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Archive for September, 2010

I’ve been listening to a podcast called Spirit in Action, produced by the liberal Quakers at Northern Spirit Radio, and it’s added some nice confirmations to my theory of the secret UUs.

John Shelby Spong was on a 2005 podcast that I just heard today. He and the host spent a few minutes on the idea of ongoing revelation, and the host asked Spong what books he might add to the canon of sacred scripture if he could. Spong named Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letters From a Birmingham Jail,” and works by Dag Hammerskjold, among others. And elsewhere in the interview he talked about incorporating the findings of science into one’s spirituality, naming Charles Darwin and Karl Jung in particular.

Among the six sources of spiritual wisdom UUs recognize: “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

In a more recent podcast, Philip Gulley was discussing his latest book, If the Church Were Christian, and through the course of the conversation mentioned that Fairfield Friends Meeting — the Quaker meeting he pastors — includes Baha’i, Jews and atheists.  And as for himself, he told the host he’s not concerned with calling himself a Christian. As the first chapter of the latest book suggests, he sees Jesus as a model for living, not an object of worship.

Sounds kind of like a UU congregation, doesn’t it? I was also reminded that in the book, though not in the podcast, he mentions that he would rather have a congregation of kind atheists than mean-spirited Christians.

Among the seven UU principles are a respect for the worth and dignity of each person; encouragement to spiritual growth; and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

I don’t mean to make more of this than it is. I doubt either Spong or Gulley would call themselves UUs. But the theologies they espouse, in particular their shared emphasis on action over belief and acceptance of people as they are — and their theological ideas which bear many similarities to one another and not many at all to the traditional Christian settings each of them came through — suggest that they would be comfortable and very much at home in a UU congregation.

More to the point, I think that the broad universe of liberal religion has more similarities than differences. If atheists can attend a Quaker meeting, and a former Episcopal Bishop can speak unreservedly of wanting to add Martin Luther King to the sacred canon (and rip Leviticus out of it), then we’re drinking from the same well. Add many reform Jews, the United Church of Christ and other liberal Christian denominations, humanists, many or most neo-pagans and various unlabeled liberal-spiritual types, and we have a movement that’s considerably larger than it might seem.

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