Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Cultists! Cultists! Cultists!

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman is keeping an eye on my blood pressure for me:
Like other Unitarians, Rivka at Respectful of Otters was outraged when Texas Controller Carole Keeton Strayhorn denied a tax exemption to the Red River Unitarian Church in Denton, and pleased when the decision was reversed. I'm not sure whether she'll be amused or apalled to read the reversal described in the following terms by the Agape Press Christian News Service:
Texas officials have reversed an earlier decision denying tax-exempt status to a controversial religious cult in that state. The state's comptrollers office initially ruled that the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church was not a religious organization for tax purposes since it did not have one unified system of belief. However, after a review by the agency's general counsel, that ruling was reversed.
Um... well... Mark, I'm going to have to get back to you on that after Our Leader tells me what my opinion is. I don't want to make him angry, or I might be cast out of the group and forced to think for myself, and then -

But seriously: I've seen lots of websites explaining that Unitarian-Universalism is a cult. Far-right fundamentalist Christians appear to have a very loose definition of what constitutes a "cult;" for example, "A cult according to the Word of God is any group of people that worship anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, and believe anything contrary to His word or the Word of God according to the Bible." Those folks therefore classify Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Roman Catholicism (and so on) as cults in addition to Unitarian-Universalism - the world's a big seething mass of sinners, and UUs are just one small corner of it. Other folks seem to find us especially objectionable, usually because of our full acceptance of GLBT folks. ("We began our research into this organization after finding that if a homosexual claimed to follow religious teachings, it was within the walls of the Unitarian Universalist Church...") Some of them apparently believe that we try to pass ourselves off as an "ordinary" Christian church in order to snare the unwary:
This free use of Christian terminology has lured many new Christians or seekers into the UU fold. Once inside though, each person will be pressed to relieve themselves of any exclusive notions (such as Jesus Christ being the way and the truth and the life.) They will learn that to be a good UU, he or she must acknowledge that the Buddhists and Hindus, pagans and Muslims have as much claim to spiritual truth as any Christian ever thought of.
Finally, there's the concern that Unitarian-Universalism is such a fulfilling and pleasant religion that members of the UU church will never look elsewhere and find Jesus: "If I were to sit down and devise a cult that would guarantee it's [sic] members would never accept the Gospel of Christ, I couldn't come up with a more appropriate one than the Unitarian Universalist Association."

Now, if you want to see a fundamentalist Christian who's really thought about Unitarian-Universalism, you've got to turn - surprisingly enough - to the Southern Baptists. The link is to an article about how to witness to UUs, and this time the author actually sounds like he's talked with UUs and paid attention. I'm not saying that I think his approach would work, no, but if rigorously followed it might lead to more productive discussions than usually arise from efforts to evangelize the heathens:
1) Be patient and take time to find out exactly what your particular UUA friends believe before charting a particular course of evangelistic action to lead them to saving faith in Christ. They may be atheistic or theistic, or have a Christian or Jewish background. They might even be Wiccan or Buddhist. You can not challenge a set of beliefs unknown to you, and it is very difficult to advance someone's thinking if you do not know where to begin.

2) Be especially gentle, humble and non-judgmental. A confrontational or super-direct approach will almost certainly be met with a great deal of unnecessary resistance. Remember, Unitarian-Universalists highly value religious diversity. Listen carefully to their beliefs, look for some common ground, and gently suggest the Christian alternative. Make sure to communicate clearly that they are free to reject your worldview. [...]

3) Be prepared to use reason. Unitarian-Universalists are generally well-educated or at least well-read. They value reason. They will not be easily moved from their positions merely on the basis of your appeal to an unsubstantiated faith. Emphasize the reasonable aspects of Christian truths. [...]

4) Be conscious of gender and racial equality issues. Be careful not to create any unnecessary stumbling blocks. Unitarian-Universalists highly value racial and gender equality. Any subtle signs of racial or gender superiority by you will be met with extreme resistance. Make sure to emphasize the biblical model of racial and gender equality in God's universal family.
So no, we don't have a Messianic leader who controls the minutest details of our lives, we don't get punished for doubt, we're not brainwashed or punished, and we're not required to turn over all our money to the church... but neither is it all that surprising to hear the "C" word applied to us. Strange to see it in an actual "news" article, though, even a Christian-slanted one.

(And if you really wanted to make notes about my reaction, Mark, I'll go with "amused." Aren't cults supposed to be organized? )