Slate.com writer suggests UUs do not standing for anything in particular


I just came across a post by Rev.Thom pointing out another instance of Christmas journalists/writers having fun with Unitarian Universalism.   Well, not so much fun as perpetuating stereotypes and misinformation about our faith. Joy!~

In this next case a Slate.com article title “One Gift To Bind Them All: Streamline your holiday shopping by purchasing the same present for everyone on your list” by Noreen Malone recommends  – as the title says – buying one gift for everyone. What UUs  may find of  interest is that she describes the perfect bulk Christmas gift as follows:

The perfect generic gift ought to share attributes with the loose strictures of Unitarian Universalism—vague and inoffensive, warm and fuzzy and enveloping and giving the general impression of standing for something while not really standing for anything in particular. The gift-giver must sacrifice panache at the altar of practicality. Greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Noreen Malone highlights for me an issue we really must work harder on  – the sense many people have that we don’t stand for anything.

To Noreen Malone and others who share this view, I say read our association’s collection of Social Justice statements (400+ page pdf).  Too much justice for you?  You can search our Social Justice statements using the interface here. In his post Rev.Thom talks more about our standing for something including bringing attention to the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign.

We stand for plenty.  We just do a craptastic job of communicating what we stand for.  Some would argue we do a poor job communicating not only with the larger world, but with our members and friend too.  If this is the case, communicating better is a huge and urgent growth strategy for our faith and for your congregation.

Instead of getting annoyed at this Noreen Malone for demonstrating what to many UUs will feel like ignorance, I’d like to invite you to challenge yourself to do the following in 2010. For every message you share be it a newsletter column, a newspaper column, a blog post,
an announcement in your Sunday Bulletin, or sermon by a minister or lay leader ask yourself the following question:

“What does THIS communication say about what we stand for?”

If this isn’t coming through in our communications, our ongoing messages, we invite every cheap shot by those who don’t “get us” and every clever reference to our so called wishy-washy nature by the Noreen Malone’s of the world.

Don’t complain. Communicate better.
Don’t rant in return.  Prove them wrong.

That said, what is the “the perfect universal holiday gift” –  that is oh so UU like in its ability to be all things to all people without being much of anything at all?

According to Noreen Malone it is a collection of edit poems by Garrison Keillor, Good Poems.

4 thoughts on “Slate.com writer suggests UUs do not standing for anything in particular”

  1. “It is better to be misunderstood, than overlooked.”

    I’d like to think that Noreen Malone’s comments indicate that at least Unitarian Universalism is being misunderstood and not completely overlooked. Though I agree much work is to be done by we Unitarian Universalists ourselves to correct that misunderstanding/misperception.
    However, I would also like to see Unitarian Universalists on the congregational, district, associational-levels come to a common understanding of what the shared mission, vision, values, and beliefs of Unitarian Universalism are AND commit a meaningful amount of time, energy, and money to such.
    While there are the rare, generous exceptions, I feel many UUs give of their time, energy, and money only as much as they are able to do so without fundamentally changing their lives- nor do congregations typically ask, expect, require, challenge them to do so.
    Perhaps “standing” is just what we do- standing and making spoken and written proclamations while fundamentalist conservatives and advocates of the dominant consumer culture walk, run- get out and “do” a great many things to advance their own mission, vision, values, and beliefs.

  2. Peter, I do think it’s primarily a PR failing, but it’s been so long in the making that it won’t be soon overcome. I think that some of the Unitarians and Universalists in the 1940’s and 1950’s had a good grasp of what demands a free church places upon them. At least since the Vietnam era it seems that the theological broadening of UU has come with a corresponding lack of a felt need to tie it all together. Instead, we left it to others to step in and fill that vacuum and to define us, as to what we believe (…whatever we “want” to…nothing…etc.). It’s now an uphill process to break through those misconceptions, over-generalizations, stereotypes and outright dismissals. It may take an even greater PR effort to do it now than would have been needed in generations past.

    The depth of the problem is evidenced when — even within our own congregations, among longtime supporters — we hear some of the very same comments about “believing everything and believing nothing” that we do from both our detractors and from the uninformed and misinformed in the general public.

  3. To those who were not raised in the UU faith their association with UUism may be likened to a long stay in the emergency room/hospital/homeless shelter. The denomination is a refuge from more restrictive faiths and we may not want to proclaim loudly what we stand for. This fact has some bearing on our lacking of who we are to outsiders.

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