For two years, I’ve been attending a local UU church and playing in their orchestra. It’s been very rewarding. I maintained the whole time that I didn’t want to join the church. I didn’t want to add “I am a ” to my identity; I didn’t want to be a member of something; I wanted to be as independent of religious establishments as possible. (I don’t really count UU as a religion, for a variety of reasons… but that’s a post for another day.)
This past Sunday was a service on creativity. Our orchestra and choir, combined with a guest choir and friends of the orchestra, performed Fauré’s Requiem. The church’s music director did all the speaking parts of the service. It was amazing. This service, however, is not why I joined. Why, then? Keep reading.
The church I joined has a program for 8th graders where they take a member of the congregation as a mentor, and over the course of the school year, analyze and question the nature and reasons for belief. They form whatever they end up forming, be it beliefs, creeds, guiding principles, all of the above, none of the above, whatever. Two Sundays ago, these 8th graders and their mentors spoke. That constituted almost the entirety of the service. And it was amazing. More amazing than the requiem, more than anything else. The students were awkward and halting in their speech, but their words were breathtakingly profound and moving.
The whole time, I kept thinking back to being in 8th grade. It was early in that school year that I realized I’m gay.”Homosexuality is a sin,” say the prophets, and “When the prophet speaks . . . the debate is over.” I’m homosexual, and homosexuality is a sin. I am a sin. Dirty, guilty, immoral, “the sin next to murder.” I make baby Jesus cry. (By the way, making someone feel that kind of existential guilt is a great way to manipulate them out of forming healthy boundaries, and into doing whatever the church asks, no matter what. But that’s a post for another day.)
Cue 10 years of almost constant effort to reconcile myself to the faith I’d inherited.
What if . . . ?
What if a trusted and respected mentor–someone the church recommended to me, but I chose–what if they had taught me that it was OK to question, OK to disagree, and OK to reach different conclusions? What if they had taught me to insist on evidence for claims made, dismiss those made without evidence, and refute those contradicted by good science? Would I have struggled so long and hurt so much? Would I still have spent 4 years trying to change myself into something I can’t (and should never) be?
Would I have given the church so much of my money?
“What if’s” are useless. What’s done is done. But these thoughts completely upended my refusal to join anything. Presented with young, impressionable, vulnerable youth, Unitarian Universalism gives them this. That’s worth throwing my weight behind. It’s worth adding something to my identity. It’s worth everything I can give it–everything the Mormons demanded from me, and more–and yet it asks for so much less.
Unitarian Univeralism represents the kind of thinking that could produce A World That Works For Everyone. So I joined. I am now a Unitarian Universalist.