In the last 24 hours, at least three of my Unitarian Universalist clergy Facebook friends have posted a snarky little article deriding people who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” It is by a United Church of Christ minister. The UCC chose to publish it on their site. I hear it has gone viral. I am sad.
Clearly, this piece has struck a chord for people who understand the value of religious community. While I could argue a bit with content, I get that there is a point worthy of consideration in the piece. However, my overriding sense is the one that I get standing in a group when a racist or homophobic joke is being told, and everyone is laughing.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of religious community. That’s why I do what I do. It’s something I lift up at the beginning of every worship service. Being in religious community can call us to our best selves and teach us more about the gifts and challenges of being human. Being in human community is hard work. As the author of the article says “What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”
OK, so let me disagree and call out some stuff. Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal tradition. We are held together by the promises we make about how we will be together. For me, this means that when we disagree and need to call each other on stuff, we do it respectfully. Snarky, derisive behavior and eye-rolling may sell better, but it does not represent our best selves and it does not represent either community or religion at its best. It certainly doesn’t represent religious community at it best.
I suppose you could say that since these “spiritual but not religious” folks have chosen not to be in our congregations (perhaps, me thinks, with good reason) that they are outside the scope of our covenant. That is not how I live my covenant. We are trying to build inside our walls the world we want to see outside our walls. I want my best self operating in both places and my best self interacting with all people.
I recognize that popular culture and our media thrive on division and bring up ratings using conflict. I think as a religious people we are called to be counter-cultural with regard to the divisive tone that is tearing our culture and our world apart.
I get that the piece in question has a witty tone that might make it compelling on first read. But, on second read, imagine if this was written about some other group. Perhaps some of the people enjoying it might feel differently. Provocative tones capture us. I get it. Still, I think as religious people we are called to a different way of being — something with more respect, more understanding, more love.
So those of you bored and otherwise annoyed by these good folks who are “spiritual but not religious,” please, send yours to me. I have a place for them in my heart and in my world.