Saturday, February 17, 2007

Question #2: What Must I Do to Be Saved?

Tomorrow I am preaching the second sermon in a series of five sermons on big theological questions. "What must I do to be saved?" I ask.

"Salvation" is a red flag word for many Unitarian Universalists because they associate it only with the evangelical Christian use of the word, with proselytizing, with fear and shame, and with the kind of emotionality that UUs traditionally shun. They forget that many important, useful words, even to UUs, emerge from the same root: salve, salvage, save, for example. The root of the word is used to denote health, wholeness, safety and preservation.

Few UUs would protest the need for wholeness, for health, for safety, for preservation of resources. But the idea of salvation has been associated with being forgiven of sins so that one can go to heaven, and that's where UUs balk.

I believe we all have characteristics and behaviors that we know are not healthful or whole, that decrease our safety and diminish our resources. Our human task is to acknowledge them and consider how to deal with them.

Many have said to me, "I have nothing to be saved FROM, so I don't need salvation as a theological concept." When they think about the moments in their lives that have offered transformation, however, they often see that salvation (of a different sort than the stereotype) has indeed been part of their lives.

Perhaps we need to think of "salvation" as opportunity for transformation-----not so we'll go to heaven (Universalists believe in universal "going to heaven" anyhow) but so that our lives are more joyous and free, with less fear and shame and more love and respect.

Most world religions offer some interpretation of soteriology (the 50 cent word which means salvation) and most of those are framed in terms of how we treat each other and ourselves and what the rewards might be. Some offer heaven as a carrot; others offer increased meaning and joy in life.

We are all looking for increased meaning and joy in life. That's why we're here, hoping to find answers in our experiences that will lead us into deeper relationship with ourselves, each other, and the power beyond human power.

The sermon can be found on the UUCWI website at


Earthbound Spirit said...

Thanks, Ms. Kitty! My dialog partner asked a question about what UUs need to be saved from - and I'm referring her to your sermon...

Miss Kitty said...

Wow. I am SO GLAD you posted this. I, too, have wrestled with the idea of "salvation"--this makes it clearer, and better-defined, for me. Thank you, Ms. K.

Steve Caldwell said...

Back in 2005 on a blog that belonged to a Universalist Christian UU minister, this minister said the following about current-day UU theological discussions:

" ... two of the biggest issues taken seriously today in Christian theology are the question of universal salvation and the question of the divine economy, which includes the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Unitarian Universalists have nothing to say and nobody to speak to either issue."

In reply to this, I made an observation and asked a question:

"Instead of talking about Hell, I would ask what does Unitarian Universalism offer in terms of salvation? Do we save people and how do we do it?

The minister host on this blog rejected the idea that Unitarian Universalism offered any kind of salvation because salvation cannot come from any human institution.

My reply to this was the following:

"As Unitarian Universalists, one by-product of our theological freedom is we blaze paths for others to follow. And the paths we blaze very often protect us from that which denies life or makes it less whole. And saving us from those things that deny life or make it less whole is salvation for me.

Examples of UU salvation include but are not limited to the following:

** Comprehensive lifespan sexuality education rooted in UU theology (and Liberal Christian theology as well)

** Public witness and support for full equality and inclusion for our bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons in our society

** Gender equality in our ministry"

The minister host on this blog and another UU minister reader both disagreed with this suggestion and both wrote that salvation doesn't come from human agency or institution but only with divine assistance.

The problem I see with this opinion is that it denies the possibility of salvation for those who do not believe in God, which makes "salvation with divine assistance" less universal than "salvation from those things that deny life or make it less whole."

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Salvation is a big question and is at the heart of a faithful life, I think.