More than 3,000 members of one of America’s most liberal churches are in Spokane this week, and topping their agenda is lambasting conservative Christians.
Both the president and moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association plan to take on right-wing religious and political organizations at the six-day national general assembly, which starts today.
Delegates to the policy-making event also will discuss feminist theology, justice for minorities and homosexuals, and comprehensive sex education for all children in public schools.
While those lightening-rod issues will garner lots of attention, they are only a portion of what the delegates will discuss at the conference. More mundane topics like paying the minister, raising money and running the church office also are included.
Many workshops are devoted to issues of spirituality and worship.
“We get together primarily for our spiritual purposes,” said the Rev. John Buehrens, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
A steadily growing religion in America, Unitarians advocate a personal theology for each member rather than a common creed. Founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, Unitarians now embrace the practices of several world religions in their worship, including many Eastern faiths and disciplines.
There are approximately 200,000 Unitarian Universalists at more than 1,000 congregations throughout the United States and Canada. Members have one of the highest per-capita incomes of any denomination in America.
As a church, Unitarians value social activism and the democratic process. Their positions and policies fall on the liberal side of such issues as gay rights, abortion and the government’s role in society.
While Unitarians have always found themselves in the liberal minority as they promote their agenda of tolerance and respect for all human beings and lifestyles, their views are increasingly at odds with today’s more conservative political climate.
Buehrens plans to take a strong stance against the forces of conservative Christianity during his homily at the first worship service and general session tonight.
He said he will encourage Unitarians everywhere to continue to be vigilant and peaceful in their efforts to fight the forces of conservatism.
Several other speakers and workshop leaders will take on conservatives. A resolution titled “Challenging the Radical Right” and a workshop called “Defeating Newt’s World Order” are expected to generate much support and debate.
Buehrens points out that Unitarians and Universalists (the two denominations merged in 1961) were the first to advocate abolition and women’s suffrage, long before those ideas were popular among the general public.
Famous Unitarians and Universalists include John Adams, Susan B. Anthony and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Our movement has done an enormous amount to contribute to the real participation in democracy,” Buehrens said, “particularly when it comes to securing public education for our children…”
In addition to discussing the resolution to condemn conservative Christianity’s control of the political process, several other proposals have the potential to generate controversy:
Ensure comprehensive sex education for all students in all public schools.
Pressure the U.S. Congress to commit money and write policies guaranteeing jobs for all people willing to work.
Support the conclusions of the United Nations population summit in Cairo last year, including those that encourage birth control in overpopulated countries.
Guarantee children the basic rights of privacy and speech.
The annual conference rotates through various regions of the country. In coming to Spokane, the convention is being held in territory where Unitarianism is not particularly widespread or well-known.
“This is a part of the world where we have not been notably represented,” Buehrens said. “Maybe we can use this to let people know that we are a religious alternative in which people of open-minded and more progressive spirit can find a spiritual and moral community.
“We don’t claim to have the answers,” he said. “We offer people communities of spiritual growth where they can grow a soul over a lifetime.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: EVENTS OF GENERAL INTEREST INCLUDE: Opening session and worship service, 8 p.m., today, Opera House. Includes a parade of banners and a homily by Unitarian Universalist President John Buehrens. The Service of the Living Tradition, a celebration of ministers joining, retiring from and serving the Unitarian Universalist Church, will be held at 9:30 a.m., Sunday, in the Opera House. The Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, one of the few black Unitarian ministers, will address worshippers on the issue of racial equality within the church. Norman Lear, the man behind several successful situation comedies including the shows “All in the Family,” “Maud,” and “Mary Hartman Mary Hartman,” will speak at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the Opera House. The exhibit hall in the Ag Trade Center is open to everyone. The public can also purchase one-day or weekend passes to the conference. For more information, call the General Assembly’s Spokane office, 353-6530.