Monday, May 28, 2012

Some thoughts on leaving church

WARNING: If you’re expecting fair, balanced, reasoned debate, just move along to the next blog. I’m angry, sad, bitter, and grieving; I have no intention of trying to hide it. 

In just over a year I've left the UU congregation I’d belonged to since 1996 and been married in, joined another congregation- and now I've left that one, too. And no, I’m not some lone, hotheaded malcontent; in both cases I was one of many in a mass walkout that I had no part in instigating… and the combined total of those two walkouts would rival the regular attendance of either congregation. I don’t have exact counts, as many- myself included- merely walked without posting angry letters or speaking out at congregational meetings, but the numbers of disaffected were very large, and many, many letters were circulated. Here is a sample that could have come from either church; it doesn't really matter which, as they were all similar:

“Dear Members of (a Unitarian Universalist church),

We are writing to let you know that we have resigned our membership with (that church) and will no longer be in covenant with its members. 

In the ten years that we have been associated with (that church), it has become clear to us that (that church) does not have the capacity to become the type of church we are seeking. We believe that further investment of our time, talents, and treasures would ultimately be a waste. We are seeking out other opportunities for spiritual growth, sacred community, and service to others. 

As part of the process of moving forward, we may not be seeing some of you again. This may include “unfriending” some of you on Facebook. We do not do this out of any animosity or ill-will. We do this as part of our process of transitioning from the past to our future path. We also do it as part of our healing process. We would ask that you respect our decisions with regard to this.

We wish you the best as you continue on your journey. We hope you find what you are looking for. May you always be blessed. 

Sincerely, (some congregant)” 

The walkout that was the immediate impetus for this post happened at a congregational meeting. About forty re-formed in the lobby and started singing the hymn/protest “There Is More Love Somewhere”; others were in line at the secretary’s desk to strike their names from the rolls, and still others just silently walked to their cars. We sang one chorus then joined that last group. 

I’m not going to talk about the circumstances leading up to either split. I could say I won’t because the other side isn’t here to defend themselves, but that would be a lie; I don’t believe they deserve a defense. No, I’m not going into details because it’s too late in the day to start gobbling antacids. But I will talk about a mindset, an attitude expressed in both splits. It can be summed up in a single line of argument, and I give fair warning: the next person to use this argument to me risks being spit upon.

I Call it “Waving The Chalice”… “This isn’t about you or me- think of the church! The church is bigger than any individual; it will still be there long after we’re gone.” I believe that anyone who could say that has never had a thought deeper than a bumper sticker, and is unworthy of being a UU minister.

“The Greater Good” is a truly noble explanation of why you’re sacrificing yourself; it is an evil sophistry when used to explain why you’re demanding the sacrifice of another. It is the cry of dictators, the logic behind Stalin’s “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” It’s doubly bad when you hear it at church. Tell me- if a church cannot be concerned with the individual, what institution on Earth can be? I will not fellowship with anyone who cannot imagine a situation in which the right answer is, “The need of the one is greater; this time, the many can yield.”… and so, I am an unchurched UU in Indy.


Lilylou said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, Joel. I hope you find the home you are seeking.

Liberalis Femina said...

I don't know if it'd be worthwhile to you, but in the meantime, the CLF has online services on Sunday evenings you could join in if you'd like fellowship.

If not, that's fine too.

Red Sphynx said...


I'm sorry to hear this. You've always been a voice of sanity and keen insight amongst the UU blogs.

I struggle to understand how/why it is that UU is wilting as a movement. Stories like the two (which you hint at here) are likely much of the explanation. But I struggle to understand.

I'll light a candle for you.

Christine L. Slocum said...

Peace to you!

Christy said...

Joel, I am not a UU but I have followed your blog for several years. I too live in the Indy area and I will miss reading your posts very much.

Joel Monka said...

I'm not going anywhere. I'm still UU in the way that Reagan was still a Democrat. "I still believe in the party of FDR & JFK," he used to say. "I never left it- the Democrats left me." I still believe in our principles and values- I just can't see a congregation that does around here, or believe the UUA as a religion does.

Thomas Earthman said...

There are UU Churches that get things right. I worry that they are the minority, but I know that complaints are always louder and more numerous than accolades. That being said, I have had bad experiences myself, and I have been trying to build discussion about this kind of mis-covenant for a while.

Please understand that the 7 Principles are bigger than any congregation. They are too big to fit in any one building, unless they are brought there in the hearts of the people who gather. If the members do not hold the 7 Principles as personal sign-posts and congregational covenant, then the church will not live up to them as a body, either.

There are churches where it is done. They tend to be small, but this may not be essential. Sadly, our tiny religion does not offer multiple congregations in most geographical areas, and many are forced to take or leave the 1 or 2 with in driving distance.

Maybe we'd see more growth if we worried less about numbers and membership, and more about being honest and holding each other accountable.

Unknown said...

I am a Libertarian UU Member, and believe me, I feel your pain. Why does liberal theology means I have to be a Democrat Liberal? Every time we try to have a discussion on a Spiritual matter, the discussion is highjack to still Blame Bush Republicans? Do UU people hate, surely, they do! You can here their hatred against Christians in discussions. I am always reminded of be careful what you hate, because that is what you will become.

Unknown said...

I feel your pain. I am a Libertarian UU member,and I am not the most popular person at the church. Why does liberal theology mean I am suppose to accept and be a Liberal Democrat? Every discussion group meeting gets highjacked into the same Blame Bush Republicans, even 4 years later! We can never just discuss spirituality, its awful. Also, do UU's hate! They surely do in SA, they hate Christians! I always tell them, be careful what you hate, because that is what you will become. I do feel your pain, I just learned to select what I attend carefully, and if politics are brought up, I stand up and remind them that, that is not the subject at hand.

Anonymous said...

Joel, I gave up on U^U churches a while ago for probably similar reasons. There are other "Unitarian" groups to consider that are not UU, though admittedly they are still small and scattered. You might want to consider Unitarian Emerging Christian Church or Unitarian Ministries if you have any Unitarian Christian leanings. I gave up on organized religion when I left the local UU church. Nothing out there was a compromise I was willing to consider.

Anonymous said...

I have been a member of my UU congregation since 1993 and have been scapegoated and bullied out of this particular congregation a few times.I have not found a "Free and Open search for Truth" here, but very sadly a history of avoiding conflict of all kinds and maintaining the "status Quo" at all costs. This story is much deeper and richer however, I now ask myself if this denomination is systematically experiencing this kind of dysfunction and how has this happened? Since I had intended to go into the UU Ministry and still have faith that not all churches are like this one, I would welcome some input from any ministers and other UUs who have congregations that are truly spiritual communities, collaborative and Truth Seeking...not sick with lying, jealousy and control issues, and a 35 year history of covering over the situation.

Ryan N. said...

If everyone in the church focuses on themselves, we'll never accomplish anything as a movement. We already have this problem with social justice -- everyone has their own pet cause and won't join together to actually get something done.

Anyhow, I can't see how a group of people leaving a church after what happens at one meeting could be considered good behavior. How deep could that covenant have run if that's all it takes?

PoptheBubble ChartLeaks said...

Ryan N. Having left an abusive church before considering UU I am very concerned about your statement that seems too familiar. Please look at Steven Hassan's BITE model.