Monday, April 12, 2010

Towards a UU Doctrine of Wholeness


I still receive alumni publications from my Bible college, Olivet Nazarene University, which had prepared me for my short-lived career as “Local Minister.”  With the arrival of the latest issue of The Olivetian, the school and its doctrine are freshly in my mind.

My former denomination, the Church of the Nazarene, is a part of the “holiness movement” and has strong historical ties to abolitionism.  At the beginning of the 1900’s, a large percentage of Nazarene ministers were female.  Unfortunately, the social justice orientation of the denomination stagnated in the early 1900’s, and archaic regulations preclude ‘homosexualist’ involvement in religious education.  That’s how you got stuck with me!  Unusual practices survive as relics from days before the Model-T, including abolitions against consuming alcohol, viewing motion pictures and playing games of chance with cards that have faces on them.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, that is my religious heritage.  However harshly I may criticize their war against culture, I find that the doctrine of holiness has real implications for our liberal religion.  In my personal humanistic worldview, the doctrine of holiness helps me illuminate humanist and other theologies.
Two basic distinctives for the doctrine of holiness promote entire consecration to the service of God, then the belief that such consecration brings peace and freedom from sin.  If salvation is the first work of grace and a gift from Jesus, then this “sanctification” becomes a second work of grace and a gift from the Holy Spirit.  Undoubtedly, Unitarian Universalists will reject the necessity for salvation, since we promote the inherent worth and dignity of all humans, and some of us will object to the proposition that a work of grace can be a work of a divine entity.  Granted that a divine entity cannot be directly responsible for this work of grace, can we still assess the doctrine for its merits?
Consider the assertion that Unitarian Universalists, for the most part, already consecrate their lives to the service of humankind, through struggles of justice and acts of compassion.  Our Denomination’s “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign provides a public stage on which our members may advocate for fair immigration trails and marriage equality, not to mention our heritage as abolitionists, suffragists, and desegregationists.  Locally, our congregation has also participated in endeavors to abolish capital punishment.  One may argue that the Church of the Nazarene might look a lot like the Unitarian Universalist Association if it cared to revise its doctrinal statements after slavery. 
Also, consider the idea that living for the service of humankind offers peace to the world and spiritual freedom.  You may have heard that simple practices like giving to charity and “thank you” helps us feel free, if not empowered.  It would not be a leap, therefore, to say that consecrating our lives to the service of humankind offers the world peace and frees the soul within.  This is my doctrine of wholeness.
Why do I write this theology?  Today, the UUA staff reported the following:
Adult membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States has declined for the second consecutive year following many years of positive though nearly flat growth. Enrollment in children’s religious education programs also dropped this year, continuing a slow decline that began in 2002. […] Many Protestant denominations also reported declines this year, including the Southern Baptist Convention, -.24 percent; United Methodist Church, -.98 percent; Episcopal Church -2.81; and United Church of Christ -2.93. Five denominations reported increases. Jehovah’s Witnesses is up 2 percent, Church of God 1.78, Latter-day Saints 1.71, Assemblies of God 1.71, and Roman Catholic Church 1.49. These figures are from the National Council of Churches 2010 yearbook. http://www.uuworld.org/news/articles/160696.shtml
Our mission is to serve the world and each other.  Even ancient Christianity, before the Council of Nicea, believed with St. Paul, that we are collectively God’s Temple, and with Jesus, that whatever we do in charity we do unto God.  Our heritage in ancient Christianity and our unique identity as a liberally religious congregation tell us that we ought to solemnly consider our purpose as people who reach out.  We risk neglecting the concerns of the world, yes.  More importantly, we risk the stagnation and loss of identity that the Church of the Nazarene has experienced since the early 1900’s.  We know our mission.  For the sake of our movement and our religious education programs, my hope is that we use campaigns such as Standing on the Side of Love to impact the world in a new and profound way.

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