AHC/WI: African Unitarian Universalism

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Osakadave, Mar 28, 2018.

  1. Osakadave TexIowan

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2008
    Location:
    Small College Town in Iowa
    Came across this piece tonight and it has me wondering.

    https://www.uuworld.org/articles/why-martin-luther-king-jr.-wasnt-uu

    According to the author, both Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King attended Unitaroan churches at times and considered becoming Unitarians, but decided not to, in part because of the near nonexistance of black Unitarian churches.

    Also doscovered this little tid bit of earlier history on Unitarianism: https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/river/workshop1/reconciliation

    So, with a POD of 1900, what would it take to grow African American UU churches such that a young MLK (or some other young and charisnatic black man in the 50s) migyt become a UU minister?

    And what might happen?
     
  2. Hvalrossen Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2018
    Sometime someone would have to be the first african american to join the unitarian church and maybe form a exclusivly african american unitarian church. Maybe Martin Luther could have become unitarian and attracted followers. Either way someone will have to be the first.
     
  3. Expat Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2007
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    The "How" is pretty easy with broad cultural questions like this. Humans have shown time and again that they're up for infinite variations of culture. And religious trends are extra susceptible to the Great Person phenomenon; they don't even have to be THAT great. Don't need to sway millions, just dozens at first, form a congregation, have another person sway a few dozen more, let things snowball for ten years and you've got a viable religious community in a matter of decades.

    The Unitarian focus on integration is well known, and maybe at the national level it would be hard to create a schism with a specific African American identity. But certainly on the ground level segregated housing would make African American-dominant congregations a thing, and perhaps a less formal conference of said congregations might form.

    Despite the more tolerant UU outlook, King's position might be a bit weaker. It's one thing to create a certain level of UU participation in the African American community, it's another to expect a large part of the African American community to embrace that path. It would make King an outsider (especially if he abandoned his father's sect; probably better if MLK senior is the one to join the UU movement as a young man).

    OTOH, being less rooted in "traditional" religion might give him more cache with the youth faction in the civil rights struggle. And being from a minority faction might lead him to a more conciliatory position with other leaders in the group, more of a collective situation with less of a figurehead at the top. Unitar willing, it could end up saving his life.

    But let's leave MLK aside for the moment, as his specific identity is rooted in a world outside of an African American UU convention. I can imagine there would be a lot of exploration of the faiths of Africa- the various tribal religions, as well as Islam, in addition to Christianity. Perhaps even a different (and less cult-y) exploration of ancient Egyptian religion. It could open the door to the African cultural reawakening we saw beginning in the 1970s only a few decades earlier; though perhaps you need a bare minimum of civil rights before people feel comfortable wearing dashikis on the streets of America.
     
  4. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    I'm a member of a UU congregation, so the terminology I'm about to use is not meant derogatorily, but just as possibly cheeky shorthand for an entire ideological tendency...

    Wondering how you can get more black Unitarians might be a little like wondering how you can get more black champagne socialists. Okay, as I said, that's a little cheeky, but I think it's more or less accurate to say that the general cultural mileu of Unitarian Universalism is informed by what we might call an upper-middle class mindset(even if some members, certainly including myself, fall far short of attaining upper-middle class economic status).

    At the UU congregation I was involved with in Canada, I think most of the members were university graduates, and/or employed in professional occupations(academics, engineers, journalists etc), or married to people like that. Certainly, they took progressive stands on issues related to economic justice and racial minorities, but that didn't seem to neccessarily correlate to an enhanced membership from marginalized groups.

    To their credit, the UUs themselves are quite open about discussing these sorts of issues. I am also taken to understand that it was the Universalists(originally a distinct group from the Unitarians) who brought a more working class sensibility into the church, post-merger.

    I'll also read into the record that there are UUs doing missionary work, as well as native born UUs, in parts of Africa, most notably Uganda, where they're involved in the struggle for GLBQT acceptance. Given the prevailing attitudes on that issue in Uganda, you can probably guess that they are not exactly winning over the general public. Not that that means their position is wrong.
     
    Dan1988, Samedi, Hvalrossen and 2 others like this.
  5. Expat Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2007
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    I wonder if you have any impression of whether or not this outlook was the standard a hundred years ago.
     
  6. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Remember the pro-censorship Unitarians?

     
    Dan1988 and Osakadave like this.
  7. Osakadave TexIowan

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2008
    Location:
    Small College Town in Iowa
    :)

    That's the 2nd link above - Rev. W.H.G. Carter founded the first African American Unitarian church in Cincinnati in 1918. It didn't go well.

    Yep. (Attended UU fellowship as little one, and then, when we moved to a communitry w/o a fellowship, CLF and Presbyterian church, so not unfamiliar or offended. ;) ) Exactly the question. How could history have happened so that this changed?

    It was. And again, that's the question.
     
    overoceans likes this.
  8. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Osakadave:

    Thanks for re-drawing my attention back to the UUA link about Carter, which I had missed earlier.

    Interesting history, but the article does skirt over some of the pertinent issues surrounding that Cincinnati church.

    I'm wondering if the objections to Carter's church were along the lines of "Get those goddamned [racial slurs] out of our denomination!!", or more like "Well, it's just too soon for them to be moving out from under the tutelage of responsible ministers". Given my impression of Unitarians of the time, I'm guessing it was more the latter, though I really don't know. And it's not like either form of prejudice is acceptable of course(though the benevolent paternalism arguably leaves room for better outcomes.)
     
    Osakadave likes this.
  9. Osakadave TexIowan

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2008
    Location:
    Small College Town in Iowa
    Pretty sure it was tha latter.

    Anywho, it'd be interesting to see what changes could bring about a less racist church.
     
  10. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Well, I am far from an expert on American religion, but the United Church Of Christ, who share some ancestry(via the Congregationalists) with Unitarian Universalism, have at least one church, Trinity United Church Of Christ, which has successfully established itself as a largely African-American congregation. They were (in)famously the home of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's controversial pastor.

    I don't know if the UCC has a lot of other congregations like that, or if their model, even if successful, could have been emulated by the UUs. One difference, of course, is that the UCC is still officially Christian(even Trinitarian, going by the name of the Chicago church). I wonder if that might make them more palatable to theologically conservative African Americans?
     
  11. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Down in Tulsa...

    You can read more about the history behind this influx here. Apparently, the African American influence has led to a greater emphasis on theistic themes in the musical selections.
     
  12. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Another candid article from UU World...

    The Universalist Klansman

    Interesting history. The minister in question was likely the only Universalist or Unitarian cleric in the KKK, but the opposition to him from his co-religionists was decidely underwhelming, that is, when he wasn't being greeted with outright approval.
     
  13. riggerrob Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2014
    The first Universalist church - in Canada - was the Huntingville Universalist Church in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, less than an hour - on modern roads - from the Maine and Vermont borders. The ‘Townships were first settled by United Empire Loyalists, who were mostly farmers. The Huntingville Church was consecrated 1 January, 1845.
    Meanwhile Unitarians in Montreal - Canada’s largest city and port - struggled repeatedly to form a congregation. There were only a few blacks in Montreal before the 1960s.

    Modern day Africans still struggle to form UU congregations. For example, the Reverend Fulgence Ndavijimana converted to Unitarianism - from another Christian church - and formed a UU congregation in his native Burundi. UUs were persecuted by the Burundi gov’t as part of a bigger, brutal, crackdown on minorities. When the Burundi gov’t issued a warrant for Fulgence’s arrest, he fled to Canada. I have listened to a sermon that he delivered to Beacon UU Church in New Westminster, BC.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2018 at 12:22 PM
    Dan1988 and overoceans like this.
  14. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    As of 2016, he was living in Saskatoon, of all places.

    How was the sermon you heard in New Westminster?
     
  15. GeographyDude Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2014
    I guess it falls to me to give some of the disappointing side of UU:

    1) When I attended a Unitarian Church in my late 20s, the adult discussion group was the equivalent of Sunday School, but because I was relatively young, I was more tolerated than accepted.

    2) A lot of the members seem to think that the seven principles such as "The inherent worth and dignity of every person," well, not a thing wrong with it, but it's very general, and I don't think it's going to give answers to personal issues. You almost get a new convert effect. Many members seem to think the church is going to have more answers than it realistically can.
     
    overoceans likes this.
  16. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Yeah, the UU church I attended in Canada seemed to lean heavily toward the older demographic, but there were a few young people, including a contingent who identified as pagans, and seemed to jive relatively well with the rest of the congregation. This was the kind of church where they would do nature walks around the surrounding neighbourhood(which was actually a strip-mall zone; amazing what you can find if you look), and I know some of the the older woman had a walking group that traipsed through the river valley every Sunday morning.
     
    GeographyDude likes this.
  17. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Arguably, a lot of religions traffic in those sorts of generalities, though I suppose with the more mainline ones, they're usually backed up by the poetry of scripture or tradition, which makes the experience of them more aesthetically entrancing. Jesus Eating With The Outcasts isn't saying anything much more profound than "The inherent worth and dignity of every person", but it makes a better narrative.
     
  18. thatsbunkers Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 3, 2018
    Christianity gets into a lot of things outside or beyond the principles of Unitarian Universalism especially when you get into things like the Pauline Epistles. Not saying that’s a good thing or bad thing that’s just the nature of Unitarian Universalism
     
  19. overoceans Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2012
    Indeed, the whole divinity of Christ deal(for example) is pretty central to mainstream Christianity, and is something that contemporary UUism doesn't proclaim, at least not as a whole(there are UU Christians, a few of whom even purport to find the Trimity a compelling doctrine, which is kind of ironic, given what "unitarianism" originally meant).

    I know a lot of UUs subscribe to the idea that the Golden Rule exists in most of the major religions, though I've heard Christian apologists argue that Jesus' version is superior to, say, Confucius', since Jesus includes helpful action as an obligation, not just the avoidance of harmful action. For example, under Don't Do To Others etc, you could pass an injured person on the street without helping him, as long as you don't actively hurt him, but under Do Unto Others etc, you should stop and do something to help him.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2018 at 5:27 AM
  20. Seandineen Member

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2005
    Universalists originally believed in a second chance afterlife. What a soul does after death, determines its fate.