Archive for June, 2018

Jun 22 2018

July Journal: Freedom, Culture, Power, Ambiguity … and Love

Published by under Minister's Musings

Freedom, Culture, Power, Ambiguity … and Love

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

As I write, we Unitarian Universalist ministers have just wrapped up our 2018 Ministry Days. For two days before General Assembly officially begins each year, we clergy gather to worship and learn and take care of some business. We hug, and laugh, and bemoan, and celebrate. We dedicate our colleagues’ babies, and we sing—oh, do we sing.

This year the Ministry Days’ keynote session featured a panel of Unitarian ministers from around the world—Burundi, India, Indonesia, and Transylvania. These panelists are meeting all year to explore differing global expressions of Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism. Are we one religion with many expressions, or are we “one” in name only?

The project honors the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, one of the world’s first official expressions of religious tolerance. In 1568 in Torda, Transylvania (now in Romania), a multifaith gathering of religious leaders, convened by Unitarian King John Sigismund, decreed that no one could be compelled to listen to a particular preacher who did not speak to their soul and that no one would be “reviled” or imprisoned for following the faith of their choice.

          As the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website puts it, “That proclamation is the beginning of our legacy to be a spiritual tradition that resists hatred, oppression, and the narrow view that there is only one way to be faithful, to be religious, to be free.” Our Unitarian kin in Hungary and Transylvania have kept this tradition alive through all kinds of oppression of their own. Just a few years after the Edict of Torda, for example, the Counter-Reformation turned Unitarianism into an outlaw religion. In the Communist era of the late 20th century, Unitarians in Transylvania—including in our Partner Church village of Homoródszentmárton—risked their freedom in order to speak out against the government’s injustices.

          Yet we Unitarian Universalists in the United States have some serious differences with our Transylvanian kin about the practice of this embracing, antioppressive theology. During Ministry Days, my beloved colleague, the Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa, asked the whole panel, “How can we build a global UU community when we have different definitions not just of theology but the praxis of that theology,” in which some of our global kin “practice values that deny LGBTQ2 peoples our very humanity and deny our inherent worth and dignity”? “With what moral authority am I, a Two-Spirit person, asked to support financially and otherwise, those congregations which deny my humanity and right to live and express my commitment to my Beloved, to have the same rights as them?”

          Important, powerful questions.

And though they weren’t directed at a particular panelist, the Rev. Norbert Racz, the Senior Minister of the flagship Unitarian church in Kolozsvár, Romania, was quick to respond. The issue of LGBTQ2 inclusion is a hot topic for our partners in Hungary and Romania. Recently, the Hungarian Unitarian Synod issued a statement that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. The Unitarian Universalist Association has written a letter of concern to the Synod about this issue. You can read that letter here:

          Rev. Norbert painted a picture of the tenuous position of the Unitarians in Romania. They comprise a tiny minority amidst a very conservative Eastern Orthodox population. The Synod’s position, Norbi said, defined “traditional marriage” as between a man and a woman. To do otherwise would have been to risk a government shutdown of Unitarian churches. But the Synod went on to add—in a second part of the statement not usually quoted—that it recognizes that there are many definitions of marriage and many ways to live in loving union. Norbi said that the Hungarian Unitarian church has affirmed the rights of LGBTQ people to love whom they love and to be welcomed in its congregations.

          I felt the emotional weight of this exchange. The issue of LGBTQ recognition, inclusion, and justice feels fundamental to who we Unitarian Universalists are; it is personal. Rev. Norbi wants us to understand that the Unitarians of Transylvania are themselves an oppressed minority, who must find a way to maintain their very existence in order for further freedom to be possible. This too is personal.

          Are the Unitarians in Transylvania (and elsewhere) on a journey toward a full expression of the freedom of this faith for everyone? Do their circumstances ask something of us? Is there a both/and way to support both those of us who are LGBTQ2 and those of us who live under additional systems of oppression? How can we deepen our understanding of differing cultures, amplify our analysis of systems of power and oppression, and listen to each other with broken-open hearts?

Even as the tension of difference thrummed in the air during this conversation, a more powerful force held us together. And that truly was the Spirit of Love.

          So in this month of celebrating, questioning, and exploring the limits and the reach of our own freedoms, may we too dive into our differences in the Spirit of Love. In these times when so many freedoms are threatened here at home, we need the wisdom of discernment, the fine-tuning of nuance, and the power of Love to guide us.

With love for the freedoms we make and maintain together,

Rev. Nancy

P.S. To read the UU Partner Church Council’s recent follow-up letter about this controversy, please see:

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