Response to “A Pet Peeve I Have About Our denomination” by CUUMBAYA

I’d like to have a friendly respond to a post on the excellent blog CUUMBAYA titled “A Pet Peeve I Have About Our denomination” about my home-made UU advertisement on youtube which references famous UU’s (Unitarians and Universalists.)

Read the CUUMBAYA post here.

See the advertisement here.

I’d love if CUUMBAYA would respond back in a little cross-blog dialog. I posted an abbreviated comment similair to the below on CUUMBAYA.


Thanks for the shout-out, Joel.
My reasoning that UUs should embrace our celebrity ancestry is that this lore brings validity, inspiration and identity to an obscure, nebulous, and dying religion.  (admit it) :<  It’s easier to attend “The church of Thomas Jefferson” than it is to go to “some hippie church some weirdos started in the woods.” Am I right?

Also, I do object to using the term ‘denomination’ to describe UUism. Denomination of what? While Christians comprise a large portion of our membership, we’ve clearly outgrown our Christian ancestry and do not formally identify as a Christian organization in any modern UUA documentation I’ve seen.

So that’s why I think UU’s should do it, and do it loudly and proudly. We love or evolving, democratic religion and are proud of our principles and the fruits they have brought to the world. Of course Susan Bee Anthony doesn’t share a mind with Henry David Thoreau, but nor do you and I.

However, after writing all of this, I’m not sure you object to such references because it’s backward-looking (a worthy objection), or if you feel modern UU’s have no right to claim them ‘on our team’.
How do we identify UUs?

It comes down to how you define UUism. Here are some ways to tie a person to a religion.

1. Self-identification

2. Active or former church membership

3. Theological pairing

To me, it seems you conditionally need two of the three.

#1 and #2 being extended to our Unitarian and Universalist brethren. (I argue)
#1 also being extended to those unable to attend the church of their choice due to location, etc.

#2 being taken from those who may identify as UU, but represent the opposite of our ideals (like, what if Hitler was UU?) (I know of no one like this and am proud to have so few stains in our past.)

For #3, we should remember and rejoice in the fact that ours is a democratic and evolving religion. We need to have understanding for our ancestor’s short-comings, and remember that most UUs have many healthy theological transitions throughout their lives.
Referencing the free-thinkers who attended the churches of our ancestry is no different than other religions who’s ancestors also shared very different views on the interpretation of their religion.  Still, I think you’ll see a consistant theme when reviewing famous UUs: bold, mature, loving thought. I’ve been arguing that the ONE CREED of UUism is CREEDLESSNESS. Read here.

We cast a large net. I’m fine with that. If more people accepted this principle, we’d have more UUs.  I dream of a day when people stop shrugging their shoulders and say “I don’t know. Agnostic?” when asked about religion.

“UU. I’m a UU.” That’s the answer I prefer. It both frees them and ties them to community, thought, and love.

Thanks for the post, CUUMBAYA. I’d love to hear your thoughts.



I believe in my right to search for the good, to choose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we share in the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the challenge of freedom.

This is the promise of my heart extended to you, as we walk on separate paths, together.


Visit for the best UU minister blog posts, sermon podcasts, and UU News.

7 Responses to “Response to “A Pet Peeve I Have About Our denomination” by CUUMBAYA”

  1. Joel Monka Says:

    Thanks for YOUR shout-out! I’ll adress your points out of order, just because I have that sort of mind.

    There was a reason I used the word “denomination”. To my ears, saying that I had a problem with our religion sounded like I had a theological issue, whereas using the word “denomination” sounded like an issue with some of the people, not the faith. I was trying to find the best connotation.

    I had to laugh at your first paragraph- as a NeoPagan, a syncretic Wiccan, I really DO “go to “some hippie church some weirdos started in the woods.””! More seriously, I don’t believe that one needs an illustrious ancestry to be validated. If you’re wrong, quoting some dead guy won’t make you right. If you’re right, it doesn’t matter how new your truth is. Just look around- Wicca is only around 60 years old, and is now bigger than UU.

    As you surmised, part of my objection to those sorts of lists is that it’s backwards looking. Worse, it’s irrelevant to the people we’re trying to attract. Most young adults have no emotional connection to anyone on that list, save possibly Christopher Reeve. We have a lot of modern UU celebrities to tout, and a lot of heroes who are not celebrities, but should be. If we got people’s attention with cultural celebrities such as the creators of The Twilight Zone or The Simpsons, we could use that to bring attention to lesser known heroes that were on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights movement and other social issues. I think the general public feels more affinity to Rod Serling than President Taft.

    But I also think this list implies a continuity of thought that just doesn’t exist. If one had such a list of Roman Catholics, say, you would find a consistant set of beliefs throughtout. Today “the ONE CREED of UUism is CREEDLESSNESS”… but that was not neccessarily the case for Universalists of 200 years ago. It’s fine to revere our ancesters, but bad tactics to use them for recruiting- we want people to join the church as it is today, not as one portion of it was centuries past. Several of the people on that list were well known theists; suppose one of their fans walks into a UU congregation that happens to be majority atheist? Isn’t he likely to feel confused, if not betrayed?

  2. Larry Ladd Says:

    Since this blog includes a link to a new site called “UUA Presidential Forum,” readers of this site should be aware that the new site fails the transparency test. It is sponsored by a vocal supporter of the Peter Morales campaign without that information being disclosed. Attempts by me to have the sponsor of that site, and of this site, reveal that affiliation have been unsuccessful. Larry Ladd

    The Presidential Forum site uses rigorous journalistic standards of objective reporting and is co-hosted by Aaron Sawyer of Larry Ladd has been invited Larry Ladd to cohost the Debate Forum, but this offer was turned down.
    Please click here for a disclosure of the site’s standards and practices.

  3. Patrick McLaughlin Says:

    A problem with that definition is that it misuses “creed.”

    # A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith.
    # A system of belief, principles, or opinions.

    Anyone who is a ‘good’ member of a creedal faith subscribes to the creed, which articulates explicit beliefs that all *believers* — all ‘good’ members of the faith — believe. Creedlessness as a creed? What’s the shared articulated belief system, the confession of faith?

    (Larry, that seems like a legitimate objection to raise about the forum. But it doesn’t mean that forum is biased (that’s an open question), merely that the potential conflict of interest is one that ought to be labeled so that people are aware of it.)

  4. Larry Ladd Says:

    Thank you Patrick. Whether the “Fact-Based Forum” is biased is a separate question from its transparency. If the site becomes transparent, then the reader is alerted to the possibility of bias and reads accordingly. Larry Ladd

    The debate site has requested Larry participate in the operation of the site and he has turned this offer down. The debate site currently has moderators that support both candidates and has had no credible or specific complaints of bias, even from Larry. The moderators request that Larry make any complaints of bias known. All off topic comments from Larry will be removed from the site from this point forward.

  5. serenityhome Says:

    While I understand Joel’s argument that focusing on our current UU celebrities would be helpful, I don’t necessarily agree with the whole of the argument. I see it as a both / and. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a new denomination having merged in 1983 from the United Presbyterian Church of the USA and the Presbyterian Church of United States. Should they not claim Rev. John Witherspoon who signed the Declaration of Independence since he did not belong to either denomination before merger? Since the denomination is part of the Reformed tradition should they not claim John Calvin since he is the founder of the reformed tradition even though if John Calvin entered the church today, he probably would be shocked?

    It is important to honor our ancestors and it is important to let people know that fact about our history. Many people do think we are a new age religion and while we have members who are new-agers our faith tradition is old.

    We are an evolving faith tradition which I believe is one of the wonderful things about our faith. If I come back in a hundred years and UUism has remained the same as it is today, I would feel that I have failed as a minister. Individuals faith journey changes as they grow, it is part of the journey. I know no one who remains static in the faith they were born into or chose as an adult. If they did it would be out of dogmatism and fear.

    If we see ourselves as a denomination that means that we are a denomination of a specific faith tradition such as Christianity. Yet, we no longer identify as a Christian faith. We may have people who honor their Christian heritage and identify as Christian but Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.

    There are other Unitarian and Universalist faiths out there… are we a denomination of them? Judaism is unitarian in theology. Islam is unitarian in theology. Oneness Pentecostalism is non-trinitarian ( Jesus is the one God, so the emphasis is different) in theology. There is also the Biblical Unitarians. Unity is a universalist faith. And there are pockets of universalism within Methodism, Roman Catholicism, United Church of Christ, and Episcopalian traditions, to mention a few. Are we a denomination of these groups? The closest we could be affiliated would be Judaism because they are also a covenantal faith like we are (there are also some major differences which would separate us) but the others have very strong doctrinal and creedal requirements which we as a whole do not meet.

    Therefore it seems that declaring Unitarian Universalism a religion is closer to the truth of our identity since the term denomination does not seem to match. I know that there are many of us who will cling to the word denomination for nostalgic reasons but we really are no longer a denomination.

    There is a point that I fully agree with Joel on and that is what motivates us to tout our ancestry? It is one thing if we drop names because we are proud of our heritage or it is part of a history lesson of our past. It is another if we do it because we have low religious self-esteem and therefore drop names to help us feel good or equal with other religions. That said, I did not feel the video developed was done from the latter reasons. At least that is not how I viewed it. But then I do not need Emerson or Dickens to feel good about my faith. I am glad that I am part of the lineage of religious liberal thought that includes such people but I do not need to have them in my pocket to pull out to show others. My faith is stronger than that. Blessings,

  6. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    Great posts all around!

  7. Unitarian Universalism: Denomination or Religion? « A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi Says:

    […] received some criticism for a video he did and posted on YouTube. He responds to the criticism on his blog.  What came up in the discussion is whether or not Unitarian Universalist Association is a […]

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