November 15, 2011

The Universalist Dilemma

I just returned from our campus's queer group's discussion on religion and gender/sexual minorities and allies, and now I'm all full of religion thoughts.

I went as a representative of our Unitarian Universalist club, in addition to being queer myself. We Universalists have problems with ideas like "evil," so when someone said, referring (as I understood) to whether or not churches decide to affirm and accept LGBT individuals, that this was "a question of good and evil, acceptance and non-acceptance," I got thoughtful.

As a Universalist, I believe that everyone gets to heaven, or enlightenment, or whatever - I'm still unclear on exactly what that means. I like to think that everyone has an inherent and eternal capacity to both change the world for the better and be changed in turn.

And as a UU, I think that a central goal of our congregations - a religious duty, springing from our shared principles - should be to create spaces of radical acceptance, communities where everyone can come as they are and be welcomed and appreciated for who they are.

But that's tricky, isn't it? Because as a queer in a religious community, I go into my desire to accept everyone acutely aware of the danger therein. There are people who would like to see me stoned to death, because that's what the Bible says. How do I accept them and maintain my own safety?

So when I was thinking about queers in places of worship as a question of good and evil, that's what I was thinking about. A bit ironically, being a community of radical acceptance means setting some pretty clear lines about what sort of behaviors, and even what sort of beliefs, aren't permissible. How do we practice openness, forgiveness and love while maintaining our commitment to protect those of us who are marginalized for who we are? How does one call out evil where one sees it while still being a place where everyone gets to heaven?

Obviously, I'm not the first person to grapple with this. In fact, I'm late to the game, and should probably just go grab some books from the library. But that's the sort of thing I was thinking about tonight, and if anyone has any opinions, I'd love to hear them.


RachelB said...

What I have to offer falls less under the heading of "advice" and more under the heading of "commiseration."

I'm a universalist of Calvinist background, raised in the United Church of Christ. This makes me an odd theological bird, but I start from the premise that people are capable of being awful to each other, and exercise that capability with disappointing frequency. I don't know what it would mean to "merit" heaven, or enlightenment, or whatever. On the other hand, the doctrine of election has always seemed incoherently related to the beauty of the gospel (which is for the most part much more inclusive, rather than less inclusive, than the society surrounding it).

So my version of heaven, because it has everybody in it, has a lot of people in it I don't like. I imagine getting to discover what all the people I can't stand look like to The Divine. Sometimes I wish I were party to that insight now, because it might help me love them.

And in my version of earth, even though human effort is never going to be able to do all the good we want it to, it's important to keep trying, out of gratitude for what we have been given and a desire to share it with others. This means I have to keep working on the broken places in myself (for me that means unlearning racism; listening generously to people whom I don't agree with; differentiating between necessary and unnecessary conflict; and not habitually centering myself in my thought and speech). But it also means-- much harder, I think, for those of us who hate telling people what to do-- pointing out when someone is being hurtful. I don't know how to do that both effectively and non-coercively. It's a problem that's gotten a lot of prayer time from me lately.

Anonymous said...

For me, it's always been that certain behaviors and words aren't welcome in a safe space, not certain people or "kinds of" people - meaning, whatever the heck you THINK or BELIEVE, if you follow the guidelines for appropriate behavior in the safe space, you are welcome. If someone cannot do that, zie would probably not like the safe space much anyway, and I have zero patience with people who come into a safe space thinking the etiquette doesn't apply to them, especially if they think so for religious reasons.

One of the primary rules, for me, of a safe space, it that you engage in good faith - we all occasionally slip up or find prejudices we haven't yet weeded out. It's your reaction to being called out that is most important. I find most people worth knowing respond to "you hurt me" by feeling apologetic and desiring not to do it again.

The whole "you're not tolerant because you're intolerant of intolerance!" thing has always seemed like total bullshit to me.

Anonymous said...

So my version of heaven, because it has everybody in it, has a lot of people in it I don't like. I imagine getting to discover what all the people I can't stand look like to The Divine.

Wow, that is fabulous. Thank you.