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Unitarianism: Religion, reason and LGBT rights

Sat 18 Dec 2004 In: Comment

Some months or so ago two Unitarian lesbian ministers in the United States were charged with criminal acts because they were conducting same-sex marriages. Sounds like a nice religion, doesn't it? While Christian denominations are putting good and worthy people like Margaret Mayman and Deborah Gordon through the wringer en route to ordination and/or retention of current clerical status, the Unitarian Universalists have been ordaining lesbians and gay men as ministers since the early seventies. Sadly, there are only four Unitarian fellowships in this country, which is a shame. So, what is Unitarian-Universalism? Much like the lesbian and gay communities, Unitarians have experienced persecution. They originally regarded themselves as within the Christian fold, although they dispensed with the belief that there was a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the fifteenth century, the invention of the printing press led to widespread literacy and assisted the Reformation. Unfortunately, French Protestant John Calvin proved to be an intolerant bigot, and ordered Michael Servetus to be burnt at the stake for thoughtcrime in 1604. Servetus was a pioneer of cardiovascular medicine, but that didn't stop Calvin and his fanatics.In 1660, Polish Unitarians also fled (Catholic) persecution and fled to the Netherlands. Some settled in the United States, which became a Unitarian heartland. In 1819, William Channing was ordained, and went on to crusade for broad liberal social justice issues, like antislavery politics, public education and equitable standards of industrial relations. Since then, this faith has steadily become a haven of pluralism, and incorporated nontheist humanists, neopagans and Universalist Christians underneath its umbrella. Universalists don't believe in hell, tempting though it must be in the case of Adolf Hitler, Slobodan Milosevic and other perpetrators of murderous genocide and atrocity. US Unitarians and Universalists merged in the sixties, forming the current Unitarian-Universalist Association. They're probably best known for their publishing imprint, Boston's Beacon Press, in New Zealand. Moreover, they are often involved in peace and other progressive political activities. As noted above, they didn't hesitate to ordain lesbians and gay men when the APA depathologised male homosexuality, and two lesbian UUA ministers were arrested for daring to exercise their constitutional right to religious freedom and performing same-sex marriages in Poughkeepsie, New York, although charges were later dismissed. Thus far, there's been a deafening silence from the US Christian Right on the religious freedom and church/state separation issues in this context. (This shouldn't be a surprise. To the US and New Zealand Christian Right, one only has 'religious liberty' if one is a social conservative and takes considerable liberties at the cost of others freedom.) The US Christian Right regards the UUA as a "cult," despite the UUA's lack of authoritarian centralised leadership and respect for pluralism. Unitarian Universalism is a humane, just form of religious belief. Perhaps it is time that New Zealanders were better informed about it, as fundamentalist Christian hatemongering continues to eat into Christian adherence and communal life like acid. Recommended: Unitarian Universalist Association: Craig Young - 18th December 2004    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 18th December 2004 - 12:00pm

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