The Language of Liberal Religion

We spend a lot of digital ink on words, both religious and not, and how they are used by, and how they sometimes divide Unitarian Universalists. A lot is said about which words get used and how people react to them. Words do matter, but how we hear them is on us as much as the person saying them. We have to accept that religious language is important in even the most liberal religious tradition.

There are groups of activists saving the world by direct action. Groups of lawyers are doing their good in court rooms and board meetings. There are many ways to do good in the world. Unitarian Universalism does its good, and holds its power, by being a liberal religion in a culture where some people find that phrase to be an oxymoron.

Our ministers do need to use religious language sometimes, as it grants authority that is hard to command when they speak in purely secular language. They need to say “spirit” and maybe “prayer” and certainly “mission” and “grace” at times. There is cultural power in those words! We have as much right to wield that power as any other religion.

Between congregants, though, what is important is intent and our love and respect for one another.

When I talk about gods, I know that I don’t mean the same thing as my friends who talk about God, or who talk about The Lord, or who talk about the Spirit Within. That’s alright. Part of building that community is learning to understand what these words mean to each of them. This allows us to translate as needed when we talk. Some words have many meaning, and knowing how our friends use them is part of building relationships. It is like finding out that someone likes coffee, but prepares theirs in a very different way; like so many other things in life where people use words to encapsulate big concepts, and we accept that they might mean different things by those words than we would, and we either translate it or we ask for clarification.

Few people get into heated arguments about whether an herbal infusion that contains no tea leaves is allowed to be called tea. Or whether “milk” from nuts or beans can be called “milk”. While there are those who hold strong opinions, these topics are nowhere near as hotly debated as religious language. Why do we have these debates over things that are far less tangible and much more personal? Maybe the fact that they are so personal is the answer, but it doesn’t seem like a good justification.

We are a project rooted in liberal religion as a force for good.

So, we use religious words here on the I Am UU page. We actually think it is crucial that Unitarian Universalism continue to assert its religious heritage. Our value and relevance is tied to that, in that we aren’t a good social action organization, ecological movement, or even human rights campaign, but we can provide a liberal, moral foundation to the groups that do that work well, and we can support and heal the folks who do that work. We use religious language because we are a religion, and our religion is something we should be proud of. We should shout it from the roof tops! We’ll settle, though, for getting people comfortable whenever it naturally comes up in conversation. Because that is Unitarian Universalist evangelism.

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