faith

Speaker: Rev. Carolyn R. Brown

If you read the Wichita Eagle opinion pages, you are aware that liberal-bashing is a favorite hobby of many in our area. I have been thrilled recently that several local liberals have written thoughtful responses to this bashing trying to temper the accusations raised against us. While some of you may consider yourself political conservatives, we are part of a church community that is a liberal religious community.

While we have always had diverse views in this nation, one of our strengths in the past was our ability to compromise, to be inclusive, to find a centrist path that would meet the needs of most people. We continued to grumble because we wanted things to swing more to the left or the right, to the liberal or the conservative, or perhaps to an option that got lost in the shuffle. But grumbling was allowed and often led to changes. Many changes in both our social and political practices have been the result of long term activism using passive means. Women’s suffrage, civil rights, ending the war in Vietnam.

The climate today seems to be different and I am looking forward to the return of the acceptance in our nation of large scale grumbling and the dialogue that was once possible and desirable.

In the face of the strident conservatism both in politics and religion that face us at present, we may have become defensive about our faith. My sense is that is nothing new. For some of us have been “defensive” with a small “d” for some time. This has come from our history of escaping from an earlier faith that felt oppressive or impossible to accept. Our new found liberal faith and freedom was sometimes difficult to explain to our families and friends. Finding a new home in a free church meant that some of us just did not want to DO religion anymore. We wanted to just BE in a free faith and experience the relief of a creedless, non-judgmental open path.

Our Association of Congregations has practiced staying small, until the past two years when we have begun some new measures to build churches and do some serious advertising to bring our faith out of the borders of the religious picture. In the past, we seemed to work to stay small, to keep our churches well hidden, to keep our newfound freedom to ourselves, and to avoid those questions coming from others. Perhaps we even feel a bit sheepish when asked “What do you believe?” As I have said many times, it’s the wrong question.

I am a follower of Jesus and his ministry to the marginalized, his radical political activities, and his preaching about love and sharing with each other. Many Protestant and Catholic churches recite the Apostle’s creed as a statement of their faith. It reads in part, “I believe…in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” There is nothing in this creed about Jesus’ life and teachings, nothing to suggest that Jesus brought an example of how to live our lives. Forrest Church wrote that the important thing about Jesus is the penetrating simplicity of his teachings, and the force of his example of service on behalf of the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Unitarian Universalists have the luxury of using the teachings of Jesus for living our lives here on earth, rather than seeing him only as a sacrifice to guarantee eternal life after death. Our faith gives us a wealth of tradition and wisdom from which to fashion a path for living, for sharing, for finding meaning in an ever changing still open revelation.

In order to promote our liberal faith, I believe we must develop a certain pride in what we offer the seeker. I am delighted that some of our new members are bringing friends to church. Our history in recent decades has been one of stealth religion, tending not to share with friends or co-workers for fear of their responses and their questions. I continue to be somewhat defensive about my faith, and yet I will share what is dear to me about our freedom and inclusiveness and our corporate attempts to increase human good. One of my conservative family members has been the most difficult for me to ignore. He asks: “Why do you call it a church?” My answer – “Because it is.”

People who are liberal religiously often find themselves unable to respond to dogmatic claims of the religious right. Because of this, the conservative religious groups in our nation are setting the agenda in election after election, and in congregations around the United States. Liberal religious groups like ours are virtually ignored by the politicians and the press because when they ask us what we believe, too often we have nothing to say.

There are four tenets of our faith, which I believe can become the center of our liberal religion, four tenets which can hold their own in the world today. They develop quite naturally out of our principles and purposes and the sources of our liberal faith.

First, Unitarian Universalists believe strongly in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This means that we are called upon to treat all other human beings as if they matter, as if they are precious to us. An important part of our faith lies in a commitment to a radical acceptance of others.

Second, as Unitarian Universalists, we value the spiritual path of all people, including people whose ideas are very different from our own. Each of us, in our own way, must find a path to what is most holy in life. We support each other in our spiritual journeys and our search for truth and meaning.

Third, we are people who believe in community, and the gifts it brings to all of us. Community is developed when people promise to live and work together toward a greater good. We covenant together when we accept and promote our principles and purposes.

And fourth, our approach to the universe includes a reverence for all of life, not just human life. The wonder and awe we feel as a part of the great web of existence permeates our religious worldview. We affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we a part.
Islam is based on five pillars of faith, god is one, daily prayer, making a pilgrimage to Mecca, giving to the poor, and fasting during Ramadan. I propose to you the four pillars of our faith. First is our radical acceptance of others. Second is respect for the spiritual journey. Third is a covenant to be together in community. Fourth is a sense of the holiness of creation. What do these pillars of UUism teach us about living a faith-full life?

A radical acceptance of others is perhaps the most challenging. We live in a culture that puts people into boxes, and it is difficult to avoid doing this ourselves. We tend to react to people who are different, rather than depend on our faith that calls us to practice a radical acceptance of others. We must not make people into things, no matter how heinous their deeds or how wounded their personality, we must rather seek out what is human in all people and condemn the behavior, not the person.

Now let’s explore our second pillar. Our faith challenges us to value diverse religious paths. We have a few birthright Unitarian Universalists. Many of us are come-outers who are seeking a free faith. We practice Buddhism, Tai Chi, Pagan rituals and understandings. We depend on a prayer life. We gather in Seeking Circles to share our thoughts and feelings. We participate in solitary communion with nature. We attend the Forum and share ideas as we seek truth and insights. What our faith invites us to do is to see each of these paths as holy, even if it differs wildly from our own. This is why we believe in teaching our children about other religions as well as Unitarian Universalism. When we are able to view different religious paths not as threats but as opportunities to learn and grow, our own path may broaden.

Few religions have been able to look with respect on diverse spiritual paths. We must never take this important value for granted. Throughout history, the path has often been narrow and limited, but our free faith s wide and broad enough to include acceptance of one another and to encourage spiritual growth by whatever means an individual chooses.

Our third pillar is that our religion calls us to live in community. I believe that community in and of itself is a faithful way to live and learn. Today, our world pushes us apart and making the promise to be in community is a very difficult promise to make. Yet I think it is a profoundly religious thing to do. The root of the word religion means that which binds us together. If we are in true community, we are bound together in powerful ways.
Yet community isn’t easy to create. Parker Palmer, a Quaker theologian, wrote once that community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives. And when he or she moves away, someone always comes along to take their place. Community can be hard; being a church can be challenging. Yet, it is worth it.

When we come together here we promise, we covenant to try to live in ways that affirm our values. We try to model to the world that people of diverse beliefs can live together in harmony. We can’t do that outside of community. We can’t value diversity without experiencing it. We can’t respect and cherish other humans without meeting them and knowing them face to face. When we make the promise to support each other, and to worship, to learn and grow together as we do here, the rewards are great, for us, for our children, and hopefully for the world.

Finally, our faith rests on a deep-seated belief that all of creation is holy. We can have a tremendous impact on our culture if this pillar of our faith ever becomes truly realized. Much of the traditional religious world accepts the idea that humans have dominion over the earth and that all the animals and plants on it were made exclusively for our use. Many people are beginning to see the importance of loving the earth, of caring for the planet, of our complete dependence on the planet for the future. We are one with the planet and must work to protect it. Accepting our interdependence with all that is, is a deeply religious point of view. Creation is sacred, and we cannot take it for granted.

The four pillars of Unitarian Universalism: 1. Radical acceptance of others; 2. Respect for the spiritual journey; 3. A covenant to be together in community; and 4. A sense of the holiness of creation.

When we are asked the wrong question, “what do you believe” we must answer with pride that our religion gives us a way to live. Our faith challenges us to go beyond creeds that point to a life in the hereafter to a faith for the here and now. I don’t think it matters what I believe unless I am able to practice a life that increases the amount of human good in the universe. For too long, religious conservatives have preached that all are outside their saving grace except those who accept a creed. Our faith has long proclaimed that “it’s deeds, not creeds.”

We must proclaim the religious values of human dignity and the sacredness of creation. We must offer a refuge where each person’s spiritual path is valued. We are called to covenant in community and to extend the grace found in our community to all who enter here.

It is time for us to open our doors and our hearts to the world. It is time for us to exude pride in our free faith. It is time for us to look into the eyes of those who do not know us and tell them we have a faith for the here and now. A faith that is radical and free, welcoming and respectful. Let’s share our faith with those we meet and share with them the grace and salvation found in Unitarian Universalism. May it be so for all of us.