Curious minds want to know: how did you become a Unitarian, and what do Unitarians believe? And black Christians ask me: do “they” believe in the Bible? These are all excellent questions.
Quick answers: It was a process; we believe that love can transform hearts and the world, that right action (orthopraxis) is more important than right belief (orthodoxy); and the Bible is a sacred text written by humans, not necessarily inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Now for a longer answer to question #1.
I became a Unitarian Universalist as consequence of many experiences, processes, encounters with wise people, and pushing the boundaries of my imagination with regard to faith and religion. When I look back now, it seems ingrained in my DNA having a very religious mother and a not-religious (atheist) father. My friends, also strong sources of influence in my life, have been mostly religious. The mixed religious upbringing opened me up to diverse perspectives, and most importantly, allowed me to witness two very different human beings live successful lives.
Born with a cross-section of religious impulse flowing through me anchored my curiosity in the world and gave me a safe place to explore. As a child, I never frowned upon my dad’s disbelief, although I did find it odd for him to be so adamantly against teachings about God and Jesus. He’d get fired up (angry) espousing his disbelief. As I got older, it became clear that living without God was no hamper to him being a good person.
With a devout A.M.E. mother, I was swayed to her side of the religious coin for most of my life. Gradually as a teenager, it dawned on me that I wanted to explore churches that weren’t A.M.E. and I also wanted to depart from my mother’s company on Sundays and do my own thing. My mother offered no dissent, so off I went…to the Baptist church. That was the beginning of an interesting journey, one from which I’ve never departed.
Between adolescence and adulthood, I have been on the religious wagon and off. Both were satisfactory, believe it or not. Yet, when I wasn’t attending church, I felt restless. The religious impulse did not entirely depart from me. In my late 20s, I became engrossed by a liberal & persuasive United Methodist minister, the Rev. Barry Bailey in Ft. Worth. His sermons were often counter-cultural or counter-interpretative, meaning his interpretations of scripture and understanding of Jesus’ ministry was a strong departure from the traditional preaching I’d heard before then. Using sacred text and interpreting it through a lens of open-mindedness and critical thinking, he demonstrated that conventional perspectives of Jesus’ ministry were open to challenge. So off I went, again. I was never able to return to more conservative approaches that demanded only one way of understanding the Bible.
Later, I was thrown another curve from the liberation theology tradition through the sermons of the Rev. Zan W. Holmes in Dallas. I felt that I had the best of both worlds hearing his political-oriented, soul-filled sermons and Bailey’s fresh thought. But, Holmes brought the black struggle up-close-and-personal in a way that I’d not experienced from a preacher. He showed how faith and real life converged through the liberated “word.” He espoused political involvement, social action, education, and devotion to the struggle of people of color. He was the first preacher that called white people “white brother” and “white sister.” That was very cool.
Both of these ministers preached to middle-class congregations. That opened my eyes to class in the church. My Baptist experiences, though very satisfying at the time, were grounded in the working-class experience. While the Baptist ministers might have been educated (usually in bible colleges), there was no encouragement from them to the congregation to read or study beyond the Bible, to challenge the status quo. I began to witness a built-in type of oppression in an otherwise liberating gospel message. This was disheartening for me in a big way. At the time, I could not put the observations in words. It was hard because I lacked the evidence beyond my own intuition and realized that most of my friends were attending those churches. How could I indict their experience, yet remain a friend?
About this time, I stumbled upon National Public Radio (NPR). The fantastic programming, such as “Fresh Air,” “The Diane Rehm Show,” and “All Things Considered” expanded my view of the world immensely. I realized the world beyond my small world was rich and full of big thinkers and doers. If I was going to be a religious person, my faith had to make room for this perspective on the world. The news accounts and commentators opened me up to books, films, music, and other realms of life that I otherwise would be totally ignorant of. I was branching out, again.
Then, of course, were my eclectic brand of friends that were pushing me to grow in other ways. At church, I joined this 30-something bible study that had some liberal-minded brothers who were pushing the envelope on spiritual matters. They were Jeff Mason and Lonnie Woods. They became true friends and allies. Every Wednesday, that class felt like a struggle against narrow-mindedness that had big stakes. I loved it.
I found myself on solid ground regarding faith, but not so solid that I closed myself off to further growth and development. Other things were shaping me, too: marriage and divorce, new professional relationships, travel, graduate school, friendships going south, new one’s emerging. and then a big one, my father’s death. And in the midst of that, another big rock type of shift, my call to ministry.
As you can see, there is a lot that has gone into my becoming a Unitarian Universalist and I’m not done, yet. The process continues, as you will see. Stay with me on this journey. It’s a good ride to be had by all.