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Archive for August, 2010

UU culture: Welcoming or not?

UU World has been home to a recent spate of essays and reflections on “UU culture,” and whether our congregations are as welcoming to a diverse range of people as we might wish.

In the Spring issue, Paul Rasor described the changing demographics of America, and argued:

Unitarian Universalism has its own cultural tradition, one that is rooted in European-American cultural norms and ways of being in the world. This normative lens is often invisible to those of us who look through it, but it is all too visible to those who view the world through different cultural lenses. This is why our ongoing antiracism work is so important. We cannot become a multicultural faith if we—subconsciously or otherwise—continue to treat a particular monocultural lens as normative.

In a companion essay in the same issue, African-American UU minister Rosemary Bray McNatt described the stereotypical UU as one who doesn’t listen to pop music, watch any TV other than PBS, and would never shop at Wal-Mart. And she wrote that even in a UU congregation,

[W]e cannot escape the boxes to which we are likely to be assigned. If you talk about loving gospel music and you’re black, you’re stereotypical, and if you are white you are racist, and if you are Latino/Latina you are angry that the movement remains in a black-white paradigm at all, and if you are Asian, you feel invisible a lot of the time, and if you are multiracial you are annoyed that you are being asked to choose, and, no matter what your social location, you find yourself in trouble rather than in community.

And John F. Katz, defending the status quo, argued:

Yes, Rev. McNatt, that is my culture that you have identified as the number-one barrier to diversity—and yes, I am “pretty proud” of it. Damn right  I don’t listen to music that promotes violence, misogyny, and homophobia. Nor do I wallow in a pop culture that actively exploits anti-intellectualism. If that makes me a geek, or a nerd, or (gasp!) a snob—then so be it. More of us geeks/nerds/snobs would make the world a gentler place.

Among the three, McNatt’s argument is most persuasive to me. I’m already not part of the culture she describes. I immerse myself in pop music and watch a good deal of TV. In fact I can’t remember the last time I did watch PBS. The articles address the cultural barriers largely in terms of race and class, but even among us white Americans in the middle class, the snobbery of which Katz is so proud is enormously off-putting.

If Unitarian Universalism is to become a thriving global movement in the 21st century — and given its identity as a religious home for those who don’t feel comfortable with a creed and but aren’t interested in losing spirituality altogether, it’s ideally poised to — it has to appear welcoming to people from all races, cultures and economic strata. Do you think Christianity has succeeded by shaping itself to appeal most strongly to a relatively small fraction of people? Quite the opposite!

In the UU tradition, nothing should be a barrier to entry. We’re justifiably proud of our theological diversity, welcoming atheists, theists, deists, Daoists and pagans alike. “We need not believe alike to love alike,” we say. We’re going to have to get better at demonstrating the same welcoming on various races, social strata and cultural reference points if we’re to thrive. We do it in theory, but the reality is not always there.

Or as Shawna Foster at the blog Vessel put it:

The problem is that most of our culture is based out of a false sense of superiority. We think the things we do absolve us of societal problems. It’s utopianism that has got our denomination by the throat. We have built a walled garden too high. People who don’t look like us can’t get in, even when we beg them. We don’t understand popular culture, or we think we do and disdain it – and then wonder why not everyone on earth is a Unitarian Universalist!

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On the front lines

Unitarian Universalists have been very visible on two fronts lately: in opposing the draconian immigration law in Arizona, and in fighting for the right of gays and lesbians to marry. The UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love organization has been the leading light on both fronts.

It makes me proud to be part of the UU world, even though I’ve not put myself on the line as some have.

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