What it means to be a Unitarian Universalist

I belong to a faith community that is sometimes the butt of Prairie Home Companion jokes. Yes, I am a Unitarian Universalist, a UU. And I know all the jokes. In fact, some are quite accurate and funny.  

My favorite for years was: Why aren’t Unitarians good singers? Because they are always reading ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics.

If you say unitarianuniversalist real fast, someone might ask, “Did you say terrorist?” “Say what?” No. We’re a rather normal group of people — you probably know one — who believe that values are more important than beliefs. As we say, you don’t have to think alike to love alike.  

So, why is that possibly scary? We have no doctrine. We believe in justice for all (doesn’t the Pledge of Allegience talk about that?), serving people in need (I remember from Lutheran Sunday School that Jesus liked that idea), and respecting people who have different beliefs, as long as they are good people (just what we tell our kids).  

If you have a belief system that works for you, you can join us or stay where you are. We don’t have missionaries. In fact, my minister, let’s call him Justin, wants us to tell people about our religion, our beliefs. But we don’t want to convert you. Not our style. You can join us, which would be great. But our church is growing quite nicely, thank you. So, we don’t make a big deal about recruiting.  

Oh, you might want to know that we don’t believe in hell. I didn’t capitalize that on purpose, because it isn’t a proper noun to me in oh so many ways. A couple of years ago our church celebrated its sesquicentennial and we gave away pencils that read “No Hell For 150 Years.” No kidding.  

Some folks (maybe Garrison is part of this group) think this makes us sound a bit snooty to others. We’re not. In church, we like to sing, listen to thoughtful sermons, hear stories, celebrate people’s joys, console them in their sorrows and drink coffee or tea after the service. We also sell eggrolls, but that’s a whole other story about our youth serving youth in other countries.

If we don’t proselytize, worry about hell or have any doctrine, what the heck are we about? Just the normal stuff you teach your kids: be good to the earth (honor the interconnected web of life), be kind to all people (respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person) and be a global person (a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all). Amen! Some of us use that word, but others can’t stand it. Whatever.

So, why am I talking about religion in this column? My parents said never talk politics and religion with strangers. But that was a time when rules were simple.

I’m speaking out because of the politics I hear so much about these days. I’m tired of hearing about how we fear people (read: immigrants or just Muslims), the U.S. is better than anywhere in the world (how are you with being xenophobic? And did you read my last column on passports?), nothing works in this country (didn’t that just contradict the last statement?), government is too big (I like the idea of social security and public education) and, well, the list seems to go on and on and on. 

In this time of intolerance, or better known as an election year, I hope to spread the idea that we can get along. We may even have the same goals — peace, love and great education.  

Yes, I’m a child of the ’60s and good public schools. I’m also an optimist. If my church (we do call it that even though it doesn’t seem churchy to some) can ask everyone who walks through the doors to accept each other, maybe we should begin to do some of that old time proselytizing.  

Welcome Jerde is a columnist for the Southwest Journal. She lives in Lynnhurst with her husband, Dan Berg, a dog, two cats, and occasionally, Hannah, a college student.