Selling God

Once the church of intellectual rock stars and progressive New Englanders, Unitarian Universalism has struggled in recent times to convince people they need it. So the church did what any modern business would: It hired an ad team.

David Ruffin Unitarian Universalism

Photograph by Toan Trinh

David Ruffin, coordinator of the Sanctuary Boston, a “small group worship” aimed at attracting younger members to Unitarian Universalism.

At the beginning of 2012, in a manifesto of sorts that started as a personal journal entry, Reverend Peter Morales announced to his congregations that something needed to radically change. The Unitarian Universalist church was in crisis. In spite of being one of the most progressive churches, with a rich legacy of attracting the sorts of forward-thinking, open-minded intellectuals many of us like to think we are—Emerson was Unitarian, so was Thoreau—the UUs were veering toward extinction. People weren’t coming to services. Those who did come weren’t staying. Forget about growth; many people had never even heard of them.

Examining his small and rapidly diminishing numbers—since its heyday in the ’60s, the church had lost about half of its flock—Morales realized something many modern faiths had already grappled with head-on: People just didn’t think they needed religion anymore.

As president of the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), with its 1,000-plus member churches, Morales saw that the era of Unitarian Universalism as the thinking man’s alternative to mainstream religion had come to an end. Whereas in the past, the UU church might have had to compete with, say, Methodists or Episcopalians for people’s attention on a Sunday morning, these days prospective members spent the Lord’s Day practicing yoga, pacing the sidelines of their kids’ soccer fields, or brunching. People were fleeing traditional Christianity, but they no longer sought a replacement.

And yet, he thought, so many of the religion-wary were already UUs in practice and principle. Consider the Millennials, whose views on social issues like marriage and income inequality strongly echoed UU’s deeply humanistic message. The church had been built by progressive advocates just like them. Its proud legacy included towering New England intellectuals who’d led the charge for education and prison reform, helping the poor, and abolishing slavery. What’s more, its basic principles echoed Eastern tenets that life on Earth is the one that counts and all people go to heaven. They all clearly shared the same philosophy, so why wasn’t the new generation coming? His conclusion: “Church is becoming a bad brand for young people.”

To battle that perception, Morales had often told the congregations under his charge to “repel fewer visitors.” But maybe even church was too churchy. Perhaps, he thought, the UUA could start presenting itself more like a movement, church optional. They’d always waffled a bit on calling it a religion anyway.

So the time had come for a complete rebrand. In early 2012, Morales began working with Reverend Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s program and strategy officer. Cooley, in turn, called on Kristi Kienholz, a Boston-based marketing strategist who suggested that the UUA come up with a branding strategy.

Getting the word out, she said, would come later.

 

Like many before him, Morales had found the inclusive nature of the church’s doctrine divine and liberating. With roots in the Reformation—the mid-1500s European movement that questioned many of the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church and spawned Protestantism—both Unitarianism and Universalism were products of a nascent, progressive New England. The American Unitarian Association was founded in Boston in 1825 on the principles of rational thinking and free will, offering an alternative to the idea of original sin. Defining God was left up to the individual. The first Universalist church, founded in Gloucester in the late 18th century, was considered the more evangelical and inclusive of the two. As such, it offered an antidote to the heaven-and-hell Christianity that essentially scared people into pews. The key difference between the two sects, according to a quote credited to Thomas Starr King, was that “Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.” Finding much in common, the two churches banded together in 1961 to become Unitarian Universalism.

Raised Lutheran, Morales had been a Fulbright scholar and worked in newspaper publishing and state government before entering the ministry in 1999. With a passion for social justice, particularly environmental issues and immigration reform, he fully embraced UU’s lack of strict doctrine. “There is a modern Western preoccupation with ‘believe this, this, this, and this,” Morales says. “I believe religion is much more about what you love than about what you think.”

Being open and non-evangelical worked for the Unitarians and Universalists for nearly two centuries; their modern incarnation is now fiercely secular. During his Easter sermon at the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist church in Newburyport, Reverend Harold Babcock said that while he isn’t so sure about the whole physical resurrection of Jesus Christ thing, what we can take from the Bible’s writings about the event is the importance of renewal. Which brings to mind the popular UU joke (yes, there are such things) in which a little UU girl explains why Easter is celebrated: “Jesus rolled back the stone, walked outside, and saw his shadow,” she says, concluding, “so we’ll have six more weeks of winter.”

 

When you think about it, religion and marketing have always made a great team—you could even say that one begat the other. The Bible, with its stories and slogans and pop-star figures, is the ultimate branding tool; many consider Jesus and Paul both genius philosophers and genius salesmen. More recently, several organized religions have honed their sound bites to jolt members back into the pews. The relaunched United Methodist Church website features the Friday Night Lights–esque slogan “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” A few years ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints inaugurated the “We’re just like you!” campaign with messaging and TV spots featuring young, good-looking Mormons, designed to entice new members while distancing the church from some of the more controversial elements of its history, like polygamy and child brides. And though the Holy See, the official website of the Vatican, could use a redesign, it’s updated regularly and includes links to Pope Francis’s mobile app and social media accounts, where His Holiness often posts selfies.

While UU’s intellectual bent had served it well in the past, its constant soul-searching had become, in this century, its biggest liability: There was no clear advertising angle. So Kienholz introduced Reverend Cooley to the Portland, Oregon, branding firm Quicksilver Foundry, which taught the UUA the basics of branding-speak: tag lines, core language, and “core themes” that needed to be addressed.

Quicksilver took a stab at elevator pitches: “Our faith is steeped in reverence, brazen in acceptance and limitless in compassion. We are fueled by community and resolute in our welcome. Wanted: Brave Souls.” Tag lines got at the sell a little quicker: “The Unitarian Universalist Association: Fierce Love” and “Live it. Fight for it. Surrender to it. Preach it. Light a Flame.”

Trying to sum up UU’s expansive nature proved very challenging. “The conversation quickly led us into, well, what’s the mission of Unitarian Universalism? And so we really struggled around that,” Cooley says. “It’s kind of our perennial struggle. Given that we’re such a radically decentralized organization, it’s really hard to know who speaks for Unitarian Universalism.” She added that “[Quicksilver founder Will Novy-Hildesley] has really been able to shine a big light, saying, ‘How does this look for people beyond you?’”

Yet a marketing endeavor risked alienating members. As part of their ethos of acceptance and “finding your own path,” UUs are very averse to evangelism, or anything that looks like it. “One church’s marketing is another church’s proselytism,” observes Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and author of more than 20 books about religion in America. That’s why religious marketing has many names: proselytizing for a higher calling, evangelism, God’s work. “What in the [secular] world might look grubby, in the religious world would be seen as holy,” Wolfe says. “You have an obligation to do it.”

Everyone agreed that if the UUs were going to rebrand, this whole marketing thing would require visual components—a new website, maybe a new logo—services Quicksilver didn’t offer. To find a firm that also handled design, Kienholz launched a nationwide search, which led to a boutique agency in Boston’s South End. By chance, the name of the firm had a whiff of the spiritual: Proverb.

Cooley liked that Proverb had worked with a range of businesses, organizations, and brands, from Boston Public Schools to the restaurant Myers + Chang to the tooth whitener Luster. “They really stood out,” she says of Proverb.“Being a local group we knew we could interact with them on an ongoing basis and they were, you know, quite interested in the uniqueness of this project.”

Partners Christine Needham and Daren Bascome could relate to the demographic UUs were eager to attract. Needham was raised Irish Catholic and married a Jew; after spending years studying yoga and Buddhism she now calls herself Hindu. Bascome was raised by a “die-hard Pentecostal mother.” He says his father, a musician, considers jazz his religion. Bascome’s wife was raised Confucian. Neither Needham’s nor Bascome’s children have been raised to identify with any one religion. In turn, the two recognized how the UU approach could appeal to families like theirs. “You could almost describe what they’re doing as being sort of an un-church,” Bascome says. “There’s an ability for someone to build what they need inside of the infrastructure of the church, similar to how a software developer would approach open-source coding.”

As Proverb saw it, the challenge UUs faced was one that consumer brands dealt with all the time: how to sell people something they didn’t know they needed. And so while the team considered how other religions had approached rebranding—the Mormons, in particular—they focused much more on approaching the prospective UU from a consumer perspective. They spent time examining how non-churchgoers in their South End neighborhood spent their Sundays, and how they chose to make a positive impact on the world. Their research led them to consider the popularity of yoga, cause walks, and campaigns that combined consumerism with altruism, like (Red), rock star Bono’s campaign benefiting the fight against AIDS in Africa.

They also considered how much spirituality had seeped into the corporate world. Yoga-clothing company Lululemon, for example, had commandeered high-minded sloganeering to leverage its brand, imprinting its iconic red-and-white shopping bag with dozens of uplifting to-live-by quotes: “Friends are more important than money; breathe deeply and appreciate the moment; creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment.” Through such quasi-spiritual messaging, the company had created a community (albeit consumer-driven) based on practicing yoga in expensive spandex.

“If you see a Lululemon bag walking down the street, you read one of those quotes, that might actually change your outlook,” Bascome says. “We wanted to begin to build something that had a certain kind of dexterity and utility, where even if someone never actually buys in, the quality of their lives or the quality of their day could be improved.”

Like Morales, he and Needham agreed that UU was stronger as an idea than as a specific place and time. You didn’t even have to go to church to feel its benefits. You didn’t even have to be UU. Though eventually, you might. Eventually, you might start to think, Wow, what’s so special about those pricey pants everyone’s wearing? And then, maybe: Do I need them too?

 

In past times, ambiguity had been the driving force behind Unitarian Universalism. But in the 21st century, the prospective audience for the religion would demand more: They’d need sharp logos and catchphrases. So Proverb worked with Cooley and the UUA Board of Trustees to establish some “key messaging.”

Their insight-and-strategy document—“sort of ground zero from where the brand launches from,” says Needham—now outlines the five parts of the conversation about UU: Who We Are, What We Believe, What We Are Doing, Why It’s Important, and How to Get Involved. Proverb also worked with the UUs to shorten their seven core principles, making them easier to remember, and has suggested putting them into “some sort of acronym form so that they’re easier to pull up quickly in your brain,” Needham says. “We don’t know if that will fly.”

A forthcoming advertising campaign celebrating UU’s radical roots, meanwhile, will aim to underscore what Bascome calls “the unique range of needs that Unitarian Universalism can address” in, of course, digestible bits—short videos and a heavy social-media push. It will look at what Bascome calls “real-igion,” the idea that religion can look different for different people. Concepts being tossed around have included priests, tightrope walkers, and “someone with a little bindi,” Needham says. “The message is that it doesn’t have to look one way.”

Though everyone at the UUA seems to be on board with the proposal, Needham admits the process has been a little unnerving. The feedback has been positive, she says, but there’s been a lot of it. True to form, the decentralized UUA solicited input from some member congregations and other key UUs, and there are a lot of decision-makers who want to be heard. Says Cooley, “There is no such thing as a nationwide directive. Ever. Never…. We don’t speak for all Unitarian Universalists. We have influence because we’re leaders and there are ways in which our staff and our officers have made some significant shifts in the culture by virtue of standing up for certain ideas, but there’s no way we’d tell people how things are going to be.”

Which means everyone gets at least some say, “which is very different from if we were branding a corporation,” Bascome says. Consequently, he says he has adjusted his firm’s approach to build in such lack of control. In search of branding that functions across broad platforms, they looked at political campaigns and the work that’s been done around breast cancer. “You catch more flies with honey,” he says. “So what we’re trying to do is make anything that we create as compelling as possible.” His hope is that their branding becomes so enticing that the congregations adopt it, voluntarily.

In February, Proverb and the UUA unveiled a bolder and more modern logo—a play on UU’s most sacred symbol, the flaming chalice. A new website (currently under design) will be easier to navigate, more interactive, and feature the abridged seven core principles right on the homepage, instead of buried on page who-knows-where. “We’re competing for time and attention,” Bascome says. “Most people aren’t looking for more things to do.”

But after all is said and done, Bascome says, “Organizations tend to approach branding or marketing as being ‘How do we take what we have and figure out how to sell it?’ It’s a whole other thing to figure out how to make something that people actually want.”

 

Which is why some people wonder if new tag lines and some TV spots address what some consider UU’s most pressing problem: not getting people to come, but getting them to stay. “Most congregations that I’m familiar with actually have a healthy, steady flow of new members; indeed, many are composed primarily of people who have become UU in the past five or 10 years,” says Dan McKanan, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Senior Lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. “What UUs are not so good at is retaining members.”

Dave Ruffin would agree. A recent HDS graduate, the 33-year-old ministerial intern at the Unitarian Universalist First Church in Boston says that while branding is nice, UUs really need to focus on their product, likening the whole thing to ice cream. “Whatever you say in advance to get people in the door, what’s important is what happens there,” he says. “Like, Ben & Jerry’s had great packaging but it became the rage because it’s f’ing good ice cream, you know?

“What I’m concerned with is, for all the people that are already stumbling into our congregations, what is it that’s making so few of them stay? And my answer to that is that we are not actually delivering the goods. The goods being the experience that people are after. Going into a church is a very vulnerable and scary thing to do in this liberal, modern world where religion seems like the outlier thing to do. But people keep going, and looking.”

What UU needs to survive, he believes, is a radical rethinking: It needs to stop defending its liberalism and embrace being a religion. “We need permission to be the people of faith that we are,” he says. “We need to actually get religious.”

Previous generations of UUs seemed to think that the congregations wanted less religion. Ruffin is convinced they now want more. “I mean, that is why they’re going to spiritual-guidance studios,” he says. “That is why Oprah and Dr. Phil are as popular…you know, I think there’s some radical discontent out there, and that’s really good. We shouldn’t be happy with the state of our disconnection and Facebook-universe, disembodied way of being.”

Figuratively, at least, Ruffin is the new face of UU. He was raised Episcopalian, but found UU during a rough period in his early twenties. “I was very clear that I didn’t believe the things I understood the Christian church to stand for,” he says. “And then to find this church where the feel is really much more spirit-filled, enthusiastic, heart-centered than a lot of our more rationalist-leaning churches…I didn’t know how unique it was at the time in our tradition, but I had a spiritual experience right off the bat. At the same time I was given the gift of not having to name that in any particular way. And that was very meaningful to me.”

With a background in acting, he says, “What I was really longing for was the possibility to use the arts to nurture community.” At HDS, he formed a gospel-style choir with a Baptist friend, which they called ’N Spire. When asked if he was the Justin Timberlake of the group, he admits that “yes, I suppose I probably was.” He studied alternate forms of worship and began to imagine a world where people would be willing to shell out as much for the experience of church as they would for yoga. “Yoga is $15 a class,” he says. “In the church world, we’re glad when they throw three dollars in the basket.” Right now, even he would opt for yoga over most UU services (he prefers Bikram), saying, “I do not go to church for a talk. I can go to TED talks for a talk.”

This outlook is what inspired Ruffin to found, during his third year at HDS, Sanctuary Boston, a small-group worship community rooted in UU with a focus on creating a place “for non-churchy types, spiritual but not religious.” He wrote grant applications, pulled together a team, and got space and support from the First Church in Boston and First Parish in Cambridge. His group meets twice a month on Wednesday evenings, and then has dinner together after. Ruffin and his core team of twenty- and thirty-somethings—some raised UU, but most raised with some other religion or none at all—take turns leading reflections that range from traditional texts to Rumi to Katy Perry lyrics. There is a lot of singing, and some dancing as well. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he may be the Justin Timberlake of UU, too.

 

When people join religion at all these days, they tend to go all-in and all-God. Evangelicals are among the most successful religious motivators, with clear rules and firm ideas of heaven and hell. That’s a spirit that people like Ruffin are tapping into, but without the strict doctrine. The majority of UUs, on the other hand, are perfectly content to keep their religion—which one could argue is basically atheism with a little spirituality thrown in—all to themselves.

Morales hopes his fellow UUs can learn to share their church a little more zealously—for the sake of the church, of course, but for humanity, too. “I’m still convinced that people need community,” he says. “I mean, they do. This is not news.” And although he’s turning to marketing to save his religion, he hopes religion can save us from marketing. In a classically dry UU manner—no exclamation point, no flourish—Morales says that this culture of ours, the one he and most religions are scrambling to offer an antidote to, is “ultimately very unsatisfying.” So maybe more spirituality, more religion, more something is the answer? In a way: “People need something that’s deeper than the banality of consumer culture.” Amen.

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Correction:
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Reformation movement was based on the rejection of the Holy Trinity. Several Protestant sects continue to embrace the concept of the triune.

  • KS Subramanian

    God Business is the best one nowadays. Can make quick fund raising and one need not show where the money is spent. OMG come to our rescue.

  • Mike Akillian

    I’d say that UUism extends well beyond “atheism with a little spirituality thrown in.” In most religions, individuals congregate around a shared religious belief. UU’s are different. We believe each person — through personal inquiry in a supportive environment — can frame and embrace a spiritual or religious view that speaks to his or her own head, heart, and soul. For us, religious freedom means being able to follow a personal path that nurtures us individually, and, however different, is honored by others.

  • Robin Edgar

    I seem to recall Rev. Morales promising that he would not resort to costly marketing or advertising campaigns to promote Unitarian Universalism when he ran for president of the UUA in 2008. His predecessor as UUA president Rev. Bill Sinkford had wasted millions of dollars on various UUA advertising campaigns, both regional and national, that had failed to promote any sustained growth of UUism. I guess that President Morales and other UUA leaders are getting desperate in the face of UUism’s continued stagnation and decline.

    I don’t suppose that it has occurred to President Morales that one of the main reasons why what he himself described as a “tiny, declining, fringe religion” in his stump speech announcing his candidacy for president of the UUA is in ongoing decline, is that “atheism with a little spirituality thrown in” is “ultimately very unsatisfying” to the vast majority of Americans. Another reason why Unitarian Universalism is becoming known as “The Church Of The Revolving Door”, due to its mentioned inability to retain membership, is the fact that Unitarian Universalists are no more free from hypocrisy, clergy abuse, and other serious failings than the clergy and members most other denominations. In fact in some ways UUs are arguably even more hypocritical than the members of other religions, perhaps especially when it comes to their incredibly lax attitude towards their own claimed principles and ideals.

    Those UUs who are aware of the UUA’s “terrible track record” in responding to clergy sexual misconduct believe that this failure, indeed this institutional refusal, to deal responsibly with UUA clergy abuse is a major contributing factor to why so many UUA congregations being unable retain membership. No less than 40% of the UUA’s 1000 or so remaining congregations in the USA have been negatively impacted not only by UU clergy sexual misconduct itself, but also by the ongoing dysfunction caused by the failure to properly address UU clergy abuse when it occurs. I refer you to the UU Safety Net web site for more information about *that* serious problem.

    Then there is the problem of the godlessness of so many UU “churches”, and not just the innocuous “atheism with a little spirituality thrown in”, but the outright anti-religious intolerance and bigotry found in far too many UU “churches”. How many God believing “persons of inherent worth and dignity” want to attend a “church” where they are likely to be accosted by a cranky atheist UU who insists on belittling or maligning their belief in Jesus and-or God? I don’t know how many thousands of Christian oriented, or otherwise God-believing, Americans have kicked the proverbial dust off their feet and turned their back on this “tiny, declining, fringe religion” for good as a result of being mistreated by intolerant and abusive “Humanist” UUs, but God certainly does. . .

    From what I have seen of the UUA’s new branding and marketing materials so far, the UUA risks being accused of misleading publicity and even outright false advertising, but then the UUA has been feeding the American public a highly misleading “bill of goods” (I’m being polite here) for decades. . . Indeed this article is full of dubious assertions made by the UU clergy and UUA leaders interviewed for it. Some responsible fact checking will quickly show that the response of many UUs to the UUA’s new logo and other new branding material is by no means entirely positive. I would happily discuss how many UUs have expressed their disapproval of the new UUA logo etc. but I cannot quote those UUs without using words that you might deem to be profanity, or flat-out offensive statements.

    Likewise, I cannot discuss why the outrageously hypocritical President Morales UUA administration is falsely accusing me of the archaic crime of blasphemous libel in Lance Armstrong style legal bullying for telling the well-documented Truth about egregious UU clergy sexual misconduct without talking about what the UUA’s Canadian attorneys describe as “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”. All I can suggest is that those people who want to know more about the UUA’s hubristic legal bullying, which makes a total mockery of pretty much everything UUism pretends to stand for in its false advertising, should engage in a free and responsible search for the readily verifiable Truth and meaning of what I have just said here by running appropriate Google searches and-or reading The Emerson Avenger blog posts about the UUA’s total betrayal of UU principles and ideals.

    Sincerely,

    Robin Edgar

    • HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLawn

      Oh….it’s the anti-UU poster again.

      Such a sad, broken, toxic person. And so desperately in need of therapy….or a new obsession.

      • Robin Edgar

        Would you characterize a Roman Catholic person who is criticizing RC church clergy abuse and Vatican complicity therein, and-or various other problems with the Roman Catholic church as an anti-RC poster? I think not. . .

        You characterize me as “the anti-UU” poster because it is in your vested interest as a Unitarian Universalism to portray your “church” as the victim of “a sad, broken, toxic person” rather than consider for even 1 second that what I posted here may be entirely legitimate criticism of very real and very serious problems of the Unitarian Universalist “religion” in general, and the Peter Morales led UUA administration in particular. Surely those convicted UU sex offenders who were found guilty of engaging in what the UUA’s own lawyers characterize as “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”, to say nothing of the immoral and unethical UUA “religious leaders” like Rev. Peter Morales just for starters. . . who are quite evidently trying to cover-up and hide these sex crimes by falsely accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel, are rather more justifiably described as “sad, broken, toxic” persons than I am.

        For the record, the only reason that I feel the need to be so “obsessively” persistent in publicly calling attention to these and other UU injustices and abuses is because hypocritical UUs like you, far too many hypocritical UU clergy, and outrageously hypocritical UUA leaders like President Morales are so stubborn and indeed obsessive themselves in denying, ignoring and minimizing these UU injustices and abuses. Indeed falsely accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel in shamefully immoral and unethical legal bullying can be reasonably described as insane, and there are UU clergy “in the know” who agree with that assessment of the Peter Morales’ administration’s borderline criminal attempted misuse of Canada’s blasphemy law.

        • HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLawn

          broken record….broken record….broken record…..

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! If I have to repeat myself over and over and over again it is only because outrageously hypocritical UUs abjectly fail, or indeed obstinately refuse. . . to “respond in responsibility” to the spirit and letter of what I have to say about UU clergy abuse, UU anti-religious intolerance and bigotry, and the various other UU injustices and abuses that I have been calling attention to for years now. If UUs actually practiced what UU clergy and UUA leaders so insincerely, and even outright fraudulently, preach I would only have to say things once. . .

    • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress/ John A Arkansawyer

      I think you’re beginning to grow and heal a little, Robin. Less than half of this post is about you and some of your criticisms are well-formed. You’ve got a long way to go still, but maybe you’ll get there. That surprises me. I didn’t expect it.

      • Robin Edgar

        My criticisms have been well formed, to say nothing of well founded… from Day One John. Your sarcasm is duly noted, as is your hypocrisy.

        • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress/ John A Arkansawyer

          It’s not sarcasm. It’s serious. I’m sorry if you don’t take it that way. This comment is somewhat different from the comments I remember seeing you post in the past. It’s got some accurate analysis and some sensible commenting. You go off the rails eventually but you stayed on track for quite a while. Take it as genuine, if limited, praise. That’s how it’s intended.

          • Robin Edgar

            You haven’t been properly reading the comments and blog posts etc. that I have posted in the past John. What I have posted here is no different than numerous other comments and blog posts I have made in the past. To say nothing of emails that I have sent to various UUA leaders. Sure I also use parody and satire and even some mockery and ridicule in some of my blog posts and comments criticizing UU injustices, abuses, and hypocrisy, but even when I do it is solidly founded on what you call “some accurate analysis and some sensible commenting”. In fact there is very little, if any, of my commenting about UU injustices and abuses that can be truthfully described as not being accurate.How unfortunate that the UUA made the mistake of falsely accusing me of the archaic crime of blasphemous libel in the *unfounded* aka unTruthful aka false basis that I have allegedly made “unfounded and vicious allegations to the effect that ministers of the Association engage in such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”. How regrettable that you and numerous other UUs, including the UUA Board of Trustees, lack the moral courage and ethical integrity to demand an explanation for the hubristic and utterly shameful perversion of justice that the Peter Morales administration engaged in in a cynical effort to conceal UUA clergy abuse from the eyes of the public. I demanded a retraction and public apology within days of this and other false accusations being brought against me by the UUA’s Canadian attorneys, why is it that not one single UU has publicly challenged the Peter Morales administration’s total betrayal of UU principles and ideals?

            You say that you see that I am healing. Well if I am healing it sure as Hell is NOT because you or any other hypocritical UU ever did anything to contribute to my healing. Show me one single thing the UUA has done to contribute to my healing other than its bat shit crazy decision to falsely accuse me of the crime of blasphemous libel in an cynical effort to intimidate me into silence about UU clergy abuse, or even punish me for speaking out about it. Bestowing me with *that* unique honour and privilege certainly had a healing effect, as did the gales of laughter that it provoked.. . .

          • Robin Edgar

            Please DO provide some examples of me going “off the rails” that are not parody or satire John. I doubt that you can actually do so, but I can provide numerous examples of UU clergy and top level UUA leaders going “off the rails”, above and beyond that hilarious “train wreck” of the Peter Morales UUA administration falsely accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel in bat shit crazy legal bullying that seeks to conceal UUA clergy abuse including, but by no means limited to, “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape.”

  • HeyYouKidsGetOffMyLawn

    UU’s do face the lack of a simplicity – there is nothing in our shared commitment that can be boiled down to an “elevator speech.”

    I hope the ad team finds some successful ideas on how to engage more people.

    • Diggitt

      The elevator speech trope is getting old and it never did work, which is one of the reasons the UUA’s marketing firms come and go.

    • mfidelman

      Well, “one light, many window” has always worked for me. Same again for “e plurubus unum.” :-)

  • Mike

    My impression is that UU is seeking the Lowest Common Denominator, rather than honest work, just to appeal to all. As a Humanist, this does not appeal to me.

    • Diggitt

      Actually, every UU I know (and I am a born-inner and Meadville Lombard graduate) is a h/Humanist.

      • Robin Edgar

        Most ironically, it is ever so “humanist” U*Us who inspired me to come up with the following saying, although it obviously has much broader application.

        “Regrettably it is all too human to be inhuman…”

        • MaryHelen Gunn

          Actually, a Christian minister mentor of mine reminded me of a lesson I practice daily: that it is “human nature” not only to err/ sin/ act in short-sighted ways; but it is also in our human nature to do courageous, loving, compassionate things. May our faith everywhere lift up THIS aspect of our humanity as one much-needed antidote to “the banality of consumerism” and other ambient worldly ills.

          • Robin Edgar

            I agree with your comment Mary Helen, but my point was that so-called “Humanist” UUs do a very poor job of actually doing the “courageous, loving, compassionate things” you speak of. At least in my experience and observation. UU Humanists have repeatedly, indeed quite continuously, behaved in ways that can be justifiably described as cowardly, hateful and uncompassionate. The complete anti-thesis of the principles and ideals that UUism pretends to affirm and promote.

          • Patricia Krull

            You are lumping all followers of a spiritual belief system into one bag, which is ridiculous with ANY belief system, religious or otherwise, but especially one whose followers are as diverse as those in the UU.
            I am not a Universal Unitarian, but I have known, and still know, many who would not fit into your “catch-all” description of them.
            Learn to take people individually instead of stereotyping, it will get you much further.
            As for the hypocrisy and sexual misconduct you speak of, that is hardly uniquely UU. The Roman Catholic church has had that problem for MANY years, as have every other organized religion. WHY? Because each religion has imperfect humans in it’s congregation. Blaming the masses for the misdeeds of the few (and yes, I said few, because even if it is as rampant as you would have people believe, it is still a minority that commits these misdeeds) is absurd. The laws should be dealing with the misdeeds of the offenders, not the church.
            By your logic – you are a human, so was Hitler and his Nazis, so you must be a white-supremacist-neo-Nazi-fascist right? As much as I disagree with your blanket statements and obvious prejudice, I do not believe that you are a white-supremacist-neo-Nazi-fascist. I think you just need to open your view a bit and see the WHOLE picture.

          • Robin Edgar

            I am looking at the WHOLE picture Patricia, and the WHOLE picture is that UUism is supposedly a democratic religious group where the leaders are accountable to the members. The leadership of the UU community has failed miserably to deal responsibly with clergy abuse and other serious issues and the vast majority of UUs have allowed this status quo to prevail for decades.

            I have two decades worth of dealing with UU injustices and abuses and the vast majority of UUs bury their head in the sand like ostriches when they are confronted by these important issues. The willful ignorance and psychological denial, and indeed hypocrisy… are truly appalling. Individual UUs most certainly DO have a responsibility to deal with these issues when they are confronted by them, but most refuse to do so, as can be seen just in terms of how UUs have responded to my comments here or ignored them.

            The WHOLE picture is that literally thousands of UUs have seen my protests and comments over a span of at least 15 years and yet they have done nothing to respond in a responsible manner to my concerns and grievances. Au contraire, all too often, besides ignoring me they have done their best to silence me. The ludicrous blasphemous libel accusation that the UUA made against me in June of 2012 is just one example of the extreme and utterly shameful lengths that UU leaders have gone to to try to silence me, and the rest of the sheep in the U*U “flock” are only too happy to allow their clergy and lay leaders to get away with this kind of immoral and unethical behavior that totally betrays EVERYTHING UUism pretends to stand for.

      • James Stevens

        I agree, Diggitt. I also question the quality of Allysa’s work on this. Too many signs that she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Her understanding of religious humanism (as opposed to atheism) seems limited, and even the claim that UU has lost half of its flock since the ’60s was not fact-checked. Pretty sloppy actually. http://www.uua.org/directory/data/demographics/281427.shtml

        • Robin Edgar

          Maybe it depends upon what the meaning of the word “flock” is James. . .

          Allysa wrote, “since its heyday in the ’60s, the church had lost about half of its flock”. She may be not far off the mark if she is talking about actual attendance at UU church services on any given Sunday, which currently hovers around 100,000 UUs. She is right on the money if “flock” referred only to the number of kids attending UU “Sunday school” which is currently under 50,000 children but was as high as 100,000 in 1967-68.

          Also, as a percentage of the overall population of the USA, UUism has lost plenty of ground as a result of its adult membership remaining within the 150-160k range for over half a century now. Getting back to UU RE enrollments, the official UUA statistics that you linked to, along with the latest RE enrollment figures published in the UU World magazine, show that the UUA has lost about 12,000 Sunday school kids within the last decade.

      • Mark Richards

        I’ve been a UU for twenty years, and I’m a graduate of Andover Newton. While there are deep humanist roots in our movement, I know some practicing Christians, some practicing Jews, and some practicing Buddhists who attend our churches. I would hate to diminish the value of their faith to our movement.

        • Robin Edgar

          UUs, including many UU clergy and top level UUA leaders, have been diminishing the value of God believing Unitarians and Universalists for decades Mark. Rev. Peter Morales offensively trashed pretty much every other world religion in his stump speech announcing his candidacy for president of the UUA. He characterized Judaism, Christianity, Islam and any number of other unspecified “old religions” as “obsolete religions created for another time” that “contribute to the darkness” of “injustice, prejudice, ignorance” and “lead to tribalism, violence, suspicion, hatred, and oppression”. I have yet to see Peter Morales taken to task for that belittling and maligning of pretty much every religion other than UUism. I certainly have not seen him apologize for that “diminishing” of the value of the faith of the adherents of most other world religions.

          • Mark Richards

            Robin, I’ve read your comments here and I see only your “rage against the machine”. Are there some constructive ideas you have to offer?

          • Robin Edgar

            I have offered plenty of constructive ideas over the years Mark and they have all been rejected or ignored by U*Us. When it gets right down to it though, it should not be necessary for me to present constructive solutions to U*U problems, U*Us should be able to figure them out for themselves and then responsibly implement them. Right?

          • Robin Edgar

            One of the “constructive ideas” I have offered time and time again is for UU clergy and UUA leaders who suffer from “foot-in-mouth disease” to formally withdraw their insulting and defamatory statements, and properly apologize for making them, but UU clergy, UUA leaders, and UUs more generally have repeatedly proven themselves to be the most obstinately and arrogantly unapologetic people that I have ever had the misfortune to deal with.

        • Diggitt

          It would be hard (by the definitions of humanism) for a UU today NOT to be a humanist. Check out the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s 2002 Amsterdam Declaration: http://iheu.org/humanism/the-amsterdam-declaration/

          I don’t see anything there that “some practicing Christians, some practicing Jews, and some practicing Buddhists who attend our churches” would object to. Sure, there are OTHER Christians, Jews, and Buddhists who would find nothing to like in anything the IHEU does–or for that matter, anything UUs or Quakers do either. But the “… practicing Christians, … practicing Jews, and …practicing Buddhists who attend our churches” are in our churches for a reason. It’s *their* choice to be among us rather than among the more orthodox of their own fellows. I hope you are not suggesting that we need to move closer, doctrinally to those other Jews, Christians, and Buddhists who are already not among us–thereby alienating the humanists (and, by the way, religious naturalists) who are among us. I don’t see much use in expanding our definitions in the direction of any group when doing so excludes those who have been a significant part of us for 150 years, give or take.

  • N-O-N-E

    Sanctuary Boston has brought me to church and introduced me to some amazing people in Boston over the past year. The Sanctuary services at First Parish Cambridge and First Church Boston left me reconsidering my skepticism of the churches and religions I’ve found to be oppressive – but also opened my mind to the religions and folks I previously called oppressive. If this is religion, I’m in.

    New music with live instrumentation, sermons that speak to universal principles from different faith perspectives, & community dinner twice a month? That’s real work. Doing the dishes and cleaning up the chairs? That’s real hard work. Appealing to a diverse group? That’s the hardest work. Good luck to the UUs.

    • Mark Richards

      I’m thinking Sanctuary Boston is moving us in a direction that is wide open to religious groups. By offering an alternative to Sunday morning worship in a church, by bringing religion into our everyday lives so it is present in the natural flow of our activities, we can grow the kind of community we seek. I’d like to see more faith development in other places. Not evangelism (come to my church on Sunday and learn what I believe) but outreach (here is how faith can help you right now, right here.) It’s time to get creative in how we offer ourselves to people. Perhaps, we can offer satisfaction by bringing our message to the markets, shopping centers, sidewalks. If people don’t come to us, it’s time to go to the people. It’s time for a liberal prophetic voice. (Thanks, Paul Rasor)

      • Robin Edgar

        “It’s time to get creative in how we offer ourselves to people.”

        The UUA got a bit *too* creative in how, with a little bit of help from their ever so creative Stikeman Elliott attorney Maitre Marc André Coulombe the Peter Morales UUA administration offered itself to me in June of 2013 by falsely accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel in inept legal bullying intended to conceal “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”…

        How’s *that* for UUA “outreach”, to say nothing of hubristic over-reach?

        • Leftbank Liberal

          Get over yourself, already. Spamming the comments with your perceived injustice is more indicative of being a sociopath than a victim.

          • Robin Edgar

            Thanks for this fine example of DIM Thinking. The injustices and abuses that I am talking about here are very real and not just “perceived”. In some cases they are criminal acts perpetrated by UU clergy.

          • Leftbank Liberal

            Regardless of how real they might be, spewing all over the place in the comments to the point that roughly 1 in 5 comments are yours is the sign of a sociopath.

          • Robin Edgar

            I don’t think you know the meaning of the word sociopath. I would say that denying the validity of my comments about not only egregious UU clergy sexual abuse including “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”, but UUA complicity therein which includes borderline criminal UUA perversion of justice, is much more indicative of conscienceless sociopathic “thinking” than what I have posted here.

          • Robin Edgar

            A sociopath is someone who lacks a conscience. Your callous conscienceless comment is rather more indicative of sociopathy than anything I have posted here.

    • Diggitt

      I’ve been in UU congregations more than 65 years, and this sounds just like the one my parents joined in 1948. And most others since.

      BUT–when I lived in Boston in the early 80s, First and Second Church was fighting for the title of Least Welcoming Church Evah. People I met at coffee hour introduced themselves to me with the comment that their families had been members there for four, or five, or six….or more!…, generations. Members of the Prudential Committee, which oversaw the finances, were elected for life. My husband and I came pre-approved by our friend Forrest Church (a former intern there) and their lovely minister, so we were made welcome. But I felt sorry for anyone who just, you know, walked in the door one Sunday with neither a Harvard credential nor a family tree under the arm. If Sanctuary Boston has kicked the creaky butts of that attitude out the door for good, more power to ‘em.

  • David Fraiser

    Wish the article could have held my interest long enough to finish it. I think the author should take a course in brevity.

  • DavidMiami

    “With roots in the Reformation—the mid-1500s European movement that rejected the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) and spawned Protestantism….” Um, no. The Reformation did not, overall, reject the Trinity; plenty of Protestant denominations that emerged from the Reformation retained the Trinity, from Lutherans and Calvinists (who in America became Congregationalists and Presbyterians) and Baptists to Anglicans (Episcopalians) and Methodists continue to this day to believe in and teach the Trinity. Rather, within a subset of the Reformation — called the Radical Reformation — some of the Reformers rejected the Trinity, and it is from them that European Unitarianism flows, ultimately inspiring British Unitarianism that crossed the Atlantic to America. But the great majority of denominations that emerged from the Reformation maintained — and still maintain — the Trinity.

    • Mark Richards

      More accurately, the free-thinking, one God, rationalist faith that grew out of the Puritan demise (along with Congregationalism) was labeled by a detractor as “Unitarianism” in order to associate it with a small, discredited (among the orthodox) British sect. The American group adopted the label as its own and created a movement.

    • Bruce

      I noticed that too and thought, boy, if the author is so misinformed about the basics of Protestantism, how much can I rely on her description of UU.

      • Robin Edgar

        Presumably you can take *some* of the quotes from UUs as being reasonably reliable descriptions of UUism, such as this one by Dave Ruffin:

        “What I’m concerned with is, for all the people that are already stumbling into our congregations, what is it that’s making so few of them stay? And my answer to that is that we are not actually delivering the goods.”

      • Robin Edgar

        How much can you rely on the description of UUism in the UUA’s past propaganda and marketing materials, or in the new “rebranding” material being created by Proverb etc.?

        Not much as far as I am concerned.

        I wonder if religious communities can be sued, or even criminally prosecuted, for false advertising?

    • Diggitt

      I’m not sure Alyssa ever took church history 1 and 2, period. In fact, she can’t have much background in classical history or European history either. This is basically an ignorant article. Too bad. Incidentally, DavidMiami, you left out Socinianism–English Unitarianism had significant roots in the Eastern European and Italian Reformations as well.

      • Robin Edgar

        If only the UUA’s Canadian attorneys had done a little research into Unitarian Universalist “church” history before falsely accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel in utterly shameful and stunningly hubristic UUA legal bullying that seeks to conceal UU clergy abuse, including “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”, from the eye of the public.

  • Lee Pardee

    I am a very religious UU of the religious humanist/atheist perspective. My congregation is about half atheist/humanist and half theist/spiritual. And it is filled with warmth and joy and compassion. I have been a UU for 30 years. We really need to spread our good news. AND, as Ruffin says, we really need to become the welcoming and fulfilling places where people will want to stay. Thank goodness I read the whole article, because the most important points were at the end. Yes, we need to claim ourselves as a religion. So many people are looking for community and connection and purpose and meaning, and Unitarian Universalism, practiced with others in a congregation, offers all of this. Let’s claim our voice as a religion. Let’s tell people who we are. And let’s work hard at welcoming newcomers and helping them connect and participate fully in Unitarian Universalist religious life.

  • dal

    My UU bumper sticker (and there are a lot of bumper stickers in our parking lot) I think sums up UUism perfectly. “Love Beyond Belief”

  • williamb3

    I’ve been a UU for most of my life, and with my current church for close to thirty years. Maybe I was fortunate to find one I like, but I haven’t noticed the problems some posters here have. I consider us a coalition, and coalitions only work to the extent those in them focus on what they have in common, rather than what they don’t. Otherwise, they’ll end up turning on one another. UUs can be a contentious bunch. Some think we’re too traditional; others think we’re not traditional enough. We’re too much one thing or not enough another thing. I might be easy to please, but I like about 90 percent of what UUs and my church do and don’t feel that strongly about the other 10 percent. I’m glad there’s such a thing as UU. It may not be right for everyone, but I’ve found it to be right for me.

  • Andres Torres

    All this talk of reaching out and looking for new members scares the hell out of me. We need to grow, but I’m uncomfortable with anything that feels like proselytizing, or worse, marketing campaigns *shivers*.

    • Robin Edgar

      As I said in my initial comment here, I am quite sure that Rev. Peter Morales said that he would not use marketing campaigns to grow UUism when he ran for president of the UUA. As I recall he was critical of the failure of the Sinkford administration’s advertising campaigns that had spent millions of dollars for no appreciable increase in UUA membership. This new UUA “branding” campaign seems to be an act of desperation in that, six years into his presidency, not only has president Morales failed to deliver on his campaign promise that he would grow UUism into “The Religion For Our Time” as per his campaign slogan, but UUA membership is in even greater decline than it was when he ran for president in 2008.

      The new rocket propelled condom UUA logo is already a laughingstock, and the other “branding” material is so misleading as to be effectively fraudulent as far as I am concerned.

      • Dogma

        You over post Robin. Too long, too numerous.

        • Robin Edgar

          Many of my posts are in response to people who have responded to my other posts. Most posts are not that long, and none are “too long” for anyone who wants to engage in a free and genuinely *responsible* search for the Truth and meaning of what I am saying here.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    I appreciate everything I read about UU philosophy and inclusion but the one service I attended nearly put me to sleep. It very much resembled the Protestant services of my childhood which I left behind in my teens. I prefer more ritual in my worship than might ever be available at UU churches. When you think of the yoga classes and other things people do, don’t forget those who want ritual in their lives. I also miss being in a choir (Catholicism) or chanting and dancing (my Hare Krishna days). While my belief system has changed, my love of ritual remains.

    Now I don’t expect a whole congregation to enjoy my particular take on rituals but if you’re looking to attract families from mixed backgrounds, one of the things members will yearn for are the rituals they used to participate in. Small groups could form for a monthly kirtan, meditation, pagan circle or others even if the weekly service remains the same. I’d happily observe other rituals for a kirtan now and then. It’s interesting to learn about other modes of worship. Some rituals might need a bit of adapting to more inclusive language (for example, remove sexist references) but it can be done.

  • Tapati McDaniels

    Another very basic request is that individual churches maintain their websites. Even if it’s very basic, keep the information up to date.

  • http://spkorb.org Sean Korb

    We really should be in the business of spreading the “good news” but it is so simple and without trappings that nobody seems to have noticed. We are the only truly free religion. That means that we really are
    responsible for our own beliefs and we can share and test in community.
    Why put on all the fluff? What could possibly be more awesome than
    that? Be loud! Be spicy! Be interesting! But don’t ever get trapped
    in just god is-everyone-is-why-doesn’t-everyone-love is love. Anybody
    can profess that. We’re special because we have that *and* we are free.

    • Robin Edgar

      “Be loud! Be spicy! Be interesting!”

      LOL! One of the biggest problems with UUism is that UUs happily allow their verbally and psychologically abusive UUA clergy like Rev. Ray Drennan, Rev. Cynthia P. Cain and the inimitable Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein aka Peacebang to “Be loud! Be spicy! Be interesting!” with complete impunity. . .

      “That means that we really are responsible for our own beliefs and we can share and test in community.”

      That’s strange, I don’t see ANY UUs sharing and testing the Peter Morales administration’s “beyond belief” “belief” that I am guilty of the archaic crime of blasphemous libel for blogging about UU clergy abuse, specifically “such despicable crimes as pedophiles and rape.” And I certainly don’t see any UUA leaders holding any member of the Peter Morales administration responsible for expressing that “belief” in Lance Armstrong style legal bullying that is obviously intended to hide from public view the fact that “certain Unitarian Universalist ministers” have not only engaged in “such despicable crimes as pedophiles and rape”, but have even been convicted of those “despicable crimes”.

      • http://spkorb.org Sean Korb

        I was kind of talking about the non-abusive clergy if they exist…

        • Robin Edgar

          That is an interesting response to my comment Sean because, on the one hand you present UUism as if it is the best religion in the world in your initial comment, but now suggest that many UU clergy are abusive. Please feel free to elaborate on that. I would also appreciate your thoughts about the UUA’s legal bullying that I am calling to your attention. To date very few UUs have cared to denounce it or even question it.

          • http://spkorb.org Sean Korb

            I was using a twist of phrase. You appear to be painting all UUs and all UU clergy with the same brush. That was where my “If they exist” comment came referring to non-abusive clergy. I am sorry you were hurt. I am sorry that the UUA is not taking you seriously. I’m sorry that people on other forums may not be taking you seriously. My mother is a non-abusive clergy UU and the UUs I know fight bad behavior (we have indeed seen it and indeed we have fought it) when we encounter it when we can. I don’t think every conversation has to be about abuses served by bad UU clergy or injustice served by the UUA. But some can and I am sure you have a place where that is appropriate. It’s too bad that the entire denomination must be damed for the actions and inactions of a few. A am sorry.

          • Robin Edgar

            Your personal expression of regret is hereby accepted Sean, but I and other victims of UU injustices and abuses need to hear the UUA say that IT is sorry for the actions of abusive UU clergy and-or UUA leaders as well as its own complicit actions and inactions in not only refusing to hold abusive clergy accountable for their actions, but in actively seeking to bully clergy abuse victims or whistleblowers into silence.

            When literally thousands of UUs have seen my public protests, or read my comments and blog posts etc., about UU injustices, abuses and hypocrisy but have done nothing to ensure that justice, equity and compassion in human relations prevail I have good reason to paint with a broad brush. That being said, I do try to clearly identify the UUs who are most responsible for the injustices and abuses that I am demanding justice for and I do not paint ALL UU clergy as abusers. The fact remains that the vast majority of UU clergy, UUA leaders, and ordinary UUs who are aware of my grievances have not only done nothing to ensure that they are responsibly redressed in alignment with UU principles and ideals but have all too often betrayed UU principles and ideals in willfully ignoring me or even going to extreme lengths to silence me. Every single UUA Trustee has been made aware of my grievances since at least 2007. I shared two major concerns during the April 2010 UUA Board meeting to no avail whatsoever. When the WHOLE of UUA leadership not only willfully ignores my grievances, but condones the Peter Morales administration’s immoral, unethical and borderline criminal legal bullying, and not one single UU speaks out against this shameful betrayal of UU principles, I have good reason to “damn” the entire denomination for the actions and inactions of the thousands of individual UUs who validate these words attributed to Edmund Burke –

            All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

            We have seen plenty of evidence of “good UUs” doing absolutely nothing to denounce the injustices and abuses that I am calling attention to in this comment thread alone. You are the only UU here who has expressed the slightest remorse for “the actions and inactions” that I am calling attention to here. So what are you and those other UUs who you know who actually “fight bad behavior” going to do to actually fight the legal bullying “bad behavior” of the Peter Morales administration, and the shamefully negligent and effectively complicit inaction of the UUA Board of Trustees?

          • http://spkorb.org Sean Korb

            You will not find what you are looking for here. I am sorry I posted.

          • Robin Edgar

            I don’t expect to “find” justice here Sean. I do however expect UUs to respond in responsibility to the spirit that bloweth where it listeth as it were, so that the UUA finally gets around to doing the right thing. And if UUs fail or refuse, as is their usual habit, well at least the non-UU public reading my comments and UU responses to them will see that the UUA’s latest “rebranding” effort is nothing more than a Unitarian Universalist version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. . .

    • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

      I’m not sure we’re the only free religion. We have a lot of similarities with some Quakers, after all. The biggest difference between us seems to be the worship style and the emphasis on peace. I for one would be happy if someday we adopt the Quaker view of peace as an eighth principle, and in general if we open up to a much wider variety of styles of corporate ‘worship’ activities beyond the traditional Protestant-style Sunday church common to many UU congregations.

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    What UU needs to survive, he believes, is a radical rethinking: It needs to stop defending its liberalism and embrace being a religion. “We need permission to be the people of faith that we are,” he says. “We need to actually get religious.” Previous generations of UUs seemed to think that the congregations wanted less religion. Ruffin is convinced they now want more.

    That works for some people. It would be a disaster as a general policy. Anecdotally, the “relatively young adult” (21-35) cohort at my congregation is all humanist, and for those who have stopped attending on Sundays, the reason they give is consistently that there is too much (normalizing of) superstition.

    So let’s embrace the diversity of UUs. More religion for those who want more; less for those who want less. We can pursue our ideals together in many ways.

    • Robin Edgar

      That is a reasonable proposal Noah, but in my experience and observation most U*Us do a very poor job of actually pursuing their claimed ideals whether they are Humanist U*Us or U*U Theists. *That* is one of the main reasons why so few people want to be member in The U*U Movement these days. *That* is why many new members leave within months or a few years of joining U*U “Welcoming Congregations”. These new comers believe in the claimed principles and ideals of U*Uism as presented to them in UUA propaganda and marketing campaigns etc., but to their chagrin they find they out the hard way that very few U*Us actually make a reasonable effort to genuinely practice what U*Uism so emptily and insincerely preaches.

      To paraphrase Colonel Walter E. Kurtz’s famous last words in Apocalypse U*U.

      The hypocrisy. The hypocrisy. . .

      • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

        *That* is one of the main reasons why so few people want to be member in The U*U Movement these days. *That* is why many new members leave within months or a few years of joining U*U “Welcoming Congregations”.

        Color me skeptical. Do you have enough evidence to demonstrate that?

        • Robin Edgar

          Yes, there are numerous comments all over the internet from people who quit Unitarian Universalism because of the hypocrisy that they encountered in UU “churches”. I didn’t quit myself. I was ready, willing, and able to stay and fight, but Montreal Unitarians “excommunicated” me for publicly exposing the anti-religious intolerance and bigotry and related clergy misconduct that I encountered in their “church”.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            OK, but anecdotes only establish that it sometimes happens, not that it’s a main reason. So given such minimalist evidence, it’s clearly most appropriate for me to reject the argument of your initial reply above.

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of online complaints from people who quit UU “churches” due to encountering various forms of hypocrisy. It is foolish for you to reject my argument, but typical of the psychological denial that is so common amongst Unitarian Universalists. People regularly visit The Emerson Avenger blog as a result of running Google search on Unitarian Universalist hypocrisy etc.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            hundreds, if not thousands, of online complaints from people who quit

            How many are unique complaints, versus (as in your own case) the same complaint repeated many times in different fora? What proportion of those who have quit does this represent? Have you documented the complaints or are you relying on memory?

            Without such evidence, you don’t even have a case. I don’t accept arguments that don’t have evidence.

            In addition, it is worth noting that you engaged in verbal abuse and unprovoked mockery toward me (“LOL!” … “It is foolish for you” … “typical of the psychological denial”). This is not a civilized recourse for attempting to persuade.

          • Robin Edgar

            “LOL!” The “bat shit crazy” cease and desist demand letter the UUA had me served with two years ago is not a civilized recourse for attempting to persuade either. . . My alleged “verbal abuse” is mild compared to what “less than polite” Unitarian Universalist clergy are allowed to say with complete impunity by not only the UUA and its ever so aptly named Ministerial *Fellowship* Committee, but by thousands of individual U*Us who condone UU clergy verbal abuse. Indeed “it is foolish for you” to publicly accuse me of “verbal abuse” for using those quoted phrases, when you and other U*Us happily allow U*U clergy to engage in FAR worse verbal and psychological abuse and do nothing to speaking out against it.

            I am talking about hundreds, if not some thousands, of different individual persons of inherent worth and dignity who have stated that they quit U*Uism as a result of encountering one form of hypocrisy or another.

            I don’t accept arguments that don’t have evidence either Noah. Which is why I loudly publicly reject the Peter Morales UUA administration’s “bat shit crazy” blasphemous libel accusation against me that is based on a perjurious claim that I am guilty of making “unfounded and vicious allegations to the effect that ministers of the Association engage in such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”. At least 400 UUA congregations have been affected by the form of hypocrisy known “clergy sexual misconduct”, and the number of affected congregations could be significantly higher. The UU interim ministers who chose the fate of doing the math stopped counting when they reached 400 congregations. How many people do you think left UUism just as a result of the “fallout” from UU clergy sexual misconduct alone? Many of the comments that I spoke about are still available on the internet, few of them even mention UU clergy sexual misconduct, but speak of other forms of UU hypocrisy such as classism, elitism, anti-religious intolerance and so on. Run appropriate Google searches and you should find many of them.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            Sheesh. I’m nearly out of patience with your spittle-flecked rage parade. I’ll pay attention to your claim if and when evidence is shown for it.

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! There is no rage involved in this little parade of mine. If you want to see a “spittle flecked rage parade” I suggest that you read the hilarious cease and desist demand letter that the UUA had me served with two years ago, or you could read some of Peacebang’s blog posts and Tweets that she hasn’t deleted yet. . . It is difficult to post evidence supporting my claims here because it seems Boston magazine or Discus is suppressing my comments that contain links. You are just going to have to run Google searches as I suggested. To read the UUA’s “spittle flecked rage parade” that it has yet to formally withdraw and publicly apologize for run a Google search on –

            “Stikeman Elliott” and “Blasphemous Libel”

            A Google Images search will provide photos of the hysterical historic document, as will some of the blog posts found in a regular text search.

          • Patricia Krull

            Additionally, the terms Stikeman Elliott and Blasphemous Libel when put into Google just leads to one source repeatedly… EmersonAvenger….
            It is hardly proof when you direct us to only one source.

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! If you are incapable of comparing what I am saying to what the UUA and Stikeman Elliott are saying to decide who is telling the Truth that is your problem Patricia. Most people have the intellectual capacity to read my blog posts and determine that A) I am telling the Truth about UU clergy abuse and B) the UUA and Stikeman Elliott are outright lying about UU clergy abuse, especially when it comes to what Stikeman Elliott attorney Maitre Marc-André Coulombe describes as “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape.” If the UUA and Stikeman Elliott are all but totally silent in the wake of their inept attempt at legal bullying that should tell you something. If you want “the other side of the story”, beyond what is clearly stated in the two cease and desist demand letters that the UUA had me served with, please DO feel free to contact the UUA to ask them to explain themselves. I am as interested in their explanation as anyone else is, if not more so. . .

          • Patricia Krull

            Mild or not, you are exhibiting that which you claim as the basis for your bias against the UU. You are also expecting others to make the clergy leaders that you proclaim are your abusers and bullies apologize by standing up to them, when that has so clearly NOT worked for you. Why do you think they would have better luck? Furthermore, why should they stand up for you at all when you started out by belittling them and their beliefs?
            I have listened to your tirade throughout this entire thread and have heard your self-pity too many times over to even count now. I even felt somewhat sorry for you (for 1 post or 2) but then you just kept ranting and repeating over and over “I am the victim” “They are bullies” which won’t CHANGE anything. If you want to enact change, go through the right channels – and trolling forums just isn’t it. It hasn’t worked for you thus far, I don’t see it working in the near future. Or to paraphrase goodness only knows who… “today’s not your day, and tomorrow isn’t looking any better”

          • Robin Edgar

            UUism is supposedly a democratic “religion”. That means that each individual Unitarian Universalist has a responsibility to hold UU clergy and UUA leaders responsible for their unacceptable actions or indeed inaction aka negligence. If enough UUs spoke out against that injustices and abuses that I am speaking about the UUA would be forced to do properly redress them. But as this thread amply demonstrates, most UUs do not speak out and the few that may express some concern are not prepared to actually do anything to CHANGE things. I have gone through the “right channels” numerous times. If those “right channels” actually did the right thing there would be no need for me to be commenting here would there. I am posting here because the UUA’s “right channels” respond in a negligent and complicit manner to many if not most clergy misconduct complaints, to say nothing of other legitimate grievances.

            I have not belittled the religious beliefs of UUs commenting here, what I have said is that they are FAILing to live up to the claimed principles and ideals of UUism by ignoring or denying the injustices and abuses that I am bringing to their attention. I am convinced that one of the main reasons why so few Americans choose to join UU “churches” is this incredibly lax attitude UUs have to their own claimed principles and purposes. There would be no need for “rebranding” of UUism and related UUA false advertising campaigns if most UUs actually practiced what they so emptily and insincerely, if not outright fraudulently… preach.

        • Robin Edgar

          Do you have a better explanation as to why UU congregations have such a hard time retaining new members Noah? There is no question that UU hypocrisy causes MANY people to leave. I never said that hypocrisy was the ONLY reason why people leave, it is just “one of the main reasons” responsible for why so many new members leave within months or a few years. I am none-the-less open to hearing your own explanation(s) for UU congregations being unable to retain new members.

          BTW This latest fraudulent UUA “rebranding” will fail, just as the UUA’s previous false advertising campaigns failed, for the very reason that David Ruffin stated in the article itself. Unitarian Universalists, be they clergy, UUA leaders, or ordinary lay people, are “not actually delivering the goods” that the UUA is “selling” in its false advertising campaigns and other fraudulent propaganda.

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            Do you have a better explanation as to why UU congregations have such a hard time retaining new members Noah?

            I lack evidence on which to base such an explanation. If it hasn’t been done already, it would be a good idea for the UUA or congregations to do formal polling of people who have left to find out why.

            There is no question that UU hypocrisy causes MANY people to leave.

            No, I questioned it. Your evidence didn’t support it. So the responsible thing for me is to not believe it.

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! You made ZERO effort to verify what I said before arbitrarily rejecting it out of hand. Typical UU willful ignorance and psychological denial of the FAILings of UUism. The *responsible* thing for you to do is engage in “a free and *responsible* search for the Truth and meaning” of what I said before ignorantly rejecting it. Seek and ye shall find. . .

          • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

            You made ZERO effort to verify what I said before arbitrarily rejecting it out of hand.

            Firstly, that is factually false.

            Secondly, that is a rhetorical fallacy known as shifting the burden of proof. The correct form of argument is that whoever endorsed a claim (you, in this case) is the only person with any degree of social obligation to defend it. Respect for evidence-based pursuit of truth ought to lead everyone else to reject all claims until they are adequately demonstrated. Since you were unable to bring forth any evidence supporting your claim, I do reject your claim for now.

          • Robin Edgar

            LOL! The only people unable to bring forth any evidence supporting their claim are the foolish UUA leaders and incompetent Stikeman Elliott attorneys who are accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel for allegedly making “unfounded and vicious allegations” about UU ministers engaging in “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape.” Neither UUA leaders nor Stikeman Elliott attorneys have produced one scrap of evidence in spite of repeated challenges to them to do so. They have had two years to prove their claim beyond a reasonable doubt but have not produced even minimal evidence supporting their claim.

            Your stated notion that, “Respect for evidence-based pursuit of truth ought to lead everyone else to reject all claims until they are adequately demonstrated.” is flawed. It may be a good policy for a court of law, but it is not a viable policy for everyday life. The fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism calls for a free and responsible search for Truth and meaning, that principle puts the onus on you as a U*U to actually *search* for the Truth and meaning of any claim before rejecting it out of hand just because someone does not hand you incontrovertible proof on a platter. So get to it Noah. Start searching for evidence of people leaving U*Uism due to encountering various forms of hypocrisy. I have already seen plenty of evidence supporting my claim.

  • Robin Edgar

    “So the time had come for a complete rebrand. In early 2012, Morales
    began working with Reverend Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s program and
    strategy officer.”

    How ironic that, at about the same time, UUA President Peter Morales would have begun working with UUA Executive Vice President Katheleen ‘Kay Montgomery towards the goal of “rebranding” Unitarian Universalism as the “tiny, declining, fringe religion” that misuses Canadian blasphemy law in immoral, unethical, and borderline criminal legal bullying that seeks to hide “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape” committed by UU clergy from the eyes of the public. . .

  • Patricia Krull

    As for me – I am done with the dribble. The story was poorly written to begin with and certainly not worth listening to a broken record.
    I wish ALL of you the best of luck, and bid you all adieu.

  • 127guy

    The late James Michael Curley provided the best definition of Unitarianism out there. To quote the great one from his congressional race against incumbent Democrat Thomas Eliot in 1942: “My young opponent is a Unitarian. Do you know what a Unitarian is? … A Unitarian is a person who believes that our Lord and Savior is a funny little man with a beard who runs around in his underclothes.”

    • Robin Edgar

      Samuel Taylor Coleridge provided an definition of Unitarianism that is remarkably applicable to this very day.

      “But Unitarianism is, in effect, the worst of one kind of Atheism, joined to the worst of one kind of Calvinism, like two asses tied tail to tail. It has no covenant with God; and looks upon prayer as a sort of self—magnetizing–a getting of the body and temper into a certain status, desirable per se, but having no covenanted reference to the Being to whom the prayer is addressed.”

      Indeed today’s Unitarian Universalists have all but shown God the door of their so-called ‘Welcoming Congregations’. Contrary to the highly misleading title of this “fluff piece” on the UUA’s latest false advertising campaign 21st century Unitarian Universalists have virtually no God to “sell” to the American public.

  • Mike DiPrima

    When they stop calling UUism a “religion” and its Sunday meetings “worship services” and what they teach their kids “religious education” and where they meet “a church” and they start calling themselves a philosophical society that embraces the inherent worth and dignity of all people, then you can call that “rebranding.” Otherwise, the same ol’ vague crap that confuses new prospects and turns off old members… like me.

    • maryinbantry

      I don’t like those terms either.

    • LizzieLou

      I hope we don’t move in that direction. I have been going to UU church for more than 20 years to receive religious education, worship and celebrate the divine in a spiritual community, and practice my faith in a church. I don’t believe that we are all looking for less God in our UUism; many of us, especially those raised UU, are looking for more liturgy and more theological language to go with the UU values which guide our lives.

  • elong21

    UU can’t be a valid religion until its leaders start wearing funny hats. People aren’t wearing enough hats!

    • maryinbantry

      Hey, I’m a UU and I wear funny hats!

    • Robin Edgar

      Actually a fair number of UUA leaders ARE wearing “funny hats” that look like this – U*U

      Just run a Google Image search on Rev. Peter Morales to see what I mean.

  • Dogma

    So are we to understand that this is the new-and-improved version…

    http://www.uua.org/index.shtml ?

    • Robin Edgar

      I don’t think the UUA have launched the new-and-improved version of the UUA website yet. I expect that it will do so during the upcoming UUA GA in Providence Rhode Island. This current version of the UUA home page *does* however feature the “new-and-improved” version of the UUA logo designed by Proverb. i.e. “The Emperor’s New Logo” that shows a rocket-propelled condom-protected penis plunging straight downwards into what some U*Us have called a “UUterus” and others have perceived as a vagina. I think that it would be fair to say that neither the Rev. Peter Morales UUA administration, nor Proverb’s graphic designers, are rocket scientists when it comes to designing this rather hilarious “rebranding” logo of “The U*U Movement”, especially in light of the UUA’s shameful legacy of negligent and complicit responses to UU clergy sexual misconduct which will soon be made known to the public more than ever before.

  • NewAllDay

    The Unitarians have been barely religious for a LONG time. Recalling his youthful attendance at Unitarian services in Boston circa 1880s, poet and philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) described the experience (from his 1944 memoir “Persons and Places,” p.165):

    “It seemed a little ridiculous, all those good people in their Sunday clothes, so demure, so conscious of one another, not needing in the least to pray or be prayed for, nor inclined to sing, but liking to flock together once a week, as people in Spain flock to the paseo, and glad to hear a sermon like the leading article in some superior newspaper, calculated to confirm the conviction already in them that their bourgeois virtues were quite sufficient and that perhaps in time poor backward races and nations be led to acquire them.”

    • Robin Edgar

      Apparament “plus ça change”, plus Unitarian Universalism est “la même chose”. . .

  • http://spkorb.org Sean Korb

    Since counterpoints to the professed UUA rebranding are welcome, I’d like to share my mothers sermon from last week that describes what the UUism process is and where it could go. I hope you can take time to read it.

    …To under-stand the diversity of belief in our congregations or the direction of our justice work we need to dig deeper into what creates those things, and it is that we are at our beginning and at our core about freedom of religion freedom of thought, belief and conscience. Because we have that freedom we must decide on our own beliefs rather than having them imposed upon us, and because we have different experiences and different thought processes, we will often come up with different answers, but all of them must be subject to correction, and all of them are derived the same way, through reflecting on our experience and testing our conclusions through further experience and reflection and the shared understandings of our community. Social justice work is equally created through our commitment to freedom not only for ourselves but for all people. No wonder our issues have been the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow, the equality of women and gays and equal treatment of human beings whatever their origin. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from who we are, Unitarian Universalists, free thinkers and free believers to a person.

    http://uustpete.org/sites/default/files/service/files/2014-05-04-sermon-believe-it-or-not.pdf

    • Robin Edgar

      Sean, can you explain where the Unitarian Universalist Association’s dubious “justice making” that involves hiring Stikeman Elliott Barristers & Solicitors litigation lawyer Maitre Marc André Coulombe to falsely accuse me of the archaic crime of blasphemous libel in inept legal bullying comes from? It seems to me that the Unitarian Universalist free thinkers and free believers ensconced at 25 Beacon Street are taking free thinking and free believing to incredibly foolish, and indeed potentially very dangerous, extremes in falsely accusing me of blasphemy in a hubristic effort to conceal clergy sexual misconduct, specifically “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape”. I think that you and other Unitarian Universalists who claim care about “justice work” would be very well advised to “dig deeper” into what caused top level leaders of the UUA such as UUA President Peter Morales and UUA Executive Vice President Kathleen ‘Kay Montgomery to engage in such a shameful perversion of justice that makes a total mockery of pretty much everything UUism claims to stand for.

  • Robin Edgar

    I see that a good number of my comments have been deleted. As usual Unitarian Universalists respond to criticism by doing their very best to censor and suppress it, rather than by responding in responsibility to the Spirit that bloweth where it listeth in a manner that honors and upholds the claimed principles and ideals of UUism…

  • NewAllDay

    Maybe I’ll add a few more thoughts, on the article and on selected comments:

    First, I think Alyssa Giacobbe did more than a fair job of covering what is a difficult and actually a double subject (at least): an explanation of Unitarian Universalism, as well as an account of its (latest) rebranding effort. Her reporting here is by necessity of subject somewhat more ambitious than her other articles for Boston, so I give her credit.

    Second, as I see it, Unitarian Universalism is demonstrably the leading edge of the ongoing decline of Protestantism in the 20th century (as noted by Peter L. Berger in his book “The Sacred Canopy”). Other mainline sects (FGC Quakers, UCC, Episcopalians, UMC) are not far behind with their emerging secularization and in-the-news schisms. While the latter “Christian” sects can still retain their Christian identity through lip-service toward God, Christ and the scriptures, the UUA’s humanistic rigor for the past 50 years has overthrown the possibility of God entirely (the efforts of Forrest Church on behalf of Jefferson’s Jesus notwithstanding).

    Third, howbeit (love that word!) the collective ruminations of the “free-thinking” UU sheep inevitably coalesces into a hard-nosed litigenous and monothematic political correctness? Though the UUs invoke no creed, the huge body of collective texts (lawsuits, amicus briefs, statements of conscience, talking points, sermons) amounts to volumes of fine-print creedal baggage and implies commitment to all of it from every person who identifies as UU. How free is that?

    Fourth, (and this is one main reason I stopped attending), there is no clue about raising children, nor about the process of maintaining generations–this deficiency alone explains much of why breeding couples move on. To me, this is the most telling contrast with Christianity, whose teachings have always drawn fruitful parallels between God’s love for man and parents’ love for children.

    Instead, UU religious education reflects UU values where reproduction without sex and sex without reproduction are standard, where life is not considered to be continuous between conception and a certain number of weeks, where the natural modesty of children as well as the intuitive insights and legitimate aspirations of parents are discouraged, and where patriarchy in all its forms is to be feared and loathed.

    • Robin Edgar

      Feel free to comment on my remaining comments. I am considering reposting some of my comments that have been deleted, but I will be speaking to Boston Magazine editors before doing so.

      I would be especially interested in your opinion regarding Atheist Unitarian UUA leaders accusing me of the crime of blasphemous libel for blogging about UU clergy abuse. Amongst the amicus briefs that the UUA has signed onto is one opposing blasphemy law on the grounds that blasphemy laws are unconstitutional, but that somehow did not prevent the UUA from subsequently attempting to misuse Canada’s blasphemy law in immoral and unethical legal bullying that is quite obviously indeed to intimidate me into removing The Emerson Avenger blog posts about UUs who have engaged in what Stikeman Elliott Barristers & Solicitors litigation lawyer Maitre Marc-André Coulombe characterizes as “such despicable crimes as pedophilia and rape.”

  • appalove

    Grew up in the UU Church as a third generation UU and absolutely agree it is atheism with a splash of spiritual exploration. I greatly appreciate now the open mindedness it allowed me. Even growing up, I always had the sense it was a stepping stone towards finding my real spiritual beliefs. Of course when I did find a spiritual practice I actually believed in, I got a bit of a side eye from one person, but most UUs are totally open to people believing what they want to… as long as it isn’t ultra-conservative, right wing or devoutly Christian. Hmmm. Clearly my feelings on it are still pretty mixed.

  • Alice W. Cain

    My husband and I first came to UU to avoid the negatives of some churches. I wanted to go to a service where a gay couple could walk in holding hands and raise no eyebrows. I wanted a church that would accept my beliefs that resemble Star Trek more than Christianity. I needed a community of positive people. My husband was less interested than I was at first, but now is more active in and attached to the church than I am. We love the community.

  • Bryan Long

    As a UU, I think the one concept we all agree on is that evil in an form is a backward way of thinking and an extremely poor philosophical point of view that has proven time and again to be false. I would like to see us use the slogan “Live.”. I know this could be seen or may already be “owned” by pro-choice groups. However, this would provide the perfect opportunity for Unitarian Universalism to be identified as a church and not as a political organization.

  • JM

    In a way, the decline of attendance only points to the success of the movement. We have become a more secular/humanist society and that is good! Sunday brunch around my table with friends is just as meaningful if not more than showing up at a service. Religious service attendance is down for all faiths across the country. We are in a post religious society and again this is good!