Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Antidote to UU Cross-Cringe

One of the anxieties that plague Unitarian Universalist ministers is the issue of "cross-cringe", the attitude of some UUs that their early Christian upbringing or the shenanigans of the religious right entitle them to look down their noses at "those people", those people who revere the teachings of the church and Jesus and actually try to practice them in their lives.

As a minister I've experienced cross-cringe in every church I've served. There have always been those who, for a variety of reasons, can't stand to look at a cross or hear the word Jesus or find fault with those UUs who are Christian in belief and practice. For some, the injury is real-----somebody really did beat them up in the name of Jesus. For others, it's made-up, I think. It's "cool" to bash Christians and the cross these days, especially in intellectual circles. Still others fall somewhere in the middle, genuinely mystified by the loyalty of Christians to a religion that seems supernatural and non-reasoning. Rejection of Christian symbolism and thought goes with the territory, so a lot of it happens in UU congregations.

One antidote I've discovered (though it won't work for those who refuse to enter the doors of a building with crosses in it) is interfaith work, work toward a common goal with progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other persons of faith. There's something about putting in time together in a faith coalition dedicated to an issue of justice that melts many barriers, evaporates many prejudices, produces a new perception of what religious faith is and what it means to others.

I've been fortunate to represent Unitarian Universalists in the PNWD with the Religious Coalition for Equality, an interfaith group of clergy and laity who advocate for civil rights for all and marriage equality for all couples. We have been successful in getting our state legislature to pass anti-discrimination legislation in Washington State and we stand ready to deal with whatever judgment comes down from our state Supreme Court on the marriage issue.

I've been on the steering committee for RCE for two and a half years and have met monthly with Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Disciples, Methodists, UCCs, Buddhists, and others. Boy, has this demolished any assumptions I might have had about all Christians being the same, or, for that matter, all Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists being the same.

I have never been a cringer at crosses. But my perspective has broadened even more and I see this interfaith coalition as an important facet in my spiritual growth. What's more, it gives other faith traditions a good look at a Unitarian Universalist---me. I am their chance to learn that UUs are not anti-Christian, that we are willing to join forces with others on justice issues, and that we are generally pretty good folk. Which isn't necessarily how many see us, because of the cross cringe attitude.


Mystical Seeker said...

It's funny, but despite the fact that I have never considered myself a Christian in my adult life, and I felt a lot of bitterness towards my fundamentalist upbringing when I was attending UU services some eighteen years ago, I still always resented the "cross-cringe" phenomenon. Part of what attracted me to attending UU services in the first place was that I could explore religion, including Christianity, in a safe environment free from fundamentalism and dogma. And to me, the cross-cringe violated everything that UUism was ostensibly about.

I haven't attended a UU service for a few years now. It is interesting that the web site for my city's UU church has a page listing a whole huge list of committees that the church membership are involved with, including various social justice committees (which is a good thing), and CUUPS, but not the UUCF. I can't help but wonder what the significance of that is.

LinguistFriend said...

I gave a talk a couple of years ago on how hard it is to become a UU; your cross-cringe is certainly part of it. It can go on to the extent that children of UUs in RE classes make disparaging anti-Christian remarks, while really knowing next to nothing about Christianity, the non-UU religion that they should know most about. And of course Christianity makes no sense outside of a Jewish context. And understanding of Judaism is helped by acquaintance with early Iranian religion, which makes best sense when illuminated by the Rig Veda's language and religion. These things do hang together.

A few months after 9/11, I gave a series of talks at my (then) UU fellowship on how much European/American civilization owes Islamic scholarship and science (the 12th - century Renaissance), and worked proactively with a very ecumenical local group so that there would not be mosque-burnings, etc.(a very realistic concern in that area). That was memorable.

But - the best antidote to cross-cringe that I know of is actual historical study of the texts and provenance of Christianity, something that both Christians and ex-Christians tend to know very little about. They have learned the prayers and rituals, but not what is behind them (especially Judaism). The historical stance allows them to look somewhat more objectively, and cools the emotions. Pagels, Ehrman, the recent fine book of L. Michael White "From Jesus to Christianity", help a lot.

ms. kitty said...

What good insights you both have! Thank you, Mystical Seeker and LinguistFriend.

Both knowledge and experience will slowly erode the cross cringe syndrome, I think.

Bill Baar said...

I volunteer at the homeless shelter for our Church. I spend a Sat night there backing up the social worker. I stay after Sunday AM for bible study usually lead by Evangelicals of one stripe or another...

...I've been called a hypocrite at my Chruch for doing that...for praying with the homeless people... as though I should be lecturing a guy with no home that he has no God either...

I cringe now when anyone says hypocrite.

fausto said...
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fausto said...

IMHO, it would help UUs and Xtians on either side of the "cross-cringe" divide to be reminded that the UU concern for things like justice, equity, compassion, and radical inclusion did not spring full-born like Athena from the head of some antisupernatural philosophical ethicist, but rather from the mouth of Jesus, who himself was retelling the message Hebrew prophets and who in turn has been retold and preserved through the Christian tradition for 2,000 years (and through our own rebellious daughter of that tradition for maybe 150). We UUs of today learned our own cherished principles from our Christian UU predecessors, who learned them from reading Jesus in the Bible. We may have wandered so far away from a formerly Scripture-centered religious orientation that some of us no longer pay much or even any attention to the Bible, but it is still the original source of most of our UU values; we didn't just think them up on our own.

To Christians, the Cross is not a symbol of hypocrisy, patriarchy and subjugation, but of the same principles that we too hold dear, and that our only recently divergent traditions originally learned from the same source.

To reject the supernatural cosmology of Christianity or the abusive practices or attitudes of certain Christian subcultures is one thing, but we cannot reject its moral principles and sources without ultimately also rejecting our own, for they are in large measure the same.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks for your comments.