Sunday, January 30, 2005

Religious Refugees

My Quakerism 101 class discussed Universalism this last week. There was a lot of talk about Universalists being open to any religion so long as it isn't Christianity. Many people seemed to have had bad experiences with Unitarian Universalist congregations that were not accepting of Christian leanings.

I grew up as a Christian-leaning Unitarian Universalist in a secular humanist congregation. I did run across some people who were anti-Christian or at least anti-specific-Christian-sect. But for the most part, there was a positive relationship with Christianity.

The congregation still celebrated the major Christian holidays and there were occasional sermons based on new testament sources. So as not to offend non-Christian members these sermons were peppered with, "Some people believe..." before each strong statement about Jesus or God.

There were also some people who wanted to bring traditions into the church that weren't a natural fit, in my book. They missed communion so they had something they called "apple ring commonion" where people could come up and get a piece of dried apple and pretend that this was a spiritual experience.

I attribute both the Anti-Christians and the Silly-Ritualists NOT to Universalism but to the problem of religious refugees.

I am not a religious refugee. I have chosen freely to immigrate from Unitarian Universalism to the Quakers. I did not flee my faith community in pain. Instead I sought out something that was missing in my life right now. I found a better fit for myself.

Refugees did not leave by choice. They fell out of their faith or were pushed out by intolerance or narrowness or any number of other things. They bring their damaged selves to more accepting churches.

The most potently anti-Christian people I have met are ex-Christians or people who were raised in a Christian home. Over time many of them relax their views once they have some distance and once they have found a new faith community.

Universalism should not be blamed for accepting these people into the mix. Refugees and Immigrants are both welcomed in religious liberal faith communities. But with this comes the burden of absorbing new biases and intolerances.

Most people in the Unitarian Church were not born to it. I am a rare "cradle Unitarian." There is a constant flow of people from other religions. The same is true of the Religious Society of Friends.

This may mean that both groups will need to actively combat Anti-Christian bias in their congregations, but I maintain that Christianity has an important role in both the Unitarian Church and the Society of Friends.


Blogger George Curcio said...


I was intrigued by your explanation for your emigration to Quakerism, specifically that you had "sought out something that was missing in my life right now. I found a better fit for myself."

Having been raised a Catholic and then traveling through periods of being an agnostic, Southern Baptist and, now, United Methodist, I was surprised when an extensive online quiz several months ago told me that my beliefs were 100% in accordance with traditional Quakerism. My intrique led to a desire to learn more about the Quakers, and I am grateful for what I have learned.

While still a Christian who believes in the Triune God, and presumably always will, I have used many insights gleaned from Quaker beliefs to help me to draw closer to God, or at least feel as if I am. Much of the ongoing peace and communion with Jesus that I now enjoy has been enhanced greatly by what I have learned from Quakerism, and for that, I am most appreciative.

I found your comments regarding Unitatarians and Christianity of utmost interest, especially since many Christians seem to look askance at Quakerism, largely, I believe, from feeling threatened by something about which they know very little. Quite the opposite, ironically, from Unitarians feeling threatened by Christianity for, in many cases, once having been hurt by it.

Thanks for your writing. Your blog will be a regular stop on my Internet journeys. Peace and blessings!

6:02 PM  
Blogger fresca said...

This reminds me of some of the challenges the United States has always faced: how to create a society that receives a constant influs of refugees and immigrants.

I have been working on Uganda recently (my work is with kids' geography books, mostly). My sister told me about a woman in her yoga class who is from Uganda and who tole her that she came to the US for college right before Idi Amin took power. Her father called her and said, "Don't come home."
Can you imagine?

A lot of people have experiences like that in their home religion. I was talking to an [ex] Catholic who told me that her priest told her years ago that if she got a divorce (from her violent husband) she was going to hell. So she left the church, in some ways to save her life.

Churches and states that are open to refugees do face a special burden--interesting to read you writing about it.
I wonder how they face this.
I came across something once in Thich Nhat Hanh adressing this--how to create sangha (sp? community) with people who have no experience of community?They can destablize the already existing community.

7:07 AM  

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