Can a creedless religion make it another 50 years?

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BALTIMORE (RNS) A recent Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore ended with an apology. Laurel Mendes explained that religious doctrine had been duly scrubbed from the hymns in the congregation's Sunday program. But Mendes, a neo-pagan lay member who led the service, feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every […]

  • Marcello

    My own experience with the UUA left me with the impression that they are far more conventional than appearances might suggest. There was a distinct “us” versus “them” tone to both the sermons and congregation. “We” are the enlightened few, “they” are the misguided blasphemers living in darkness. It was the type of dogmatic sectarianism more commonly associated with conservative Christian denominations, only perhaps even more hypocritical!

  • Missi

    I love my UU church. No we seldom hear or mention the word ‘god’ (referring to the christian god), but when it is mentioned,,no one gets offended. Simply because we understand that what brings us together is that we are open-mined and accepting to the fact that there are many different beliefs out there. I like when each month one of our sermons will touch on a different religion or set of beliefs. Its very educational and helps me to be more open-minded and accepting of everyone.

  • win

    What an abysmal piece of reporting to be published by Religion News Service! This article would be a poor effort for a first assignment in an elementary reporting class in high school or college. Moreover, the editing (or, more appropriately, lack thereof) has done a total disservice to both the reporter and the readers. Even as the hatched-job it so desperately wants to be, this article is appalling.

    The report spends the first quarter of the article setting UUs up as a bunch of flakes and flibbertygibbets, establishing a theme of hostility to ”God-talk” that runs through the article? Did the reporter attend more than one UU service? Did the reporter visit more than one UU congregation? Did the reporter read any UU blogs? (There is a great UU blog aggregator,; Daniel Burke should check it out before he writes again on this faith.)

    In/ fact, a more profound spirituality has been on the rise for more than twenty years, and “God-talk” has become more prevalent, and the past president of the UUA, Bill Sinkford, called on us to make ore use of “a language of reverence”. This trend has been controversial; the humanist element in UU congregations is still strong and often feels threatened and marginalized by such language. But the language is used, and has been with increasing frequency in the past two decades. The controversial nature of “a language of reverence” is certainly worth reporting on, but this article demonstrates no awareness of it.

    “The UUA does promote seven largely secular principles that emphasize human dignity and justice. ” The reporter chose not to provide any details about these principals, so we’re left with his editorial judgment. In fact, UUs “covenant to affirm and promote” seven principles, all of which are in fact profoundly religious and spiritual ; had the reporter bother to report on, or even to read, the equally important sources of our faith, he would have recognized that these principles in fact are grounded deeply in a number of spiritual traditions. Indeed, the first principle, “Repect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people”, is in a restatement of the foundation of Universalism itself, one of the founding traditions of the faith. And in what way a “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning” a secular principle?

    The reporting on declining numbers is totally lacking in context. We have seen frequent recent reports that the nu7mber of respondents to religious surveys reporting that they do not belong to a congregation or attend services has virtually doubled in recent years. Membership in established churches has been declining overall in recent years, in particular during the last three years when the economy has been so unstable. Moreover, the reporter does not delve into the the mechanics of UUA membership; congregational dues are based on the number of reported congregants. As the ecnomy has declined, congregations that previously carried inactive members have trimmed their rolls in an effort to cut costs.

    Retention of young adults is subjected to equally superficial attention. The reporter relies on one source, who is clearly not a young adult and cites unsubstantiated “reports”. What are these reports? Did the reporter read them himself? Obviously not. Moreover, by failing to speak to any young adults, the reporter totally misses the boat on why they frequently leave UU congregations. Far from lacking something to rebel against, young adults leave because the spiritual depth and community they find in youth and young adult worship is not replicated in the sanctuary with the rest of the congregants; they often find themselves marginalized. When they attempt to introduce a more intimate style of worship, the response is often hostile and belittling. The caricature of young adults lacking anything to rebel against might have been true thirty or forty years ago. Today’s young adults would rather find a more spiritually meaningful worship life and embracing community. Many young adults find that the only opportunity to pursue the worship life they have become accustomed to is to enter seminary and pursue ministry, a vocation to which not all are called and for which many are not suited.

    Overall, I am appalled and offended by this abysmal excuse for reporting. Religion News Service has a better reputation that this superficial piece of offal. The readers deserve better from the reporter and from the editors. This miserable excuse of an article should be removed until a competent piece of reporting can be completed and edited.

  • Sabelotodo

    My experience is very much like that of Marcello’s. As a middle-of-the-road Christian and critical-thinking political independent, I’ve visited UU churches, and also attempted to engage in discussions with a number of colleagues who claim that religion–some of whom attend that “growing church in Golden” mentioned in the article.

    The corporate ego & persona is not just uniformly liberal, it’s Elitist-Liberal, to the point that any attempt at discussion of an alternative view to any of the Democrat orthodoxies, nets one a rigid Catch-22: Either “Shut up & join us–the smug, smirking, highly-evolved ‘elect of the planet’ OR watch us automatically relegate you to the Pit of “the great unwashed, unenlightened hordes.” That’s what an inquirer gets for even attempting to delve into an area where “our religion doesn’t need to discuss, out of our commitment to diversity and radical inclusion.!” Except that they’re not intellectually honest enough to assert this openly–it gets communicated via the familiar elitist rituals: eye contact, brevity of attention span, and physical movement away, to go associate with the like-minded.

    The rebellion issue aside, I can certainly understand why young people are voting with their feet–just from this refusal to actively engage in honest discussion.


  • Yet another sign that no one in the media really ‘gets’ uuism, along with the Charleston paper articles on GA. Kind of sad that all we ever get to be in the eyes of non-uus is a gathering of god-phobic, overtly secular and pc humanists (even uu humanism is so much bigger than that, gosh). And apparently the style of uu gatherings is ‘no-religious-questions-asked’. Sure, okay….I guess I must have a faulty memory when it comes to the countless hours my friends and I spent discussing what the seven priciples and other aspects of our religion mean to us at youth camp last summer (/not/ politics), as well as all the deeply moving worships we shared together.
    UUism was the most important part of my childhood and high school years, and it’s disgusting that is here reduced to presenting UUism as a far-left political discussion group.

  • Missi

    Again I will say I love my UU church! That article is so far from the truth! My church also highly values the 7 principles, we have awesome discussion and we welcome all who walk through our door! We care about your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and listen tentatively! We consist of Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Wiccans, and others! No one here judges or looks down on someone who has different views or ideas. Speaking and sharing with eachother is very education and enlightening! We have a great group of kids and our educational program is awesome!I have a 17 yr old that attends by her own choice, she is not told or made to go to UU.

    I think some of the ‘negative’ comments above about UUs is because the person approaching the UU church just to see what is it, must have approached it with a negative attitude and closed-mind.

  • Too many people seem to think that if a religious organization does not demand that its followers believe a certain way, it does not allow them to believe that way. UUs are perfectly free to be Theists, even of the Biblical kind; they are NOT permitted to claim that their beliefs are the only true or good ones. I would not want to be in a church that either tried to suppress Theists or tried to make everyone Theists. People need to be enlightened enough to value a community itself and not get so hung up on beliefs.

  • Robin Edgar

    Oh dear it looks like “Win” has gone and gotten his*her U*U knickers in a knot over this article, as have one or two other U*U commenters. Most ironically their attempts to question the validity of the article only serve to reveal that some of the U*U problems briefly mentioned in Daniel Burke’s fairly even-handed article are actually much worse than the article suggests. . .

    Win informs us that,

    “This trend (towards more spirituality) has been *controversial*; the humanist element in UU congregations is still *strong* and often feels *threatened* and *marginalized* by such language.”


    Not much wonder then that Laurel Mended “feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every Soul and Nation” might still upset the humanists in the pews.”

    Right “win”?

    Gotta love how “win” speaks about the first U*U principle of “Repect (sic) for the inherent worth and dignity of all people” but spends much of his*her comment insulting and maligning Daniel Burke and Religion News Service more generally.


    Win’s comment is a fine example of Unitarian*Universalist hypocrisy writ large, but it none-the-less makes it all too obvious that the “tiny, declining, fringe religion”* (known to some as “The U*U Movement”) has much more serious problems than Daniel Burke’s article ever speaks about.

    If Unitarian Universalism has gained a reputation for being “a gathering of god-phobic, overtly secular and pc humanists” and “a far-left political discussion group” it *might* be because far too many U*U “churches” are in fact populated and controlled by such left-leaning anti-religious “fundamentalist atheist” Humanist U*Us. Now *there* is something that Religion News Service might want to write a feature article about. . .

    Perhaps the headline could read –

    America’s Least Wanted “Church”?

    or alternatively

    America’s Most Godless “Church”?

    Personally I think that this article *could* have gone a LOT further in revealing the Godlessness of the U*Us than it did.


    Robin Edgar

    * The very apt description of Unitarian Universalism as “a tiny, declining, fringe religion” is a word-for-word accurate quote from Rev. Peter Morales’ “stump speech” announcing his candidacy for President of the UUA.

  • Joy1990

    I think the problem is that there are many many “Unitarians” who don’t label themselves as such and don’t feel the need to congregate with others who fall into that category of beliefs. Usually, U of U churches are only present in larger towns and aren’t within most people’s communities. If you are U of U, most of us are slow to take offense at religious references.

  • Robin Edgar

    :I think the problem is that there are many many “Unitarians” who don’t label themselves as such and don’t feel the need to congregate with others who fall into that category of beliefs.

    I guess that depends in what the meaning of “Unitarians” is Joy. . . That “category of beliefs” known as The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism are quite general values that are already shared by the vast majority of the citizens of the “Western World”, but that does not make them all “Unitarians” does it?

    :Usually, U of U churches are only present in larger towns and aren’t within most people’s communities.

    True enough Joy, but that is due in no small measure to the fact that very few people seem to want to “label themselves” as “Unitarians” or Unitarian Universalists. If even 20 or 30 people in any given town wanted to start a Unitarian*Universalist fellowship they could do so with the help of the UUA but, quite evidently, hardly anyone wants to be a member in “The U*U Movement” for some reason. . . It *might* be because few God believing people want to go to “church” only to be belittled and maligned by cranky atheists.

    :If you are U of U, most of us are slow to take offense at religious references.

    That may or may not be true Joy but, even if it is true, the fact remains that Unitarian Universalists seem to be only too happy to allow a small but vocal minority of intolerant and hostile anti-religious “fundamentalist atheist” U*Us to make any number of U*U “Welcoming Congregations” anything *but* genuinely welcoming to God believing people. The UUA has done little or nothing to address this issue head on and has in fact all but officially approved of anti-religious intolerance and bigotry practiced by abusive “fundamentalist atheist” U*U clergy. . .

    Interestingly enough the word verification code for this comment is –


  • Joy1990

    Actually, I would attend if the U of U church were closer but it is hard to feel a part of the church when it is far away. I am proud to say I am a Unitarian. It is the only church I could belong to and remain an honest person.

  • Robin Edgar

    :Actually, I would attend if the U of U church were closer but it is hard to feel a part of the church when it is far away.

    A common lament of “would be” Unitarian Universalists. Sadly there are some good old Unitarian *reasons* why Unitarian Universalism is a “tiny, declining, fringe religion” and thus U*U churches are “few and far between” in most states of the Union. The anti-religious bigotry that rears its ugly head in rather too many so-called Unitarian churches is a major contributing factor to the decline, and possible fall. . . of Unitarian Universalism.

    :I am proud to say I am a Unitarian.

    Most Unitarians are, even the “fundamentalist atheist” bigots. . .

    Arrogantly proud in too many cases.

    :It is the only church I could belong to and remain an honest person.

    I understand what you mean here Joy, and respect that, but I got kicked out of the Unitarian church for being an honest person regarding the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry and related clergy misconduct that I encountered there. . . Sadly there are a lot of “less than honest” Unitarian*Universalists in the so-called U*U World.

  • I don’t think a church is measured by the number of new members it recruits. I think there’s something in the Bible (not my favorite spiritual book but it has its points) about “wherever 2 or more are gathered” or something like that? Personally, I think one is enough. It is belief that makes a faith, not numbers.
    Also I know a few UU people, and they are generally open-minded and not easily offended.