Contents: UU World Back Issue

UU World Cover Jan/FebMailbox

The January/February issue, with its cover story on UUs and power by Rob Eller-Isaacs and the feature article on a new theology of marriage by William J. Doherty, was the cause of much discussion. Out of a total of 41 letters, thirteen were reactions to the power story and eight responded to the marriage article.

In "We the Powerful" Eller- Isaacs struck a chord when he suggested that UUs were far less liberal and tolerant than they might believe. While the majority of writers signaled their agreement, one reader was concerned about the wisdom of uncritical inclusiveness: "While we have a responsibility to examine diverse opinion, do we have a responsibility to believe we should welcome it?" wrote James Wamsley of Alexandria, Virginia.

The majority of letter writers cheered the appearance of Doherty's article "Time to Commit," with its emphasis on offering congregational support to married couples and its call to reexamine the values UUs attach to the institution of marriage. But there were skeptics in the crowd as well. "Good luck in your crusade to pull the liberal establishment back toward the foundational Holy Standard of the sacred/sacrificial, incorruptible covenantal bond," wrote Tom Graffagnino of Hamilton, Georgia, "but after nearly a century of liberalism's persistent conditioning us to believe in the Imperial Au-tonomous Self, it's going to be a tough row to hoe."

The capacious and eclectic "other" file included four letters on the pros and cons of same-sex marriage; two letters objecting to the photograph of profile subject Joseph Nye, an avid fly fisherman, holding a fish; a letter on the elimination of GA early bird registration; and a letter from a reader in Thailand reacting to Jeffrey Lockwood's essay "Unlikely Ambassador" (November/December) reporting that contrary to Lockwood's portrayal of locusts and grasshoppers as a common Asian enemy, they are considered a treat in Thailand.

-- Jane Greer



Insert the currently politically-correct alternative to "Amen" here to Rob Eller-Isaacs' "We the Powerful."

I'm proud of being a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. But the more I observe and the more I read, the more it seems that we UUs-with exceptions of course-don't always practice what we preach. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, but we neglect the "as long as they're politically liberal Democrats and believe in abortion rights" part. We believe in the freedom of religious expression, as long as it expresses what we already believe. We're tolerant of religious ideas, as long as they're not religiously conservative. We all too often equate religious liberalism with political liberalism.

We have an important and powerful message. But we need to frame it so that those outside our tiny membership understand its power.

Paul Wilczynski
Quincy, Massachusetts

The articles about power in the January/February issue left me with, as the hymn says, a "fierce unrest." I absolutely agree that as Unitarian Universalists we can and should do more to recognize and use our social and political power in ways that affirm our faith and values. But I am concerned that we focus too much on questions like whether we have any power, where it comes from, whether we are justified in using it, or what styles we prefer. This discussion should not occur at the expense of practice.

The use of power, in ethical ways for religious purposes, is a discipline just like meditation or going to the gym. We can study it all we want, but without practice, it won't work. I would like to reframe Rob Eller-Isaacs' question of "what shall we promise each other?" and ask, "what shall we promise the world?" But an even more important question is left unasked in these articles: Once we have named our promises, how will we deliver on them? We can only realize our power when we hold ourselves accountable for the results.

Eleanor Piez
Richmond, California

I resonated with Rob Eller-Isaccs' piece "We the Powerful." As the token libertarian in my congregation, I am well acquainted with the way that the UU majority insulates itself from information that would challenge their ideology.

Anyone wishing to explore this phenomenon can focus on the upcoming UU Statement of Conscience, "Threat of Global Warming." For a good starting point, search the Web for "Oregon Petition" and "global warming," and read the paper that comes up, which has been signed by more than 19,000 scientifically inclined people. It contains rigorous refutation of claims made by those who make their living from the global warming scare. In particular, one can learn that carbon dioxide emissions cannot be causing global warming, since there is essentially no global warming.

Given an endemic addiction among UUs to politically motivated junk science, it would be a project to get such information as this through the arcane processes for the adoption of statements of conscience. But maybe if more voices like that of Rev. Eller-Isaacs are heard, it will be a more feasible one.

Will Hamrick
Cincinnati, Ohio

I found UU World 's focus on power most timely. One area in which UUs need to authoritatively speak out using religious language is science. Increasingly, the religious right frames scientific issues as religious ones. We must dare to do the same-be it through analysis of the morality of limiting stem cell research or theological discussion of how evolutionary theory does not preclude the possibility of a divine presence in the universe. As advocates of truth and justice, it is our duty to work, as did Christopher Reeve, to improve the relationship between religion and science.

Jean Hackett
San Antonio, Texas

I've no doubt that Rob Eller-Isaacs is sincere in his perceptions of UUs as belonging to mainstream America today, but he's living on a different planet than mine. In places like Alabama, we don't just "prefer to make believe we represent a tiny minority voice drowned out in dominant culture"; we know we do! No elected politician in Alabama would dare change a flat tire in a UU parking lot, for fear of being labeled "fringe" or "not Christian enough."

If the mantle of political power weighs too heavy on Eller-Isaacs' shoulders, take a break by coming to church in Alabama, or any blazing, scarlet Red State closer to home. I go to church completely free of any fear of sitting with federal judges, state politicians, or anyone in "mainstream power."

Paul Anderson
Huntsville, Alabama

Eller-Isaacs and his wife clearly were practicing what they preached when hosting a dinner party of liberal democrats save one. They fleshed out our beliefs in a grand way that many of us do in subtler ways.

The hero of the article, however, was not a liberal, but a conservative. Alone in his ideologies he caused "everyone around the table [to] understand that something rare and valuable was happening. . . . No one wanted it to end."

Through the examples of the Eller-Isaacses and the lone conservative it is my belief that we can practice or flesh out what we preach and be part of the bread (not merely its leaven) giving shape to our world.

Keith Roper
St. Louis, Missouri

In the article "We the Powerful," an electrical metaphor is used to support the idea of engagement: "Electricity is generated when opposite magnetic poles come into proximity." Technically, the metaphor is incorrect. Most electricity is generated by moving an electrical conductor through a magnetic field, where the amount generated is based on the strength of the field and the velocity of the movement.

Perhaps a better metaphor from the correct technology is that having strong beliefs is of little consequence unless there is action based on those beliefs.  

Paul M. Kintner
Hendersonville, North Carolina


While I agree with William J. Doherty's idea that "it's time to go deeper on marriage" ("Time to Commit," January/February), I wonder what a marriage of ever more rigorous "steadfastness and self-sacrifice" would feel like. It does sound like a lot of heavy lifting. Most of us who divorced after long marriages didn't get here by not trying harder.

All the deeply good marriages I've witnessed have one trait not mentioned in the list: joyfulness. The partners have fun together. They make that a priority. When they're together that's exactly where they want to be.

I think UUs get a little squeamish around such an untidy feeling as joy. We're much better at commitment, equal regard, and responsibility. But joy together is a sacred obligation of a good marriage. It might even be the long-lost secret. How about adding that to the list of core elements? It wouldn't hurt our communities, either!

Chris McLaughlin
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

I was much interested in William J. Doherty's article entitled "Time to Commit." Having lived and worked as a Universalist and a Unitarian Universalist minister through most of the recent history of the evolution of attitudes toward marriage, I resonated with his analysis of how we got into our present situation. One small correction: I believe I began one of the "distinctive contributions" (of UUs), changing the marriage vow to "so long as you both shall love," in 1948, nearly three decades before the 1977 date mentioned.

More to the point, however, I believe that what Doherty says of our attitude toward marriage has a much more general application. Beyond individual freedom lies a vast and little-explored region of commitments to the values that were once the hallmarks of Unitarianism and Universalism. Unitarian history suggests a central emphasis on exalted human possibilities, with Jesus as an exemplar thereof. Universalism's key idea was the oneness of the human family-one origin, one nature, one destiny.

Doherty expresses it clearly in stating that our "expressive individualism disdains the ethic of duty in favor of flexible choice based on current personal satisfaction."

It's a very shaky basis for a religion, freedom without commitments; witness our stagnation in the last fifty years.

Rev. Dr. Gordon B.McKeeman
Charlottesville, Virginia

My husband of not-quite-twenty-years and I each came to this marriage with two divorces behind us. Our marriage ceremony used words very much like "as long as we both shall love," but we also knew from hard experience that marriage is a garden that needs tending. My husband likes to say that if each partner gives 60 percent, it works. We entered this marriage with both the knowledge that marriage doesn't always work and the desire to tend this garden; the fact that we are about to celebrate our twentieth anniversary speaks of our learning that commitment matters. I agree that our congregations have both a stake in and a responsibility for supporting marriage.

Joan Bliss
Brevard, North Carolina

Reactionarily calling for a new UU theology of marriage, William J. Doherty asks us all to join the Roman Catholic Church in its enthrallment to duty and obligation to the collective. But since our fellowship's official affirmations do not even recognize the existence, much less the authority, of any god(dess), and explicitly affirms each individual's right of conscience and the free and responsible search for meaning, Unitarian Universalists don't need a theology of anything. While marriage clearly does affect more "stakeholders" than just the couple itself, so do all human relationships; why single out this particular one for special (doctrinal) rights? By demonizing and distorting the hard-won progressive notion of expressive individualism, and then falsely opposing it to the values of commitment, mutual respect, and responsibility to one's community, Doherty sentimentally imputes to marriage some mysterious spiritual component that somehow transforms it into something deeper than a mere contract. But marriage is a form of contract; and the law has long recognized the right of people to void contracts on the grounds of mistake of fact, duress, and impossibility of performance. Our fellowship should not assist in coercing anyone, under the guise of support for lifetime commitments, into adhering to an agreement that is no longer healthy for them.

Richard Osborne
Roseville, Minnesota

Thank you, William J. Doherty, for beginning to add some much-needed balance to public UU positions on the meaning of marriage. As good as it feels to declare that we "stand on the side of love," anyone who has ever taken marriage seriously knows that love is only part of it. I am heartened to see someone willing to stand on the side of commitment. It's a national tragedy that so many are just not taking marriage seriously. The tragedy hits home in UU congregations where it devastates our families, cheapens our standards of integrity, and diminishes our moral voice. Every time we choose to support an individual's quest for a better deal with a different partner regardless of the cost to others, we endorse the worst of consumer values, deny our responsibility to the community, and imply that our own marriages are superficial arrangements.

Lorella Thomas Hess
Thousand Oaks, California

I just finished reading an article on uuworld.org called "Time to Commit," and I wanted to congratulate both the author, William J. Doherty, and your Web site for publishing it. (It came to my attention in an e-mail from smartmarriages.com.) The article seemed to balance compassion and justice, personal freedom and corporate responsibility, and truth and love. It just "reeked" of humility, wisdom, and common sense!

Dr. Jay Feld
Pastor of Counseling
New Life Fellowship Church
Elmhurst, New York

Just as we wisely recognize an individual's right and responsibility to find their own faith and live it, we also need to recognize that it is the individual's right and responsibility to create healthy and productive relationships, whatever form those relationships take. William J. Doherty's ideal seems to be one in which a couple gets married, stays married, and has children only within the confines of that marriage. As a good UU, I affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning in one's love life. All I ask is that Doherty do the same for us.

Jocelyn Cogswell
Ava, Missouri


What a delight to find "Time to Commit," "Healing Community," and "James Luther Adams's Examined Faith," bound together in the first issue of 2005. William J. Doherty's look into marriage, Thandeka's insights on the power of covenant, and Christopher L. Walton's review combined to remind me of Adams's radical vision of voluntary association, another key element in his understanding of the prophetic church. These articles appear as bright, prophetic refractions sprung from a single stream of religious light. But what might these refractions illuminate in the coming year? Can it be that Fidelity will be restored from the shadows to her rightful place beside Freedom in the Unitarian Universalist pantheon?

This devotee stands ready to replenish the oil of commitment in the lamp of our faith.

Keith W. Goheen
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware


Congratulations on Thandeka's article on small group ministry ("Healing Ministry," January/February). It is most encouraging to learn of the increase of such ministries in many churches.

As a United Methodist pastor in a small U.M. church more than fifty years ago, I was involved for a number of years in small spiritual life groups, and for both individual participants, and for the church, this movement was the most effective spiritual dynamic in the church-and to this day its influence is still felt. As one school teacher expressed it, "If I had been in such a group years ago, I would have been a different kind of teacher."

Rev. Enid V. Pierce
New Port Richey, Florida


The UUA Bookstore sells chocolate chalices. It seems to me some of my UU Christian friends might protest and insist that chocolate crosses be made available. On the other hand, they are probably too sophisticated for such a thing. While I have seen some appalling schlock in Christian bookstores, I have yet to see a chocolate cross. Really, how silly can we get? How about jellybean Emersons? Uncommon denomination, indeed. I ask you, folks, do you really think Garrison Keillor is laughing with us?

Rev. Dr. Edward A. Frost
Senior Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta


In preparing "The Microcredit Revolution" for publication in the March/April issue, a number of lines were inadvertently dropped on pages 34, 35, 36, and 37 during our production process. We offer our apologies to author Dorothy May Emerson as well as to our readers. To request a printed version of the article, call (617) 948-6518.

In the resource box on page 42 accompanying the story "Modeling the Simple Life" (March/April), the organization Center for a New American Dream (www.newdream.org) was incorrectly cited.

On page 54 the name of film director Frank Capra was misspelled.

In accord with the practices of the Universalist Church of America, one of the UUA's predecessors, the Rev. Carl Westman was ordained by the Fellowship Committee of the Massachusetts Universalist Convention, not by the Independent Christian Church (Universalist) in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where his ordination took place (Obituaries, March/April, page 51).

UU World welcomes letters to the editor. Send to "Letters," UU World, 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108 or world@uua.org, but do not send attachments. Include your name, address, and daytime phone number on all correspondence. Published letters with author's name, city, and state will appear on uuworld.org. Letters are edited for length and style; a maximum length of 200 words is suggested. We regret that we cannot publish or respond to all letters.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
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