uuworld.org: liberal religion and life

Our rarefied culture

I feel comfortable in a Unitarian church only because I am not ethnocentric.
By Offie C. Wortham
Summer 2010 5.15.10

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Darwin bust (Bob Delboy)

(Bob Delboy)

Unitarian Universalists have a dis­tinct culture. It is an elitist one, with a highly educated lifestyle that prides itself on certain types of literature and reading, foods, etiquette, vacations, dress, speech, dance, NPR, and classical music. I know, I have been a Unitarian for over fifty years, and I am also a very fulfilled person of color, whose ethnicity is Cherokee and black, who has devoted over half his life to the struggle for human rights in this country.

Because of the one-drop rule I was raised as a Negro. In the ’60s I became Black, and now I’m supposed to call myself African American. I am proud of my ethnicity and sub-culture, especially the gospel music and the history of resilience, strength, and creativity. Although raised a Baptist, I had the freedom to explore, read, and develop my own personal spiritual path. I evolved from Human­ism to Ethical Culture and Unity, until I finally settled upon Unitarianism. Only because I am not ethnocentric do I feel comfortable in a Unitarian church. I am a transcultural person, a rare bird in our society.

Even if more people of color knew something about the UU philosophy and culture there is little reason to believe that they would reject their present belief system or lifestyle to assimilate into this rarified way of life. Why should they? Look what most would have to give up: Their ethnocentrism, music, speech and mannerisms, style of dress when attending a service, the highly emotional, entertaining, and theatrical sermons, their favorite foods, their humor, name recognition, and most of all, their friends and relatives. You can’t really have your multiculturalism and integration at the same time: They’re opposites.

Rather than waste more time and money trying to integrate our churches, UUs would do better to stop feeling guilty for being so well-off living in peaceful and quiet communities, with excellent schools and relatively little crime, and focus our energies on helping people improve their local schools, get better housing, attract business and jobs to their communities, and increase participation in voting to elect innovative and honest officials from the school board to the White House. Eventually, people will see and appreciate our commitment and concern. Maybe then some will come, to learn more about these good people. We must always remember: Is our goal to help people or to make ourselves feel better?

For a guide to related articles, read "What is UU culture?"

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