From the Front-lines: Unitarian Universalist


If you don’t know what a Unitarian Universalist is, join the club. I’m not even sure they know what they are, which, ironically, is probably the only criterion for becoming one. That aside. The following is my encounter with an embittered UU. 

I sat in one of my three regular coffee houses the other day, glanced to the table next to me, and immediately identified my “way in” (the lady was scribbling on a pad while pouring over a newspaper). I said, “Are you a writer?” “Not exactly. Are you?” she responded. I explained that I was indeed writing and that for my line of work, I tend to write about 20 pages per week. 

I can’t remember her name, and even if I could, I wouldn’t share it here. So we’ll call her Sally, an ironically dignified and modern name for such a hippy, anti-establishment, liberated woman. She wore severely faded and somewhat tattered clothing — a jean top and one of those puffy ski-style vests. Sally responded with obvious disgust when she found out that I wrote so much in order to keep up with my weekly sermons.

She muttered her frustration with “fundamentalist sort of Christians” because apparently they “quote portions of the book in order to suit their own purposes.” From her perspective the message of Jesus can all be reduced to this: “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Hers is hardly a new perspective on Jesus. I responded, “In light of the fact that there are four gospels in the New Testament, don’t you think that your view on Jesus and his teachings is a little reductionistic?” “No,” she replied, and continued, “Jesus simply wanted us to love each other, and not to try to force our views on each other.” 

“Okay, I agree that Jesus certainly taught that we should love our neighbors, but there’s actually another biblical topic that Jesus spoke more about than neighbor love. Do you know what topic that is?” 

“Enlighten me,” she replied with a genuinely interested tone. So, I began explaining to her that Jesus taught more about hell and judgment than he did about neighbor love. She replied, “Well, I don’t believe in hell,” to which I responded, “do you believe in Jesus?” She became frustrated and replied, “What is it with you fundamentalists? I don’t have to believe in hell in order to believe in Jesus! Besides, you’re judging me.” 

“I’m not judging you,” I replied. “You said that you don’t believe in hell. Jesus taught that there’s a hell. It’s taught in the Bible, so unless you believe in Jesus based upon other historical documents alone, I don’t see how you can believe in Jesus at all, because you could have no knowledge of Him apart from the Scriptures. If you don’t believe the Scriptures are true, then you don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible. So, where do you gain your information of Jesus? What Jesus do you believe in? If not the Jesus described by the Bible, then I must conclude that you believe in a Jesus crafted by your own intellect, a god of your own creation.” 

Now her objections start flying — “It’s not intellectually responsible to believe the Bible; it’s full of mistakes.” To this, I naturally requested that she show me some! As that line of objection fell flat on its face, she challenged, “Young man, you are too young to really understand the world; you are only so settled in your beliefs because you have not experienced real grief and pain as I have. You haven’t seen the world; your sheltered evangelical upbringing has left you hopelessly without real-world experience.”

I replied, “Isn’t that a little arrogant and judgmental, Sally?” She was caught off guard. “I’m sure you have felt more grief and seen more of the world than I have, and it’s certainly not my intent to rattle off a resume for you, but by the time I was 13 I had visited 3rd world countries in southeast Asia and Africa. I have seen the fruits of Aids and poverty. I have spoken to men whose limbs had been ripped off their bodies in land-mine accidents. I have seen what the world looks like without the God of the Bible. And as far as grief goes, as a five year old, I hugged my crying mother and family as the doctors told us that our little brother would never be born. I watched as this grief was repeated three more times before I graduated high school.”

She was shocked and a little humiliated by her former arrogance and condescension and said, “Perhaps my insinuation of your lack of experience was a little arrogant. However, isn’t it just as arrogant or even self-righteous to claim that you have the truth and other truths are wrong?” 

I told her that I had to leave soon, but asked for permission to make my final point without being interrupted. She agreed to this.

I responded, “Actually, Sally, it’s not arrogant to claim that you know the truth. It’s actually an act of humility to subject one’s personal whims and opinions to the the Sovereign authority of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. I actually have no righteousness of my own. The good news of Jesus Christ precludes self-righteousness and eliminates pride and boasting. I am not trying to tell you that I am a good person or that I deserve to be forgiven and accepted by God. What I am trying to tell you is that I am such a wicked sinner that the slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required to provide forgiveness for a scoundrel like me. Thanks for talking to me today. I’ve presumed upon a lot of your time. I hope you think about these things we’ve discussed.” 

We left on good terms. And I can only hope to see Sally again.

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  1. #1 by Melinda Clark on October 20, 2009 - 2:50 am

    I recently read “Here if You Need Me,” the autobiography of a Unitarian Universalist chaplain. Interesting insight. Your perspective is fairly accurate.

    We, too, have found that conversations about the whys and wherefores of individuals’ belief systems are fascinating. Inviting them to consider Jesus accurately rather than through their grid of personal bias is an experience that never ceases to amaze me. It’s all grace and mercy.

  2. #2 by Yvonne on November 5, 2009 - 7:23 am

    I’ve just found your site and love how you share your witnessing.

    May I reprint this ‘From the Front Lines’ post on my own blog?

    Thanks & blessings!
    Yvonne

  3. #3 by clearly on November 5, 2009 - 7:26 am

    Yvonne, absolutely! Just provide a link to the original source. I am pleased that you are benefitting from these posts…may God give you boldness as you witness as well!

  4. #4 by William K Neal on December 1, 2009 - 11:43 am

    As I am learning, being humble sometimes means being direct in our witness. Its difficult to discern those times in which we need to “know that we know” and when we need to admit we could be wrong.

    I found your final response inspiring. May God help me be so bold.

  5. #5 by Stourley Kracklite on March 6, 2010 - 4:59 am

    You have Sally muttering her frustration with “fundamentalist sort of Christians” immediately after your self-introduction. Methinks your forwardness in introducing yourself may have been accompanied by a redacted forwardness in sharing your religious values, which may having been taken a provocation by Sally. Shame on her for that.

    You, on the other hand, are entirely shameless.

  1. Witnessing to a Unitarian Universalist « . . . and the world hears them

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