Setting Boundaries and Being Welcoming: Acceptance and Encouragement

Richard, in a comment on a recent post about what it means to be a UU, thinks that our opposition to certain political positions, our rejection of certain movements and slogans, makes us hypocritical. We’ve hidden the comment where it originally appeared because it was wildly off-topic. We did want to address the comment, though:

Richard's comment from Facebook.

It all sounds great but wear an NRA or MAGA cap to a UU function and you will be made fun of, ridiculed and see how close minded UU’s are. We should accept all viewpoints and not have a ‘litmus test’ as to who is OK.

Hi, Richard.

Thanks for the comment. We really do appreciate the chance to address this talking point.

I cannot promise that you will not be ridiculed, though I would be shocked to see it in my church or any of those I know well. We would not find your choices funny.

I admit that my initial reaction to such a display would not be positive. And, let’s be honest that this would be a display. The point of wearing such a thing is to make a statement, and Richard, you clearly understands that the statement it makes would be antagonistic to the broad UU community. That is not the same as being unwelcome. It is not at all the same as being rejected. Your choice to be antagonistic is different than you simply having a viewpoint.

We value diversity.

I work for a congregation with a diverse membership. It includes hunters and other gun owners. They do not feel unwelcome, even when a big deal is made about ensuring that vegans feel welcome, even here in Texas. They do know that their guns are not welcome in the church, and if any of them give money to the gun lobby, they don’t feel the need to make an issue of it at worship.

We have a couple of veterans in the congregation I serve who literally wear their service to church most Sundays. One of them is almost always in his Navy hat – not a discreet accessory. The fact that we have a number of devoted pacifists in the congregation who actively campaign against all armed conflict does not result in arguments.We agree that war is to be avoided and we work together on how we can realize the goal.

We have atheists and humanists in the congregation (as do many of our congregations) and they sing (or at least hum) hymns about God alongside the pagans and the people of Jewish descent. Sure, some will choose not to sing, and some might even mention that choice to the worship team. No one is threatening to revolt over hymns.

We have people in the congregation who own businesses, who are landlords, and who are otherwise very comfortable in the economy as it is and they worship alongside adamant anti-capitalists who work against private ownership and would gladly strip those Capitalists of many of the privileges they enjoy. Both sides still work together to uphold the worth and dignity of every worker.

The existence of difference and even disagreement does not hamper our ability to work together for the common good.

But, you are probably right that your hat, whether NRA or MAGA, would not be well received; your political statement, one you seem to recognize as inflammatory, might indeed upset some people. Not the fact that you disagree with them, but the reasonable assumption that you’ve come to antagonize rather than to discuss. We’ve had a mass shooting in a UU church by a white man complaining about liberals. I hope you’ll understand that, while our eventual, thoughtful response was to love harder than ever, our gut reaction is as human as anyone else’s.

Your intentions and actions are not free from judgement. Your choice to wear such a thing is a statement about the world you want to live in, and we would be compelled to address it with you. While our Principles do call on us to accept everyone, in the very next phrase we are also asked to encourage their spiritual growth. If you choose to fellowship with UUs, you will be asked to question your place in the world, what kind of world you want to leave for the next generation, and how you are working towards that goal. We have promised that we will be open to such examination and gentle prodding, and that doesn’t always feel good; growth is often uncomfortable.

In another Principle, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person – all of them, including the undocumented, the Islamic, or the queer. The MAGA movement has been antithetical to that Principle, and we would be negligent if we did not tell you so. Again, we have pledged that our community will uphold their dignity, and if we feel that you are not working towards that goal, we are duty-bound to question your intentions and discuss your motives. How we tell you will depend a lot on how you show up and begin the conversation; we’re only human.

A UU Congregation is a community.

We cannot be the community we say we are if we do not protect the marginalized from those who seek to degrade them. We absolutely cannot tolerate intolerance and still claim to be welcoming; there is a paradox in that, but it is no less true. You cannot make the hunted feel comfortable unless you disarm the hunter in their presence. We cannot be safe for the immigrant, the minority, or the outcast while allowing rhetoric that dehumanizes them.

But, Richard, I don’t disagree that we UUs have boundaries, as do all communities. Any definition draws lines that say what is out of bounds as much as what is in. I reject that it is merely a “viewpoint” that we stand against, though. We stand against statements of policy and actions that oppose our Principles. We will judge you on your actions, how you express your ideas. If you come in looking for an argument, there really is a good chance you can start one.

We cannot judge you on your beliefs; we do not read minds. We cannot know what is in your heart until you share it. We are pledged to accept you, and as long as your actions, including the words you speak (or wear), do not violate our covenant. I am relatively sure that you will be admitted and welcome in most of our congregations. It is what is not what is in your head, or even your heart, that we object to. We’d love the chance to help you be your best self.

Leave the hat in the car and I am pretty sure that you’ll get a good response, at least at most of our churches on the average Sunday. There are few real guarantees; we are still human. But we are humans who are trying to build a better community, a better world. We don’t know what it will look like, yet, but we have agreed on some ideas we think will get us there.


We once again need to point out that the I Am UU project is run by volunteers and the bills are paid by the community through gifts. This post took several hours of work, on top of the normal work of reading, responding to, and moderating comments on the post in question. If you appreciate the original post or this reply to Richard’s comment, please consider dropping a couple of dollars in the digital tip jar. If you want to ensure more such content in the future, consider making that a monthly thing; Ko-fi makes that very simple!

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