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No, It’s Not a Cult

We’re not a culty. We’re the opposite of group think.

Originally published in Human Parts

Nine times out of ten when people ask me about my Unitarian Universalist church I get a strange look. What they’re dying to know is are we some sort of cult. Nope, a bona fide religion. No devil worship or blood sacrifices. No groupthink.

But Laura, no Bible? no doctrine? No God? Lay led with only a part-time pastor?

The person usually looks genuinely confused. Pained. I have it seems, broken the rules of conventional church. UU’s have affirmations, not prayers, a chalice lighting vs. the body and blood of Christ.

I go on to explain that we follow seven values and principles, not doctrine.

Blank stare.

I explain that we’re open to believers and non (Because of this we tend to attract recovering religious types. Those who felt shamed, judged or damned).

We have lots of recovering (or current) Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans and Baptists. Loads of Jews, pagans, Humanists, atheists and agnostics. A smattering of Hindus and Buddhists, and plenty of “none of the above.”

Come as you are.

Blank stare.

But if all you know is conventional religion with clerical hierarchy, with Scripture, Godly obedience, His Will, the Holy Spirit, sin, wrath, repent, kneel and pray, well — imagine how you’d feel about a church that welcomes atheists and pagans?

Iexplain that some of us really like Jesus (me), but that we find truth and meaning in our own way.

This likely makes me a heretic. And I do so love the sound of that.

I will say that mentioning Jesus seems to win me a few points.

When I politely tell the uninvited door knockers who insist on sharing God’s Word that, thanks and all, but that I don’t believe in Last Days, the Rapture, His Will, Original Sin, Heaven, Hell, repent, or in a wrathful homophobic or transphobic God…

They squirm, smile and back away. I cover all their talking points up front so they don’t have to. Seems fair that if they can knock on my door to save my soul, I should at least enjoy explaining why they’re wasting their time.

I’ve yet to see anyone come back. I’m not their target market.

My devout brother Paul (RIP) a kind gentle man, once asked if I believed in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I shrugged and said that I didn’t care either way. He told me that I seemed to be “bargaining my way into Heaven.” I said no, really I’m not, because I’m not sure there even is a Heaven. Paul looked distraught. Seriously painfully distraught.

This aching visceral fear for souls destined for eternal damnation can’t be healthy for the mind, body or spirit?

I tell the gushing proselytizers who say, “Laura, God loves all people, including your bisexual daughter and her girlfriend, but…they need to convert to heterosexuality to align with Christ” — that in fact, UU’s fully embrace the LGBTQ community.

We don’t have such addendums except for the implied: don’t be openly racist, sexist or bigoted. That sort of thing.

A genuinely warm lovely lady, someone I’d never met, but who friended me on Facebook because we lived in the same neighborhood, suggested that gay people need to choose heterosexuality as they once chose homosexuality, in order to align with Christ.

I’d been posting a rant about proselytizers. Putting aside this woman’s ignorance on sexual orientation, isn’t it Christ who aligns himself with the marginalized? Not the other way around?

Anyway, my daughter is agnostic. She doesn’t give a rat’s about aligning with anything other than the Golden Rule, animals, nature, her family and friends.

The friend used lots of warm flowery God words to groom me into believing God accepts the LGBTQ community as is.

No strings.

Same-sex marriage, fine. Join the clergy, great. Full rights, respect and dignity for the LGBTQ community.

Yes! We’re on the same page! Or so I thought.

She told me to hang on and to please keep reading her points (dotted with Scripture) so I’d understand where God was coming from. Fair. I’d been a Methodist for years. I know the language. But 16 Bible studies later I was crystal clear on what resonated in my heart and what didn’t.

No to Hell and Satan.

No to Original Sin.

No to His Will. Or that God was a He. How about a She, both or neither?

And anything short of full acceptance of same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community allowed to enter clergy was a hard pass. Sayonara Methodist church.

My Facebook friend wrote:

“Back to LGBTQ. Rosario Butterfield is an amazing woman who found God after deciding (emphasis mine) to be homosexual…..Just to clarify. Rosario Butterfield was lesbian, found God, and because she turned her life to Christ, she wanted to follow Him in every way possible, so she became (emphasis mine) heterosexual and lives out her Christian life.”

What she failed to mention is what Rosario herself stated in her piece, “What is wrong with gay Christianity? What is Side A and Side B anyway?”

I have never met a person who has chosen same-sex attraction…… How can any of us fight a sin that we don’t hate?

So I explained that say my sacred text and religion commanded that black people, heterosexuals, or people with brown eyes are loved…but, they don’t get full rights (marriage, join the clergy, and if possible, stop with those annoying IN YOUR FACE parades and pins).

Wouldn’t, I explained, be seen as racist, illogical, cruel and unGodly?

Crickets. Every time I use that exact argument the thread goes silent.

She’d written earlier that she was happy we could have such an open respectful discussion.

Honestly, me too.

Although I wrote back that unlike her, I don’t subscribe to the Bible as the literal Word of God, or that it’s an accurate account of history and evolution, or to His Will or that even inside the most loving balanced marriages, husbands have the “final say.”

I’m not into any version of religious hierarchy. God-then-men-then-women-then-children-then dog. Okay, dogs rule.

My friend went silent. She also deleted the specific thread where she explained her LGBTQ views, aka God’s views. I have to assume because of my impenetrable argument about the LGBTQ community.

It seems when I flip the script and point out hypocrisy people bail. Cognitive dissonance often creates a whopping headache.

Their argument that God “loves” us all but He expects LGTBQ people to change who they are, feels pretty mean and conditional. They follow said homophobic and transphobic doctrine because they’re “obedient to God.” All-knowing Dad makes the rules for our own good, so we better listen. Or else.

No thanks. Compassionate common sense is my loving parent.

If you think about it, saying that you and God love the LGBTQ community “but” God only offers Heaven for the Christ-saved cis-gendered heterosexual — is heavy groupthink.

Sort of cultish.

Unitarian Universalists are full on inclusive. Jesus-hippieish. Except unlike Jesus, we don’t care if you believe in his Father or not. We only care how you treat people.

One conservative Christian friend when she asked what church I belonged, said, “Oh, that church.” I admit I was amused she saw me as a rogue. I saw similar confusion with a very nice super chill pastor’s face at my local YMCA Board meeting where we both volunteer. Learning of my religion, his face wasn’t exactly disgusted, it was more of a pitying “Oh those people. How sad,” sort of expression.

I’m not sad and lost, so don’t be sad for me.

I’m a heretic and I think I like it (cue “I Kissed a Girl”).

More recently a lady I met at a function asked me “What is UU?” So I did my spiel. Blank stare with slight discomfort spreading across her face. She was really trying to understand. She wasn’t judging.

“Well, okay to sum us up, the Golden Rule.”

She smiled. “Ahh, okay, I get it.”

Common ground. Similar language. Tension gone. We’d found our Venn diagram of religious beliefs.

I think UU’s have a reputation as a cult among some Christians, which is sort of funny because UU’s are the opposite of drinking the Kool-Aid.

We’re notoriously independent thinkers. We’re stubborn and beautiful in our individuality, yet warm and communal in our loving fellowship. We also do those churchy potlucks, serve the community and help members who need assistance and pastoral care. We do weddings and funerals, bless babies, sing songs and pass the collection plate.

Like mainstream religion, we have our own comforting rituals (chalice lightings, loving affirmations before and after service).

We’re a legit worldwide religion, as well as unapologetically progressive and involved in numerous social action issues. UU’s are at peace with God or no God. We’re climate change accepters, and vehemently fact and science-centered.

We get euphoric trying to figure out the unknown mysteries of the Universe, and for some of us, that means spirit, the holy, the divine.

Years ago I learned from a professor of religion that someone can be a blend of all sorts of seemingly opposite beliefs. Like a practicing agnostic Catholic who still finds her childhood church rituals comforting, but who no longer (insists) there’s a God. And who denounces all religious shaming.

I mean why does religion have to fit into a narrow box?

A good and righteous soul emerges from conscience, from intuition. From striving for the Golden Rule and the Hippocratic Oath (do no harm). With or without reminders from God.

Theists rest easy knowing there’s a God and His Will be done. UU’s rest easy knowing or not knowing God. And that besides Mother Nature, our will be done.

Neither view is wrong. It’s simply a matter of which spiritual path provides comfort. UU’s find great joy in learning about all religions. Where we intersect, where we don’t. It’s intellectualism combined with spirituality for those who choose.

UU’s push back hard against bigotry. Really. All are welcome. Including evangelicals. Come as you are. You might back away slowly after you attend, but that’s fine. You won’t walk away brainwashed.

Disgusted maybe, but never brainwashed.

Image credit: Photo by Max Harlynking on Unsplash

Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

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