Our religious tradition is hard to explain and thus misrepresented in the public. Try to explain to people that we’re the home of religious atheism – humanism – and watch the mental gymnastics tumble behind the eyes of the person you’re explaining this to. Or that we are a religion that doesn’t tell you what to believe but is along with you for the journey as you figure that out for yourself and again, witness someone’s brain do backflips trying to figure that one out. It’s so counter to what religion is stereotyped to be it seems…weird.
Like the son-in-law of the president of the United States, Jared Kushner, saying he’s a “internet Unitarian minister” weird. Further still, the article exploring this question of just what does he mean by that doesn’t get us either, saying that while he’s not a Unitarian Universalist minister perhaps he’s part of the broader Unitarian tradition. Also weird.
As an internet Unitarian minister myself I feel a need to clear this up. There is a church that ordains people online, and many get this ordination so they can be the officiant for their friends at weddings. It’s called the Universal Life Church. They are not Unitarian Universalist. This church is also misnamed in the article, after Jared Kushner misnamed the tradition that offers online ordinations. We don’t do online ordinations.
There is also a religion called Unity Church that was founded in Kansas City, Missouri, that believes in the healing power of prayer from many religious sources. They are not Unitarian Universalist either.
This amusing spotlight on our religious tradition reminds me of the last time Unitarian Universalists were dragged into White House affairs – our publishing house, Beacon Press, published the Pentagon Papers. The Nixon administration was not pleased. How I wish we had something to publish like that these days — however, times have changed and it looks like a journalist from the Hollywood Reporter will have a book shaking up a presidency that is already criminally unstable.
Why do we have such confusing name?
The word Unitarian has a Christian origin, and to believe in Unitarianism was(and probably still is) a heresy. In the bible, there is almost no evidence for the persistent belief in the Trinity. No such thing as the father, the son, and the holy ghost. Unitarians were the people, who over the ages, read the bible and asked why the church invented such a belief. Micheal Servetus, who was burned during the middle ages for this heresy, thought the doctrine of the Trinity was what separated us from the Jewish and Muslim religions. He thought the Abrahamic faiths could come together if we gave up on the exclusive divinity of Jesus. Not a popular idea then, and not a popular idea today. In the United States, to be Unitarian meant that you believed Jesus was a person, not a lesser God or the same thing as God. Early Unitarians at first shunned being called the word, but eventually adopted the heretical label.
Universalists, on the other hand, were people who believed that God loved everyone universally and that everyone was going to heaven no matter what. This was also a heresy. There was some debate if you were punished a bit before you went to heaven, but by the 20th century they believed that everyone was going to heaven and that there was no such thing as hell. This expanded to the idea that God loved you if you were Christian or not. Jesus was important because he died for everybody and gave everyone salvation right then and there on the cross. So you wouldn’t have to believe in him or even know he existed – you were going to heaven anyway.
Believing in the divinity and necessity of Jesus is sort of the definition of Christianity, so you can can see how we drifted from that and instead towards practice of reason, reverence, and love for everyone – a love beyond belief, as the All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, likes to say. These two zany traditions merged in the 60’s, giving us this wonderful long name that is easily confused with other religious traditions. These days, the difference between the Unitarian, Universalist, Unity, Universal, and Unitarian Universalist belief systems don’t figure largely into the public imagination. I think we ought to call ourselves The Religious Heretics myself, since reforming religious beliefs to be better until they are no longer heresies seems to be our thing, but I doubt that label is any more meaningful than Unitarian Universalist to most people.
In our tradition it’s always been more about what we do with the belief, what actions our beliefs cause us to carry out than the belief itself. (One way of saying this is Deeds, Not Creeds) Our belief is that ministers ought to be competent and there needs to be some way to verify that competence, so our action is that we don’t have online ordination processes so with a few clicks anyone can be a ‘internet Unitarian minister’. In order for me to claim this title, it took an undergrad degree, a master’s degree of divinity, $90,000 worth of student loans, three internships, a chaplaincy tour, psychological evaluations, reams and reams of essays, verification through a committee process by our association, and a congregation that wanted to ordain me in a public ceremony not unlike a wedding. All this to serve congregations, community ministries, and chaplaincies from a Unitarian Universalist perspective. The most important part to the public seems to be the ability to do weddings, so yes, I can do those too.
Enjoy our amusing moments of fame here, and may you have more success defining exactly what our religious tradition is all about. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/a-new-book-says-jared-kushner-claimed-to-be-an-internet-unitarian-minister-is-he/article/2644915