“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Inclusivity and Identity

One of my favourite ways to pass the time on long car journeys is to listen to a Great Course. These audio CDs are produced by the Teaching Company, and cover many fascinating topics. The one I am listening to at the moment is The History of Christianity in the Reformation Era, which is taught by Professor Brad S. Gregory of Stanford University.

I was listening idly to a lecture about the Mennonites on my journey home yesterday, when he said something which really caught my attention: "Too much inclusivity threatens to dilute our identity." and that part of being a member of any denomination is being in "community with others who share the same commitments."


It really made me wonder - Unitarians are proud of our inclusive attitude -  "All are welcome here" says the hymn - but are we taking it too far? One of our central tenets is that of freedom of belief - we don't believe that every Unitarian should sign up to a statement of belief in order to become a member. Cliff Reed writes in Unitarian? What's That? "shared values and a shared religious approach are a surer basis for unity than theological propositions." And I would agree with that statement wholeheartedly.

Nevertheless, I think that our individualistic approach to the spiritual journey does have its dangers. It is somewhat problematic for Unitarians to articulate what "we" believe as a denomination - every Unitarian can explain what they as individuals believe, but it is difficult (and even perceived as improper) to speak for others. But I believe that it is a problem that we need to face - unless we can articulate clearly what we believe, how can we attract other like-minded people into our churches and chapels?

Perhaps each congregation should try to put down on paper some basic statement of the beliefs and values that they have in common that can go onto their website, so that outsiders will understand what we stand for, what our identity as Unitarians is, and will be able to judge whether Unitarianism is for them.


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